To travel to Cuba, even for tourism, you will need a visa. Tourists visas for anyone, American or not, as long as you were not born in the island, are easy to obtain and come as a part of your travel package when you buy your ticket. Visas for journalists and researchers declared as such are a separate matter and require an application to the Cuban Consulate in your country (Washington, DC for the US). Cuban Americans also need to get special permission.
Some data of interest
Cuba and its capital Havana have become one of the first tourist destinations in the Caribbean. The island (the biggest of the area) with 110,860 sq. km. (44,200 sq. mi.) has a population of 11 million, and its capital, Havana a population of 2 million. Other major cities are Santiago de Cuba, Camaguey, Santa Clara, Holguin, Guantanamo, Matanzas, Cienfuegos, and Pinar del Rio. The terrain is mostly flat or gently rolling plains, with some hills and mountains up to 2,000 meters (6,000 ft.). The climate is tropical, moderated by trade winds, with two main seasons: dry season (November-April), and rainy season (May-October). The official language is Spanish. During your travel you could not miss Havana, Varadero (not Veradero nor Veredero), Cuba's major and most beautiful beach and the biggest Cuban resort; Santiago de Cuba, an historic and big city in the east; as well as Trinidad, Viñales, Cienfuegos, etc.
What are the Customs regulations?
There are no weight restrictions in luggage; restrictions are only on the kind of goods. Therefore, Customs Authorities have regulated that visitors can import, apart from their personal belongings, new or used articles up to a value of $250.00 (two hundred and fifty dollars); articles exceeding that limit will be subject to seizure.
Out of the limit of $250 (two hundred and fifty dollars) in value authorized for importation, the first $50.00 (fifty dollars) are exempt of payment, so the maximum tax to pay will be $200.00 (two hundred dollars).
Besides personal belongings, you are allowed to import other items that are exempt of payment: two bottles of liquor, one carton of cigarettes, personal jewelry, one photo or video camera, one typing machine, sports gear, fishing gear, and up to 10 kg of medications; as long as they are kept in their original containers.
It is strongly prohibited to import explosive substances, firearms and pornographic material.
If you buy live or stuffed animals protected by the Convention on the International Commerce of Flora and Wildlife Species, you must apply for an export permit required by customs authorities. Among the species protected by the Convention are parrots, crocodiles and hawksbill turtles.
For further information, see the web site of the General Customs Office of the Republic of Cuba at http://www.aduana.co.cu
Can I use my cellular phone in Cuba?
Yes, you could use your GSM phone (900MHz).
You could probably use your TDMA phone but depending of your device.
What is a "paladar"?
In 1994, Cubans were permitted to indulge in self-enterprise. They were allowed to convert part of their home into a small restaurant (no more than 12 seats) and serve Cuban home cooking. Since then, many of them have become commercialized and expensive. Look for the paladars that are in residential areas rather than tourist areas. Meals should be no more than $5 to $10 per person.
When is the coolest time of the year in Cuba?
From November thru March the temperature can drop to the low 20's. Unlike most other Caribbean islands, the temperature in Cuba can get quite chilly in the winter. Long sleeve shirts and light jackets are necessary in the evenings.
Is it safe to walk the streets in Cuba?
Cuba is probably the safest place in the world to walk the streets, but there are a few desperadoes around who snatch chains and handbags and then run off.
How much should I tip?
Use your own judgment. You could tip a barman with $1usd bills, a taxi driver by giving the change of the fare, etc... But in general in the range of $1usd will be a good tip.
Can you drink the water?
The water in Cuba is not nearly as bad as in Mexico or the Dominican Republic, but it is not advisable to drink it. Bottled water costs 75 cents for 2 liters in dollar stores, but is expensive when bought in hotels and bars.
Is it true that there are no seats on the toilets in Cuba, and that you should carry your own toilet paper?
Yes and yes! Although toilet seats are available in shops now, Cubans have got used to not having them, and in fact choose not to. Toilet paper is so frequently stolen from bathrooms that it cannot be left there unattended.
What Airport Taxes Do I Need To Pay?
There is a $25 US Cuban Departure Tax.
Should I need to speak Spanish?
Some Spanish is a definite plus. I suggest you learn a few simple phrases. However, many Cubans speak English and many of the people we will be in contact with speak English very well also. Cubans are very patient, don't worry, they will wait for you to find the right word.
Electric voltage in Cuba?
