What Are the Best Gifts And Donations To Bring To Cuba?

This question has been asked more times on message boards than any other. Everybody visiting Cuba wants to know if they should bring some gifts to hand out, and especially, which gifts are best. Well, I will tell  you my opinion.

Surprisingly enough, many message boards and forums are mentioning bras and panties and great gifts to bring to Cuba. I say, NO. You have to understand that Cubans can buy these items for about $1 each in any local store (not large state stores, but the smaller ones). The government buys them from China at a few cents per unit and, if you ever go into one of these stores, there are hundreds of panties everywhere. So… it’s not hard to get.

Toilet paper and soaps? There might be day to day shortages as stockpiles run out, but there only last a few days at most. Usually there are more than enough basic items to go around.

Sewing kits, first aid stuff, chocolate bars, perfumes, razors, nail polish… They are nice little things, but the average person has tons of this stuff. If they are asking for it, it’s probably just because they want to resell it, not because they need it. These things really don’t cost a lot in Cuba, for the basic, generic brands, so they are not in “high demand.” Cuban’s also rarely do their own sewing or bike repairs. They have no time… And they can bring clothes to a seamstress who will do alterations for almost nothing. Bike repairs of all kinds can get done by a ponchero (repairman) for a few pesos…

 

Top Ten Gifts And Donations To Bring To Cuba

Honestly, the best gifts you can bring are the household-use ones. These will be both needed and easy to give out to almost anyone.

  1. Bed sheets are very needed and wanted.
  2. Towels.. a nice towel will be cherished more than anything.
  3. Knives.. A good cutting knife, or a set of sharp dollar store ones will but used, 100% guarantee.
  4. Same goes for forks and spoons.
  5. I know glassware is hard to transport, but you would be surprised at how much a nice set of cups or glasses would be for the average Cuban family.
  6. Shoes and clothing are good too. But you have to know that shoes are not so expensive in Cuba.. Maybe $10 for a nice new pair (good quality too). And shoes are tough to give away, because it depends on style and size.
  7. You are better off bringing some jeans or work gloves.
  8. Or kids clothes. Kids clothes is in high demand.
  9. Book. All books are hard to find, but foreign books in different languages (English, French Italian and German) are most prized.
  10. Old cell phones. You probably have a box of old phones at home. Giving away an old GSM type cell phone (One that uses a SIM card) and you will make somebody very happy.

 

The #1 best Cuban donation.

The easiest items to give as gifts are toys. Now, I know what you are thinking… Toys??? But, yes, TOYS. The average Cuban might have 1 toy.. only 1… And it’s probably old and broken. And Cuban parents don’t buy toys because they are expensive and cheaply made. And foreigners don’t give toys because they are busy giving things that Cuban’s really need (like soaps and toilet paper… insert sarcasm…) So, basically, there are no toys in Cuba…. Go to a park in Havana or any town/city on a Sunday and you will see 20 little boys all rushing after 1 worn out soccer ball, and on the other side, you will see 20 little girls, all standing in line to touch 1 old Barbie doll.

BRING TOYS AND SPORTS EQUIPMENT (Like tennis balls and soccer balls). The kids will love you, the parents will love you, and toys are easy gifts to give to anybody. Every Cuban either has kids, siblings, or knows a kid who wants a toy. So… dolls, soccer balls, tennis balls, baseball (but those are heavy), action figures, die-cast cars, and inflatable toys, like inflatable beach balls and inflatable hammers/airplanes/dolls (the kind of things you sometimes get at sporting events or for free if you sign up for credit cards.)

Visit a garage sale or your local Value Village and buy $10 of toys before going to Cuba. They are among the rarest items on the island, and everybody will love you.

Get More Donation Ideas in the Best Cuba and Havana Guide book

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By | 2017-05-19T02:23:27+00:00 May 20th, 2014|Life|86 Comments

86 Comments

  1. Claudia June 6, 2014 at 4:03 pm - Reply

    As a cuban, I totally agree with you. Toys are best gifts to bring to Cuba. Anything is ok. We do not have of those, and in stores, the prices are excesively high!!

    Chlidren will appreciate it a lot!!! and so everybody in the family!!

  2. Laura November 9, 2015 at 1:00 pm - Reply

    Just back from Cuba. What was appreciated greatly were BATTERIES! I also gave clothes, makeup, toiletries. You must understand, that saying “shoes are only $10” is a matter of perception as to what is relatively inexpensive…or not. $10 is a LOT of money to many people there. The Cuban people are wonderfully proud, but gracious about accepting whatever is given to them…with dignity. If they cannot use what you give them…they will know someone who can.

    • Jerry December 16, 2015 at 2:31 pm - Reply

      Laura.

      We are a family of four and going to Cuba in January. Your post is the most recent we found and we appreciate your input. So we will look for good items to bring.

