CUBA TRAVEL FAQ

What are the documents I will need for Cuba and when will I receive them?
  1. You will receive all of the documents you need for your trip in an envelope in the mail before you leave for Miami or at the Miami International Airport where you will meet with a CBF representative (exact location and details TBA within two weeks of your departure date).  The method of delivery will be discussed with you beforehand. Once you receive this envelope, we suggest that you keep everything safely together in that envelope for the entire duration of your trip.  Once you arrive to your hotel room, please put the envelope in the safe for safekeeping until it is time to go to the airport again.

The documents you will receive are:

  1. Travel Ticket(plus Boarding Pass after your bags are checked in).
  2. U.S. Treasury Department OFAC People-to-People license to travel to Cuba.  Your name will be on your license.  You will not need this until your return flight to the United States where you may be asked to present it at customs in the US.  It is recommended that you keep this license for 5 years after the program is complete.  If you ever register for Global Entry, they will want a copy of this license to make sure you traveled to Cuba legally.
  3. Cuban Visa.  Your Cuban visa is a loose tourist card (i.e. it is not stamped in your passport) which you will present along with your passport to the customs agent upon arrival in Havana. It is divided into two parts and it is ESSENTIAL that you retain the second part which will be returned to you by the Cuban customs agent. You will not be able to leave Cuba without it.
  4. Cuban Health Insurance Card –you will be asked to fill this out and turn it in at the airport in Havana.  Medical insurance is covered with your ticket.

TRAVEL INSURANCE IS HIGHLY RECOMMENDED.  Insurance for travel to Cuba is tricky because U.S. citizens must be approved for travel by our U.S. Treasury Department and therefore insurance companies want to see that license before they will approve a policy.  Knowing this, we chose Travelex Insurance Services to build a relationship with and they have a representative for us who handles all Cuban travel.  They offer individual policies with and without a pre-existing waiver.  They also offer group policies for 10 people or more and a policy with a cancel for any reason benefit.   If you are interested in travel insurance, please contact Lisa Friedman by e-mail at Lisa.Friedman@Frosch.com.  Please note:  If you are interested in a policy with a Pre-existing waiver or a cancel-for-any-reason benefit, you must take out your insurance within 21 days of paying your deposit.  

What can I expect the morning of departure?

Depending on which airline you are flying with, you will encounter one of the the following check-in options:

  • 2 Lines – one line to check your documents and another line to check your bags
  • 1 Line – for both documents and checking bags
  • Kiosks – for documents and a line for checking bags (if needed)

If you have received your documents via mail, you will simply go to the designated check-in counter (as marked on your ticket) for your flight and the person working at the counter will show you where to go and what to do.

If a CBF Representative is bringing your documents to you at the airport, first you will meet your CBF Representative at the designated check-in time and place and the complete the check-in process together:

  • If there are 2 Lines – your CBF Rep will collect all passports and join the documents line.  They will guide you to the baggage line (whether you are checking a bag or not).  As you wait in the baggage line, the representative will begin to distribute your documents back to you.
  • If there is 1 Line – everyone (including the CBF Rep) will join the line and wait together.
  • If you use the Kiosks – the CBF Rep will guide you through the kiosk check-in process.  You will receive your boarding pass from the kiosk.  If anyone has to check a bag, they will be asked to join the baggage line after completing the kiosk process.  If you do not have any bags to check, you will simply step aside and wait for the rest of the group to check their bags.

Once everyone in the group has received their documents, checked their bags, and received their boarding passes, the group will go to TSA to pass through security and go to the gate to board the plane.

Additional forms that will be given to you at the airport are the:

  • blue customs form (one per family)
  • white medical form (one per person)

These are to be filled out by the time you get to Cuba.  You can fill them out on the plane.  The blue form will be required at the customs desk (upon arrival) and the white form will be required at the medical desk (just after your baggage goes through the screening belt).

Some airlines include the Cuban airport taxes. Some will ask you to pay for this at the airport before departure ($25-$28).  Please be prepared to pay this in cash.

Most airlines will ask for ~$20 per checked bag. It is possible they may weigh your carry-on luggage as well and charge you if it is overweight.

 

What are the baggage fees?

Please have cash ready to pay for your bags at the Miami International Airport.  Luggage fees vary a little with each charter company.  Typically, the baggage fees for all charters will be as follows:

Luggagewill cost $20 for the first checked bag of up to 44lbs.*

Additional bags will cost $20 each + $2 per pound.  (Please do not over pack!).  You will only need light clothing, one pair of comfortable walking shoes, a pair of dress shoes, and some nice outfits for the evenings.  A cardigan or sweatshirt will be good to have in case it gets breezy at night.

