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 Frequently asked questions (F.A.Qs)

Below you will find questions and answers, the frequently asked questions from first time travelers to Cuba we often get in our mailbox. It is advisable to read these questions and answers to start with when you are intending to go to Cuba.

Is crime a serious issue?


Cuba has the lowest crime rate in the Western Hemisphere. Even in neighborhoods that you would avoid in other major cities you are unlikely to suffer any incidents of violent crime. Incidents, which do happen, are generally tied into a more personal encounter with 'dubious characters'. Petty crime is more of a concern and a bag left unattended in a major city may well be swiped. Pick-pocketing does happen in certain locations, especially in certain busy discothèques or in public artcraft markets, even on busy streets, although it is relatively rare and should be preventable with a certain degree of caution and lack of ostentation. Take care of items such as handbags, cameras, neck chains and other items that can be snatched away. General hassling is pretty prevalent at least in Havana and Santiago de Cuba in major tourism spots. Hustlers are called jiniteros/as literally jockeys and while they can be an annoyance are generally pretty good natured and non-threatening once you accept their existence and learn to politely but firmly decline their offers of cigars/'friends'/special paladares etc. Begging does exist in certain spots but again is pretty minimal and non-invasive.


Is cuba a good place to travel alone as a woman?


This really is a question of your own attitude. Some woman are OK with the flattery and the attention, which is omnipresent, others find it threatening and unpleasant. You need to bear in mind that a Cuban guy is simply programmed to whistle and shout compliments at a pretty woman walking down the street. Anything else would be considered an insult. Having said that as in any country, especially in major cities you need to use your female instinct. Don't go down dark streets at night, the same streets you wouldn't go in your own hometown. Take a taxi when you go out at night and ask the taxi driver to wait until you close the door of your home behind you. Smaller towns like Trinidad or Vinales are safe at night time for female travelers.


Are there any diseases you need to be aware of?


Cuba is normally safe as long as you are reasonably careful about what you eat and drink. The common travel-related diseases, such as dysentery and hepatitis, are acquired by the consumption of contaminated food and water. While Cuba has a relatively low incidence of HIV any visitors should take obvious precautions if engaging in intimate relations on the island. Mosquito born illnesses are not a significant concern on most of Cuba although you should be aware when there is a periodic outbreak of dengue. Sand flies can be a serious irritant on certain beaches but this is to be expected as the price of paradise! Tap water in Cuba is not considered as reasonably safe to drink. Most Cuban households will boil water before drinking and foreigners should follow this procedure unless you have good quality purification filters.


What are the insurance procedures to be followed?


Since May 2010, Cuba has made it obligatory for all foreign visitors to show proof of their medical insurance when entering the country. Basically all foreign policies are accepted and any review is cursory if any at all. As when traveling in any country having valid travel insurance is a sensible and important step. Cuba has its own state owned insurance company (ASISTUR), which will (if you prefer) provide travel insurance for around US$ 2.50 per day for non-Americans (US$ 8 per day for Americans). In the event that you need medical treatment you will need to pay following your treatment and make a claim back from your insurance company. ASISTUR is the entity, which will deal with the paperwork. Typically treatment is relatively cheap (a simple consultation and prescription is likely to be under US$ 50), although prolonged hospitalization will obviously increase costs exponentially (a week treatment in intensive care with all of the associated care, tests might run to US$ 5,000).


How good is the health care provided for foreigners in cuba?


The Cuban government has established a for-profit medical system for foreigners called SERVIMED, which is entirely separate from the free, not-for-profit system that takes care of Cuban citizens. There are more than 40 SERVIMED facilities throughout the country including in all of the major tourism centers. The major clinic for foreigners in Havana is the Cira Garcia one in Miramar. In the event of an accident or other emergency foreigners may be taken to the nearest accident and emergency center, which may be at a Cuban state hospital. Conditions here at least aesthetically are likely to be below expectations for many foreigners although the standard of care is typically very good from the doctors. Once a foreign patient can be moved typically he will be transferred to a SERVIMED clinic such as Cira Garcia in Havana, which is set up to deal with foreigners.