  3. AnnMarie January 29, 2016 at 12:41 pm - Reply

    We just returned from Cuba and decided next year to put in zip lock bags a toothbrush, toothpaste, soap and a washcloth, deodorant and a few candies. We will also take lots of toys to give out and school supplies

  4. doris December 13, 2016 at 6:58 pm - Reply

    gifts I gave in October 2016 that were highly prized (based on 2x a year travel to Cuba – being conscious of weight for my luggage (airline restrictions)

    a) leather shoes – mens & socks
    b) sandals (high heels) for dancing – women loved this
    c) utility/all purpose knives / hunting knives
    c) fish hooks – all then/kids loved this
    d) perfume & cologne – such a luxury item
    e) toiletries – deodorant, soap, toothpaste
    f) toys for the kids a) skip rope, baseballs, baseball mitts
    g) 3x larger sized clothing for the hefty mama’s

    • Mario December 13, 2016 at 9:05 pm - Reply

      Nice! Very generous and great gifts!

  5. stephanie paulin December 26, 2016 at 10:52 pm - Reply

    We are travelling back this year to Guardalavaca. They are very much in need of shoes. Theirs are often torn and a couple sizes to big for them. They are in great need of clothing. As for territories,everyone brings these items. Sheets and towels are in need. Hope this helps out on their travel

  6. stephanie paulin December 26, 2016 at 10:55 pm - Reply

    Laura…..forgot to mention that shoes are VERY expensive in Cuba that is why I have purchased so many this year

  7. Francheska Dirocie January 25, 2017 at 4:41 pm - Reply

    HI, where can we donate personal items to? is there a place where we can give to?

    • Mario January 25, 2017 at 5:11 pm - Reply

      Hi, you can drop off items at any church in Cuba. The people there will give out things to people in need. Or else just hand the gifts out directly to people in poor neighborhoods in havana. Or just drop off a bag of things in any park. People will come to get them and hand then out to others as needed. Have fun.

      • Romana March 2, 2017 at 2:49 am - Reply

        I’d like to do that. Do you know of any near the port of Havana?

        • Mario March 12, 2017 at 2:35 am - Reply

          There is the large Russian orthodox cathedral. Right in front of the aduana building beside the cruise ship port. You will see it, easily.

  8. George Najera February 26, 2017 at 4:35 pm - Reply

    Can we donate directly to schools?

    • Mario March 12, 2017 at 2:37 am - Reply

      You will not be allowed into schools. You could potentially just leave the things at the doorstep. Or chat with a teacher and see if they can take them. But generally schools are guarded a bit, like everywhere in the world. Maybe just hand the things to kids in the park, near the school.

      • Brenda September 17, 2017 at 3:41 am - Reply

        I have taken donations to a school in Varadero,I don’t speak spanish but with hand jestures was able to communicate my intention of giving them school supplies and candy. It was very appreciated,the kids eyes all lit up when I unpacked everything.The only thing was not able to do was take photos,which was not why I did it anyway. I went to the same school on a side street next to park 3 yrs in a row and still send things

  9. Romana March 2, 2017 at 2:47 am - Reply

    So I have a question…..if one were to travel to Cuba via cruise do you think donations could be brought and/or distributed. Say to a family or church? And would toys and small bags with OTC items like bandaids and tylenol and a washcloth be acceptable? Any other suggestions would be greatly appreciated.

    • Mario March 12, 2017 at 2:45 am - Reply

      Hi, sure bring all that stuff. There is no problem at all. And kids clothes. And shoes. Ask some friends and family and you will be surprised how much stuff you can collect and fit in a suitcase.

      You can give it to a church, or and religious institution.. There are churches and synagogs. Or just hand the stuff out to people you meet. That’s what I do. Its easy to find some very visibly poor people in central havana. Good luck.

  10. lea ann March 9, 2017 at 9:17 pm - Reply

    we have about two suitcases filled with toiltries and toys – which churchs should we plan on bringing them to? we are also going down to vinales and trinidad?

    • Mario March 12, 2017 at 2:34 am - Reply

      Any church will take them. There are catholic churches. Presbyterian and other. Even synagogues will take the items. Or, just find a visibly poor person walking around and hand them a bag full or presents… Its easy and it directly helps somebody. Good luck.

  11. Yuko April 3, 2017 at 2:49 am - Reply

    Hello,
    I’m planning to bring some toys, coloring books, crayons, batteries and soccer balls. I don’t feel comfortable giving people those at the park or on the street directly, so I’d like to bring them to church or somewhere. I see there are many churches in old Havana, but are they open all day during the week? If not, is there other places I can drop off donations? I also have many gently used clothes for 10-14 years old. Are they needed?

    • Mario April 3, 2017 at 8:56 pm - Reply

      The churches in old Havana are mostly open all day. They are tourist attractions and many charge a small admission to enter. You can drop off donations at the front desk. Any donations will be welcome. Clothes for all ages is appreciated. Also, if you look like a tourist, there is a strong likelihood that locals will approach you on the street and ask for clothes or donations. It’s not a great idea to give these items to people who ask for them, because usually they will just take the items and then try to sell them again (it is a business for these people). But still it is always an option, if you want.

