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Old Havana




We’ve entered a whole new era of US travel to Cuba. Although tourism from the US has reached unprecedented numbers during the Obama Administration, it is still a new destination for most US Americans.  This document serves to provide helpful preparation information, orientation and travel tips, helpful tips. The Cuban people are as thrilled to have you as a visitor of their beautiful country. 

This document serves as a guiding outline of travel tips and information to help prepare for: 

1.) pre-departure, 2.) arrival, 3.) while in Cuba, and 4.) for your return to the United States. 



Departing USA - ​Airport fees, taxes and luggage


Commercial Airlines to Cuba

  • Since late 2016, American Airlines, United, Delta, Southwest Airlines, and others are flying directly to different cities in Cuba from cities throughout the US.

  • The departure tax and Cuban health insurance is included in the price of your ticket.

  • We recommend you check with each airline as to their baggage policies specifically for Cuba, by going to each of their websites or calling their customer service departments.

  • Upon check-in at your US flight gate, we highly recommend you arrive early (3-hours prior) as you will not be able to check-in online. The airline staff may ask the reason for your visit and to see the copy of your signed/printed travel affidavit– 

  • You will receive in advance of departure via mail a Cuban “Tourist Visa” from Cuba VIP Travel.

  • You will NOT need to buy this at the US airline ticket counter, but rather just show them the visa and the airline staff will put a sticker on your boarding pass that you are “travel ready.”

  • Hold on to this boarding pass, as it serves as proof for Cuban health insurance, should you need it. 

  • Note: Keep your Cuban Visa with your passport, as you will need upon arrival for immigration and also, again to depart from Cuba. 

Entering Cuba

  • Please keep in mind that this could take some time for the baggage to come out on the beltway. Patience, patience in Cuba is key (especially at the airport)!

  • We will provide a list of staff/emergency contacts for Whatsapp messages/calls and we establish an internal whatsapp group with other trip participants for purposes of on-the-ground group communications/coordination.  



  • You will arrive at Jose Martí International Airport, and will go through immigration before picking up your luggage.

  • Don't forget to fill out your Cuban customs form online at In the top right hand corner select your language. You should do this at home on a computer before departing for the airport. Print it out and bring it with you

  • You will need your Cuban visa “Tourist Card” and passport to show the official. 

  • You might be asked where you are staying, so be sure to have the name and address of your casa particular or Hotel.

  • Your visa, a slip of paper, will be stamped, but if you prefer, you can ask that your US Passport not be stamped.

  • In the U.S. The purpose of your trip in Cuba will be the one that you selected in your affidavit if asked by a Cuban immigration officer.

  • In Cuba for the question that asks "Reason for your visit" -- mark TOURISM. 



  • Pass through the security checkpoint and proceed to baggage claim.

  • Cuba also imposes a fee for overweight baggage, but this usually applies to Cubans returning to the island and not to foreign visitors.

  • You will probably not be asked to declare gifts or have your bags weighed unless you are Cuban and have multiple suitcases. 

  • There are strict policies, limitations and fees for entry with larger electronic devices (for example, drones are not permitted and more than two laptops and/or multiple cell phones per person will need to be declared and documented that they are not gifts or for export). 

  • A laptop poses no problem.

  • Once you pick up your bags, proceed to the exit, likely the one marked "nada que declarar" or nothing to declare.

  • You may be asked to present your baggage claim tags and your passport upon exiting the airport, so have those documents handy, including the Customs form, which you will hand over to the officer. 

  • If asked, state you are traveling with all your personal belongings and some gifts (the term “donation” requires an official declaration process generally, so best to state all are personal items). 

  • You are NOT bringing "unaccompanied luggage," even if you are checking a bag. 

Cuban Currency and Money Matters

  • Trying to understand the situation of currency in Cuba can be confusing. Until recently, there were two kinds of currencies: the CUC and the CUP. At the beginning of 2021, Cuba changed its monetary policy and unified the Cuban currency – now the only Cuban currency used is the Cuban peso, CUP simplifying the monetary situation, but leading to rapid inflation.

  • Using any type of official exchange, like at the official CADECA money exchange locations throughout the country or in the airport, you’ll get the $1 USD = 120 CUP exchange rate. 

  • MLC The MLC is another currency used in Cuba. It is only available to tourists with a purchase of a magnetic card. With $200  you will receive a card with approximately 196 MLC. MLC’s are used in specialty stores that have products not available in CUP And some of the luxury hotels only accept payments in MLC.

