Cuba Series #1: Arriving in Cuba – Tips & Suggestions

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Cuba is the hot travel topic for the moment due to the scheduled flights opening this month. I recently had the pleasure and opportunity of spending a week in the capital of Cuba, Havana. There were some things I wish I knew before I went so I decided to write a small travel series focused on tips & suggestions on traveling to Cuba. If you have any questions, please ask them!!

  • Getting off the Plane – upon arrival you’ll enter Cuban immigration where there is a desk on the right where you’ll get your Cuban Visa and exchange Dollars to CUC (Cuba Convertible Peso). If you miss this desk and end up in the general immigration line, you will be sent back to buy your Cuban Visa and have to wait in the immigration line again.
  • Buying the Cuban Visa – the visa to enter Cuba is $87 and you can pay with USD. They don’t accept credit cards so make sure to have some cash on you.
  • Exchanging US Dollars – there is a 13% tax on exchanging USD to CUC and this is standard around the country. So, a $100 bill will get you $87 (conveniently the visa is $87). A ‘black market’ exchange rate of 10% can sometimes be found, but you most likely do not want to be dealing with these people.
  • The Coveted Stamp – the immigration officials may speak limited English but don’t count on it. The official asked me if I wanted my passport stamped (keep in mind, this is still an illegal stamp), but the other two Americans traveling with me were not asked if they wanted the stamp. I of course said yes, but the other two Americans don’t have a stamp.
  • Luggage DO NOT check bags. If there is any way you can avoid checking bags I highly recommend traveling carry on only.  Our group of 4 waited for 3.5 hours for our checked bags and no one in the airport cared or helped. We basically sat around with another 10 people from our plane waiting for our luggage which was most likely sitting on the tarmac.  I also spoke with two British people that had the same experience in June and another group Americans who had the same experience the day after ours. If you must check a bag, make sure all of your essential items are in your carryon, ie. Medications.

Travel to Cuba for tourist activities remains prohibited by statute.  There are, however, 12 categories of authorized travel.  All of the Cuba experiences we offer fit within the qualifications mandated by the US Government.

Family visits; Official business of the US 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 informational materials; And certain authorized export transactions

I’ll be writing a Cuba article once a week this month. So let’s get a conversation going…

What Cuba travel questions do you have?