Tips & FAQs about Traveling to Cuba
Travel to Cuba is more accessible for U.S. citizens than it has been in recent decades. Here is everything you need to know to prepare for your trip.
Tips for Traveling to Cuba
- All visitors must hold a valid passport in their name with a corresponding travel visa or travel card. Travel visas must be issued by the Cuban Embassy in the U.S., not from an outside country.
- The following are exempt from taxes: objects for personal use, personal jewelry, photographic or video cameras, sports items, fishing tackle, 2 bottles of spirits, one carton of cigarettes, and up to 20lbs of medications.
- Items that are prohibited in Cuba are narcotics and firearms, except for duly authorized hunting weapons.
- In order to export works of art or antiques, the corresponding authorization should be sought from the National Register of Cultural Items of the Heritage Department in the Ministry of Culture.
- It is advisable that visitors bring cotton and similar type fabric clothing. It is recommended that fine woolen and gabardine clothing be brought for use during the winter months and for air-conditioned environments. During the rainy season, a light water proof jacket is recommended. More formal clothing is required for theaters, concert halls, nightclubs, and formal venues.
- Photos and video footage may be freely taken, except in restricted and designated areas that are of a military nature. Museums have their own specific regulations.
Frequently Asked Questions about traveling to Cuba
Can U.S. Citizens travel to Cuba?
Yes. U.S. citizens can visit Cuba if their travel reasons fall into one of these 12 categories.
The 12 licensed categories include:
1. Visiting family
2. Humanitarian projects or to provide support to the Cuban people
3. Official business of the U.S. government, foreign governments, and certain intergovernmental organizations
4. Journalistic activities
5. Professional research
6. Educational activities by persons at academic institutions
7. People to people travel
8. Religious activities
9. Public performance, clinics, workshops, athletic or other competitions and exhibitions
10. Authorization to provide travel services, carrier services, and remittance forwarding services
11. Activities of private foundations, research or educational institutes
12. Exportation of certain Internet-based services
Please note: a visa is a completely different document from the travel license obtained through the U.S. Department of Treasury, and all U.S. visitors to Cuba are required to have a visa before arriving. For more information, visit the U.S. Department of State’s Cuba information page.
Visas for American Citizens
Cuba requires that all arriving travelers have a Cuban Tourist Card (Visa) to enter the country. The Travel Visa has a cost of $85.00 (subject to change without notice) and only the traveler is allowed to complete the forms. The Travel Visa is perforated in two sections one is for entering the country. The immigration representative will keep one perforated portion and the second section will be turned in upon departure. While you can apply for a visa at the airport in Florida, we recommend that you apply for your visa well in advance of your departure.
Cuban Born Travelers
Cuban born travelers do not need a travel Visa they need to travel with a green card or an American passport. However, they also need to travel with a valid Cuban passport or HE-11 Visa. In some cases, an “habilitacion” may be required. The Cuban passport is valid for 6 years and requires the additional purchase of 2 prorrogas. Please email firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.
We understand how confusing and cumbersome the visa and passport process can be. We recommend using a visa service that has years of experience processing Cuban passports and prorrogas. You can apply for your Cuban travel visa here.
The Cuban government requires all visitors to have health insurance that covers the territory of Cuba. For U.S. citizens this means Cuban health insurance.
Who do I contact in case of an emergency?
If you have an emergency and need assistance, and you are a US Citizen or resident, you may contact the US Embassy while there. Otherwise, please contact your corresponding embassy or consulate. If you need to call the police while there, you will want to dial 106 from a local telephone for any emergency. For medical emergencies, dial 104 for an ambulance and 105 for the fire department. Please keep in mind that the first person you talk to might not speak English.
U.S. Embassy contact information:
Calzada between L & M Streets, Vedado, Havana
Main switchboard (53) (7) 839-4100
Hours: 8:00 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. (closed on U.S. and Cuban Holidays)
Emergencies/After Hours: call the main switchboard at (+53) (7)-831-4100, dial 1 to speak with emergency operator
What is the Currency in Cuba?
The major legal currency for Cuba is the Cuban Convertible Peso, CUC. It’s what you exchange your foreign currency for and make all your purchases within Cuba. Most tourists will only ever deal with CUC. For international exchange purposes 1.00 Cuban Convertible Peso = $1.00 USD. Note that there is a 13% penalty charged when exchanging USA dollars cash, so, you will only receive 87 centavos CUC for one USA dollar when changing the money, allowing for the 13% interest.
The second legal currency in Cuba is the Cuban Peso, CUP, which is rarely used by the vast majority of tourists, but it’s still something you should know about as it is perfectly legal for tourists to use.
How do I exchange money in Cuba?
You can exchange USD for CUC at the airport, most hotels, exchange bureau in town centers and some banks. The current fee for exchanging is 13%, i.e. for 100 USD you will get 87 CUC. The fee is the same no matter where you exchange your currency. You will need your passport to exchange money. In Cuba, they will not accept bills that are torn or written on when exchanging into CUC.
When exchanging money into CUC, try to get small denominations to make purchases easier, as many places (little stores, bars and restaurants do not always have the possibility to break down larger notes for you).
Where can I exchange money in Cuba?
You can exchange money at the airport, some hotels or banks. We suggest that you do not use Travelers Checks because they are not insured and may not be accepted. It is essential to travel with enough cash during your entire stay in Cuba. You may find small locations called Cadecas where you can also exchange money, but there is no guarantee these will be available on your trip.
Can I use my Credit Card or Traveler’s Checks?
