ESSENTIAL INFORMATION FOR US TRAVELERS TO CUBA
Developed especially for our Hosted In Havana and Airbnb clients for the 2018 season.
NEW USA REGULATIONS CONCERNING CUBA TRAVEL - UPDATED NOVEMBER 2017
It has never been illegal to travel to Cuba. The 40+ year US-Cuban embargo sanctions only restrict financial transactions and state that Americans and American businesses are not allowed to spend money or do business in Cuba. The sanctions are designed to deprive Cuba of any economic support from the US. The sanctions have always allowed some exceptions for certain categories of people such as journalists and professional researchers traveling to the Island under a self-authorizing general license.
Beginning January 15, 2015, President Obama set forth new regulations for US citizens permitting the wider use of the self-authorizing general licenses in these categories: family visits, journalistic activity, professional research, educational people-to-people travel, support for the Cuban people, among others. Travelers declare their general license category when buying their airline tickets. Officially "tourism" is not allowed, but there is no monitoring of that.
Current Trump Regulations
New regulations were published of November of 2017 and fortunately very little has changed for American travelers. The changes include:
• The "People to People" educational visa category for independent travel has been discontinued.
• Certain Cuban hotels will supposably be off limits for Americans because they are run by the Cuban military. For travelers with private home accommodations, these regulations are not relevant.
How To Proceed
When buying airline flights, travelers are asked the general license visa category that applies to them. We now recommend people declare the "Support for the Cuban People" category. This category is very broad and will absolutely apply when you are using the services of local Cubans for lodging in private homes, transportation, meals in private restaurants, as well as our guide services.
To review all the official regulations go to the Cuba sanctions page of the US Office of Foreign Assets Control. Also feel free to contact us with any further questions about the new travel policies.
A very good reference about the new travel policies and the Cuba travel industry reaction is here: "Travel Industry Is Optimistic About Adapting to New Cuba Restrictions"
AIRLINE TRAVEL OPTIONS (current as of November 2017)
Direct Flights - US to Cuba
There are currently direct flights from the US to Cuba on these airlines: American Airlines, Aeromexico, JetBlue, Delta, and United Airlines.
Third Country Flights
Flying through a third country is another option with the advantage of many more daily flights to Havana. With this option you will not be traveling "officially" to Cuba, yet there have been no repercussions for the past eight years from US officials for the thousands of Americans that do this every year. Interjet is our recommended airlines - Mexico City or Cancun to Havana.
TRAVEL TIP - To check on flights from US cities to Havana you can use Google flight search
• Travelers need to purchase a Cuban visa/tourist card to enter the country. Some US airlines supply these visas, others do not. Ask your airline about this.
• Travelers going though a third country will purchase their visa on the day of the flight at the ticket counter of the airline flying them to Cuba. Visas acquired this way cost 25 USD paid by credit card or the equivalent in Mexican pesos. Travelers will fill out the visa themselves.
TRAVEL TIP - Cuba Travel Services sell visas online for US to Havana flights, and will mail them to you. Cost $85.
• Bring all cash. Because of embargo sanctions, US credit cards or travelers checks do not function in Cuba. Several US credit card companies have announced plans for their cards to function but as of January 2017 that has not materialized.
• US embargo sanctions has forced the Cuban government to charge an extra 10% tax on exchanging USD for CUCS (Cuban currency). To avoid this extra tax bring all cash in Euros or Canadian currency.
TRAVEL TIP - Foreign currencies can be ordered through your bank online and then picked up in person. Be careful not to mention Cuba when you order currency at US banks.
• For travel expenses (excluding lodging) budget $100-$150/person per day for meals, transportation, entry fees, and misc. expenses. It is important to bring an extra $300-$500 in cash for emergencies (can be in USD).
• Passports need to be valid at least six months ahead of the expiration date. To avoid loss, make a color copy of the first page and carry that as I.D.
ARRIVAL IN CUBA
• Cuban customs will ask your purpose in Cuba. Your purpose is tourism (using a support for the Cuban people visa). If they ask where you are staying show them the address of your private house.
Baggage Claim - Optional Airport Pickup
• Travelers sometimes have to wait an hour or more for their baggage to appear. Please be patient. This is a typical experience of the "Cuban reality".
