Ten Things to Know Before Traveling to Cuba
I visited Havana shortly after the travel restrictions were loosened in early 2015. Here are my ten things to know before traveling to Cuba! For more information check out our American Travel Guide to Cuba.
Visa is required
The visa is only a simple piece of paper, more like a ticket to enter Cuba. The visa can be purchased at the airport or from your airline. Cost is $50 – $100 depending on the airline. Contact your carrier’s website for more information.
Qualify under one of the 12 allowable travel categories
Tourism is technically not allowed and you are supposed to qualify under one of the 12 justifications for travel to Cuba. This is rarely if ever enforced.
Limit Currency Exchanges
There are long lines at almost every Cuban bank to exchange currency. Don’t waste your time if you can avoid it. Exchange all the currency you think you will need right when you arrive in Cuba. Don’t do it several times over the duration of the trip like I did.
10% tax on US Dollar Exchanges
When you arrive in Cuba, you will be required to exchange your dollars for Cuban Pesos. This is typically done after landing at the airport. As a punitive measure, the Cuban government levies a 10% tax on the exchange. This is not done with any other foreign currencies, that I am aware of.
If you are traveling to Mexico, Canada, or Europe, it may be a good idea to stock up on foreign currency before visiting Cuba. Do not take out foreign currency at your bank in the US, the fees will likely be more than the 10% savings.
Avoid expensive hotels
There are plenty of expensive hotels to stay at in Cuba. I highly recommend using Airbnb and staying at a Cuban’s home or B&B, which are known as “Casa Particular”. Try to find one which offers breakfast (typically costs $5). Check out our Tips on Booking Airbnb in Cuba for more info.
Research restaurants ahead of time
Make sure to do extensive research on where you want to eat ahead of time. There are restaurants everywhere but many are government owned and downright terrible. Stale bread, poor service, etc. Research the top restaurants on TripAdvisor extensively before traveling.
Limits on cigar & liquor
US Customs previously limited Cuban goods which can be brought back into the United States at $100 of liquor and cigars. Last fall, the Obama Administration removed those limits. The limit is now 100 cigars and 1 liter of alcohol.
Credit cards may not work
Assume your credit cards will not work. Arrive in Cuba with more than enough cash to last for your entire trip. If you run out, your only option will be wiring cash from back home. I was unable to use any of my credit cards when I visited in spring 2015.
Your phone may not work
Although more and more US carriers are extending service to Cuba, it’s important to check beforehand. WiFi calling is your best bet (T-Mobile and Google Fi are confirmed to work). Skype is also a good option if you have WiFi.
WiFi is government controlled
WiFi cards must be purchased and require a code which generally only works in a limited number of locations. Check out our tips on finding WiFi in Havana.