Getting ready for Cuba
We want your journey to be safe, without complications, and culturally rewarding. Things change in Cuba at a dizzying pace. We update this page weekly based on reports from our American guests.
Cuba is extremely safe. But things can still go wrong before and during travel. We strongly recommend trip interruption and cancellation insurance to protect your Cuban holiday investment.
- Passport: Must be valid for one week beyond your stay
- Airline ticket: Purchased separately, see list of commercial flights to Cuba
- Cuban visitor visa: Obtained from your airline or Cuba Explorer
- Cuban emergency medical insurance: Included in the cost of your US airline ticket
- Cash: Visit Money matters in Cuba (US credit and debit cards don’t work in Cuba!)
- Checklist: Review What to take to Cuba
Download the most amazing super best offline travelers map of Cuba: Maps.me
Never get lost in Havana or anywhere in Cuba. Maps.me is a comprehensive offline map app for Android and Apple phones and tablets. Download before you come to Cuba, because the internet in Cuba is too slow. Click here for more details.
Permitted items. You can take photo and video cameras, personal DVD, PDA, CD and game devices, cell phones, laptops, MP3 players, a hair dryers, electric shavers, binoculars, radio receivers, musical instruments, and sound recording devices for personal use. If you take more than one of the above items, Cuban customs may ask if you intend to leave them on the island. If you intend to do so, duty may be charged.
If you take more than the equivalent of $5,000 USD in cash, you have to declare it or risk confiscation.
Prescription medicines must remain in their original containers with labels intact.
Prohibited items. Narcotics, explosives, pornography, anti-Cuba literature, aerial drones, stand-alone GPS devices, walkie-talkies, and items considered to be weapons.
See What to take to Cuba. The page addresses climate, what to wear, suggested gifts for your new Cuban friends, and medicine and hygiene.
Mosquitos and gnats are a nuisance and torment visitors normally resistant to these pests at home. Bring repellant. We suggest nontoxic citronella oil.
Internet and WiFi.You can take your laptop or tablet to Cuba without complications, but connecting to the internet is difficult and when successful slow. WiFi is available at five-star hotels. Rates vary between 5.00 and 12.00 CUC (Cuban Convertible Pesos) per hour. Most hotels have computer terminals to rent from 5.00 to 10.00 CUC per hour. They operate at slow dial-up speeds.
Our Havana office provides travelers with emergency highspeed internet and long distance telephone calls.
Cellular phones. If you want to use your cellular phone in Cuba, first check with your US carrier and ask if they provide this service. Verizon offers roaming services in Cuba. Alternately you can rent a SIM card for your unlocked cell, or a cell phone and SIM card from ETECSA at the Havana airport upon arrival. Cost to rent a SIM card is 3 CUC per day. Rent for a phone and SIM card is 9 CUC per day. You must prepay a minimum of 10 CUC for calls. You can add more money for more calling time. The process takes about an hour on arrival and again on departure.
Landlines. The least expensive way to make international or local calls is on public ETECSA blue phones using ETECSA calling cards you must buy in Cuba. To call the US or Canada you must dial 119+1+(area code)+phone number. The cost is about $2.50 per minute. For calls inside Cuba, you must dial 0+(area code)+phone number for about 5 cents a minute. If you plan use your hotel room phones consult with the front desk for rates – it can prove costly!
Cubans welcome gifts however small. Gift giving is an island tradition.
Donations for schools. Most needed items are pens, pencils, erasers, memory sticks, calculators, flashlights, markers, note pads, stuffed animals, games, dolls, toy trucks and cars. Also appreciated is toothpaste, toothbrushes, soap, shampoo and good quality used clothing and shoes. Baseball bats, balls and gloves are very popular. Do not distribute donations on the street. Your guide will suggest schools and institutions most in need. Learn more at Gifts and donations.
Personal gifts. While on your tour, you’ll make many new friends. Consider small gifts such as aspirin, multiple vitamins, makeup, manicure and sewing kits, perfume, chocolate, watches, wallets, keychains, purses, scarves, jewelry, pen sets, flash drives, and other things you’d like to receive.
