We’ve entered a whole new era of US travel to Cuba but there is still a lot a traveler should know. Although tourism from the US has reached unprecedented numbers and yes, Cuba is a mere 90 miles away, it is still a new destination for most Americans and the helpful tips below will aid in making your visit to this island paradise as relaxed and seamless as possible from arrival to departure. And don’t forget, the Cuban people are as thrilled to have you there as you are to visit their beautiful country and they can be very helpful to visitors from abroad. Visit the Things to Do and Things to Know section of our website to give you even more detailed information on restaurants, nightlife, slang and yes, even on living like a Cuban!!
Departing USA - Airport fees, taxes and luggage
Commercial Airlines to Cuba
- Since late 2016, Alaska Airlines, American Airlines, Jet Blue, Southwest Airlines, Delta and others are flying directly to different cities in Cuba from cities through the US.
- The US departure tax should be included in the price of your ticket, although now, with all of the different commercial airlines flying directly to Cuba, we recommend you check with your airline at time of booking.
- If you book your flight with a commercial airline, they will instruct you as to whether you departure tax is included in your ticket
- We recommend you check with each airline as to their baggage policies, by going to each of their websites or calling their customer service departments.
Charter flights (the old way of going to Cuba) are still operating
- The US departure tax is included in the price of your ticket, although now, with all of the different airlines flying directly to Cuba and policies changing, we recommend you check with your charter company at the time of booking.
- If you are traveling with one of the charter companies, part of a new Cuban government policy, the Havana departure tax will be paid in Miami’s airport, during check-in.
- Each passenger is allowed a total of 44 pounds of baggage. This is the sum of your checked and carry-on bags.
- Each checked bag will cost $20. There is no charge for carry-on bags.
- Your carry-on bag cannot weigh more than 20 lbs.
- Your air itinerary will contain the most up to date information on baggage fees restrictions and check in.
- You will arrive at Jose Martí International Airport, probably Terminal 2, and will go through immigration before picking up your luggage.
- Don't forget to fill out your customs form on the plane -- you should have gotten this from your travel provider or the flight attendants. If you do not have the forms, you can get them as you enter the terminal in Cuba -- ask the nearest official looking person for them.
- You will need your Cuban visa and U.S. passport.
- You will probably be asked where you are staying, so be sure to have the name and address of your hotel or casa particular (B&B) with you.
- Your visa, a slip of paper, will be stamped, but your US Passport normally will not be stamped.
- 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.
- There are strict limitations and fees for entry with electronic devices like DVD players.
- 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.
Entering a cash only Republic
6 Things you need to know about (Cuban) money
- Cuba operates on two different currencies: the Cuban peso, and the CUC (Cuban convertible currency). For each USD you will receive 0.87 CUC.
- 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.
- CADECAs can be found in most hotel lobbies and on some well-trafficked streets. (Note that the exchange rate at CADECA windows are better than at hotel front desks.) Keep in mind that, with the exception of major hotels, most exchange windows close early. Banks and CADECAs are trusted venues for money exchanges; we advise you not to use other places that haven’t been recommended.
- CADECAs exchange dollars, euros, and other international currencies, but only accept cash. American banks are still not working on the island and you will not be able to use your credit or debit cards.
- 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.
- US debit and credit cards do not work in Cuba. And US dollars are not accepted.
- Stonegate Bank is the only exception to the rule. Their customers are able to use their debit cards and credit cards in Cuba. However, please be aware that ATM’s and card usage infrastructure is not as extensive in Cuba as in the US. Contact Stonegate Bank directly for more information on their Cuba debit and credit cards https://www.stonegatebank.com. Also, it is unlikely that most restaurants and shops can accept them yet.
- If you already have euros from a previous trip, take them with you. Otherwise, changing American dollars for euros might not be that profitable. Depending on the rate your can save just a couple of points.
The last disconnected place in the Hemisphere?
Internet and Cell Phones in Cuba
- 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.
- There is internet and FAX access in most Havana hotels. Some have Business Centers, or at least lobby computers wired for internet use.