  • US credit and debit cards do not work in Cuba so you will need to bring US dollars. 

  • The exchange process is basically the same at banks and CADECAs (Casas de Cambio, or money exchange stations), except the lines are usually longer at banks.

  • We recommend an average of $200 USD per person, per day for your personal expenses and entertainment not included in the price of your trip. It is better to have more rather than less money on your trip. Bring US dollars in different denominations.

  • US debit and credit cards do not work in Cuba and most vendors can accept US dollars.

This aspect of Cuba is changing at a very fast pace. It is almost impossible to keep up, but the most important information is below.

Pre-Departure Technology Preparation: 

  • Download a VPN or Virtual Private Network prior departure. Due to US financial sanctions on Cuba, in order to access any financial information in the United States, you will need to show your location outside of Cuba. To connect on Zoom, you will also be required to use a VPN. 

  • Download or Osmand for an entirely offline map of Cuba, with turn-by-turn navigation. Note: fully download the Cuba map on your phone prior to departure. 

  • Update your smart phone and laptop software prior to departure as Apple APPs can not be accessed in Cuba and/or with a VPN can be very slow. 

  • Your US cell phones in Cuba: Verizon, AT&T and T-mobile cell phones work in Cuba! However, we highly recommend that you check directly with your carrier on rates and policies, as they can be very, very costly. This goes for Mexican cell carriers as well. 

  • To avoid roaming charges, keep your phone in airplane mode the entire time you are here in Cuba. 

  • The best way to communicate back home is through these apps: Facebook Messenger, Whatsapp, Signal, Telegram. Highly recommend that you have them all downloaded/updated pre-departure, as it’s difficult to download while in the country. 

Technology While in Cuba: 

  • At some hotels and casas, wifi access is included. Please keep in mind it can be slow. 

  • ETECSA, the Cuban phone conglomerate, has 4G and LTE plans available. Should it be necessary, we can assist you in purchasing a local SIM card with a data plan; however, you will need a fully unlocked smartphone.  Having a Cuban SIM account allows you to surf the web, make calls via apps noted above, and make local calls and/or you can top-up your phone to make international ones directly, as well. 


Telephoning the States

  • If you are using your US cell phone, you can call the states directly at the rate your service provider charges you usually $2 per minute. We recommend you contact your provider prior to traveling, set up your international services and get the rates. They will vary for each provider.

  • You can make direct calls to the U.S. from almost any hotel. Calling the States from your hotel room is reliable, easy, and about  $2 USD per minute.

  • Note: Satellite phones are not allowed in Cuba and they will be confiscated at the airport.

  • We recommend that you adopt the attitude that you will be less frequently online for the week. 



  • Electricity can be erratic, but both U.S. and European systems are used in our hotels.

  • Most places (houses, restaurants) in Cuba have 110 V electricity.

  • Bringing a device to convert three-prong plugs to two-prong plugs is a good idea. 

  • In Cuba, the word for electrical blackout is “apagón” and unfortunately given the energy crisis on the island, the apagones are far too common. While there should not be any ongoing apagones, an occasional one is not unheard of. So bring an extra battery charger pack for your phone, just in case, especially while out all day. 

  • We advise you to bring a flashlight should there be a blackout. 

Your Health and Safety First


On Medical Care, Medicine and Vitamins: 

  • Medical insurance is included automatically on your ticket to Havana. You will receive treatment for any problem,  you may have free of charge except for preexisting conditions.

  • Should you have any medical issues, please notify immediately your on-the-ground team, so we can assist you in getting care and accompany you through the process. 

  • Your original airline ticket to the hospital as proof of insurance, along with your passport are needed for checking into the Cira Garcia International Hospital (officially. Clinica Central Cira García) in Miramar. We will take you here for emergencies as well as non-critical injuries or illnesses. 

  • Some hotels have a nurse or doctor on call for minor illnesses and injuries.

  • Bring any and all medicine and supplement you might need with you as there are limited pharmacies in Cuba available to visitors and basics can be hard to find. 

  • In addition to your own prescription medicines, you may bring the following approved medicines and vitamins: Vitamin C, aspirin, Ibuprofen, cough and cold medicines, asthma inhalers, antibiotics, and any over-the-counter medicines.

  • Don't drink water from the tap during your stay. It's ok to use the tap water to brush your teeth, etc. Stay hydrated! 