      Have a great time!
      Mario

  12. Libby June 17, 2017 at 10:07 pm - Reply

    I feel bad about giving all our Canadian gifs to the staff at the hotel, as they are probably the well best paid… so what do I do?

    • Mario June 17, 2017 at 10:29 pm - Reply

      Are you staying on a resort? Like in varadero? You can give some tips to the staff if they do a good job. Its customary to leave a tip for the maid too. You can hand out some gifts to people who give you good service.

      The people at resorts usually make good money. If you want to give things to poorer people, you can walk off the resort, like to the town of varadero. Here you can walk around and hand things out to locals on the street or in the parks.

      Dont feel pressure to bring things just to hand out. You don’t have to and most people dont. But if somebody treats you especially well or you make some friends, it is good to have a few little things on hand. Anything is appreciated.

      Locals would love cash, but most people do not hand that out as a gift to random people. Be careful with your money. If you hand out cash you will draw attention and it might not be a great idea.

  13. Libby June 17, 2017 at 10:12 pm - Reply

    One more issue.. what about just giving cash?

  14. Maria July 3, 2017 at 10:58 pm - Reply

    HI I’M GOING TO CUBA JULY 19, PLANNING ON BRINGING TOYS AND LITTLE THINGS FOR THE CUBAN PEOPLE, MY QUESTION IS AM I GOING TO HAVE A PROBLEM GOING THRU COSTUMES IN CUBA? WOULD THEY LET ME THRU OK WITHOUT A PROBLEM? ANY SUGGESTION OR HELP I WOULD REALLY BE APPRECIATE IT

    • Mario July 4, 2017 at 1:47 am - Reply

      Hi, you should not have any trouble going through customs in Cuba. You will only have problems if you are bringing a lot of electronics or a large appliance or something. But for clothes and toys and small gifts or for 99% of things that you can put in your regular luggage, you will have no issue at all. People mostly have problems when they try to import large items (things which do not fit into a regular luggage).

      Toys, candies, clothes, shoes, household items… no problem at all

      Have a great trip!
      Mario

  15. Maria July 4, 2017 at 12:05 pm - Reply

    THANK YOU FOR YOUR HELP, WASN’T SURE FEEL BETTER KNOWING THAT,THANKS AGAIN MARIO
    CAN’T WAIT TO BE THERE

    • Suzanne August 5, 2017 at 11:56 am - Reply

      I am leaving for Cuba this Monday, August 7, 2017. I was hoping to bring a carry-on bag for myself and a suitcase that I can check with childrens’ clothing, shoes, school supplies and some tennis balls for we are visiting an orphanage. My only concern is customs…I have read some stories of people who were delayed for hours and had to pay a tax in order to bring certain items in. Their posts seem to be somewhat outdated. Maria if you are seeing this, I see you went last month! Please let me know how it went with your donations.
      Thanks,
      Suzanne

      • Mario August 5, 2017 at 12:20 pm - Reply

        Hi, I have never had any problems at customs. You will only have issues if you bring in electronic equipment or valuable items. Clothes and small toys have little actual value and will not raise any issues. Really, you should not have any problem at all. And despite the stories online, passing customs is rather quick in Cuba, on most days. The delays only really happen if there are equipment failures at the airport. Good luck and have fun.
        Mario

  16. Debbie Westhaver August 14, 2017 at 11:59 am - Reply

    Hi
    Will I have a problem bringing in a small microwave or toaster oven? It will be in a suitcase.

    • Mario August 14, 2017 at 12:08 pm - Reply

      Hi, while it is hard to say for sure, the answer is most likely yes. All luggage entering Cuba is x-rayed and these small appliances will show up. Maybe they slip through unnoticed, but there is a good chance the items are noticed. It is legal to bring these items in to the country. You will just have to pay a tax. The tax is 100% of the value of the item. Cuba has a list of the taxes. So for a toaster oven, the tax would be like 40$ and for a microwave it might be 70$. If you have the receipt for the item, then bring it and if you can prove it is a cheap item, then the tax might be lower.

      I have brought both items into the country and I was charged the tax. There is no way around it. Cuban citizens can import these items as well and pay a lower tax, but there is always a tax for importing these items.

      As I said, maybe they slip through, unnoticed. But if the guys at customs spot them, you will have to pay the tax.

  17. Tara August 28, 2017 at 10:58 pm - Reply

    Which churches or organizations accept donations and will give a receipt or proof of donation in Havana? Going in September 2017

    • Mario August 31, 2017 at 1:03 pm - Reply

      Hi, to my knowledge, organizations do not give receipts for donations in Cuba. Maybe things have changed over the last months, but I have never heard of receipts in Cuba.

  18. Pam September 16, 2017 at 1:06 am - Reply

    Hi. I will be cruising to Cuba in Novembrr and I want to take toys, toiletries, etc. Are there and restrictions and so you have to get permission?

    • Mario September 25, 2017 at 12:38 am - Reply

      Hi, there are no restrictions. Bringing a moderate amount of items is perfectly legal. Just fit it into your regular luggage. Don’t declare the things. Just bring them and give them out. If you bring tons of stuff and declare them at the customs office, you will obviously raise eyebrows. But bringing a suitcase full of toiletries and some toys is nothing.