Single Luggage may not weigh more than 60 lbs. 

Carry On allowance:  2 bags not to exceed 22 pounds for both or 1 less than 20 lbs.

All of your luggage, including purses and laptop bags, are subject to be weighed.  If your carry on exceeds 20 pounds, you may be asked to check the bag and pay additional charges.

What happens when I arrive in Cuba?

You will go through Cuban customs and they may ask you questions about your reason for traveling.

Why are you here?  People-to-People Program

What are you going to do?  People-to-People Program

Are you bringing donations?  Just a few gifts (regalos is the Spanish word for gifts)

What organization is meeting you?  Havanatur – Cuba’s only tour operator for Americans

See Question #1 for info regarding your Cuban Visa.

After going through customs and turning in your blue customs form and your visa, you will see a desk with two seated people who will collect your white Medical Insurance forms(which were given to you at Miami International Aiport).  Then, you will collect your checked bags and exit the airport.  Your guide will be there waiting for you.

Should I come bearing gifts?

We suggest that you bring about 5lbs of gifts for the people you will meet in Cuba – This may include any or all of the following (NOTE:  Do not let this list limit you.  If you have an idea for a gift, simply ask us if it will be okay to bring!).

Please give your gifts to a Copperbridge Foundation Representative while in Cuba.  The CBF Rep will ensure that these gifts are given to the people who are most in need of them.

Remember this is simply a suggestion.  You are NOT required to bring gifts.

-Soap is in high demand!  It is expensive and hard to find in Cuba right now.

-Art Supplies (Canvas, oil paints, brushes, sketchpads, watercolors)

-School/ Writing Supplies (pencils, note pads, pens, envelopes)

-Medical Supplies

-Medicine (Tylenol, Advil, Vitamins, cold medicine, flu medicine, etc.)

-Toothbrushes, toothpaste, soap, shampoo, deodorant

-Sunglasses

-Sunblock

-AA batteries

-Make-Up

-Fabrics

-Clothes (old/new)

-Baby needs – baby clothes, disposable diapers, baby wipes.

-Sewing kits

-Mosquito repellent

-Condoms

-For women: Make-up, Perfume, costume jewelry, tampons, and nail polish and hair accessories.

-For men: Men’s cologne, disposable razors.

-For children: Toys, books, chewing gum, backpacks with logos

-For musicians:  guitar strings, reeds for woodwind instruments and drumsticks

-Music – CD’s of jazz, R&B, and hip hop music

-For dancers:  tank tops, dance pants, sports bras, and ballet, jazz, split sole dance shoes

——Whatever you bring will be much appreciated!

You are not required to bring gifts, but once you are there you will probably wish that you had.  In addition to the aforementioned, small tokens of appreciation are greatly appreciated such as miniature chocolate bars!  This will come in handy when you meet local kids or want to show your appreciation for good service (cab drivers, hotel workers, etc.)  You may also want to bring a perfume/cologne or handbag you never use to give to someone you had an especially memorable encounter with.  They will appreciate the gesture.

What is the best form of money to bring to Cuba?

Due to recent changes, it is now legal to use American debit/credit cards or travelers checks in Cuba.  However, these changes are being implemented slowly and so far this only works with specific cards and specific banks.   At this time, the best form of money is CASH. 

Once there, you must exchange your American dollars for Cuban CUCs.  The exchange rate is the same everywhere:  13% for U.S. dollars.  You will be able to convert your money at the hotel you are staying in as well as at the airport.  If you already have Euros or any other currency, you may bring that to convert to CUCs.  However, it is not going to save you money to exchange your USD to another currency and then to CUC.

How much money should I bring?

This is always a hard question to answer since it depends on what you are planning to buy!  We recommend an average of $100/day per person.  Remember that it is better to have a little too much than to run out of money.   If you are planning to buy artwork, you may want to bring more. See below.

Things to keep in mind:

Lunches and dinners average from $15-$40 for a good meal.

Taxis in Havana rarely cost more than $5-$10.

The Tropicana show costs $75

You can buy original art in Cuba for amounts ranging from $5 to $100,000 (You will be able to pay a deposit and arrange the rest of the payment and retrieval of art once you are back at home in the U.S.  Please contact Joelle@copperbridge.org for more information about this.)