  • Havana is a relatively safe city. Tourists can walk in most neighborhoods, but should be aware that petty theft, like camera and purse snatching, is on the rise, especially in Old Havana, Central Havana, and Chinatown.

  • Walking in twos is recommended. Pay attention to your surroundings and your belongings as you would in any other big city.

  • Lock your money, passport, and plane tickets in your hotel room safe deposit box or in your suitcase. (Sometimes hotels charge a small daily fee for the box – ask at your front desk).

  • You do not need to carry your passport on you while in Cuba; but we ask that you carry a photocopy. We will provide you a photocopy of your passport, should you not print one prior to departure. Carry a copy with you on your daily excursions.

  • Further advice: when walking in the street, be careful of potholes, and remember that in Cuba pedestrians do not have the right-of-way.


Suggested Packing List: 

  • Ample supply of prescription medication 

  • Any over-the-counter medicines you may need AND contact lens  solution and backup contacts

  • Two photocopies of your passport

  • In late November up to Late February, the weather could be cool during the day, but pack for cooler temperatures at night average low to mid 60s F. 

  • It's always a good idea to carry some toilet tissue with you. Public bathrooms in Cuba are not as neat or clean as those we are accustomed to!

  • Small flashlight may come in handy if walking around at night, not all Havana streets have great lighting. 

  • Portable Battery Charger and Headlamp/Flashlight in case we experience a blackout. 

  • A reusable water bottle, we will provide smaller water bottles and access larger ones so you can refill your own bottle. 

  • Notebook/pens

  • Umbrella for rain and shield from sun

  • Hand fan (can also be purchased there

  • Insect Repellant as there has been dengue outbreak

  • Extra batteries should you need for your camera, other equipment,  etc.

  • Snack foods (especially if you are a vegetarian or have food allergies

  • Antibacterial hand gel and face masks (should you prefer)

  • Feminine Products are very hard to find

  • During the sun can be strong, so we recommend hats, sunglasses, and sunscreen. 

  • Much of the enjoyment in Cuba is simply walking its streets, and, since many of those streets are cobblestone, you will want to bring some sturdy walking sandals and shoes.
  • Business casual is fine for our meetings during the day 

  • Cubans love to look their best and dress up, especially in the evenings.

  •  Some places are air-conditioned, and a light, long sleeved jacket or sweater would be in order there

  • Check the weather report and take into consideration the island breeze that adds coolness to wintertime.

  • Leave your good jewelry at home; instead, bring costume jewelry.

  • Don’t forget your swimsuit


About Cuban Food

  • Cuban cuisine is Caribbean. It’s flavorful but not spicy hot. 

  • Expect a choice of fish, lobster, chicken, or pork, for your main course at a restaurant, accompanied by rice, beans, plantains, yucca, or other root vegetables.

  • Salads are served in small portions.

  • Desserts of flan (custard) or ice cream are the standard.

  • Every morning a basic breakfast will be served at your casa/ hotel as per request.

  • “Paladars”, which are private restaurants and represent the new personal entrepreneurship growing among Cubans, we will recommend some of the best in Havana and in other locations. In some cases the meals will be prepared ‘family-style’ and in other cases you will have some choices of main dish, etc. 

  • The cooks at both types of restaurants are increasingly aware of vegetarian diners, and many have adapted their menus to reflect this. (A low-carb diet, however, will be difficult to maintain in Cuba, and a kosher one, even more so.) Please, notify us in advance and remind us of any food restrictions and allergies so we can be attentive and help facilitate your needs at each meal. 

  • Vegan options maybe limited 



  • Snacks are not easily obtained in Cuba. If you want to have something to take along on the bus or on a walking tour, we suggest bringing granola bars, nuts, trail mix, and the like.

  • Vegetarians in particular may want to bring along something to supplement their diet.



  • Drinking bottled water is highly recommended; unfamiliar bacteria can cause diarrhea and other stomach problems for travelers. 

  • We will provide one bottle daily as part of your program and can assist in buying larger 5 L bottles for refills if you bring your reusable water bottles. 

  • Eating salads in restaurants and brushing your teeth in your bathroom sink does not normally present a health concern; still, you will need to decide how careful you should be, based on your own sensitivity.

  • Drinks and ice cream sold on the street will likely not be made from boiled water.