  19. Michelle September 16, 2017 at 6:28 am - Reply

    Thank you for the helpful information and tips!! Do you know anything of taking extra weight as humanitarian assistance at the airport? Do we apply in advance? Online?

    • Mario September 25, 2017 at 12:34 am - Reply

      You can take 10kg of medicine and supplies to Cuba and the Cuban government will not charge you a duty for this importation. https://www.lonelyplanet.com/thorntree/forums/americas-cuba/cuba/taking-medicine-to-cuba

      However, the airlines might charge you extra for this weight if you exceed your normal baggage weight. For example, if you are allowed to bring a 22kg bag, then anything more than 22kg will be charged extra by the airline. If you can fit the medicine into your regular baggage allowance, than there will be no charge by the airline.

  20. Barb September 18, 2017 at 12:01 am - Reply

    hi there. just wondering for bed sheets, twin and double size? pillow cases also?
    Last time i went to cuba i bought ankle socks for the women/socks for children and men. i found these were appreciated as during the colder months the cubans do like to stay warm. i also bought a couple of knitted pull on hats. not sure if they are appreciated as much and if they do wear them. is this a good idea for next time?
    what about canned meats or tuna? can openers? wooden spoons?
    i also like to bring clothes pins as when you drive by some homes they have laundry hanging out. is this a good idea or can the cubans get them cheap?
    i also brought paint brushes last time. the one bartender came back to me after and thanked me graciously for that item. For some of the men i brought plyers or a screw driver that had the various tips included. . mind you tools can make your luggage heavier.
    i was thinking about bringing screws and nails the next time also. would this be a good idea to give to the men?
    Anything else you can suggest would be greatly appreciated
    Thank you!!!!

    • Mario September 25, 2017 at 12:26 am - Reply

      For bed sheets, any size works. They cut and adjust them to fit the beds as needed. The pure polyester sheets get very hot and I would recommend cotton or a blend. Socks are good too. I would avoid canned meats and tuna as those items are heavy. I have brought can openers and spoons. Any utensils are appreciated a lot. Dollar store knives are great. Clothes pins in Cuba cost about $2 for 25 pins. This is pretty expensive. At most dollar stores in north america you can get 100 pins for a couple of dollars. I have brought them before and yes they are appreciated. All the items you mentioned are good. Screws and nails are great, but as you mentioned, are very heavy to transport. Some other suggestions which you can find at most dollar stores are: Glue, pad locks, toothbrushes/toothpaste, batteries, dish towels, dish scrubbers, steel wool, air fresheners, make-up, baby thermometers.

  21. Jessica September 18, 2017 at 12:44 am - Reply

    I have heard vitamins are good to bring to Cuba, what ones do you recommend?

    • Mario September 25, 2017 at 12:19 am - Reply

      Hi, I honestly don’t know anything about vitamins. I am not qualified to give a suggestion. I have never brought vitamins and I can say that the average Cuba eats a pretty healthy diet of fresh food. I would have to say that vitamins are not likely to be something that the average person needs. A few dish towels or hand towels would probably be more appreciated. These cost a lot in Cuba and are usually of poor quality.

  22. Dave October 22, 2017 at 6:18 pm - Reply

    HI Mario, is there a children’s hospital located in Cuba or a special needs facility? We have a special needs grand daughter and they are offen overlooked in the public eye. Thanks

    • Mario October 22, 2017 at 6:38 pm - Reply

      There are many children’s hospitals in Cuba. The government takes very good care of children. Before the Cuban revolution, the medical system in Cuba was very bad and the reason the revolution was successful because it promised to focus on the medical care of children and everybody else too. There are still problems with getting the latest high tech treatments in Cuba, but compared to most other countries the medical system is far above normal, especially for children.

      In Havana, there is a large medical center in the vedado neighborhood. Near the corner of the streets 25 and F there are a few children’s clinics and hospitals as well as 2 other large hospitals on the nearby streets. They are also close to the university. For better patient care, they have grouped all the facilities close to each other.

      For foreigners, most procedures are done at a hospital center called Cira Garcia located in the Miramar neighborhood.

  23. Dave October 22, 2017 at 9:46 pm - Reply

    Thank you Mario, my wife and I will take gifts to the children’s hospital. I really appreciate your help. Cheers, Dave & Jan

  24. Chelsea October 26, 2017 at 8:30 pm - Reply

    This information has been super helpful!! We are so excited for our first trip to Cuba next month! My sister and I are both medical professionals (nurse and pharmacist) so we have easily accessible resources for medicine and first aid. It’s quite encouraging to hear that their healthcare system is of such high quality — I remember learning that in school actually! Also don’t want to waste space. Are there any specific supplies that are valuable to households e.g. Band-Aids, ibuprofen, dental care??
    I’m also reaching out to my friends and educators for books — can anyone advise me on what they specifically enjoy reading? Textbooks or classic “American” novels or magazines???
    Obviously going to bring toys from a “dollar store” as well but would like to contribute in the healthiest way. I already called our airline and was offered free checked baggage for charitable efforts so would like to take the best advantage of this opportunity!
    Again, all of your feedback has been the most recent and relevant I can find so thanks to everyone for keeping up with this post!

