Cuba Info

FAQs

Is it legal to travel to Cuba?

The Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) has issued general licenses within the 12 categories of authorized travel for many travel- related transactions to, from, or within Cuba that previously required a specific license (i.e., an application and a case-by-case determination). Travel-related transactions are permitted by general license for certain travel related to the following activities, subject to criteria and conditions in each general license: family visits; official business of the U.S. government, foreign governments, and certain intergovernmental organizations; journalistic activity; professional research and professional meetings; educational activities; religious activities; public performances, clinics, workshops, athletic and other competitions, and exhibitions; support for the Cuban people; humanitarian projects; activities of private foundations or research or educational institutes; exportation, importation, or transmission of information or information materials; and certain authorized export transactions.

In Short…

Travel to Cuba is permitted if the travel falls under the 12 categories of authorized travel outlined above. One of these 12 categories is “educational activities”, under which “people-to-people travel” is included.

What constitutes “people-to-people travel” for generally authorized travel?

OFAC has issued a general license that incorporates prior specific licensing policy and authorizes, subject to appropriate conditions, travel-related transactions and other transactions that are directly incident to people-to-people educational activities in Cuba. Among other things,this general license authorizes, subject to appropriate conditions, persons subject to U.S. jurisdiction to engage in certain educational exchanges in Cuba under the auspices of an organization that is a person subject to U.S. jurisdiction and sponsors such exchanges to promote people-to-people contact. Additionally, an employee, paid consultant, or agent of the sponsoring organization must accompany each group traveling to Cuba to ensure the full-time schedule of educational exchange activities, and the predominant portion of the activities must not be with individuals or entities acting for or on behalf of a prohibited official of the Government of Cuba, as defined in 31 CFR § 515.337, or a prohibited member of the Cuban Communist Party, as defined in 31 CFR § 515.338. For a complete description of what this general license authorizes and the restrictions that apply, please see 31 CFR § 515.565(b).

In Short…

People-to-People travel promotes interaction between local Cuban people and American visitors. These people-to-people programs can be:

  • Visiting a community art project and interacting with community members
  • Seeing a professional dance troupe performance and talking with the dancers after-wards
  • Visiting a polyclinic and talking to Cuban doctors
  • Learning more about the environment of Cuba and the conservation efforts by a Cuban expert.
Are there any documents I need in order to travel to Cuba?

You need a valid US passport to travel to Cuba which is valid for more than six months after your trip to Cuba ends. You also need a visa to travel to Cuba, which can be purchased at the airport when you check-in to your flight (check with your specific air-port if they offer this service).

In Cuba at the end of your trip you will receive your letter of authorization for travel to Cuba, stating that you were traveling to Cuba legally on an educational people-to-people program. You are required by law to keep this authorization letter for five years after your return to Cuba.

Are there any spending limits for authorized U.S. travelers while in Cuba?

There is no specific dollar limit on authorized expenses. Authorized travelers may engage in transactions ordinarily incident to travel within Cuba, including payment of living expenses and the acquisition in Cuba of goods for personal consumption there; other expenditures, other than those directly incident to the traveler’s authorized activities in Cuba, are not authorized.

In Short…

There is no limit of cigars or rum that can be purchased in Cuba. Artwork and handicrafts are allowed to be brought back to the US. These items must be for personal consumption and cannot be resold.

What other requirements should I be very clear on before I travel to Cuba?
  • Travel to Cuba as an American for purely touristic purposes is strictly prohibited. All Experience Cuba tours abide by the rules set forth by 31 CFR § 515.565 (b) People-to-People Travel OFAC general license.
  • You need to have health insurance in order to travel to Cuba. We strongly advise you to purchase travel and evacuation insurance.
  • Your passport needs to be valid 6 months from the return date of your trip to Cuba.
  • You must have a purchase a visa for travel to Cuba.

General Information

Flexibility and Patience

As with many travel experiences flexibility and patience are key to having a positive experience on your trip. Your itinerary is subject to change, and your guide will do their best to keep you informed and up to date with any changes in scheduled activities.

Visa

All US citizens are required to have a tourist visa to travel to Cuba. You can purchase your visa at the departure gateway airport when you check in for your flight to Cuba.

Flight into Cuba

You are responsible for booking your own airfare into Cuba. There will be one set meeting time for group travel, where there will be a bus transfer arranged with a local guide. Otherwise you are responsible for traveling to meet the group at the time and place set in your pre-departure materials. Taxis are readily available for transfers into the city. These taxis cost 25 CUC.

Arrival into Cuba

On arrival, you will proceed to immigration control and present your passport and visa to the immigration officer. You will have your photo taken. Following this, they will buzz you through a door and you will be transported into the baggage claim. After proceeding through a metal detector, you will pick up your luggage and wait to depart the airport with your group. At times the luggage retrieval can be slow. Please remember to be patient! After exiting the airport you will meet your guide and driver outside.