Cuban Transportation from Yellow Taxis to Bici-Taxis, Coco-taxis and almendrones

  • When you exit Customs at José Martí International Airport, There will be many people and some asking you if you would like a taxi. It is safe to take a taxi from the airport, particularly the yellow Taxis. have them pick you up in the front of the airport and not in the parking lot. Fare from the airport to Havana costs $25 to $35 dollars depending on the part of the city you're going to And type of Transportation. 

  • Yellow Cab Taxis are most expensive. If it’s your first experience in Cuba, stick with the official taxis with decals and lights. Negotiate a price from point A to B prior to traveling for all modes of transport. 

  • In Havana and pretty much everywhere in the Island it is possible that your taxi will be a vintage eight-cylinder US American car lumbering through Havana’s streets (known as ‘almendrones’), or a human-powered tricycles with passenger seats in a carriage-like contraption; these are called “bici-taxis”. You could also ride in a “coco taxi” – essentially, a scooter with a fiberglass shell good for travel in warm weather.


Dando y dando: Gifts for Cubans?

  • Bring sports equipment baseballs, bats,l gloves, soccer balls, basketballs, bring sports equipment so the Cuban kids can play sports

  • Cubans are a proud people, but they are happy to receive gifts. If the occasion arises, costume jewelry makes a great gift for someone special you may meet.

  • Consider bringing clothes that you won't mind leaving behind so you have the option of giving them to the hotel housekeepers and other people you meet who will greatly appreciate your gifts.

  • In addition to costume jewelry, the best gifts are small items such as perfumes, make-up, nail polish, and hair accessories, colognes, disposable razors, baseball caps and t-shirts (especially with American sports logos).

  • And, of course, anything for children such as toys, books, chewing gum, baseballs or backpacks with logos.

  • Musicians appreciate guitar strings, reeds for woodwind instruments, and drumsticks, as well as CDs with jazz, R&B, and hip hop. (Reggaeton is also very popular.) Dancers appreciate tank tops, dance pants, sports bras, and ballet, jazz, and split-sole dance shoes.

  • Other helpful items to consider giving to the people include: toothbrushes, sunglasses, deodorant, tampons, AA batteries, aspirin, Ibuprofen, cold and flu medicine, and vitamins.

Shopping for back home- Souvenirs and Gifts

  • U.S. travelers may purchase goods or products in Cuba for educational purposes.

  • “Effective September 24, 2020, authorized travelers may no longer return to the United States with alcohol and/or tobacco products acquired in Cuba as accompanied baggage for personal use. Persons authorized to travel to Cuba may purchase alcohol and tobacco products while in Cuba for personal consumption in Cuba.” (This U.S. regulation is still in place. See the Code of Federal Regulations).

  • Paintings, books, CDs, crafts, and even works of art worth thousands of dollars may be brought home, as they are considered educational materials. If in doubt, please ask us about specific items. 

  • The museums of fine arts and the artisans’ markets (open Tue. – Sun.) have nice items to take back.

  • Artists’ markets have quality paintings, jewelry, and a wide variety of crafts as personal gifts.


Departing Cuba


  • Plan to arrive at the airport at least 2 hours before departure time to avoid interminable lines.

  • The same baggage weight limits apply when departing from Cuba, so you may be charged for overweight bags.



  • To pass through immigration you must have your passport, Cuban tourist card (visa), and boarding pass with the paid departure tax stamp on the back.

  • Once these documents are checked, you can pass through the security checkpoint and proceed to your gate.


Returning to the U.S.



  • From Cuba you will go through immigration/customs in the first U.S. city you enter.

  • Be prepared to present your passport and blue declaration form. (You will be handed a declaration form on the plane or it may be electronically)

  • Authorized travelers should fill out the blue form declaring their visit to Cuba.

  • The US Immigration Officer 

Customs/Declaring Goods:

  • There is no limit on art, photographs, posters, etchings, lithographs, microfilm, or microfiche.

  • Music on CDs and DVDs, books, tapes, and videos are all considered educational materials, and licensed travelers are allowed to enter the States with unlimited quantities of these materials.

Experience Cuba



Our two week trip was a great experience. The staff was impeccable with every aspect of the journey, from arrival in Miami for the charter flight to the amazing restaurants, walking tours and music excursions. To coordinate over 150 travelers for a premium tour would have been impossible without their wealth of knowledge and attention to detail. For myself, the band, and many of our guests, the trip was one of the best experiences of our lives!



—  Director of Development, Preservation Hall Foundation, New Orleans.

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