KristinGuestFebruary 29, 2016 at 5:27 pmPost count: 195
I’m going to Havana for almost a week in April. A friend of mine who was just in Havana on a “follow the leader” type tour informed me that pesos (Moneda Nationale) were for locals only and that there might be “trouble” if I tried to use that currency.
So, my first question is, really???
I plan to change money through the week as needed. Second question – should get more CUC or pesons?
Also, tipping – CUC or pesos?
I love your book!MarioKeymasterFebruary 29, 2016 at 9:13 pmPost count: 210
I have been to Cuba dozens of times. I have lived there for several years, despite having Canada as my official home. I just came back from 5 weeks in Havana.
I can assure you 100%, without even a shadow of a doubt, that there is absolutely no issue with you using Moneda Nacional. You can use the currency anywhere it is accepted. You can do everything with it that a regular Cuban would do with it. There will be no trouble at all. In fact, there are plans to remove the CUC currency completely and have the Moneda Nacional be the only official currency. In preparation for this change, most state stores now list their prices in both CUC and MN (before the prices would have only been in CUC). It is not known exactly when this change will happen, but probably within the next 12 months.
Some places require that tourists pay more than Cuban residents, and in this case, prices are only marked in CUC for tourists. For example, if you go to the Havana Zoo, the price is like 5MN for locals, but 5CUC for tourists. You can try to sneak in as a Cuban, but it only works if you look like a Cuban (ie, dark skin, and speak perfect Cuban Spanish).
Lastly, there are some scammers in Cuba, especially in Havana, who will hang around outside clubs or popular places and tell tourists that they have to pay in CUC rather than MN. A great example of this is at the Coppelia ice cream shop on 23rd street in Havana. The ice cream shop has 2 lineups in front. 1 lineup is if you want to pay in MN. The other lineup is if you want to pay in CUC. Obviously, every local goes to wait in the MN lineup, and the line stretches around the block. Most tourists also go wait in the MN lineup too, because it’s cheap and it’s perfectly legal for them to buy their ice cream in MN. Some tourists don’t want to wait, so they just go to the CUC lineup, and don’t care… They get their ice cream in 1 minute and then leave.
But, sometimes, scammer will wait around the ice cream shop and scam unsuspecting tourists. They will find tourists in the MN line and tell them that they absolutely must buy the ice cream in the CUC line. So, the tourists (they don’t know any better) go with the scammers to the CUC line, get ripped off, and the scammer makes a commission. Avoid scammers. Avoid anybody who is trying to guess which country you are from. Avoid people who start talking to you for no reason and want to be your best friend. Some tourists go on vacation and let their guard down. Scammers take advantage of this. Just be careful. I don’t know where you are from, but let’s say you are from New York, or London, or Toronto… if you are walking down the street and a random guy starts following you and then trying to guess where you are from and then offers to take you to “the best Mojito shop” you would not go with him, right? Even if he seemed nice, you would probably not go… Same thing in Havana. The only people you have to listen to are the police… And they never interfere with tourists anyway.
Anyway, I don’t know your friend, and he or she is probably a great person, but on this point, I know that I am absolutely correct. You can use either MN or CUC. There is absolutely no law against using MN. There is also no law about taking collective taxis (taxis particulares or colectivos). As a foreigner you can freely take those. Some people say that foreigners cannot… these people are wrong.
Note: For some things such as long distance travel, foreigners cannot always use some services that locals can use. The government subsidizes certain air travel for Cubans and bus services. You can ride on Cubana Airlines, but you will pay more than a Cuban would pay for flights within Cuba. There is also a bus line (Omnibus and Astro) which is usually reserved for Cubans and is super cheap. The foreigners can use the Viazul service, which is a bit more expensive, but also has newer buses with bathrooms and everything, so it is worth it.
For exchanging money, go to a CADECA and exchange your foreign money into some CUC. Do a bit at a time, fo maybe let’s say 200USD or whatever currency, into CUC. You will get a reciept for your transaction. Check it and make sure it is correct (99.5 % of the time it is correct because everything is computerized). Then take 20cuc and hand it back to the teller and ask for Moneda Nacional. The teller might ask you what kind of bills you want (it doesn’t really matter, but 10s and 20s are more convenient) and she might ask if you want to exchange the whole 20cuc to MN. Say yes, (all = Todo). And she will hand you back 480 pesos MN. That should be enough to get you started. Sandwiches, hot dogs, soft drinks (in a can) are all usually about 10 pesos. Ice creams are 3 pesos. Frozzens (soft serve, low dairy ice cream) is usually 1 peso… So you have an idea of how far 480 pesos MN can get you. Your buying power is pretty good, at least for fast food.
For tipping, make sure to check you bill. Sometimes the tip is included (tip is called a propina). If it’s not included, you can leave the tip in either currency. In fancy places, where you pay with CUC, I recommend leaving a tip in CUC. For smaller places (if your bill is under 10cuc for example) you can leave something in CUC or MN. And you don’t have to tip much. Most locals will not tip much, or anything. For example, if you go to a fast food place and get an egg sandwich and a juice and a coffee, your bill might be like 20MN. You don’t have to leave a tip. But if you want to, you can leave like a peso or 2 on the table, or a 10 cents CUC. The server will be happy, but she won’t be expecting it.KristinGuestMarch 2, 2016 at 3:20 pmPost count: 195
Gracias, Mario! This website (and your book) are such great resources. So happy to have found it.
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