**On occasion an immigration officer might pull you aside to ask you questions regarding your visit to Cuba. This is completely normal. They may take down your passport information, ask you your profession, how much money you are bringing into the country, and where you are traveling in the country. You can feel free to show them your itinerary. Please answer all questions truthfully.

Money

Although credit and debit cards are now permitted to be used in Cuba, they still do not work. Travelers checks as well do not work. It is very important that you bring cash for all of your needs. Although each person is different, we recommend that you bring between $75-90 dollars per day for your program. It is always better to have more cash that you need with you. Most travelers will bring this extra cash home.

Health

Medicine

It is important to bring all the medication that you may need with you. The pharmacies in Cuba are not well stocked and medicines can be hard to obtain. We recommend leaving your prescriptions in their bottles and keeping them labeled.

Health Requirements

No inoculations are currently required for travel to Cuba. However the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) recommend that all international travelers have up-to-date tetanus, polio and hepatitis A vaccinations. For more details please visit the CDC web-page on Cuba: http://wwwnc.cdc.gov/travel/destinations/traveler/none/cuba/.

There is a risk of dengue fever and zika virus in the Caribbean. No vaccine is available to prevent dengue or zika. Travelers can reduce the risk by protecting themselves from mosquito bites, using repellent containing at least 90% DEET or Picaridin on exposed skin. Important to note is that mosquitoes are not common in Cuba, but many bring a small repellent spray with them.

Should you require medical attention during the tour, your main guide will be able to assist you.

Taking care of your self is probably the best protection against getting sick. Part of this is getting enough rest and drinking enough water. Mild diarrhea and sunstroke are two of the most common ailments for tourists in Cuba, and these are preventable with the necessary precautions. Make sure you bring sunscreen to protect yourself, and drink lots of non-alcoholic drinks during your trip.

Insurance

Included in your charter flight is medical insurance that covers up to $1,000 in medical emergencies. We highly recommend you purchase your own evacuation, trip cancellation and additional medical insurance. Allianz Global Alliance is a recommended insurance provider.

Money and Tipping

Why so much extra cash you may ask?

While we provide many of the meals on the trip, there are a few meals on your own, any extra drinks not included in your meals, taxi rides, gratuities for the local guide and driver, and also any other tipping that you may want to be a part of. These costs add up, and you will not have a way of getting more cash. Here are a sample of some of the costs you may run into:

  • Cocktails: 3-5 CUC
  • Meals at Paladares (restaurants) in Havana: 15-35 CUC
  • Wine (usually imported from Chile): 20-50 CUC/bottle
  • Taxis around town: 1.5 CUC per mile, usually around 5-12 CUC
  • Beer: 2-3 CUC

US dollars are not accepted in Cuba.

US dollars are subject to a 13% tax on converting USD to CUC. Euros or Canadian dollars are subject to a lower exchange rate (4-5% less) which varies daily. We only recommend taking CAD or Euros if you can purchase them in the United States at a favorable rate and with a commission charge of less than 5%.

Tipping

Tipping is a very important part of the tourism industry in Cuba. In a country where the majority of citizens make $15-30 CUC per month, tipping is the predominant reason why people get involved in the tourism industry. While tipping is a matter of personal preference, we often are asked for a guideline. Here are suggested amounts for the various individuals you may choose to tip while in Cuba.

Many ask if it is better to tip in dollars rather than CUCs. The receiver of this tip will have to exchange the dollar into a CUC, and since 1 USD only equals 87 cents of a CUC, the person would prefer 1 CUC instead. In short, we recommend tipping in CUC not in US dollars.

Tipping Guidelines

Bathroom attendants: Less than 1 CUC, small cents (10-25 cent coins)

Housekeeping: 1 CUC per day. We recommend leaving a tip every day as often chambermaids change which rooms they work.

Waiters (for meals on your own): 10% of total bill

Musicians at restaurants: 1-3 CUCs or you can purchase a CD if they offer them (10 CUC normally)

It’s important to budget for these tips, though they are small they can add up, and there will be no ATM available.

Currency Exchange

There are two currencies that are in circulation in Cuba: The Cuban Peso, which is used by local cubans for public transportation and local vegetable markets, and the CUC, the convertible peso. The CUC is the currency we will use. You can exchange money at any hotel or money exchange house. The rate is 1 USD to 87 cents of a CUC.

Recommended Reading

Recommended Informational Books

Cuba Revelations by Marc Frank (2014)

An insightful, in-depth look at contemporary Cuba, written by a reporter who has lived in Havana for the last 25 years.