Tipping is usually 10%-15% in restaurants

**Tips for our guide and driver is as follows:  $8 per day for your guide, $5 per day for your driver.  If you like them you may consider giving more.  Please check to see if this is included in your program or not and plan accordingly.

What about carrying around large amounts of cash and valuable items?

The hotel has a safe in each room.  We highly recommend using these for extra cash and passports.  Do not carry your passports with you!  However, you should bring a copy of your passport around with you.  If you buy a piece of art, the artist will need your passport number to fill out the paperwork necessary for traveling with artwork.  It will save you time to have it on you.

What is the limit on expenditures?

There is currently no specific dollar amount on expenditures.  More info HERE.

Am I restricted in what I can bring back from Cuba to the US?

You may purchase merchandise to be brought back to the USA within the $400 limit. This limit does not apply to art, books, tapes, CDs, photographs, posters, paintings, sculpture etc. which are considered “informational materials”.  Although you can bring as much informational material back to the United States as you want to, you may still be subject to the duty that is generally levied on any books exceeding the value of $800.

What kind of souvenirs and gifts might I want to buy?

Crafts such as homemade dolls, musical instruments for kids, crocheted items, wooden items, and CD’s of Cuban music are good items to take home.  There is a gift shop at the Museum of Fine Arts that has expresso cups made in China but with designs by Cuban artists on them.  There are inexpensive gifts to buy at the craft market, which is open from Wednesday to Sunday.

Can I bring back cigars and rum?

Yes.  More info on this HERE

Can I drink the water?

No.  You should only drink bottled water which will be available at the stores near your hotel or B&B.  The restaurants we have chosen for your program will not use tap water for your meals.

For Brushing Teeth – Yes, you may brush your teeth with this water.  As a precaution, you can turn on the hot water and let it run a minute to kill any germs, then brush your teeth with warm water. This was recommended by an Infectious Disease doctor on one of our programs.  If that makes you uncomfortable, use bottled water.

What about the ice?

All ice is made from bottled water in the hotels at the restaurants chosen for your program.

What about food washed in water?

Everyone’s tolerance for foreign bacteria is different, so each person must decide what is safe for them.  In general, we recommend that you show caution when eating fruits and vegetables that cannot be peeled.  Most people found the salads and fruit perfectly safe in the hotels and restaurants in our program.

Can I use my cell phone in Cuba?

Your cell phone will probably not work in Cuba.  Most people enjoy detaching from their cell phones while in Cuba.

However, you can check with your mobile service provider to see what they offer.  If your mobile phone will not work, and you require a cell phone, please ask us in advance so we may try to arrange this service for you.  SIM cards are available for rent in Cuba.

There will be a phone for you to use in your hotel.  Your guide and/or bus driver will have a cell phone in case you need to make an emergency call.  The cost of a call to the U.S. is about $2.30 per minute.

What about e-mail?

The hotels in Havana offer Wi-Fi service.  There may be an additional charge.   Generally, internet access in Cuba is hard to come by so you may not have internet when outside of your hotel in Havana.

Is it easy to make telephone calls from Havana? How about sending or receiving faxes?

There is no AT&T, MCI, or Sprint access numbers from Havana.  You can only dial direct.  Cuba’s country code is 53 and Havana’s city code is 7.  The rate per minute to call the United States from the hotel is about $2.50 per minute.  It is also possible to buy telephone cards and use these in one of the many phone boxes in Havana.  The hotel may have them.  The 20CUC card allows about 15 minutes of talking.  The per minute rate at phone boxes is about $1.40.  Sometimes it may take dialing a number two or three times before you make a connection.  Calling from your room is very expensive.

What is the electricity in Cuba and the plug size?

There are two voltages in Cuba – 110W and 220W.  Most places have both plugs.  Often, if you need anything it will only be an adapter to make your 3-prong plug into a 2-prong plug.

The hotel has a hair dryer in the room.

What about taxis — are they easy to get and how do I recognize them?

There are plenty of “official” taxis in Havana and they are easily identified by the taxi sign attached to the roof of each car. These taxis have meters and you are charged on CUCs.

There are also plenty of “unofficial” taxis. These are often quite fabulous 1950’s cars. It is quite safe to use these but we recommend setting a fare that you both agree on before you depart as they do not have meters.  You will see the “unofficial” taxis at the same taxi ranks as the official taxis.

Co Co Taxis, called Tuk Tuks in some countries are readily available.  They are usually 5 CUCs per ride.

Can we watch CNN in Cuba?

Yes, it will be possible to watch CNN on the television in your hotel room.  On some occasions, you may experience interference.

What will the weather be like?