    • Mario October 26, 2017 at 9:23 pm - Reply

      Hi Chelsea,

      I’m sure you will have both have an excellent trip to Cuba. In terms of best supplies to bring, the main factor is luggage space. If you have enough space, then bring as much as possible.

      Band-aids are good and hosts will appreciate them. They are available in Cuba, but mostly at local pharmacies and it is a bit inconvenient for Cubans to get them. Any host would love a small supply of band aids for household use. Over the counter pain medication is great too. If you can get a few sample boxes of ibuprofen or acetaminophen or naproxen, then that would be great. I will suggest that these things are better to give to Cuban doctors or nurses as they will be better able to administer them. Ask your Cuba host if they have a doctor or nurse in the family (it’s very common) and give the meds to them. The average Cuban can get pain meds pretty easily and they tend to use only what they know and recognize, and not all Cubans know what Tylenol and Advil are (But the Cuban doctors and nurses do). I also always bring a few toothbrushes and tubes of toothpaste. These items are cheap in Cuba, but everybody loves the American brands rather than the cheap Cuban generic stuff. Also, floss is very hard to get in Cuba and is a great little thing to give out. Also, Q-tips. Those are really popular.

      Things like skin lotions and creams are very popular but can be heavy to bring. I always pack extra sunscreen and give them out at the end of my trip. Sunscreen is very expensive in Cuba and almost nobody can afford it.

      Books are very popular because they are expensive and hard to get in Cuba. Anything English will be prized, but young people prefer novels. An old copy of The Catcher in the Rye is gold for somebody studying English. Tabloid and lifestyle magazines will be loved and shared like crazy. I have Cuban friends who beg me to bring them the new IKEA catalogs just so they can see the new trends. Any type of media which is new and different is really appreciated.

      In terms of toys, I find the best ones are simple coloring books and games. A nice set of markers and a search-and-find or connect the dots type of activity book is a great for children. Memory flip cards or basic school supplies are also useful and fun.

      Again, you are never expected to bring anything and I know most people do not bring anything and honestly that is perfecty fine. I don’t think there are any really life pressing things which are needed in Cuba. But these small, fun things are easy for us to bring and in many cases are either free or extremely cheap for us to get. And although we cannot change the world, in this case we can at least do a tiny bit to share what we have in abundance with people who will appreciate it greatly.

      I wish you great luck and a wonderful trip.
      Mario

  25. Gulfcoast November 3, 2017 at 5:57 am - Reply

    I was in Cuba two weeks ago, and I would suggest for the animal lovers in the crowd to bring animal meds (flea treatments, eye ointments, skin care, etc) to an orginization called Aniplant in Havana. They are working to spay/neuter pets and strays and create a better life for the animals you will see wandering around. I work with animal rescue where I live, so of course the animals were something I noticed immediately. Aniplant has a Facebook page and they could use near expiration meds your vet might be able to give you as a donation, surgical supplies, band-aids, gauze, wound tape, towels, etc. etc. etc. As was already mentioned, AA batteries and batteries of all kinds are needed. Thanks for the tip about towels and sheets, I’ll make room for those.

    • Gulfcoast November 21, 2017 at 2:48 pm - Reply

      I would like to update this post and suggest this organization for donations: Protección Animales de la Ciudad PAC Cuba. They have a Facebook page with contact info. They are a collection of volunteers that rescue and treat abandoned and stray animals in Havana, They can use animal medications, dog and cat food, flea treatments, replacement milk for puppies and kittens (Walmart sells this for under $10 in the pet food aisle). They are a little more tech savvy and update their pages almost daily with stories of rescues, adoptions and their network of volunteers. I am very impressed with what they are trying to do in Havana with the animals. Aniplant seems to primarily focus on the animals they’ve already taken in, and I think their donations go to the care and feeding of those animals and transport to other countries for those animals. While that is also a noble goal, Protección Animales de la Ciudad PAC Cuba is taking the hard core problem animals with some pretty significant medical problems from being abandoned/abused so they could really use your donations because they are serving more animals every day and their volunteers are on the front line of the animal overpopulation problem doing free spay/neuter events multiple times a year for stray animals and also pets. They are a great organization worth putting a few items in your suitcase for, and you’ll be glad you did when you get to Havana and see for yourself the condition of some of the dogs and cats roaming around.

      • Mario November 21, 2017 at 2:53 pm - Reply

        Hi, thank you for sharing this comment. You are absolutely correct, Protección Animales de la Ciudad PAC Cuba is a great organization and they certainly would appreciate any donations. I encourage everyone to bring a little something for them so that they can continue rescuing and caring for stray animals. Have a great day, Mario

        https://es-la.facebook.com/PACCuba/

  26. Sherry November 7, 2017 at 4:12 pm - Reply

    Great ideas Mario, Thanks! I love the Towel and sheet suggestion, i would have never thought of that.
    Since it’s close to Christmas i will be throwing in as many toys as i can carry.