• If you are a Hosted in Havana client or have otherwise requested airport pickup, one of our staff-guides will meet your party at the exit of the customs-baggage claim area. The guide will be displaying a sign with your group leaders name. The guide will then help with changing currency and escort your group to a private car for the 20 minute trip to Havana.
• With no pickup service travelers can use an airport taxi. The ride should cost no more then 25 CUCS. Travelers can direct taxi drivers to the accommodation by showing them the address written down. If the accommodation is inside an apartment building, travelers should ask their taxi driver to alert the apartment owner-manager about your arrival using their mobile phone.
WHAT TO BRING
Bring EVERYTHING you need or normally use in daily life, as getting those things in Cuba can be difficult to purchase and/or expensive.
Other suggestions include:
• small first aid kit: band-aids, pain pills, antibacterial ointment
• sun protection: sunscreen, hats, bandana, sunglasses, umbrella for rain and sun
• food: packaged snacks, power bars, teas
• clothes: light clothes for warm humid weather, sweater or light jacket in winter, nice outfits for going out on the town, good walking shoes
• gifts: clothes, coffee, perfume, pens, lotions, soap, razors, hats, usb memory, beauty products, costume jewelry
WATER & FOOD
Travelers should drink only bottled water or boil their water. Street water is fine for bathing. Use bottled or boiled water for brushing your teeth. Most restaurants that cater to tourists use bottled water. Fresh vegetables and meats are readily available from local open-air produce markets. There are many reports of tourists getting sick eating seafood especially at Cuban state run restaurants where food storage conditions are often questionable. Higher end private restaurants will generally have much better storage conditions and their seafood less problematic.
INTERNET ACCESS & MOBILE
Because of government policies, Cuba is one of the most limited countries in the world for internet access. Access is available at most large hotels using on site computers or your own laptop or smart phone connecting with the hotel Wifi. There are also public Wifi hot spots at in many public parks and street locations. Wifi internet access is secured by using prepaid cards with access codes - cost 1.00 CUC/hr. These cards can be purchased at Etecsa offices or near Wifi hot spots where there are often Cubans selling the cards at a higher price.
A few US cell phone plans now operate in Cuba (Verizon with international roaming $2+/minute) but more then likely your cell phone will not work in Cuba. It is possible to buy from the Cuban Etecsa phone office a special sim chip for $3/day plus calling fees to use with your unlocked phone.
Community medical clinics are in every neighborhood and will treat foreigners for simple conditions. Larger Cuban cities have well staffed clinics especially for foreigners with English speaking doctors. A consultation-treatment costs 25 CUCS. Medicines are extra.
CASA & STREET SECURITY
Because of a strong military government presence and the civil nature of the population, Cuba is one of the safest places in the world. Guns and drugs are highly illegal. But as in most places there is still is a certain amount of theft in the streets especially targeted toward tourists. Be careful when displaying expensive cameras or camera bags. Do not carry anything on your person that would be hard to replace such as credit cards, drivers license, or other important items.
Your valuables will be safe in your locked room. Casa owners and their staff are generally trustworthy people. As state licensed business owners, it is in their best interest that nothing bad happens to you or your things. Travelers are advised not to allow people you do not know well into your casa or room.
CONDITIONS IN CUBA
Cuba is a third world country that as a result of many factors has been economically depressed for many years. The entire infrastructure of the country is quite old and often does not function well. Electrical blackouts are common, street water is not for drinking, basic food and household supplies can become in short supply. Be advised that when you travel to Cuba, this lack of infrastructure and resources may affect your trip. Travelers with high expectations may be disappointed. Travelers who adapt a flexible attitude will have a much better experience.
HOSTED IN HAVANA JUMP START
To help travelers have a smooth entry to Cuba we have developed this bundle of services:
• airport pickup & drop off (including help with currency exchange and buying supplies)
• internet access cards
• restaurant reservations
• a guided tour of Old Havana
Get the Havana Jump Start
RECOMMENDED TRAVEL RESOURCES
Moon Guide Book by Christoper Baker
Our favorite guide book. Extremely informative and written with passion.
A very complete guide on Cuba travel essentials. This guide will further address many of your travel concerns and questions.
Showcases the best in Cuban culture, life-style, events, travel, and much more.
Lonely Planet Cuba Forum
Have travel questions or concerns and want the best up to date info ? The Cuban travel gurus on this forum know their stuff. To search for a specific question go here.
Travel Insurance to Cuba.
For more travel resources see our selection of useful Cuba travel websites