Credit cards and traveller's cheques on Cuba; transportation

I’m going to Cuba for fourteen days in late August/early September as an individual tourist travelling alone. I have a round-trip ticket to and from Havana; my plan is to spend four or five days of my stay in Havana, then to travel around on the island and return to Havana on the last day to get the plane back home. I speak some Spanish (not perfectly, but enough to do the everyday stuff and to book a hotel room or a bus ticket), so I think there won’t be too much of a language problem.

My first question is related to money on Cuba. I understand that two currencies exist parallelly - the convertible peso which is pegged to the US$, and the national peso which foreign tourists almost never use. I’m interested in the kinds of problems I have to expect if I want to use certain forms of payment. Of course I can bring dollar or euro cash to Cuba and change them to convertible pesos, but what about credit cards or traveller’s cheques? I’m pretty sure Amex cheques will be of no use because of the American embargo which prevents U.S. companies from doing business on Castro’s island. What about Thomas Cook (a British company)? Does anybody know an internationally available issuer whose traveller’s cheques will be redeemed in Cuba?
I also read in travel guides that the major credit cards will be accepted in Cuba as long as they have not been issued by a U.S. bank. I have a twin pack of Visa and MasterCard issued by Barclay (another British company). Will I be able to use these?

My second question related to transportation in Cuba. The major company which offers coach services to the touristically relevant places is Viazul, but not all the routes I’m planning to travel are served by Viazul lines (I wanted to go from Santa Clara to Cienfuegos, for example, a route not offered by Viazul although both cities are served by Viazul and are actually not far away from each other). I read that there is another Cuba coach company, Astro, which is primarily aimed at Cubans but will also serve foreign customers. I wasn’t able to find a map of Astro lines or a schedule, however. Does anybody have experience with this company and can tell me how good their network of lines is?

(Let’s try to keep this thread strictly GQ and not to get into debates about the American embargo or the approvability of going to Cuba for pleasure).

Thanks in advance to anyone bothering to reply!

Well, I’ll give you a bump, and ask if you’ve inquired at Thomas Cook or Barclay’s about using their products in Cuba.

I know our Canadian Dopers can travel there, any of them have any advice?

Well, when I called the German subsidiary of Barclay’s, I talked to a friendly, but not very well informed lady who told me (after some searching) that there were no special notices about Cuba in her computer, so she presumed that the cards ought to work there (she also told me that she had never heard of one of their clients having this problem, which sounds strange to me because Cuba has become a popular tourist destination for Europeans in the past few years).

Thomas Cook, OTOH, seems to have sold their traveller’s cheque division to a company called Travelex, but if you go to Travelex’s website they’ll offer you to order American Express products, which definitely won’t work in Cuba.

Schnitte. Your questions could either go into GQ or IMHO. Let’s put it in the latter, and see if you get better response.


Have you looked at WikiTravel?

From here:

This website should cover most of your cash questions, I think. Their money exchange offices are called CADECAs

I recall seeing some ASTRO buses in Guardalavarca. I thought they were being used for tourists (excursions from the resorts) and they appeared to be in good shape, but it was from a distance and I don’t generally pay much attention to buses!

Thanks for the input so far, and thanks to the mod for moving this thread.

mnemosyne, that site looks promising indeed. I’ll check it in detail.

I think Scuba_Ben has traveled to Cuba, perhaps he will stop in.

Not sure about travelers checks, but I don’t see any reason why your credit cards wouldn’t work. You are right that you will not see many ‘local’ pesos; I think I got $20 bucks worth and never used them. It is not illegal to have them however, it’s just that you can’t really buy anything worth a shit with them. They say to be careful of scammers trying to give you the old switcheroo with the two types of pesos, although I never had this happen to me.

One important thing to note: If you have easy access to euros or pounds- bring those over dollars, as there is a 8 or 9 % ‘tax’ on changing dollars. If you don’t, you’ll have to do the math to see if what makes the most sense for you.

Also, note that in Havana, prices are artificially high, so be prepared. You may be able to negotiate a cheaper rate at hotels or a free upgrade to a suite, which is what I did. I’m not sure if the same holds for the beach resort zone outside of town, I never went there.

You should check out the Ambros Mundos Hotel- awesome location and a lot more intimate than the the big National Hotel and Havana Hotel. Hem wrote ‘For Whom the Bell Tolls’ there.

You might check out the Lonely Planet board, they have a pretty active Cuba branch. Also, note my info is accurate as of 1 year ago, things have changed in Cuba.

I have been summoned!

First off: Take euros, not dollars. Dollars lose 20% in the exchange, one tenth as the bank’s exchange fee and one tenth as the government’s cut. So USD 1.25 converts to about CUC 1.00, which on the way out converts to USD 1.00. To the best of my limited knowledge of euros in Cuba, I suspect euros only lose 10%. Please report back on what you find. And save some currency for the exit tax, a USD 25 fee (or maybe CUC 25) that had to be paid in cash at the airport.

Second: The CUC is essentially the foreigners’ Cuban peso; the locals’ peso is the CUP. Many places in major cities (my experience is primarily Old Town Havana) will post prices in both, such as CUP 3 // CUC 4. What this hides is the internal exchange rate: CUP 24 = CUC 1, as best I recall.

I have no experience with travelers’ checks or credit cards in Cuba. I suspect that such checks or credit cards from European banks will be accepted in major cities. Even so, if your flight is anything like what the religious mission I was on experienced, take triple, not double, the amount of currency you think you will need – most of us got hit at the outbound airport with excess-baggage fees, which had to be paid in cash of USD 2 per pound over 44 lbs. That’s right, not the then standard 50 lbs. per bag, but 44 lbs. for ALL bags combined, INCLUDING my carry-on tote.

I’m just popping in to say that I’m back from Cuba (more detailed stories here) and to share the monetary experience I’ve collected.

I didn’t take traveller’s cheques with me, as I couldn’t find a non-American bank issuing them. Instead, I relied on euro cash and a MasterCard issued by a German bank.

Exchanging euros at the state-run exchange offices (the Cadecas) was fast and easy. The buy rate was about 1.3 CUC per euro (the sell rate was somewhat like 1.48 CUC you’d have to pay for a euro, but I didn’t have any CUC bills left to change when I left the country). Apart from that spread, changing euro cash did not incur any commission, but changing dollar cash would have been subjected to the 10 % fee mentioned by Scuba_Ben.

I used the MasterCard only occasionally; I tried to use it at ATMs, but strangely enough the machines did not accept MasterCards (they did accept local bank cards, Visa, and some regional Caribbean credit card systems). It was, however, possible to use the MasterCard in hotels and in the Cadecas to get cash at the counter, but since, apparently, all credit card transactions are effected in dollars even for European cards, the 10 % fee applied to these transactions. I only did it two or three times, since I was carrying enough cash with me.