  27. Lynda November 10, 2017 at 12:20 am - Reply

    Thank you Mario for all your comments and advice. I’m never sure what to bring or how to hand it out. We go to the resorts outside of Holguin so the only people we come in contact with, really, are staff. I almost think you could give someone a lump of coal and they would still give you a beautiful smile and a heartfelt thank you because they are so gracious and polite, making it hard to get a feeling for what is REALLY needed or appreciated. It is good to know that what is gifted is shared, so I no longer have worry so much about giving the perfect or most appropriate gift to the right person. That it is enough to just take toys, linens, toiletries, batteries, work gloves, tools, etc. and assume that whomever you give them to will make it to someone needs it. I noticed a big difference between what seems to be available in Varadero compared to Holguin. Any suggestions as to what is most appreciated by staff in the resorts in the Holguin area.

  28. Tammy November 26, 2017 at 5:17 pm - Reply

    We have purchased a bicycle to give to one of the staff for their child. Any idea what we should do to legally bring this into Cuba?

    • Mario November 27, 2017 at 1:15 am - Reply

      It is fully legal to bring a bike to Cuba. Most bikes are brought in for personal use and then simply left on the island. There is no problem with this. Usually the luggage will be scanned and the people at the airport will know that you are bringing in a bike. They will ask you if the bike if for your personal use. Just say yes and they will let you pass. Then you can give the bike away to whoever you want.

      If you are bringing in a child’s bike, then it might raise some eyebrows if you say it is for personal use, but you are not traveling with a child. It is very rare that officials will even check the bike. So just say it is personal and I would not worry much. If they check the bike and start questioning you, you can say that your kid is arriving on another flight in a few hours and the bike is for her to use in Varadero.

      Cuba does not care that you bring in bikes, they just don’t want foreigners bringing in bikes and then reselling them in Cuba for profit. this is why they might ask you questions about the bike. Just always say it is for personal use.

      If you do not say that it is for personal use, like if you say you are bringing it to Cuba to give away, then you will have to pay a 100% duty on the bike, at the airport. If the bike is worth $100, they will demand that you pay $100 as a customs duty in order to bring the bike in. To avoid this fee, say it is for personal use and that you will bring it back with you when you leave Cuba.

      In terms of actually bringing the bike, you should contact your airline to see how they want it to be packed. Usually you can just put it in a box (tv boxes work well) or just wrap the bike in plastic wrap. Or just disassemble the bike and put it in a large luggage bag. this is what I usually do. I have brought 5 bikes to Cuba and never had any problems or paid any duty.

      Good luck,
      Mario

  29. Susanne Darling December 7, 2017 at 10:57 pm - Reply

    Is there any where in holguin were I can send donations to ?

    • Mario December 30, 2017 at 3:01 pm - Reply

      Hi, if you bring items to donate, you can hand them out to people on the street (you will surely be asked for donations from random people), or you can give them to your casa landlord, or you can drop them off at any church. Other than that, I do not know of any formal place that specializes in taking in and distributing donated items.

  30. Natalie Clarke December 30, 2017 at 11:01 pm - Reply

    Hi I’m visiting in February I would love to bring some things to give out to local children, my son had lots of toys he never plays with anymore , he has lots of die cast cars which have been sat in a box and not played with do you think it’s acceptable to bring these? … I have books and colours and things he hasn’t even used or opened I’d love to pass these on ! I was also going to get some gardening gloves( I read this on another site )the gardeners at the resort probably don’t get much recognition. I would like to bring practical things like medication , feminine hygiene etc what about things like brushes and bobbles /hair grips etc

    • Mario January 2, 2018 at 5:59 pm - Reply

      Toy cars are great. The Cuban kids will play with them all day. I have never seen die cast cars for sale in Cuba. The only way that the kids can get them is if foreigners bring them in as donations. I have brought hundreds too and left them in the parks. When the kids come, then find them and start playing. You can also give them to parents and grandparents, who will then gift them to the kids.

      All of the items you mentioned would be needed and appreciated. Women love hair products and anything you can imagine. There are no dollar stores in Cuba. The selection of products at regular stores is low and the prices are high. Any of those items would be much appreciated.

      If you are going to a resort, you can leave a few things for the maid and hand out the rest to people who are nice to you. Nothing is expected, but everything is appreciated. It should be stated that the workers in the resorts are well paid compared to regular Cubans and they receive lots of these gifts from foreigners, but Cubans will share with poorer families and your donations will find their way to less fortunate people too.

      If you are going to a town or city, you can give out items to visibly poor people and you are likely to be asked by people on the street for donations. If you feel uncomfortable giving gifts directly to people, you can leave small bags of donations in a park and people will find them and the donations will work their way into the hands of those who need them.

      All the best, and thanks for your generosity.