US-issued credit cards, debit cards, and ATM cards are not usable in Cuba. We advise you to bring cash to make any purchases in Cuba or pay for most services. Most places will not accept US dollars, so you must exchange currency upon arriving. Gratuities, however, can be given in any currency. Traveler’s Checks may also be difficult to cash while in Cuba.
What is the time zone in Cuba?
Cuban Standard Time is UTC/GMT –5
What should I pack for a trip to Cuba?
• Bug Spray
• Sunscreen and Sun Hats
• Comfortable Clothing, Walking Shoes (casual attire) • Medications and OTC drugs, band aids, etc.
• CASH (CC and ATM machines are not yet readily available)
• Small gifts for kids and locals, depending on itinerary (for example, school supplies, small toys, candies, art supplies, band-aids, OTC drugs
• Hand sanitizer
• Wash Cloths (not provided at most hotels)
• Tissue Paper (good to have your own in public restrooms)
Can I purchase a ticket for more than 30 days?
Only Cuban nationals are allowed to purchase a ticket for more than 30 days, maximum 90 days stay. Americans may only purchase a 30-day ticket. If you decide to extend your stay beyond the 30 days, you must purchase a new one-way ticket with Havanatur at any of their offices located in the city, as well as an extension of their visa and medical insurance.
What should I expect upon arrival into Cuba?
Upon arrival to Cuba, you will make your way to immigration with your visa and passport. Make sure to fill out the blue customs form and white health form prior to arrival. Cuban born travelers will require an additional entry form. Be prepared for any questions customs officials may ask, and your photo will be taken during the check-in process. You will then turn in your customs and health form to an official.
Customs' typical questions:
• How many days are you planning to stay?
• Where are you staying?
• Are you traveling alone?
• This is your first time visiting the country?
• What is the purpose of your travel?
Is the water safe to drink in Cuba?
It is best to drink bottled water while in Cuba. You will find that both still and sparkling water are available. Water is purified in the hotels and restaurants, and it is okay to drink beverages with ice wherever we take you on the tour. It is also not necessary to use bottled water to brush your teeth, as the tap water has been purified. Salads and fruits are also acceptable to eat at all included or recommended restaurants.
How safe is Cuba?
Though Cuba is generally a very safe place to travel (more than other parts of the world), it is always best to watch your belongings and beware of pick-pockets and purse snatchers. Leave expensive jewelry in the safe and only carry what you need for that day. You may see some kids or older adults begging on the streets, sometimes asking for soap, pens, etc. Though a nuisance, this is not considered to be dangerous.
Hotels are equipped with safety deposit boxes and may charge a per day fee. Check with the front desk. It is advisable to leave valuables, including passports in the safe. A copy of the passport should suffice for ID purposes. You will, however, need your passport for exchanging of currency.
Is there Internet access in Cuba?
For the most part, wireless internet is not available throughout Cuba except at some hotels. Most hotels have a business center with computer, with limited hours, where internet service is available. Charges can be up to 12 CUC per hour depending on the hotel. Because of the limited technology in Cuba, it is not uncommon to have internet outages. There are now certain Wi-Fi hotspots throughout public areas in Cuban cities where a card can be purchased for access.
Will my cell phone or smartphone work in Cuba?
Some U.S. carriers have or are beginning to make agreements with ETECSA (the Cuban national telecommunications company) to provide roaming services in Cuba. If your carrier offers a roaming plan and your mobile phone is capable of roaming in Cuba, you should ask your carrier about any additional charges for voice calls, data, and outgoing text messages that you may incur during your trip. The telecommunications market in Cuba is changing rapidly, so before you travel, be sure to check with your wireless provider for the latest developments. Any phone calls may be placed from your guest room in each hotel. Inquire about rates before placing calls, as they are generally very expensive and must be paid for in cash. Please note that satellite phones are not allowed in Cuba.
What is the electric capability in Cuba?
In Cuba, we have the same Electric standards as in the US: 110V, though it is common to find both 110 and 220 in the more modern hotels in Cuba. It is advisable to bring a converter if your electronics are not travel-ready (105-240 V).
Outages: Though many hotels are well equipped, in Cuba it is possible to experience temporary power outages due to limited resources on the island. Though this seems to be happening less frequently in the past few years.
What are typical Cuban souvenirs available to purchase?
Cuban rum: The famous Havana club or Santiago.
Cuban Cigars: Cohiba, Romeo y Julieta, Montecristo and more.
Hand-made arts and crafts.
Please note that the amount of alcohol and tobacco products you bring back to the United States should not exceed US$100.
May I purchase items in Cuba and bring them back with me to the United States?
You may acquire in Cuba and import as accompanied baggage into the United States merchandise with no monetary value, provided that it is for personal use only.
Should I come prepared with items for public restrooms?
Yes, be prepared with toilet paper and small coins when using public facilities. Avoid throwing away paper into the toilet due to flushing problems. You will see wastebaskets placed next to the toilets for paper disposal.
What is the weather like in Cuba?
The rainy season in Cuba typically runs from May to November and the dry season is between December and April. Keep in mind that it may, however, rain at any time, so it is wise to always have rain gear when traveling to Cuba. The temperatures in Cuba can range from the 60’s in the winter (though not very common) to the 90’s in the summer months. Wear comfortable, cool clothing. It is common to have AC in restaurants, hotels, and other indoor facilities. Keep in mind that not all places have AC in Cuba. Bring insect repellent as the tropical weather also means a lot of mosquitoes at dusk and at dawn.