- They charge between 6 and 15 CUCs per hour. You simply purchase an internet card at your hotel’s front desk and enter its numeric username and password when you log on. This will work on your personal devices as well.
- Internet speed is about the same as dial-up at most hotels, but some hotels offer slightly faster connections. And this is changing daily.
- Recently a series of hot spots with wifi have emerged in the city. You will see a lot of Cubans speaking loudly with their families! To use those wifi areas you will need an unblocked cell phone and a Cuban internet account (NAUTA). For that, you will need to visit one of the ETECSA locations, purchase a Cuban sym card and activate your "nauta" email account.
- Your US cell phones in Cuba: Verizon, AT&T and T-mobile cell phones work in Cuba! Yes they do! Over the past year, cell phone service for international carriers has come a long way. Since they all have different rates and policies, you should call you carrier, inform them that you will be in Cuba, ask them about their rates for calls, texts and data and you’re connected.
- We recommend you use as little data as you can and leave your social media habits for the US. Your carrier will cut you off after you’ve spent a certain amount. Ask them about this, too.
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. 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 at 3 to 4 CUCs per minute.
- One option: pre-paid calling cards, available at your hotel front desk to use at pay phone kiosks. This reduces your call to the States to 2 CUCs per minute. You simply insert the card and dial 119-1 + area code and number. ETECSA (Empresa de Telecomunicaciones de Cuba S.A.), the Cuban government’s telecommunications company, is the provider for the entire island, and their offices sell calling cards which you can use in the public phones at the same rate.
- Satellite phones are not allowed in Cuba and they will be confiscated at the airport.
- You can use your own U.S. cell phone if it is an “unlocked GSM” phone that can use a SIM card from another service. The process of getting your telephone converted takes up to three hours at the phone service office. It costs 3 CUCs per day and requires a contract. Added to that is the cost of a phone card for your phone time. Arriba
- Finally, if you coordinate the time with stateside callers, a call from the U.S. to your hotel is the least expensive of all methods. Cuba’s hotel switchboard operators are improving.
- We recommend that you adopt the attitude that you will be incommunicado for a week
Bici-Taxis, Coco-taxis and almendrones
Five pieces of advise on transportation
- When you exit Customs at José Martí International Airport, you’ll find a row of taxis right outside. You can easily recognize them by their taxi decals and lights. Further, taxis can be found throughout Havana; you can call them from hotels, private homes, public phones, or flag them down on the street.
- When you get into your taxi, ask the driver to start the meter running. More than likely he will protest this approach and insist that a suggested flat rate would be cheaper. At this point negotiating a fee is in order. (There’s a flat fee of 25–30 CUCs to go from the airport to just about anywhere in town.)
- Yellow Cubataxis are the least expensive and most common. If it’s your first experience in Cuba, stick with the official taxis with decals and lights.
- In Havana and pretty much everywhere in the Island it is possible that your taxi will be a vintage eight-cylinder 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.
- In all instances it’s best to establish a rate before the trip begins. Because of the many cobblestone streets and alleys in the historic plazas and elsewhere, in many cases your best option for getting around may be walking.
Walking around and strolling Havana
- 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; a photocopy of the data page of your passport will do. (Tend to this prior to departure, as photocopy shops are rare.) 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.
What if I get ill?
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.
- Remember to bring your original, stamped, airline ticket to the hospital as proof of insurance.
- Some hotels have a nurse or doctor on call for minor illnesses and injuries.
- For emergencies as well as non-critical injuries or illnesses, visitors go to Cira Garcia Hospital (officially. Clinica Central Cira García) in Miramar.
- Bring any medicine you might need with you as there are no pharmacies in Cuba available to visitors.
- 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.
Tips for a light packing
The charter will weight (and charge for) every pound… pack wisely!
- Hats, sunglasses, and sunscreen are essential.
- If you’re traveling in spring or fall, the weather will be warm, so pack for the tropics.
- 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.
- Shorts and T-shirts are fine for the day; skirts, nice shorts, slacks, and shirts are good for evenings.
- You might want to bring a special outfit for an evening out on the town. 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 for the beach or the pool.
- It's always a good idea to carry some toilet tissue with you. Bathrooms in Cuba are not as neat or clean as those we are accustomed to!