      • Natalie Clarke January 3, 2018 at 11:56 pm - Reply

        Am staying in Varadero at a resort yes, but will definitely visit Havana. I will try to put in as much in my case as possible , my sons father is from Jamaica and when we visit we always try to bring things because as you say no dollar (pound ) stores and things we can buy cheap are so expensive there.
        So thank you for the advice I will absolutely love to pass on things and I already explained to him that we were going to be giving some toys to some boys and girls who don’t have as much as him and he sed yes I will share them!
        When I was in Jamaica in March I left most of my sons clothes there along with shoes and gave them to one of the entertainment crew as she had a son a year younger than mine and didn’t have much and I was going to leave them anyway as they were just getting a bit too small for him and it wasn’t summer in the UK yet! I’ve noticed the same again this year so was planning on leaving them, Ido you think this will be ok? I obviously don’t leave things which are stained from suntan lotion or are grubby from around the pool but I have nice smart shirts , shorts and tshirts along with sandals etc that have been worn not even a handful of times and are in really good condition. Thanks for replying

        • Mario January 4, 2018 at 6:05 pm - Reply

          Hi, the resort staff receive a lot of gifts from foreigners and they are typically among the best paid in Cuba. But of course, they love to get donations and kids clothes are among the most requested items in Cuba. Your donations will be very appreciated. I am certain that you will meet some interesting Cubans and form friendships. You can give these people the donations. Even if they cannot directly use the clothes (if they have no children) most Cubans have large extended families and it can be certain that the used clothes will get years of use and be handed down to many children. Everything you mention is good and anything you bring will be used and appreciated by locals. Have a great trip!

          • Natalie Clarke January 5, 2018 at 9:53 am - Reply

            Thank you Mario for your advice x

  31. Colin Gillis January 1, 2018 at 9:55 pm - Reply

    A good place to take donations is The Salvation Army (Ejercito de Salvacion) in Havana. Headquarters address is 5513 Calle 96 entre 55 y 57. Mariano area of Havana. They have about 14 churches throughout the Island. They also operate several Homes for the Elderly, Adult Alcohol Rehab Centre, Feeding Centre and Vocational Training Centre. Can’t go wrong giivng to The Salvation Army is any of the 128 countries around the world where they operate! I am taking some supplies there on my next trip in a week’s time.

    • Mario January 2, 2018 at 5:51 pm - Reply

      Good advice! I have never been to the main Salvation Army depot, but I have dropped off supplies at the churches. Either one is great and every bit helps. All the best.

  32. Dave h February 23, 2018 at 1:51 pm - Reply

    Tipping is the best way to help the cuban people, they can use it for whatever they need and it injects cash into the local economy. Memory sticks are appreciated, load up your music etc and pass it along, batteries and rechargeable flashlights are also useful gifts.

  33. Darryl - Toronto March 3, 2018 at 11:50 am - Reply

    When we went last year we took a variety of strengths of dollar store reading glasses. My daughter and I took a bus to town and walked through a residential area. We met a friendly 50 year old man who greeted us as he was tending to his property I offered him a pair, which he gladly took – he immediately put them on and looked at his watch and laughed and said he hadn’t seen the face of his watch in 10 years. He then offered to take us inside to meet his mother and aunt who were in their 90’s and they offered us a ‘real Cuban coffee’ (through hand gestures). We laid all the eyeglasses out on the dining room table and taught them how to understand the strengths of the different lenses. Our host’s mother then exclaimed that she would be able to thread a needle and sew again! All this to say that my recommendation is to take things that are useful to people. The family said they’d distribute the glasses to friends and neighbours. Oh, while it felt weird at the beginning to be carrying around a bag of ‘gifts’ – in the end we agreed and we bartered – in return I received 6 Monte Cristo #1 cigars. This was the highlight of our trip and we forever have friends and a place to go for coffee in Santa Marta. And if you’re curious, while the outside of the homes are crumbling the inside can be quite nice. This home was colourful and comfortable and owned with pride. It was well furnished with leather sofas and a flat panel TV and according to our new friends pretty much average for the neighbourhood.

    • Mario March 3, 2018 at 1:28 pm - Reply

      That’s a beautiful story and a great idea. And it goes to show that even if you are a bit shy to give little gifts at first, you will soon be at ease when you see how much the people appreciate them. Cubans are generally very outgoing and if you have simply spoken to that old man and introduced yourself he would have likely invited you in for coffee anyway, but having a small gift as a conversation starter helps and can lead to lasting friendships. Thank you for sharing this story.

  34. Bink April 24, 2018 at 6:20 pm - Reply

    I’ve been reading through the comments to learn more about what we should bring to give in Cuba. Thank you. We’re going to Cuba by cruise. Some items on my list are a soccer ball, tennis balls, black dolls (Is this rare there?), action figures, diecast cars, coloring books with crayola crayons, curly hair (African hair textures) products, makeup with tools. All of this will need to fit inside of two large beach bags so I can give these out in Day 1. When I get off the ship and go through customs, will I have any problems? Also, is there anything you can think of that is small and may be needed? Thanks.