What is the availability of pharmaceuticals?


There are special pharmacies for foreigners also run by the SERVIMED system. These have limited supplies however and should not be relied on especially outside of Havana for specialist medicines or prescription medicines (although typically they will have alternatives). As in many countries a fully stocked medical kit should be packed as part of your travel luggage.


Do I need a visa to enter cuba?


Regular tourists who plan to spend up to two months in Cuba do not need visas. Instead you get a tarjeta de turista (tourist card) valid for 30 days, which is possible to extend for another 30 days once you are in Cuba. Canadians get a special deal and can stay for up to 90 days. Tourist cards for travelers arriving from the Americas can typically be purchased at the airport of departure although will generally be provided or sold ahead of time by the travel agency or airline office for US$ 15-20). For travelers from Europe typically departure airports are not allowed to sell tourist card and you must have a valid tourist card before arriving at the airport. These are available at the relevant Cuban consulate although again for a small additional fee can generally be ordered from travel agencies. Once in Cuba tourist card extensions or replacements can be arranged at the relevant immigration office for US$ 25. This process can be something of an ordeal if you dislike bureaucracy but is relatively straightforward (if time consuming). You cannot leave Cuba without your tourist card so should take not to lose it. If you overstay your visa this will present a serious issue when leaving the country and care should be taken not to do so.


Do you need to write a hotel where you are staying on the tourist card?


On your tourist card you need to fill in where you are staying. If you are staying in multiple locations you need simply put the first one. Cuban unwritten rules say you have to book a hotel for the first night. This is not an actual regulation and it is legal to stay in a licensed casa particular. Many people just find it simply to put the name of Hotel down. It is rare that immigration officials will ask for evidence of a confirmed/paid for reservation although it makes sense to have a print out of any confirmation that you have even if this is only a non-confirmed, non-paid for quotation.


Customs regulations. What restrictions are there on what i am allowed to bring in?


Travelers are allowed to bring in personal belongings including personal jewellery, camera and video camera a mobile telephone, one personal computer, sporting equipment, wheel chair for the disabled, personal portable devices that allow to extract or introduce information into personal computers, such as flash memory, MP3, MP4, IPOD, electronic book, and the like. It is prohibited to bring in global positioning systems, satellite telephones or other communications equipment such as listening devices. Electrical items (including toasters/irons etc.) are also not permitted. Fresh food is not allowed although enforcement is somewhat sporadic on this. Other items on the no-no list include narcotics, pornography, explosives etc. No need to fill out the customs declaration for passengers if they just bring with them those items considered to be personal belongings or an amount of cash not exceeding $ 5000, 00 USD or its equivalent in other currencies; or other appliances.


Am I allowed to bring gifts into cuba?


Strictly speaking the maximum value of any gifts brought to Cuba must be less than US$ 50. The key to this is not to overtly flout the rule bringing in say 50 baseball caps or expensive electronic equipment. Items that are classified as gifts (over US$) will be subject to a 100% tax on their cost price. For details, refer to the FAQ page of the Cuban Customs www.aduana.co.cu, which clarifies the details.


Communications. Are there many internet cafes in cuba?


Internet access in Cuba is notoriously expensive and slow although has improved recently as ETECSA has set up an increasing number of Telepuntos that offers reasonable internet access for CUC$ 4.50 per hour. The national system requires that you buy a scratch card with user name / password which you then enter into the terminal. The national nature of the system means that you can use any unused part of the time as any other telepunto location. In Havana a number of the more upmarket hotels offer Wi-Fi access for CUC$ 6-8 per hour. This is an incredibly popular service since it allows you to use your Blackberry / IPAD / lap top and not be restricted to a telepunto computer. The quality of service varies and will almost be slower than you expect. The best hotels for this are the Parque Central and Panorama. Outside Havana options are more limited and even though most major hotels will have their own internet cafes the speed of access is often enough to make you dream of your old dial up connection back home!


Will my cell phone work in cuba?


