Dollars in Cuba - current situation?


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Haven't been to Cuba since March of last year and going back in a few days. The changes related to the CUC have got me thinking hard about my trip planning.  I've also heard some people online say they have paid for things like cigars and other products in official stores with USD in the past few weeks.  I can see this occurring as a result of the desire for some store personnel to run their own currency exchange, but as an official policy?

Has anyone had this experience? 

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3 hours ago, Corylax18 said:

The thread titled "CUC" at the top of the travel forum is pretty up to date on this topic. When I was there in November, nowhere (Gov. stores or otherwise) was accepting payment in USD. However, there where LOTS of people looking to buy my USD at 1:1, and I even had a couple people offer 1.05 and 1.1 CUC per USD. 

What "people" is this?  Random people on the street?

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On 1/21/2020 at 7:32 AM, Monterey said:

What "people" is this?  Random people on the street?

Drivers and their friends/family, Casa Owners, Bartenders, Famous Rollers, basically anybody you (you, me, a tourist) know, knows someone looking to buy foreign currency. 

I've watched a very trusted driver walk out of a restaurant with at least $20,000 to $25,000 in Crisp $100 notes and come back a couple hours later with every penny in CUC. We enjoyed our dinner, some drinks and cigar, then counted our CUC's for desert.  

The fact is, USD has always been more valuable than CUC in Cuba, but the artificial exchange rate was able to hold the black market rate down. With the current political situation and all the speculation surrounding the future of the CUC, people holding it are sellers right now. 

The more Cubans I meet and build relationships with, the more enjoyable my trips to the country have become. A trusted Driver/fixer is worth their weight in Gold down there. Money exchanges, restaurant reservations, translation in sticky situations, hunting for cigars year round, home cooked meals, etc, etc. They worry about the details so that you can relax and really enjoy yourself.

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I agree with what Corylax18 said.  Just came back and situation was fluid.  Two places tried to charge the official 13% conversion rate on USD and I simply said no thanks and paid in CUCs.  I started by changing a couple thousand to CUCs with a 5% conversion rate and then I used CUCs if a store tried to charge more than 5% and paid USD wherever the exchange rate was 1:1.    

Our driver made the trip for us.  They are critical to having an excellent time.  

I don’t see any reason to use the official currency converter stores...we didn’t use them once and were rewarded with better exchange rates. The USD is sought after. 

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  • 1 month later...

Just got back Saturday. The currency situation feels like it's changing very quickly. In the airport (Jose Marti, terminal 2, the smaller terminal), the duty free shop accepts Moneda Nacional (pesos, the national money of the Cuban people), but not CUC. In my experience this is very rare. They also accept Euro and USD. So the only currency they didn't take was CUC. Another restaurant had USD and CUC prices displayed on the menu--this was not at a hotel, so also unusual and new. I change money with a friend and we got 1:1 in the exchange. I'm sure I could find a higher rate but I am happy for him and his wife and kids to make some $. Later at the two main hotels outside Vinales, the front desk guy just offered money exchange at 1:1 (I didn't even ask, he wanted me to know they offer 1:1), and at the other one when I did ask they said 87%, so I told them it's ok, and then he whistled me back over and said he could do it at 1:1. Finally, at the airport when my daughter went to buy a last coffee, she told me they did not take her CUC--same as duty free, only pesos, or USD/Euros. I went up to one of the little souvenir shops and asked the lady there if she took CUC and she said yes, but when I pulled out a 50 CUC bill she pulled a box out from under the counter and traded it for a US $50 for me. I didn't even ask her to but figured sure, so I took it. So that does not fit the overall sense that USD are sought after while CUC are being dumped. But the other encounters do.

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  • 2 weeks later...

Was in Cuba for the week Feb 24 - Mar 2.  Used Jorge as driver/guide and arranged to exchange 1:1 USD.  I know slightly better could be had but wasn't going to try to boil the ocean for a few ten notes.

Flew back through VRA Monday.  Almost non-stop recording in the departures hall saying CUC not accepting beyond security.  USD, CAD, EUR all accepted. 

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  • 4 weeks later...

THe first time I went to Havana I got hooked up with a guy through a buddy here in the US and he took me to a friends house where we did an exchange of 1US - .92CUC this was 2017. The last two times I went in 2018 and 2019, I've purchased British Pounds Sterling from my local US bank and exchanged them for CUC in Havana at any bank.  You lose USD when you go to BPS but end up getting more in CUC than you would if you kept the USD and exchanged those.  

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On 4/1/2020 at 9:23 AM, StogieSteve23 said:

THe first time I went to Havana I got hooked up with a guy through a buddy here in the US and he took me to a friends house where we did an exchange of 1US - .92CUC this was 2017. The last two times I went in 2018 and 2019, I've purchased British Pounds Sterling from my local US bank and exchanged them for CUC in Havana at any bank.  You lose USD when you go to BPS but end up getting more in CUC than you would if you kept the USD and exchanged those.  

I used to do that.  But it makes no sense now.  With the US dollar getting 1:1 CUC, it is a no brainer.   Buying pounds/euros is now just an unnecessary expense.  Fee to convert to pound, fee to convert to CUC.    No fee to convert from USD to CUC.

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14 hours ago, Monterey said:

I used to do that.  But it makes no sense now.  With the US dollar getting 1:1 CUC, it is a no brainer.   Buying pounds/euros is now just an unnecessary expense.  Fee to convert to pound, fee to convert to CUC.    No fee to convert from USD to CUC.

Every time I have been it has not been 1:1, therefore the Pounds.  I've never paid a fee to convert the pounds to CUC either.  Is the 1:1 exchange pretty recent? 

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  • 2 months later...
  • 2 months later...
On 6/15/2020 at 10:01 AM, flinthills said:

Anyone found a source that will trade with you instantly - versus, handing them the USD up front and them returning with CUC hours later?

Short answer, is yes. It depends on how much. Once I've gotten to know certain people in Cuba I have no issues with handing them a stack of hundreds and I've never had an issue. Ultimately before Cuba stated changing the currency (See JohnnyO's post) it's common to do business that way. 

I've had my casa owners change money right in front of me once I told them how much I'd need. If it's a few hundred I'd say your chance of in person exchange is good, if a few thousand you'd prob need them to take the currency. Now, if CUC are .97 like Johnny said, it's all pointless and just exchange at the airport on the way in. Time will tell.

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  • 3 weeks later...

There are few sources that will have the CUC on hand especially if its a large number. Your source will have to call several friends see what they have and at what rate. The desire for Canadian Dollars, Euros will be less than USD. Their rates will be based on what the Cuban banks are paying (just a phone call away). All of these conversations will be in code: "How much green lettuce do you have? Are you selling it by the pound (CUP) or the Kilo (CUC)?". Your source may have to do a trade with several and will get a commission. Right now they are talking about 1.5 CUC: 1 USD. Most of the local exchange houses have been closed since last year, the airport or banks are the only official places to exchange. Cant see it getting better as the deadline nears. Eventually you'll have to walk around with wads of cash (CUP). Would like to know if anyone can say what payment forms they are accepting at the LCDH's at this moment? John

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If in the future you decide to use the exchange houses to get CUP, the most likely scenario will be:

1 USD X .97= .97 CUC

,97 X 24 CUP= 23.28 CUP

Your devaluation becomes 23.28/25 or .9312, as goods/services will be based on the 25:1 rate. You are losing about 7%

With parallel traders you will have the advantage. John

 

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