I just completed my trip to Cuba and it was a little messy at the beginning. There were a lot of things I did not know that I wish I did, starting with which airline to book my flight with. Here are my top five lessons learned that should help make your preparations for Cuba go a lot smoother.
Horseback tour in Vinales, Cuba: Future Post Coming Soon
1.Visa- Breaking down the visa process
How to legally travel to Cuba as an American:
This is the first and foremost important item to note. You need a visa and you need to pay for it. USA travelers are still on the fence about traveling to Cuba because of the need to have a "valid reason". Which is accurate, but try not to read too much into it. There are twelve options you can pick from, they are listed below.
1. Family visits
2. Official business of the U.S. government, foreign governments, and certain intergovernmental organizations
3. Journalistic activity
4. Professional research and professional meetings
5. Educational activities
6. Religious activities
7. Public performances, clinics, workshops, athletic and other competitions, and exhibitions
8. Support for the Cuban people
9. Humanitarian projects
10. Activities of private foundations or research or educational institutes
11. Exportation, importation, or transmission of information or information materials
12. Certain export transactions that may be considered for authorization under existing regulations and guidelines.
Everyone I have traveled with picked option 8, support for the Cuban people. On the day of your flight, at the gate you will be asked to complete an affidavit where you pick one of the 12 options listed above and sign. That's it. You will then be handed a tourist visa like the one shown below, assuming the payment has been taken of already. More details on payment below. We were not questioned or asked to provide any documentation.
Lets look at airlines and cost of a visa. Be careful which airline you book your flight with because that will determine exactly how much you pay for your visa. The visa itself costs $50. Depending on the airline, you will either pay the bare $50 or more. If the airline sells the visa without involving a third party, you can pay for it the day of your flight at the gate. Otherwise, you will have to purchase it ahead of time online through a third party site, and choose to either have it mailed, or pick it up at the gate on the day of your flight.
Third party services include extra fees for convenience and mailing. Delta, JetBlue, and Southwest sell the visa right at the gate so you don't have to pay anything extra beyond the $50. I flew with Spirit which uses a third party and I had to pay $75. Something to note about mailing the visa- if you choose mail, it becomes your responsibility and the airline cannot be held accountable for lost or damaged visas. Some airlines like American and Frontier will charge you extra for mailing.
Here is a breakdown of the other major airlines that have services from the US to Cuba:
Southwest: $50 – Purchase online & delivered at the gate
JetBlue: $50 – Purchase at gate
Delta: $50 – Purchase at gate or through mail
United: $75 – Purchase at gate
American: $85 – Purchase online & sent via regular mail
Frontier: $110 – Purchase online & sent via regular mail
Spirit: $75 - Purchase online & pick up at gate or mail
1950s American car Taxi Tour in Havana, Cuba: Future Post Coming soon
Cuba requires a basic health insurance in order for you to travel. This is usually covered by the airline and is part of your ticket. Read the fine print and check with your airline to make sure. Here is what the Spirit customer site says about health insurance. Check your airline's customer service site to make sure you are covered.
First item to note, Cuban currency is NOT traded internationally, so you can’t buy it in advance. You will have to buy it when you arrive in Cuba. There are two legal currencies in Cuba.
First, the Convertible Peso (CUC) is pegged 1:1 to the USD. It is the major legal currency for Cuba that you will have to deal with as a tourist. For international exchange purposes 1.00 Cuban Convertible Peso = $1.00 USD. For American travelers note that there is a 10% penalty charged when exchanging USA dollars cash, so, you will only receive 87 centavos CUC for one USA dollar when changing the money, allowing for the 10% penalty and a 3% currency exchange fee. Therefore, it is better to exchange dollars for Canadian dollars or Euros before arriving in Cuba and exchange that to CUC instead of USD. You'd get more bang for your buck that way.
This is what a 10CUC looks like:
The second legal currency used in Cuba is the Pesos, CUP. The conversion is as follows: 24CUP=1CUC=1USD. The CUP is rarely used by the vast majority of tourists. I've only had to use peso for two occasions. One, for public transportation such as the bus. Which is only 50cents of a peso (.5peso) and eating food from street vendors or places that locals eat from. All things touristy will be in CUC.
This is what a 10CUP looks like:
Just a side tip here, if you do not have a lot of luggage and okay with taking the bus (P12), it is only 40peso from the airport to Havana versus 30-35CUC that a taxi driver will charge you. That $1.67 versus paying $35 to get to Havana.
The situation with wifi was a major inconvenience and an eye opener for me. I had little time to look into this before my flight mostly because I assumed there would be wifi at the Airbnb place like other third world and developing countries I've been to. Well I was wrong. There is no free wifi in Cuba. Parks and big hotels have wifi hotspots (wifi_ETECSA) for which you have to purchase the wifi login code. If you go to a park you can pay 1-2CUC for one hour for someone to sign into your phone with the wifi code. If you buy the card it cost about 1.5CUC for one hour. If you leave the park or the hotspot zone, there is no wifi. Not even in restaurants. It took a while to find a way around it because I was meeting up with friends who were flying in the next day and I had no way of contacting them. I am hoping this changes in the next couple of years. It can definitely leave you in a predicament if you are not prepared. Definitely worth it to download google maps for all your destinations and street views of the areas you're planning to stay and explore ahead of time.
Here is an example of a purchased code:
You don't need a voltage converter if you are flying from the US. The outlets in Cuba are the same.
Castillo De Los Tres Reyes Del Morro, Havana, Cuba: Future Post Coming soon
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