ETECSA, the national phone company, has roaming agreements with most major international carriers (excluding US carriers) so theoretically your phone should work in Cuba. It is worth checking rates before you go since horror stories abound of people who have used their cell phones to access data packages as well as voice and received huge roaming bills back home! As a general rule roaming is great for texts, extremely expensive for voice calls and variable for data access.


Can I send a postcard from cuba?


Letters and postcards have a funny way of arriving from Cuba at unexpected moments and are worth sending just for the surprise when the day comes that it arrives. This may be in a few weeks or a few months but typically will make it. Notionally regular mail should take a month to Europe or North America. Stamps are available both in local currency and in convertible currency. Given that the postcards are only US 65c to all countries it is worth spending the extra cash for the boost in reliability. For important documents you should use the DHL office which has branches in all the major cities.


Does skype work in cuba?


Skype does work in Cuba from one of limited number of locations, which offer wi-fi service. Periodically attempts have been made to block this however it does seem to function reasonably well from hotel lobbies such as the Parque Central or the Panorama in Havana.


Can I purchase a cuban sim card to use in my own phone?


The big advantage of a Cuban cell phone is that making calls within Cuba is much cheaper than with a roaming international phone. Bear in mind this still does not mean that it is cheap (see below)! You are able to rent a Cubacel SIM card from many of the major airports in Cuba, which have an ETECSA office. Alternatively you should look for the nearest ETECSA office in the city. You will need to show your passport and you will need to pay CUC 3 per day for this service. In order for your phone to be able to use the Cubacel SIM card it will need to be unlocked and to operate on the 900mhz frequency. You will need to simply top up your phone through purchasing pay as you go Cuban phone cards which generally retail at CUC 10 or CUC 20 per card.


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Info very important, travel´s tips and more

Cellular Mobile Telephony in Cuba

In Cuba you can bring your phone there is a wide coverage to customers of any operator with which CUBACEL have roaming agreements, you will be automatically active service since arriving in Cuba, if the client is POSTPAID and is active with its attendant International Roaming service, and if the terminal you use is compatible with the characteristics of our network, ie that supports the 900 MHz band, upon arriving in Cuba and turn on your phone, this should be recorded in our network automatically and display at 368-01 display / CU-CCOM / CUBACEL, depending on your phone settings. But, in case of failure to achieve automatic registration, indicate the visitor to perform manual network selection through the phone menu options. For more information visit www.cubacel.cu

When is better to travel to Cuba?

Low season: May 1-Jun 30 & Sept 1-Oct 31

High demand for Christmas and New Year at Nov-Dec

Camaguey Carnival (San Juan - Saint John festivities) June 23-29. Book a casa now

Santiago de Cuba Festival of Fire July 2-8 - Popular Carnival July 18-26. Book a casa now

Havana Carnival August 1-30. Book a casa now

Baracoa 500th Anniversary Party August 1- 7. Book a casa now

Cienfuegos Carnival August 1- 7. Book a casa now

Remedios Carnival (Famous Parrandas) December 19-24. Book a casa now

Best time to visit

Hot, sub-tropical climate all year. Most rain falls between May and October and the hurricane season officially runs from July to November, with most storms historically occurring in October and November. Humidity varies between 75% and 95%. Cooler months are January to April when the least rain falls.

Required clothing: lightweight clothes most of the year; the high humidity makes it unwise to wear synthetics close to the skin. A light sweater is advisable even during the hottest months for installations with air conditioning (e.g. the Viazul bus which is always frigid) and a heavier sweater or jacket for December through March when cold fronts can drop the mercury to 10 degrees Celsius. Light waterproofs are advisable all year round.

General info about Cuba. Regulations, traveler information and more.

Cuba Information

Located at the entrance to the Gulf of Mexico in the middle of the Caribbean Sea, The Republic of Cuba is actually an archipelago comprised by the Isle of Youth (a special municipality) and 4 195 keys and islets for a total area of 110 860 Km2. Its neighboring countries are Haiti, United States, Jamaica and Mexico.

