Before Americans Go to Cuba
You are planning a trip to Cuba? You will love it! Here are some things to know before Americans go to Cuba.
Also, be sure to see How to Travel to Cuba.
You have the usual concerns about what to pack, what necessities you need, etc. Cuban travel for Americans though has a few additional quirks because we do not yet have some basic economic agreements in place. Also Cuba’s technology leaves a lot to be desired. European credit cards may work in Cuba, but as of September, 2016 our US credit cards, debit cards etc. do not. Read my blog posts though, several companies are working on changing this..
- Airports: There is more to Cuba than Havana. There are 9 Cuban cities scheduled for US flights. Be warned though, Cuban airports are chaotic. Ticketing lines may change while you are in line. There may be different lines for tourist and Cuban nationals.
- American Credit Cards: They don’t work (no agreements for this yet). They do not work at all! No where! Forget it! Bring cash! Note: I expect this to quickly change, so verify before you go. Bring cash for all of your needs.
- Daily cash Requirements: Everybody travels differently and everybody’s expectation is different. $75-$100/day after hotel cost should be good. There really isn’t a lot of stuff to buy here. You don’t see all the shops, galleries, etc. found at most vacation spots.
- Currency: A dual currency is in use. Cuban Universal Currency (CUC) is what tourists use. This is what you will get in exchange for your US dollars. The rate of exchange is on par with our dollar (1 CUC = 1 USD), EXCEPT, there is about an 11% exchange fee. This is for American dollars, not European or other currencies. Maybe punishment for the embargo? It seems fair. The locals use Cuban Universal Pesos (CUP) This value floats, but was about 26 CUP’s for 1 CUC. Tourists are supposed to use CUC’s but the CUP’s can be used for transportation, local markets, etc. If unsure, ask which currency price is being quoted.
- Money Exchange: You cannot exchange in the US, only in Cuba. Cuban banks, airports and large hotels can exchange US dollars for Cuban dollars.
- Internet: Horrible, our old dial-up connections of long ago were far superior. If you do get connected, don’t expect to upload photos or download books to your tablet. This will not happen. First of all it is rare for an individual to have internet (this is a communist country, they don’t have all our freedoms), so internet connection is not ubiquitous. Hotels are a good source, but no free connection. You can purchase a card. $5 for a card that is good for an hour. Connection rules are on the card. Ask the clerk selling the card to explain the rules though. Be sure to disconnect when you are done, otherwise the time keeps ticking while card is in your pocket! There are Wi-Fi hotspots in the city, but good luck finding and connecting, and again, you must have a prepaid card to use.Remember, their speed is measured in KB/sec not GB. See my 11/16/16 post: Is Cuba Internet Service Improving?
- Cell Phones: They don’t work either. Now, my son did use a phone app called IMO. Once he got an internet connection on his phone he was able to call, message and post to Facebook. I unfortunately was not aware of this at the time. Verizon & ATT have agreements to allow roaming in Cuba, but not sure if it is working now. It will be expensive though: expect to be charge $2.99/minute roaming fee. Check with your carrier before you go.
- Medicines & Prescriptions: Bring them! If you think you might want or need a medicine…bring it! Cubans have some great doctors, but their infrastructure sucks. They have difficulties getting the basics. Don’t expect pharmacies to have your latest/greatest drug. Bring your own aspirins, eye drops, sun screens..if you need it…bring it.
- Voltage: Most hotels are 110 volts. However some places have both 110 & 220 volts and the sockets may look the same. You don not want to fry your hair dryer or electronics. Ask before you plug in. In fact, be safe and bring a 210/110 adapter with you, they are cheap.
- Safety: Cuba is supposed to be one of the safest places to visit. The people are friendly and caring. However, just like here, don’t leave valuables around to walk off. Don’t strut into a slum with your $1000 camera hung around your neck. Common sense please.
- Health Care: Health insurance card is necessary. This is a communist country. They provide free health care, but you are not a citizen, so you must provide an acceptable insurance card. Your American issued plan WILL NOT WORK. Good news: airlines are taking care of this detail now.
- Doctors: As I mentioned before, doctors are good and plentiful here, but their access to the latest drugs and technology is not good. There are lots of local clinics that offer basic care, but tourists are sent to specific clinics.
Disclaimer: Everything is changing fast between the US and Cuba. More airlines are flying to more cities each month. Th means more Americans go to Cuba more every month. I will try to keep this site updated, but check with your credit card company and your cell phone company before you leave. They might actually be working…but find out from your specific provider!