Havana’s international airport also goes by the name of Jose Marti Internacional, after a prominent Cuban poet and nationalist. It is the island nation’s main international airport for those coming from outside of the Caribbean or Latin America region, as well as an important domestic hub.
Jose Marti serves around six million passengers each year, across five terminals. For those flying in on vacation, you’re most likely to arrive into the country via terminal 3, or via terminal 2. Well signposted, visitors generally have very little difficulty in traversing the airport and its requirements, whether on arrival into or departure out of Cuba, though we’ve put this guide together to tell you everything you need to know.
Immigration and other official necessities
Like every airport in the world, on leaving the plane you should follow the signs (and other passengers) towards the immigration desks. While in the queue, ensure you have your passport and Cuban Tourist Card to hand, alongside proof of valid travel insurance. You could be asked for all three by the official at the desk. If you don’t have health insurance, there should be a desks where you can purchase some through the local provider Asistur – a requirement for entering Cuba as a visitor. We generally recommend that you have your health insurance before traveling to Cuba, so there are no hold-ups on arrival.
Beyond immigration you’ll be asked for your Health Assessment Card. This will have been handed out during your flight by the air crew, and is nothing to be concerned about as long as you answer the questions accurately and honestly. You may also be asked a few basic questions by staff about whether you are feeling well. These are basic assessments to prevent contagious diseases entering the country.
You’ll now be directed towards luggage reclaim. If you have no checked luggage you can pass straight through towards the exit. If you do have checked luggage you simply need to wait for it at the correct carousel. If you see nothing happening immediately, don’t worry. Luggage entering Cuba is carefully scanned, which can take time.
The final official necessity you’ll need to complete is to clear customs. For most tourists this is as painless as the rest of the procedures so far, and comes down to handing over a completed Customs Declaration Form (also handed out during your flight), and having the tag on your luggage checked (so don’t remove it until you enter the Arrivals Hall at the earliest). If you’re carry expensive electronics equipment such as a camera or laptop, officials may ask to see them. They will record that you brought them in, so you may be checked for them on your departure.
The Arrivals Hall
After clearing customs you’ll be free to enter the Arrivals Hall. It’s worth taking a moment to gather your thoughts before seeking onward transport, and also to find some local currency, the Cuban Convertible Peso or CUC, unavailable outside of the country.
On the ground floor of terminal 3 you’ll find a CADECA currency exchange office. These are official state-run offices, and those in the airports offer a similar exchange rate to those elsewhere in the country. Black market currency exchange does exist, but is best avoided unless you know what you’re doing.
As you may well already be aware, it’s best to avoid looking to change US dollars, since this currency has a unique set of fees associated with it in Cuba. Instead, even if coming from the US, consider carrying either Canadian dollars, Euros, or British Pounds Sterling for exchange.
On the upper floor of the Arrivals Hall (technically in the Departures Hall) there is an ATM where you can withdraw CUCs. Note that US-issued bank cards will not operate due to the US economic embargo on the island.
If you arrive into terminal 2 instead of terminal 3, there are similar facilities on offer.
Leaving the Airport
Motor transport from the airport is limited to pre-arranged airport transfers, or the country’s fleet of yellow tourist taxis, as there are no buses available to tourists and no train or shuttle connections. Having a pre-arranged transfer takes the stress out of leaving the airport, though the tourist taxis are perhaps the most modern vehicles on the island.
Taxis operate using a meter system based on the length of time you are in the taxi, so you’ll pay more if the traffic is bad. It will take between 30 and 40 minutes to reach the hotels and casas particulares of central Havana, which will result in a cost of around 25 CUCs. Indeed, many drivers have started charging a flat fee of 25 CUCs for the journey. Tips are also welcome!
It’s best to have the name and address of your hotel or casa clearly printed out, as not all taxi drivers have a good level of English. There are also a few reports of taxi drivers taking their passengers to casas that are not those booked, so be sure to double check before handing over any money!
Airport Departure Tips
While we’ve focussed on what you need to know when arriving into Havana’s airport, its well worth also taking note of these tips for your departure.
Firstly, taxis back to the airport will cost a similar amount to those heading in the opposite direction, although charges can be slightly less depending on exactly what sort of taxi you take, traffic conditions, and where you are in the capital.
The other most important thing to be aware of is that CUCs cannot be taken out of Cuba. If you have any left (and there’s no longer a 25 CUC departure tax to consider) you will need to spend them, or exchange them at the CADECA desk, before passing through security or they can be confiscated without compensation.
The stores and cafes on the far side of security do not accept CUCs. They accept the CUP (Cuba’s ‘local’ currency) together with US and Canadian dollars, Euros, and British Pounds.