Are you considering taking a trip to Cuba next year?
Heck, you would probably want to take a trip to Cuba tomorrow. Maybe even right now! You can just call in sick for a couple of… weeks. Cuba is a truly magical place and you will have the best time imaginable.
In order to make your dream holiday run as smoothly as possible, we’ve compiled a few pieces of essential information to help you with your planning.
Getting into Cuba
You might have gotten the idea that entry conditions for Cuba are becoming more relaxed. The US and Cuba have resumed formal diplomatic relations, which is making it less complicated to travel between these two countries, but please don’t think that this has resulted in more relaxed entry conditions for Cuba. You should check your visa requirements before you book your travel. The majority of nationalities will simply be required to purchase a Tourist Card for Cuba. This card will be stamped upon entry into Cuba, and you are required to keep it for the duration of your stay. These can generally be obtained from your departure airport, but this is not always the case.
Check with your travel provider to ensure that you know where you will be able to obtain the card.
Some airlines and tour operators will provide you with the card. Please remember that some nationalities (most notably India and the Philippines) are not eligible for a Tourist Card, and an actual visa must be obtained from the nearest Cuban Embassy or Consulate. Please ensure that you enquire about your specific visa requirements with enough time before you travel. It might sound a bit dramatic, but the process is nice and straightforward, just so long as you give yourself enough time!
There are some things that really should be planned before you arrive in Cuba (aside from any visa requirements).
So what do you need to remember to do?
- Print Your Essential Documents: It’s not so easy to print things out in Cuba. It’s not impossible, but it can be difficult to find a place to do it. So anything that you might need in terms of your hotel reservations, internal transport within Cuba, any kind of booking confirmation, and your travel insurance should be printed out and brought into Cuba with you.
- Your Travel Insurance: Travel insurance is mandatory for entry into Cuba. Theoretically, everyone coming into Cuba will need to show their insurance documents, but this doesn’t happen all that often. Having said that, if you are unable to show your insurance documents, you can be denied entry into Cuba (or you will have to immediately buy insurance while at the airport). So make sure that you carry proof of your travel insurance.
- Cash and Cards: Talk to your bank to inform them that you will be travelling to Cuba. You don’t want them to freeze your account when you try to access your funds from overseas. Remember that cards issued by US banks and financial institutions will not be accepted in Cuba so you will need to make other arrangements. Do not bring US dollars into Cuba to exchange as these will be subjected to a hefty surcharge. UK pounds, EU euros and Canadian dollars are best. You might have difficulty changing other currencies, even if it’s a fairly major global currency, such as Australian dollars.
- Essential Bookings: Cuba is not like other places in that a fair amount of planning ahead can be necessary. It’s not as though you can leave the airport and look for a Backpacker’s Hostel. These places simply don’t exist. So make sure that your accommodation has been secured before you arrive at least for the first few nights if you plan to travel from town to town with no fixed dates (and again, print out your reservation). Some tours should also be booked ahead, since this is much easier than trying to compare prices and itineraries using Cuba’s less-than-reliable internet.
- “Luxury” Items: Travelling light can be smart, but there’s something to remember about Cuba. Some items that you might consider to be basic can be hard to track down, especially the brands you might be used to. So when it comes to things like beauty and grooming products, it’s a very good idea to bring them in your suitcase instead of trying to find them once you’ve arrived. The same goes for basic healthcare products, such as aspirin, allergy pills, contraception and feminine hygiene products.
The Two Currencies
Did you know that Cuba has two different currencies?
Somewhat annoyingly, they’re both locally referred to as the peso. So what makes these two pesos different? The standard Cuban peso is what the locals use. Its value can rise and fall, just like any international currency. As a visitor, you will use the Cuban convertible peso, the value of which is pegged to the US dollar.
So for most transactions, you will pay and receive your change in Cuban convertible pesos. In some instances you might receive change in standard Cuban pesos, allowing you to then use this to pay for other services (at a sometimes cheaper rate than using the convertible peso). It’s really not so complicated, and you will quickly get used to the two currencies.
Just so long as you plan a few things in advance, you will have the best time of your life in Cuba. Remember to keep your Tourist Card for when you fly out again as it will need to be inspected. You might have heard that you will need to keep 25 Cuban convertible pesos for your departure tax, but this is no longer the case. From May 2015, this tax was included in the price of your airline tickets.
So all you need to worry about is making sure that you don’t bring too many cigars and bottles of rum home with you.