The weather is always mellow in Cuba. This hospitable and multi-ethnic country is blessed with a sunny tropical climate and a mean annual temperature of 25 degrees Celsius. The average temperature in summer is 27 degrees C and 21 degrees in winter. December, January and February are the coolest months while July and August are the warmest.

Official name: Republic of Cuba.

Capital: Havana City, with a population of 2´ 200, 000 inhabitants.

Official language: Spanish.

Area: 110,860 Km2 (42, 843 square miles)

Population: 11´ 200, 000 inhabitants. (Demographic density =101 inhabitants x Km2).

Ethnic Composition: 60% Spanish descendents, 22% mulattos and mixed, 11% African descendents and 1% Chinese descendents.

National Holiday: January 1st

National Anthem: Himno de Bayamo (Hymn of Bayamo) by Perucho Figueredo).

Religion: 47% Catholics, 4% Protestants, 2% Santeria and other African cults also practiced by many Catholics.

Political regimen: Socialist Republic.

Head of State and Government: Raúl Castro.

GDP: $ 20 billions USD.

PIB per capita: $USD 1.786

Annual growth: 2.5%.

Leading industries: Sugar, mining, tobacco, agriculture, pharmaceuticals and tourism.

Leading Trade Partners: Western Europe, Latin America, Russia, China.

Currency: Cuban peso (CUP) and the freely convertible Cuban peso (CUC).

Political-Administrative Division: Cuba is divided into 15 provinces and a special municipality Isle of Youth (formerly Isle of Pines).

Climate: Sub-tropical and humid, with two distinctive seasons: dry (winter) from November through April and rainy (summer) from May through October. The mean annual temperature is 25° C, with an average of 20º C in winter and 26-27º C in summer.

Immigration Regulations

All visitors must show a valid passport in his/her name, stamped with a visa issued by a Cuban embassy or consulate abroad or a Tourist Card, except in the case of citizens from countries that have subscribed visa exemption agreements with Cuba.

When traveling by sea, crew members must notify Cuban authorities before entering national jurisdictional waters (12 nautical miles from the island shelf). Communications with the Cuban authorities can be established through channel HF (SSB) 2760 of the National Costal Network and 2790 of the Tourist Network or via VHF through channel 68 for the National Costal Network or Channel 16 for the Tourist Network.

Customs Regulations

Tourists are not required to fill-in the customs declaration. The import of narcotics, pornography or fire arms is prohibited, except in cases of duly authorized individuals traveling to Cuba for sport hunting.

Tourists may bring in personal effects, jewels, cameras, camcorders, sports and camping equipment, two bottles of alcoholic beverages, one carton of cigarettes and up to 22 pounds (10 kg) of medicine.

Articles up to a value of $250.00 USD can be imported, of which $50.00 are duty free and the remaining $200.00 will be levied a 100% tax.

The amount of money in cash that travelers may bring in is unlimited. However, travelers are advised to declare sums over $5,000 USD in order to be able to take out a similar or greater amount, since they will be required to present the relevant customs declaration form.

When leaving the country, travelers can export up to 23 Cuban cigars (Resolution No. 41-2003 in force since October 8, 2003). Purchases of more than 23 and less than 2,000 cigars must be accompanied by the relevant receipt. Purchases of more than 2,000 cigars must be carried out in stores designated by Habanos S.A. specifically for this purpose.

The export of Works of arts or antiques must be accompanied by a permit issued by the National Artworks Register under the Patrimony Division of the Ministry of Culture.

When leaving the country, travelers must pay an airport tax of 25.00 cuc (convertible Cuban pesos).

Sanitary Regulations

Sanitary regulations apply only in the case of visitors arriving from regions where yellow fever and cholera are endemic or have been declared infected areas by the World Health Organization, in which case they are required to show an International Vaccination Certificate.

The import of products produced from animals or plants is prohibited.