Cuba: What Everyone Needs to Know by Julia Sweig (2009)

Director for Latin American Studies at the Council on Foreign Relations, Sweig traces the geography, history and identity of Cuba in this admirably succinct history of the island nation and its role in world affairs.

Havana by Alfredo Jose Estrada (2007)

One of my favorite books on Havana. A look into the rich history of this beautiful city. Estrada writes in narrative history form and can sometimes be too informational, but still it is a great read for anyone visiting this city.

Moon Handbook Cuba by Christopher Baker (2015)

Baker’s comprehensive, indispensable guide leaves no stone unturned, covering the natural, cultural and political life of Cuba. One of the best guidebooks on Cuba.

 

 

 

Recommended Novels

Dreaming in Cuban by Cristina Garcia (1992)

A short, poetic novel or three generations of Cuban women, their reaction to the revolution and the complex relation between those who remained in Cuba and those who settled in the States.

Waiting for Snow in Havana by Carlos Eire (2004)

A lyrical memoir of a privileged, eccentric boyhood 1950s Havana. Eire, a historian at Yale, fled with his brother to the United States in the wake of revolution.

The Old Man and The Sea by Ernest Hemingway (1952)

This is a classic, written by Hemingway while he was living in Cuba.

Our Man in Havana by Graham Greene (1958)

The story of a British vacuum cleaner salesman who gets accidentally drawn into cold war espionage with disastrous results.

Specific Topics

Cuba and Its Music, From the First Drums to the Mambo By Ned Sublette (2007)

A thorough and entertaining history of Cuba and its music by the popular radio producer, music historian and cofounder of Cuban record label QbaDisc.

Bacardi and the Long Fight for Cuba By Tom Gjelten (2009)

Gjelten chronciles the rich intersection of power and politics, community and exile in contemporary Cuba through the saga of the Bacardi family. A fixture in making 1920s Havana a playground for the rich and famous in the prohibiiton era, Bacardi-and its proprietary yeast strain-famously left Cuba for Puerto Rico during the revolution.

The Sugar King of Havana: The Rise and Fall of Julio Lobo, Cuba’s Last Tycoon

By John Paul Rathbone (2011)

Another favorite of mine on Cuba. “Drawing on stories from the author’s own family history and other tales of the island’s lost haute bourgeoisie, The Sugar King of Havana is a rare portrait of Cuba’s glittering past-and a hopeful window into its future.”

-Amazon description.

Havana Nocturne: How the Mob Owned Cuba and Then Lost it to the Revolution

By T.J English (2009)

An interesting account of the Mob’s role in Cuba in the 1950’s and their subsequent descent and exit from the island after the revolution.

Travel Literature

Trader with the Enemy: A Yankee Travels Through Castro’s Cuba by Tom Miller (2008)

Miller captures the openness, sensuality and pride of Cuba and the Cubans in this eloquent account of entertaining travels in Fidel’s Cuba.

Enduring Cuba By Zoe Bran (2008)

Zoe Bran shares her experience traveling through Cuba with a natural history tour in early 2001. While there have been changes, many of her thoughts and insights remain true of Cuba.

Recommended Movies and Documentaries

Strawberry and Chocolate (Fresa y Chocolate) (1993) Nominated for an Oscar, the film tells the story of two men in Cuba who fall in love with each other.

Before Night Falls The life of Cuban poet an novelist, Reinaldo Arenas

Unfinished Spaces Documentary describing the architecture of the Institute of Superior Arts in Havana *Highly recommended.*

The Man of Two Havanas (2012) The documentary describes the life and happenings of Max Lesnik, a revolutionary who left Cuba and who has created uproar with his continual outspoken nature of the Revolution. An excellent documentary.

Suite Havana (2003) Following the lives of thirteen ordinary Cubans as they set out about their day. The film has no dialogue and is a documentary.

Seven Days in Havana (2012) Directed by Benicio Del Toro, the film is set in Havana and plays out a week for various individuals in the capital city.

Visa and Flight Information

Visa

All US citizens are required to have a tourist visa to travel to Cuba. You can purchase your visa at the departure gateway airport when you check in for your flight to Cuba.

Arrival into Cuba

On arrival, you will proceed to immigration control and present your passport and visa to the immigration officer. You will have your photo taken. Following this, they will buzz you through a door and you will be transported into the baggage claim. After proceeding through a metal detector, you will pick up your luggage and wait to depart the airport with your group. At times the luggage retrieval can be slow. Please remember to be patient! After exiting the airport you will meet your guide and driver outside.

**On occasion an immigration officer might pull you aside to ask you questions regarding your visit to Cuba. This is completely normal. They may take down your passport information, ask you your profession, how much money you are bringing into the country, and where you are traveling in the country. You can feel free to show them your itinerary. Please answer all questions truthfully.