Cuba is a gorgeous Caribbean island with friendly people and a bad reputation. The rest of the world has been vacationing in Cuba for decades and when we were finally able to join them, I couldn’t wait to go.
Unlike most places in the world, Americans can’t just go to Cuba. It takes a little work and some planning ahead.
- You must have a valid passport. Renew it before you go if it’s due to expire within the next year.
- You need a visa. You can apply for it at the airport where you will depart to Cuba. There was a little stand at the gate where we paid $50 USD each, declared our reason to travel, and got our stamp. It was quick and easy. There are twelve acceptable reasons to travel to Cuba.
- Visit family
- Official US government business
- Journalist activities
- Professional research
- Educational activities
- Religious activities
- Public performances
- Support for the Cuban people
- Humanitarian projects
- Activities of private foundations or research or educational institutes
- Exportation , importation, or transmission of information
- Certain authorized export transactions
- BRING CASH! More importantly, bring anything except US dollars (USD). American credit cards aren’t accepted in Cuba, so don’t even bother trying to use them, and there is a 10% fee for exchanging USD to Cuban Convertible Pesos (CUC) in Cuba. You can’t get Cuban currency in the US so the best bet is to exchange USD for Euros or Canadian dollars in the States, then exchange that in Cuba. Exchanging is easy at the airport or your hotel. To make things even more confusing, Cuba has two currencies: CUC, which tourists primarily use, and Cuban Pesos (CUP) which the locals use. At the time of this post, CUC is 1:1 for USD but the CUP is 26:1 for USD. Don’t worry, according to the locals, tourists can’t even get CUP, so now that you know about it, forget about it.
- If you’re like me and the idea of not confirming your hotel reservation with a deposit makes you nervous, book through a Canadian travel agent. We went thru Jury at A. Nash Travel,(whom I learned about from The Points Guy blog) and he responded quickly and was able to book us exactly what we wanted, even though it was originally booked. We paid him and he provided us with a voucher for proof of purchase, but we never needed to show it. We were all set when we arrived.
- Medical insurance that covers Cuba is required. Most plan cover emergencies in foreign countries, so just call your company and check. Mine covered us, so I brought our insurance card and a print out of the policy stating we were covered. However, no one ever asked us for proof of medical insurance. But I was still glad I had it, just in case. Most airlines also include the required medical insurance in the cost of your ticket, just be sure to check before leaving. If your insurance and your flight don’t cover it, you can buy coverage online for an average of $4 USD/day.
- QUIT WORRYING! No, Cuba wasn’t scary. We stayed in Varadero at a resort, not in Havana, but we came across plenty of Cuban people and they were all super friendly. Certainly, just like any city in the world, stay away from the bad areas in the middle of the night. No, we didn’t get asked a million questions when we came back to the US. In fact, no one asked any of a single question. I’m not sure they even knew we were in Cuba and if they did, they didn’t care.
- Bring back cigars but not CUC. You can’t exchange your leftover Cuban Convertible Pesos when you get back to the US, so exchange them before you leave back to whatever currency you want, except for USD. We all exchanged it for Euros, since we’re heading to Spain in April.
If you’re thinking about vacationing in Cuba but are a little hesitant, GO! It was beautiful, relaxing, and everyone was so friendly. The little bit of work to go was totally worth it for the experience.
Do you have any other tips? Or maybe just a question? Let me know in the comments below!