Bringing “donations” to Cuba. When arriving to Cuba, if you are asked about items you intend to leave behind by Cuban customs, describe them as gifts. If your luggage is searched and you are questioned as to why you’re bringing 100 pencils (for example), say, “they are for friends” and leave it at that. The word donation raises concerns because, in the past, bad people have brought harmful things into Cuba as donations. In the unlikely event your gifts are confiscated rest assured they’ll be distributed to Cubans in need. Luggage inspections rarely happen unless you bring excessive amounts of baggage or prohibited items.
Cuba allows you to bring 10 kilograms (22 pounds) of medicines and medical items as gifts without duty.
There are no public laundry facilities in Cuba. If you need laundry services, ask your chambermaid or hotel front desk. They’ll give instructions for how to use this service. Generally the price is between 6 and 8 CUC for a plastic shopping bag of clothes. Ask the cost first.
Electricity in Cuban hotels is often 220 volts. We advise you purchase a Type ‘C’ European Travel Plug Adapter for electrical devices you bring to Cuba. These adapters can be purchased at Amazon, Walmart or at electronics or dollar stores. Some hotels use 110 volts, 60Hz (same as the US and Canada), but don’t count on it.
Eastern Time is observed across Cuba, as in Toronto, New York and Miami.
We meet tour participants arriving and departing on tour start and end days at the Cuban airport and provide free transportation to your hotel.
If you are arriving early or departing later we help with airport hotel transfers. Cost is $35 each way for two people.
Cuba doesn’t operate on “Latin time.” If you are late for tour activities the whole group is held up. Cubans who have worked hard preparing your activities will feel very bad. And the whole schedule will get messed up.
Don’t get angry if your miss the bus. We’ve instructed our guide and chauffeur to leave ten minutes after the agreed upon bus departure time for activities. Your guide announces the bus schedule the day prior. Your hotels have wake-up call services.
However, if you have to miss an activity, that’s ok. Just tell your guide in advance so she/he will not worry or lose time looking for you.
You must review our Money matters in Cuba page. It is essential for up-to-date currency, exchange and safety issues.
US credit and debit cards don’t yet work in Cuba.
American Express travelers checks can be redeemed but is difficult and not dependable.
Suggestion. Carefully evaluate daily spending needs prior to departure. A minimum of $100 per day is recommended. It is better to plan to take more money than to get caught short of funds.
If you require an emergency cash advance our Havana office will provide assistance.
Feel good about tipping. When you give a tip to a Cuban the whole island benefits. Cuban tourist staff share tips with their co-workers and family who don’t have access to them, and they all donate a portion of their tips to the national health, housing and education systems.
Hint. Treat tipping in Cuba as you do at home. Be generous with those who assist.
Here’s the amount of tips most Americans give. You can always leave more.
- Tour guide 8.00 to 10.00 CUC per day per person.
- Tour bus driver 5.00 to 7.00 CUC per day per person.
- Tour restaurants staff 1.00 CUC or 10% per meal per person.
- Hotel porters $1.00 per person or more if you have lots of luggage.
- Chambermaids 1.50 CUC per day per person.
- Museum guides and special guides 1.00 per person.
- Taxi drivers 10% of fare.
- Musicians at restaurants 1.00 CUC per person.
What about “gifting” in lieu of tips?Cubans in the service industry need money they can spend on the things they really need. They already get a lot of leftover toothpaste, toiletries and other stuff.
Cuba is considered among the safest countries in the world with a very low crime rate. However precautions with personal belongings are necessary – do not leave things unattended. Don’t wear expensive jewelry. It attracts pickpockets, which are a growing problem. Keep cameras and handbags secure to your person at all times.
Participants must use a lockbox at hotels for valuables, travel documents, air tickets, passport and cash.
An informative objective traveler’s website is published by the Government of Canada on Cuba.
Only carry the amount of cash you need each day. We suggest no more than 100 CUC. Leave the rest of your money in your hotel lockbox, along with your travel documents, valuables and passport. (Pass original is necessary to exchange money.)