The weather is very similar to Miami, Florida.  Over the course of a year, the temperature typically varies from 61°F to 90°F and is rarely below 52°F or above 92°F. Please bring a light jacket in case it gets cool in the evenings.  It is possible that it could rain, especially around the Summer, so you might want to bring a travel umbrella.  It is doubtful that the hotel will have umbrellas for their guests.

What kind of dress code should we pack for?

Dress is generally very informal in Cuba, in large part due to the tough economic times faced by the broad population.  You do not want to stand out too much. In general, clothes should be on the informal side.  Shorts and T shirts are okay during the day.  Clothing for evening is informal, and you may want a light jacket, sweater, or shawl. There is a pool at the hotel. Comfortable shoes are a must for walking on cobblestones.  Please leave good jewelry at home.  As supplies are not readily available, remember to bring sunscreen, hat, sunglass, and an extra pair of “readers”, mosquito repellent, soap, camera, Band-Aids.

What are business hours?

 There are no hard-and-fast rules, but most businesses and banks are open Monday through Friday from 9am to 5pm. Some businesses and banks close for an hour for lunch. Shops and department stores, especially those that cater to tourists, tend to have slightly more extended hours, and are usually open on Saturday and Sunday.

What about medical care?

In the case you need medical treatment, the hotel has a doctor who will have medications you may need.  Havana actually has good hospitals and clinics. Our Cuban guide will be able to assist you. We recommend drinking bottled water only.The most common afflictions for visitors are mild diarrhea and sunstroke. Remember to drink plenty of non-caffeinated, non-alcoholic drinks, use sunscreen, and get enough rest.

Should I bring any medications with me?

Like all third world countries, it is wise to bring some medications with you in case you need them.  Some people prepare for foreign travel by taking Asadopholis supplements or Pepto-Bismol daily.  It is wise to travel with medicine for stomach problems, etc. – Imodium, Cipro, and Z-pack.

***Remember to bring all of your regular medications in their original bottle. 

Is tipping expected?

Most Cuban workers earn incredibly low salaries – around CUC$8 to CUC$12 a month – so tips are an extremely important and coveted source of supplemental income. With the rise in tourism, all sorts of workers now expect and work for tips, including taxi drivers, porters, waiters, guides, and restaurant musicians. Taxi drivers in particular expect any small change on a fare. So if the meter reads CUC$2.30, you are expected to pay CUC$2.50, although you are certainly within your rights to ask for CUC$.20 or so change. Porters should be tipped between CUC$.50 and CUC$1 per bag. Some restaurants include a 10% service charge, although you should tip the waiter an additional 5% to 10% depending upon the quality of service, or even more (as this is how they actually survive, since they will not see any of that 10% service charge).  The maid should be tipped around CUC$1 a day, and also tip the waiters who serve you every day at breakfast as they are also working on miserable salaries.

*At the end of the trip we give $8 per person per day to the guide and $5 per person per day to the driver of the bus.

Will we have a chance to go to an evening cultural performance?

Of course, Copperbridge Foundation provides many opportunities to see community dance projects.  If you wish to see MORE on your own… Ballet, opera, and concerts may be available while we are there.  They are usually announced two weeks ahead of time.  The famous Tropicana, which is the precursor to the Las Vegas show, has regular performances as well, and there is a Cabaret show at the Hotel Nacional.  If you would like to go to a performance, please let a CBF Rep or the concierge know while we are there to arrange for tickets.

What is the situation with public toilets?

You must usually count on the generosity of some hotel or restaurant, or duck into a museum or other attraction. Although it’s rare that a tourist would be denied the use of the facilities, you should always ask first. In broad terms, the sanitary condition of public restrooms in Cuba is much higher than those found throughout the developing world, although at many establishments,toilet seats and toilet paper are often missing. ****Always bring toilet paper with you wherever you go!

Many restrooms have an attendant, who is sometimes responsible for dispensing toilet paper. Upon exiting, you are expected to either leave a tip, or pay a specified fee. If the restrooms are not clean and you do not take the toilet paper, do not feel obliged to tip. Otherwise, leave up to CUC$.25

What is Cuban food like?

Cuban cuisine is Caribbean —not Mexican.