Domestic animals or pets entering Cuba require special arrangements such as the presentation of vaccination and health certificates

US Citizens

US citizens traveling to Cuba should be aware that: Like other visitors, US citizens require a passport valid for at least 6 months upon the date of entry to Cuba. The laws of the United States prohibit American citizens from traveling to Cuba without a license issued by the Department of Treasury. Those who nonetheless decide to travel to Cuba must do so through a third country, usually Canada, Mexico or Bahamas

US citizens do not require a visa. However they must present a document called Tourist Card which can be obtained in the Cuban Embassy in another country or through a travel agency when traveling via Canada, México o Bahamas, or at the airport in Cancun.

Your passport WILL NOT BE STAMPED by Cuban Immigration authorities, however, your tourist card will be stamped and therefore you are required to present it upon departure.

Migration and Customs regulations

Persons traveling to Cuba should bear a valid passport with the relevant visa or tourist card issued by a travel agent or by the Cuban Consulate in the country of origin. Customs Offices at the 11 international airports in the country use the internationally renowned Red Channel and Green Channel system. Personal effects are allowed in the country duty-free. Tourists can also import new or used articles for a value up to $250.00 CUC. Articles under $50.00 CUC are allowed in duty-free. Travelers shall pay tax equal to 100% of the value of articles over %50.00 CUC. Although the amount of freely convertible currency that can be imported to the country either in cash, bank transfers, checks and in other forms of payment is unlimited, travelers who import -for the purpose of re-exporting- money or effects for a value of more than $5, 000 (five thousand) CUC, shall fill-in a Customs Declaration Form. The import-export and consumption of drugs and narcotics is prohibited. Import and export of explosives; objects, photos, literature and other forms of pornography; animals, plants (whole or parts) and species considered protected or endangered is prohibited. Persons who violate this regulation may be subject to criminal prosecution. The import and export of firearms without the expressed authorization of the Public Security Division of the Ministry of Interior is prohibited. Permits shall be obtained before arrival to the country.

Forms of payment

You can find detailed information about forms of payment in Cuba here. El Cuban Peso(CUP) is the national currency. However, payments for goods and services can be made preferably in Convertible Peso (CUC). Payments can also be made in Euro in Varadero, Cayo Coco, Cayo Guillermo, Cayo Santa Maria, Cayo Largo del Sur, Santa Lucia, Playa Covarrubias and at the beaches on the northern coast of Holguín. Travelers can also pay for goods and services with VISA INTERNATIONAL, MASTERCARD, ACCESS, BANCOMER INTERNATIONAL, BANAMEX, DINNERS CLUB INTERNATIONAL, JCB and CARNET credit cards or with those issued in the country (BFI and RED). Credit cards issued by banks of the United States of America and their branches are not accepted.

Medical services

Travelers from countries where diseases such as Yellow Fever and Cholera are endemic or from areas that have been declared infected zones by the WHO must present a vaccination certificate issued at least 10 days before traveling and not more than 10 years after the date of entry to the island. Medical services are available in all the hotels. There are international clinics in all of the major tourist resorts in the country.

Regarding export

When leaving Cuba, you may carry with you up to 23 Habanos without having to show the official purchase receipt. If you exceed that amount, you will be obliged to claim the original purchase receipt and of it at the shop, and hand the copy in at the Customs Office at the exit point from where you'll be leaving with cigars, which must be contained in original cases with all official seals, including the new holographic seal. Any failure to abide by the basic requirement of a legal purchase, the product will be seized by Cuba's Customs Office. The export of goods not considered national heritage shall be permitted only after prior presentation of an expressed authorization by the National Register of Cultural Goods. Books or other publications more than 50 years old, books published by Ediciones R, Publishing House or others stamped by libraries or other entities shall not be exported.

More about Cuba

Freedom of Religion is guaranteed by the Constitution of the Republic. Due to the country's climate , travelers are advised to wear clothes made of light fabrics preferably cotton. Don't forget to pack your bathing suit and sun blocker. A sweater or light jacket will come in handy when travelling in winter or to the mountain areas. Electricity: 110 volts, 60 cycles. Most hotels and Casa Particular also have 220 volt and sockets for flat plugs. Cuba is located on the 5th Greenwich Time Meridian (Eastern Standard Time in USA and Canada). Daylight Savings Time is from April to October (the clock is advanced one hour) in order to take advantage of daylight.

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