There is a rationing system for staple food. Everybody gets the same amount, and the cost is subsidized by the government. Wages are very low, and the subsidized food is needed.
Our guide showed us her ration book, listing the number of people in the family and what she was entitled to buy. She gets the food in a peso store, and the clerk stamps her book on that line. It covers things like rice, beans, sugar, etc. Each child gets a liter of milk per day.
Toothpaste and soap used to be on the ration cards, but now they have to be purchased at the regular price. Sometimes when you come out of the hotel, people will come up to you and make motions like they are washing their arms—they are asking for soap.
- Arts and Culture
Money, Money, Money
Cuba has two currencies--One for Cubans and one for foreigners. Visitors have to change their currency to convertible pesos (CUC) and there is a 13% fee for changing it. (I don't know if the 13% fee applies to other currencies or just U.S. dollars.) There is supposed to be a small fee to change the CUC back into dollars, but I don't know the details--I didn't have any to change back. Nobody takes dollars, and Credit cards issued by U.S. banks can't be used in Cuba. Most hotels will exchange your money into CUC.
One CUC is worth about 25 of the regular pesos that most Cubans are paid with. They can also use CUCs if they can get them. Some stores take only pesos; others, only CUC. The CUC stores have nicer stuff.
NOTE: You may see someone holding up a U.S. dollar bill. They are hoping you will exchange it for a CUC because they can’t use the dollar. (And when you tip people, tip in CUCs so they can spend it!)
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