About Cuban Food
We don’t have (red hot) chilli peppers
- Cuban cuisine is Caribbean, not Mexican. It’s flavorful but not spicy hot. Cubans do not use chili pepper or tortillas. (A tortilla in Cuba is an omelet.)
- Expect a choice of fish, lobster, chicken, pork, or lamb 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.
- Most Hotels serve a breakfast buffet every morning with a variety of selections.
- “Paladars”, which are private restaurants in people's homes and elsewhere, have sprung up throughout the country. Paladars represent the new personal entrepreneurship growing among Cubans.
- 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.)
- 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 recommended; unfamiliar bacteria can cause diarrhea and other stomach problems for travelers. Bottled water is easily available throughout Havana. In hotels and restaurants it’s expensive, but in stores considerably less – about 1 CUC for a 1-liter bottle.
- Drink plenty of bottled water, especially if you are not accustomed to the tropical heat.
- Make sure your bottle is properly sealed when purchasing.
- Tap water in Cuba is potable. Many Cubans drink water from the faucet, while others boil their drinking water. If you’re visiting Cuban friends in their home, it’s okay to ask if the water has been boiled.
- 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.
- Electricity can be erratic, but both U.S. and European systems are used in 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.
- Hotels included in our tours have hair dryers, so you won’t need to pack one.
- U.S. travelers may purchase goods or products in Cuba for educational purposes.
- There are a lot of arts and crafts markets to browse through. “Informational material” available for purchase includes music CD’s, books (new or used), photography, and visual arts.
- Recently enacted regulations allow you to bring back $400 worth of Cuban goods with $100 worth of coffee, cigars, and rumincluded in that total amount. How the valuation is determined is anybody’s guess.
- 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.
Dando y dando: Gifts for Cubans?
- 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.
Souvenirs and Gifts
- The museums of fine arts and the artisans’ markets (open Tue. – Sun.) have nice items to take back, but Cuban stores have very few items for sale.
- The best gifts from Cuba are handmade, such as crocheted and wooden items, as well as musical instruments and CDs of Cuban music.
- Cuban rum and cigars are probably the items that most of the people want to get in Cuba. You can buy them in several stores all over the country, and also in the Duty Free stores at the airport. However, be advised of the US Customs regulations on these products. (See ENTERING the U.S. section).
- Artists’ markets have quality paintings, jewelry, and a wide variety of crafts.
- 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.
- Your departure tax is covered if you bought your flight in the U.S. If not, the cost is US $30.00.
- 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.
Entering 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.)
- Authorized travelers should fill out the blue form declaring their visit to Cuba.
- To repeat -- U.S. regulations allow $100 worth of Cuban goods such as tobacco, rum and coffee.
- 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.
Nine final pieces of advice for a life changing trip
- Travel light
- Dress as comfortably as you can
- Don’t forget your sunscreen
- Bring cash ( 100 USD minimum per day)
- If you feel lost, ask a Cuban!
- Tell everybody that you will be pretty much out of contact.
- Dance, feel the Caribbean wind, go to the beach, do not remember all the unanswered emails in your inbox!
- Talk with the Cubans, admire the mixture in their skin, clothes and hair.
- Walks the ancient streets, and yes, take a selfie!
Things to do in Cuba
- Baseball fan? The baseball season runs from about late November to approximately mid-April. The day after a game, drop by the “esquina caliente” (the hot corner), a space at the Parque Central (the park, not the hotel) where “Habaneros” argue passionately about the players’ performance the previous day. (Be prepared for questions about Major Leaguers.)
- Walk along the Malecón seaside boulevard at sunrise or just after sunset, it’s the best time to see Havana’s colors.
- If you have a particular cultural or academic interest, a lazy hour with the second-hand book dealers who surround the Plaza de Armas can benefit you and them. (Usually Wed. – Sun., but check first to make sure.)
- Do you feel the rhythm? A lot of restaurants in Havana Vieja have live music. If you walk down Obispo street and feel the drum… enjoy!
- Check out the Things to do section of our website for list of the hottest spots in town!