The electrical current in most of the residential and commercial places, offices and hotels is 110V/60 Hertz, although already there are facilities with 220V/60 Hertz. The power outlets are flat pins, but you can use converters.
How is the medical attention to foreigners in Cuba?
The World Organization for the Tourism data has established that between 20 and 50 percent of the tourists have health problems in their trips. So, Cuba has created a system of specialized attention to take care of its visitors. From the accumulated experience established a national network of medical aid to tourists in three categories: the direct attention in hotels or places of lodging, the international clinics created in the tourist areas and the provincial or national hospitals, according to the requirements of each case. From the facilities specifically created for the foreigners and those of the national system of health, all them are used in these levels of attendance. Among them stand out:
• Health Villa El Saltón (Santiago de Cuba)
• Thermal center of San Diego de los Baños (Pinar del Rio)
• Center of Rest and Health of Topes de Collantes (Cienfuegos)
• The House of the Valley (Matanzas)
• Orthopedical Hospital “Frank País” (La Habana)
• Surgical and Clinical Hospital “Hermanos Ameijeiras” (La Habana)
• Clinical and Surgical Hospital “Manuel Fajardo” (La Habana)
• Orthopedical Hospital for Rehabilitation “Julito Díaz” (La Habana)
• The International Clinic “Cira García” (La Habana)
• The International Clinic “Camilo Cienfuegos” (La Habana)
• The International Clinic of East Beaches (La Habana)
• Cardiac Center of the Pediatric Hospital “William Soler” (La Habana)
• Health Villa Tarará (La Habana)
• International Center for the Treatment of the Third Age (La Habana)
• Clinical and Surgical Hospital “Faustino Pérez” (Matanzas)
• The International Clinic of Varadero (Matanzas)
• Underwater Medicine center
• The International Clinic of Trinidad
• The International Clinic of Cienfuegos
• Center for drugs addicts “El Quinqué” (Holguín)
• The International Clinic of Guardalavaca (Holguín)
• The International Clinic of Santa Lucia (Camagüey)
• The International Clinic of Coco Key (Ciego de Ávila)
• The International Clinic of Santiago de Cuba
What kinds of clothes should I wear in Cuba?
We suggest you should dress lightly, especially in summer. It is recommended to wear clothes made of cotton, linen or rayon; such as pullovers, shirts, T-shirts, shorts and comfortable shoes (sandals or running shoes). For winter, a light wool jacket or sweater and cotton pants can be enough for the occasional cold nights. Sunglasses, a hat and sun lotion are very necessary, as well as repellants against insects, especially if you travel to a beach area.
In some places, it is demanded to dress casually elegant (theaters, concerts and music halls, ballet presentations, luxury restaurants), so your wardrobe must include some appropriate clothing for the occasion.
What are the necessary documents to get married in Cuba?
Birth Certificate (if the groom -bride- is a Cuban residing in Cuba, he/she does not require a Birth Certificate, the ID card will be accepted); if both are single, Affidavits of Single Status; if divorced, Divorce Certificate; if widow(er), Marriage Certificate and Death Certificate of the deceased spouse.
In the case of foreigners, all documents must be translated into Spanish and legalized by the Consulate of Cuba to the Country of issue.
Where can I find cyber-cafés or places with access to the Internet in Cuba?
There are not many places where Internet services are provided, but can find it in almost every hotel.
Cuban Convertible Pesos (CUC)
The official currency is the Cuban Peso (CUP), divided into 100 centavos (cents). Notes can be of 1, 3, 5, 10, 20, 50 and 100 pesos. Coins can be of 1, 5 and 20 centavos, and there are others of 1 and 3 pesos.
The Cuban Convertible Peso (CUC) was introduced by the Cuban financial authorities to take out all foreign currencies from circulation, and offer an alternative that is in almost all senses equal to US dollars. It replaces the dollar as currency where previously dollars were quoted in places such as hotels, restaurants and so called 'dollar shops', and is the new 'tourist' currency. Some places only accept Cuban pesos and others only Pesos Convertible (usually tourist related establishments).
US Dollars were widely accepted throughout the island, but since 8 November 2004 US Dollars are no longer accepted, and a 10% commission is charged to exchange them. The national banks have since introduced the Peso Convertible (CUC) in substitution of foreign currencies, which is almost equal in value to the US Dollar. Money should only be changed at official exchange bureau or banks to avoid scams confusing the two currencies.