We have received many questions regarding President Trump’s revised policies for Americans traveling to Cuba. His speech temporarily scared away some potential travelers, but by now, most have figured out that there will be no new restrictions for group travelers. Americans are once again signing up for trips to Cuba. There are reports of new regulations being published by OFAC (U.S. Treasury Department) in September. Airlines and travel agencies have reached a consensus that group travel will continue to be legal, as it has been throughout the Bush and Obama administrations.
The other issue that generates many questions is Cuban currency. Articles continue to be widely distributed with incorrect/outdated information. In spite of numerous comments that “no American credit cards can be used in Cuba,” Stonegate Bank of south Florida has been issuing MasterCards for about 2 years. I have a Stonegate card and I have used it in Cuba with no problems. It’s probably the best way to “convert” USD’s (dollars) to CUC’s (Cuban currency), which is pegged to the dollar. Be aware that not every merchant in Cuba accepts credit cards from anywhere. You can mainly use it for large purchases, and to get CUC’s out of a Cuban ATM machine. Many of us now use our Stonegate M/C’s everywhere as our major credit card, because of the bank’s support for Cuba.
Regarding currency–we keep reading that Americans should first convert USD’s to Euros, British Pounds, or Canadian dollars, then exchange those for CUC’s after arriving in Cuba. I do not recommend doing so. (If you already possess some, then take them to Cuba.) American banks disguise the true cost of converting USD’s to other currencies. If you call a bank and ask the conversion rate, the ones with the best rates quietly tack on higher additional fees. You should determine the yield, which is the amount you receive AFTER you have converted AND paid your fees. You have to pay an additional, typical conversion fee of about 3% in Cuba to convert any currency CUC’s. I suggest taking new $100 USD bills (Cubans are worried about counterfeits). For a $100 bill, you will receive $87 CUC’s at the airport, at your hotel, or at the bank. HOWEVER, you usually can receive $90-$92 CUC’S from your AirBnb host or a friendly local, but exchange quietly without making a big deal out of it. (Cubans can usually get $95+ CUC’s for a $100 USD bill.) Even though the CUC is not considered a “hard” currency and supposedly has no use outside the country, USD’s and CUC’s are increasingly exchanged at about a 1:1 rate in south Florida. This is apparently due to the incredible amount of commerce and traffic between that region and Cuba. As with most issues in Cuba–the best things happen when the residents of both countries deal directly with each other, and eliminate or disregard anything involving the governments of either country.