Legal Travel between Cuba and USA

A voyage to the unique island of Cuba is amazing because it’s like no other place!  Legal travel between Cuba and USA is also unique.  Lawful trips are allowed by license.  Many enjoyable travel activities within 12 General License categories (like your Trip Package) are legal and permitted.  Travel outside the 12 categories require application for an OFAC Specific License. 
 
Non-licensed travel remains prohibited.  Tourist travel restrictions to Cuba remain in effect under the Trade Sanctions Reform Act.  Illegal travel-related transactions involving Cuba can result in regrettable travel delays and significant forfeitures.  According to Travel.State.Gov, travelers failing to comply with OFAC regulations may face penalties and criminal prosecution. 
 
We only support Cuba trip packages consistent with guidelines under Title 31: Money and Finance: Treasury: Part 515 Cuban Assets Control Regulations: Subpart E – Licenses, Authorizations, and Statements of Licensing Policy.  It is the responsibility of each individual traveler to read and understand the latest regulations and requirements found here


Communicating in Cuba

Language

Spanish is the principal language of Cuba.  Your guides will be fluent in multiple languages, including English.  A planned goal is to also have at least one English/Spanish speaker residing in each Casa Particular should you need assistance.  During travels around Cuba, it’s possible you’ll find a hotel front desk manager or occasional tourist area street vendor to speak English with.  Other than that, sparse English is spoken in Cuban daily life.  Enjoy this part of your authentic Cuban experience!  You may be surprised how fun it is transferring thoughts back & forth non-verbally.  Island residents are generally flattered and helpful when you attempt to speak their language, and get a charge exchanging words or phrases using a “translation app” on your electronic device (that app should be “resident” on your device with no need for an internet or cell phone connection).  Cubans who happen to be learning English will be excited to practice with you!  Enjoy the experiment helping each other out.

Internet

Prepare for little to no daily access (as Americans have come to expect) on the Island of Cuba.  Your guide will know a small handful of “Wi-Fi” locations in Havana.  Gaining internet access actually can be an entertaining adventure… somewhere between a scavenger hunt and a teenager trying to buy cigarettes (haha).  Locals know a few pay-per-use Wi-Fi set ups, often located in public parks.  If timing allows, your guide and you may go for a stroll in the park once or twice during your trip.  They will find and pay “el tipo” who’ll exchange $5 or so for a fortune-cookie sized paper with your access code.  Depending on circumstances, you might get right online and complete a 20-minute session without interruption.  If there happens to be 1,000 people “competing” for 200 devices of bandwidth, it may take patience and access may drop a number of times in 20 minutes.  Best case, expect service to be slow and “buffer” considerably.  Remember dial-up?  A bit better, but not by a lot.  If you ever accessed the web in a communist country, you know service is “filtered” (impacting speed & what you can access).  In any event – if you absolutely must have electronic communication during your stay – Reinier will make it happen!  Final Note: In a pinch the best “tourist style” hotels may be able to help you access crisis Internet or Phone service to anywhere in the world.  It can be relatively expensive.

Phone

Don’t expect cellular service.  This has S-L-O-W-L-Y started to change.  If you find cellular connectivity magically popping on your device, anticipate an added “back charge” on your next cell bill if you use it.  Before departing for Cuba you’ll be provided “Cuba Emergency Contact” information if family must contact you.  Please do not access this casually.  Think of it like calling 911; it’s there for emergency.  This emergency Cuban phone number can be used to re-establish contact with your guide in the unlikely event a personal emergency arises while in Cuba (you become lost, fall ill, etc.).  Keep this Cuba Emergency Contact information with you at all times.  Phones within Cuba will call this emergency number like you’re accustomed to.  Plus there can be landlines available at places like hotels and such for “must” domestic or international calls; so no need for panic about being cut off from the world.  But in general, don’t expect to call/text/email every day using your electronic devices.

Other options

Some use FaceTime (Apple device-to-Apple) to communicate between Cuba & the US (when temporary Wi-Fi is available).  Others suggest IMO as a similar solution.  At times it’s possible to use paid W-Fi access to Facebook from the island.


Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)

What is a "casa particular"?
A casa particular is a privately owned bed and breakfast run by a Cuban family. The casas particulares we provide have been carefully chosen for you based on their central location, comfort, the gracious hosts, and typically the beautiful Colonial architecture Cuba is known for. Staying in a casa offers the opportunity to learn more about the country and the city you are staying in, as well as experience something few other American’s are able to.

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. Otherwise, you can also dial 104 for an ambulance and 105 for the fire department. Note that you will not find an English-speaking person that answers.
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 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 with in 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. Therefore, it is essential to travel with enough cash during your entire stay in Cuba. Note: You may find small locations called Cadecas where you can also exchange money.

Can I use my credit card of traveler’s checks?
US-issued credit cards, debit cards, and ATM cards were not previously usable in Cuba; this is changing with new regulations and more and more places will start to accept these for purchases or withdrawals, but not yet! It is advisable to bring cash in order to make any purchases in Cuba or pay for most services. Most places will not take USD, so you must exchange currency upon arriving. Tips however can be given in any currency. Traveler’s Checks may also be difficult to cash while in Cuba.

What should I bring?
» 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)
» Sunglasses
» Hand sanitizer
» Wash Cloths (not provided at most hotels)

What should I expect on 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 also require an additional entry form. Be prepared for questions they may ask, and a photo will be taken during the check-in process. You will then turn in your customs and health form to an official.
Official’s typical questions:
» How many days are you planning to stay?
» Where are you staying?
» Are you traveling alone?
» This is you 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 ok 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 also 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. 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.

What is the electric capability in Cuba?
Electric Current:
In Cuba we have the same Electric standards as in 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.

May I purchase items in Cuba and bring them back with me to the U.S.?
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.

What is the weather like?
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 mosquitos at dusk and at dawn.

Is there Internet access in Cuba?
Wi-Fi is not available throughout Cuba except at some hotels. Most hotels also 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 hot spots throughout public areas in Cuban cities where a card can be purchased for access.

Will my cell phone, smart phone or PDA device work in Cuba?
Generally, your U.S. cell phone, texting and smart phone-based Internet will not work in Cuba. 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. Also, please note that satellite phones are not allowed in Cuba.


Tips for travelling to Cuba

1-» 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.

2-» 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 10 kilos of medications.

3-» Items that are prohibited in Cuba are narcotics and firearms, except for duly authorized hunting weapons.

4-» 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.

5-» 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, night clubs and formal venues.

6-» Photos and video footage maybe freely taken, except in restricted and designated areas that are of a military nature. Museums have their own specific regulations.