Cuba’s confusing dual-currency system has its own vocabulary, consisting of a collection of widely used terms and slang words. The first thing to learn when trying to make sense of it all is that both national pesos and convertible pesos are represented with the dollar sign ($). Often common sense is the only indicator you have to determine which of the two currencies a price is given in when written down, but sometimes prices are specified as CUC, MN or CUP. Thus one national peso is sometimes written $1MN. In spoken language, the most common word for convertible pesos is simply CUCs (pronounced “kooks”). Other commonly used qualifiers are divisas for convertible pesos and moneda nacional for national pesos. However, many Cubans refer to either currency as pesos, in which case you may have to ask if they mean pesos cubanos or pesos convertibles.

The general rule for most visitors is to assume that everything will be paid for with convertible pesos. Ninety-nine percent of state-run hotels, many state-run restaurants, museums, most bars, nightclubs and music venues and the vast majority of products in shops are priced in convertible pesos, though you can use euros in one or two restaurants and other establishments. You’ll be expected to use CUC to pay for a room in a casa particular, a meal in a paladar and most private taxi fares, though there is occasionally some flexibility.

Entrance to most cinemas and sports arenas, plus rides on local buses, street snacks and food from agromercados are all paid for with national pesos, while some shops away from the touristy areas stock products priced in national pesos too. There are also goods and services priced in both currencies. Usually this means the national peso charge applies only to Cubans, while non-Cubans pay the equivalent in convertible pesos, as is the case with tollgates on roads and museum entrance fees. However, in some instances tourists are merely advised rather than obliged to pay in convertible pesos, and by doing so occasionally enjoy some kind of benefit, such as being able to bypass a waiting list or queue. There are also services priced in national pesos which are the exclusive preserve of Cubans, such as Astro buses(see Interprovincial buses) and some casas particulares.

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