This blog's title means "Cuban-hearted woman" (very loosely translated!). I settled on this name because it had a nice ring to my unschooled ear and, more importantly, because I think the Cuban people seem to have so much
heart, and they're in my heart for that reason. In general, the people I've met in Cuba are quite consistently open-hearted and big-hearted in the way they relate to each other or to visitors in their beautiful land. A piece of my heart now resides in Cuba, with the warm, wonderful friends I've made there. This blog is not intended to be a guide to Cuba, just a forum for my eclectic bits of writing – poetry, opinion pieces and information gleaned from my personal experience and reading.

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Money, money, money...pennies to pesos

I am trying to become more current on currency. In Cuba, the complicating factor is that there are two currencies and they're both called pesos! One, however, is worth significantly more - the one intended for visitors to the country.

The currency tourists primarily use is known as the convertible peso or CUC. The acronym is derived from CU for Cuba and C for convertible, like CAD is for Canadian dollars. The just plain Cuban peso (CUP) is actually the national currency. It's required for purchases from government-run stores, public transportation and other necessities of Cuban life. For residents, both types are essential.

The interesting thing to me is that, although the exchange rate for foreign currency to either the CUC or CUP fluctuates daily - just as the CAD to USD conversions do - the in-country rate for CUC to CUP has not changed since 2005. It continues to be 1 CUC = 24 CUP. When I recently checked the exchange rate (late Aug. 2010), $1 CAD = .88 CUC or .04 CUP.

Someone with a better grasp of math might be able to tell you if there is any financial benefit to tipping in CAD rather than CUC but I suspect not, unless you're giving big bills. I'd hazard a guess that it might be more of a hastle for the tippee if the tip is in Loonies or Twoonies because it may necessitate a trip to a bank; CUCs can be spent immediately.

When visiting Marea del Portillo, my recommendation is that you exchange money at the airport - most or all of what you anticipate spending during your stay. There are not a lot of banks in this rural region, especially not within walking distance of the resort. You can generally exchange money at the resort but the airport exchange booth's rate is ever so slightly better.

More importantly, you should be prepared for tipping before you even set foot in the resort lobby! And, you may want to buy a cold drink at the airport for the hour-and-a-quarter bus ride to the resort. Can you say, "Una cerveza por favor?"

A further monetary precaution pertains to credit cards. You can (if you must) exchange U.S. dollars for CUCs while in Cuba, athough it's potentially problematic and there's a significantly higher fee. But, do NOT plan to use a credit card that is affiliated with a U.S. bank. American Express? Leave home without it! Fortunately for Canucks, Canada has a wealth of home-grown banks; take credit cards issued by CIBC, TD, BMO or any non-American financial institution.

My information about money matters comes from several sources and, to the best of my ability, is up-to-date and accurate. Here are some relevant excerpts gleaned from the Havana Times website:

"Money can be changed in Cuba at either of two official institutions: Banks and Casas de Cambio (CADECA or exchange booths)...whether you are exchanging foreign currency for the Cuban Convertible Peso (CUC or peso convertible) or CUCs for Cuban Pesos (CUP, moneda nacional or just plain peso)...While the exchange rates for foreign currencies to CUCs change daily, since December 2005 the exchange rate for the CUC to CUP has remained steady at 1 CUC to 24 CUP or pesos...

"You will need CUCs at hotels, many restaurants, for state-operated taxis, domestic travel (plane or bus), entries to museums and other cultural venues, and the so-called “dollar shops,” whereas CUPs or pesos are necessary for public transportation (guaguas or buses), agromercados, at some pesos-only restaurants and bookstores, movies, etc...."

"You can withdraw CUCs against your credit card – as long as the credit card is not issued by a US or US-affiliated bank...foreign currencies, however, including US dollars, are still accepted within the country as currencies of exchange for CUCs (Cuban Convertible Pesos) at banks and CADECA (Casas de Cambio or official exchange booths)...

"[However] the Central Bank of Cuba established an 8% exchange tariff on all currencies when they are exchanged for CUCs, with the exception of the US dollar which has an additional 10% tax that is applied before the 8% exchange rate is calculated, whether the US dollars are held by foreign visitors or nationals. In practical terms, this means an almost 20% devaluation of the US dollar against the CUC."

ONE FINAL NOTE: Don't forget to set aside $25 CUC, if you want to go home! That's the requisite departure tax that is paid at the airport as you exit the country. I don't know what would happen if someone didn't have this fee but I'm sure it would not be a pleasant way to end a nice sojourn in Cuba.

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