Food is not spicy though it is flavorful. Cubans do not use chili pepper or tortillas. Expect a choice of fish/lobster, chicken, or pork/lamb for the main course, accompanied by rice, beans, plantains, yucca, or other root vegetables. Salads are small. Desserts of flan (custard) and/or ice cream are the standard. The hotel serves a breakfast buffet every morning with lots of choices. Most restaurants are run by the State.  Paladars, which are private restaurants run in people’s homes, have sprung up throughout the city. Paladars have many government-imposed restrictions. For example, beef, shrimp, and lobster are highly controlled by the government and paladar owners are not supposed to serve them. They do anyway, but one must always be prepared to arrive at a paladar known for its great lobster, and not find it available because the government inspector is due to arrive that day. Going to a paladar is a great way to see a Cuban home and people who are bridging the gap between a collective and private economy. ·

Can they accommodate special food needs?

The Cuban diet is heavy on rice, beans, and animal protein. Vegetarians can be accommodated.  Low-carb diets are difficult to maintain in Cuba, however the breakfast buffets at most hotels are amply stocked with cheeses, hardboiled eggs and fruits and vegetables.

If I would like to purchase art in Cuba, how do I go about negotiating?

Visitors will have ample opportunity to purchase art (art is exempt from Custom constraints).

Here are some guidelines to keep in mind:

  1. Agree on price with the artist.
  2. Agree on payment method.  If the art is a few hundred dollars or less, you would probably pay for it there.  If it’s an expensive piece, they work on the honor system.  You either take the piece with you or they mail it.  Once you return home and have the piece you transfer the money to the artist’s bank account or send a check. Most artists have accounts overseas in Spain, Canada, Panama, etc. If you would like to send a check, please contact Joelle@copperbridge.org upon arriving home.
  3. Provide Passport information to seller to obtain Permit (needed at Customs).

Permit: the exit permit (requires 24 hours to secure) will be provided to you along with the piece if you are taking it with you.  Agree on a time to meet the artist at the hotel.  Around 6pm is usually a good time because we are finished with the day’s tour and have not yet left for dinner.

The pieces will be packed for shipping (easy to carry on plane). Due to the number of transactions, this process can take time.

What is the service like in Cuba?

Be prepared for slow but warm and pleasant service. Do not be surprised if your fax takes a few hours to send or if the coffee you ordered takes 10 minutes to reach you. This is Cuba, enjoy it!

Is Cuba safe?

Cuba is considered a safe country.  Most crimes are crimes of passion and theft.  Violent muggings are rare.  However, leaving your purse on the ground while you are dancing salsa would not be recommended!!!  While Cuba is considered a safe country, you must always stay smart and watch your stuff as you would anywhere else in the world.  Leaving your items on the bus during daily activities is recommended.  Leaving your valuables such as your passport, visa, license, etc. in the safe of your hotel for the entire duration of your trip is recommended. For further information with regards to the safe in your hotel room, please contact the hotel or refer to your hotel’s website.

Is there anything we should know about Etiquette & Customs?

Cubans are friendly, open, and physically expressive people. They strike up conversations easily and seldom use the formal terms of address in Spanish. However, be aware that as a foreigner, many Cubans who start a conversation with you are hoping in some way to get some economic gain out of the relationship. Jineterismo, or jockeying, is a way of life in Cuba. This may involve anything from offers to take you to a specific restaurant or hotel (for a commission) to direct appeals for money or goods.

Perhaps the greatest concern for etiquette is what you say. Open criticism of the government or of Fidel or Raúl Castro is a major taboo. Don’t do it — especially in open public places. The police, community revolutionary brigades, and reprisals for vocal dissent are an ongoing legacy of Cuba’s political reality.  One effect of this is that while Cubans you meet will often be very open and expressive with you, they tend to immediately clam up the minute another Cuban unknown to them enters the equation.

What if I miss my connecting flight?

We understand that once you plan your trip to Cuba, you may need to book flights to and from Miami from your hometown.  While Charter companies do not always offer confirmed flight information in advance and flight information is always subject to change, you may book your flights keeping this in mind:

Passengers should arrive in Miami the night before.  We recommend staying at The Miami International Airport Hotel (or any hotel near the airport) for your convenience as check-in for Cuba flights tend to begin very early in the morning.

For return flights we advise booking flights to home cities from Miami later in the evening or the following day to allow for potential delays in the charter flight from Havana to Miami (as delays happen frequently!).  Unless you have purchased travel insurance (recommended), you will not be reimbursed for your missed connecting flights.

We find that it is better to spend a little extra time at the Miami International Airport waiting for your connecting flight than dealing with the hassle and financial burden of re-booking your flight.  Please book wisely!

Should I bring a hairdryer?

Most hotels have hairdryers.  If you are staying at a B&B (Casa particular) or a private apartment, we recommend bringing your own.