While many foreign guests and Cubans have no problems with the water, we recommend you drink bottled water at all times. We supply bottled water on the bus during your excursions.
A doctor or nurse is available to participants throughout the tour either at your hotel, at a nearby clinic or en route to destinations.
Vaccinations are, as of today, not necessary to visit Cuba. Please check our Vaccinations for Cuba page for updates.
Take official taxis only! Private cabs aren’t worth the hassle, nor are they necessarily roadworthy or cheaper. And you risk theft.
Everything is very different: language, climate, customs and demeanor.
Cubans are ultra courteous, effusive, candid and have a great sense of humor. All of the small material conveniences and services we take for granted are absent on every level in Cuba. While Cubans are punctual delays are common because of transportation and communications problems. Yet the latter is not typical for our programs.
Extreme shortages of everything require great innovation. Cubans have risen to the task. We advise going with the flow with eyes wide open until you get a lay of the land. Patience and understanding are the watchwords.
Words from wise travelers. If you go to Cuba looking for problems you will be all consumed, as they exist in abundance. On the other hand, if you go with an open mind and in the spirit of learning about a wonderful people and their unique society and culture your journey will be unequaled. Cubans are as thrilled to have you as their guest as you are about getting to know them.
Race and sex and gay issues are up side down compared to North American mores.
Skin color is nebulous. A minority of Cubans are “white” or “black.” Most fall somewhere in between. Don’t assume local jokes about color are necessarily racist. The historical context is different. There are dozens of hues of color and Cubans are indeed proud of spot on the color spectrum.
Cuba is not like other Latin countries where women get pinched and squeezed on their private parts. Cuban men are above this. However Cuban men are not beyond issuing very flirtatious comments to women. Women travelers can answer back to them as they please. Many enjoy the compliment. Suffice it to say Cuba is the safest country in the world for female travelers. “No means no,” reigns supreme in Cuba.
Homophobia like racism cannot be compared to the American extreme verging on hostility and violence. In Cuba, lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered people are safer than in the States. Their situation is similar to the counterparts in Canada or modern European nations. Straight people in Cuba are refreshingly open-minded. Most Cubans consider homophobia to be a greater problem than homosexuality.
Some people get upset when they read this section. That’s OK. We can attest to many instances where those who disregarded our advice have ended up dismayed or losing money.
We strongly advise against giving money to individuals who approach you on the streets. While in tourist areas you’ll encounter professional scam artists who pester foreign guests with sob stories that win them hundreds of dollars a week. When an individual approaches you on the street and asks for money, or with offers to provide guide or other services, just say no. Wag your finger back-and-forth with determination (indicating your are not interested) and move on.
Failure to do so means you risk getting ripped-off. Don’t be shy or feel bad. Don’t let them waste your precious time in Cuba. To do otherwise could cost you heartache and your wallet! Remember much of every dollar you spend on this trip goes into the island’s healthcare, housing and education system benefiting a majority of Cubans who need and deserve it.
There is no limit on the amount of money you can spend in Cuba nor is there a limit on the value or quantity of items – including alcohol and tobacco products – you can bring back to the US for personal use. However when returning home, US customs may charge duties on excessive amounts of alcohol and tobacco products.
Original works of contemporary art require an export permission seal and letter to leave the country. This documentation must be provided by the artist or gallery. Souvenirs and touristy handicrafts are not considered works of art.
When visiting Cuba you are viewed as an ambassador of your nation reflecting its attitudes and culture. Cubans live with many hardships. Material conditions on the island are far below those of the United States. Don’t be quick to judge. Many problems Cubans face follow from more than 55 years of a harsh economic blockade still enforced by the US government.
We’d totally appreciate you sharing a story about your Cuba experience with us upon your return. We’d love post your contribution on our website for your family, friends and colleagues to enjoy. New Cuba travelers too will benefit from your candid observations and reflections on what you witnessed.
A true friend remembers the song in your heart when you have forgotten the lyrics.