    I reached out to the animal organization and asked them their needs as well. I’m waiting on their reply.

    • Mario April 25, 2018 at 1:19 am - Reply

      Hi, the list and comments are pretty thorough. I would not have much else to add. Dolls and kids toys are fun and they are hard to get in Cuba. I don’t specifically know if black dolls are any harder to get than white dolls. But any girl in Cuba would be happy to get any colored doll. You can sometimes pick up old Barbies at thrift shops for $1 each. Those will be loved by many kids in Cuba.

      Customs will not give you any problems.

      I will say that if this is your first time in Cuba, you might not want to bring too much stuff. If you are just in Havana for a short cruise stop you are unlikely to make strong friendships and be able to give out the bags of stuff to the people who need it most. For example, many of the hustlers in Cuba hang out around the cruise port, begging tourists for stuff. Once they get the stuff, they simply sell it to poorer people at inflated prices. The hustlers hanging around the docks make lost of money doing this and they take advantage of the actual poor people. So ideally, you would give away your stuff directly to poor families rather than to the re-sellers. My best advice would be to not give things to anybody who ask you for stuff. Hustlers beg for stuff because it is their job. Really poor Cubans usually have too much pride to ask for handouts, but will accept things if they trust you. Try to go a few blocks away from the tourist spots and give the toys and stuff to a grandfather or grandmother. They will not resell the stuff and will hand it down to family members and friends.

  35. Ronette Arthur June 8, 2018 at 7:25 pm - Reply

    Mario, thanks for all your suggestions and to all those that posted with other great ideas. I am going to Cuba next month with my family. Along with my donations, I would like to ask family/friends for donations. My airline will allow me to bring up to 5 checked bags per person and I would like to max that out. My question is more of a logistical question in regards to getting items from the airport to organizations that could use the donations. Are there organizations that I could contact ahead of time to arrange a pick up of the items since I am not sure if a taxi would be able to accommodate all the luggage?

    • Mario June 9, 2018 at 9:25 pm - Reply

      Hi. There is a limit on how much stuff Cuba will allow you to bring into the country. The legal limit is 10kg of goods. You can bring in more, in a luggage and the customs officers are unlikely to say anything. But if you are bringing in several luggages full of stuff, you will definitely set off alarm bells. For example, if you have 2 luggage’s full of kids clothes and you are not traveling with kids, you will be questioned at customs and you might have to pay high import tariffs or your goods will be confiscated.

      I would strongly suggest that you limit your imports to 2 luggages or less and do not import electronics or anything that you could not justify bringing into the country as a regular tourist. For example, bringing 3 hair dryers in a luggage will raise questions. Bringing 10 bottles of shampoo or 10 pairs of shoes will raise questions.

      For bulk donations you might want to be in contact with the following organization which specializes in donating goods to cuba. http://www.duboischaritablefoundation.com

  36. tracy July 8, 2018 at 12:05 am - Reply

    hi any suggestions on where to bring gifts in Cayo Coco?

    • Mario July 9, 2018 at 1:51 pm - Reply

      In Cayo Coco there are only resorts. No locals live there. But you will encounter locals while you stay at your hotel and in the bus ride from the airport to the hotel. You can give some little gifts to these people. The transportation and hotel workers earn a good salary and can be considered the top earners in Cuba, so they don’t really need more gifts, but they will always gladly accept them.

      If you are getting off the resort and plan on visiting a small town you can easily find locals to give things to. If you feel shy about giving something directly, simply place your items in a bag and leave the bag anywhere in the town and somebody will come pick it up. All the best!

  37. Brock July 9, 2018 at 2:58 am - Reply

    Hello. I am looking at donating baseball equipment, but I want to make sure it gets into the right hands. Any direction would be appreciated.

    • Mario July 9, 2018 at 1:47 pm - Reply

      Hi, if you are planning to bring a small amount of baseball stuff then your best bet is to simply bring it to Cuba and hand it out to locals playing baseball. Kids love balls and gloves and I often bring down a few to give out.

      If you are are planning to bring in a larger volume of stuff, then you can contact an organization like https://www.facebook.com/baseballgear4cubankids/ or http://wnpr.org/post/bringing-baseball-equipment-cuban-kids and they should be able to help you a bit.
      I warn you that the customs officers in Cuba will not simply allow you to enter Cuba with dozens of bats and gloves. If you bring a lot of stuff, they will ask you to pay duties on all your products, which can easily reach rates of 100%.

      Good luck,
      Mario

  38. Gail M July 20, 2018 at 1:17 am - Reply

    Dear Mario,

    We are going into Havana by Cruise Ship, for the second time in a year. We took Large suit cases last year filled with toys, hygiene items, under clothing, first aid and sewing kits. Toys for the children. However, it was allowed after having to declare and being questioned by customs.We left these suit cases with our private driver and he saw best how to distribute them to those in need.This time my husband is worried about bringing so much and we decided not to bring in so much. I do plan on bring toys, a few bags of hygiene items along with linens. I also have begun to pick up Tuna,Ham,Chicken, Chorizo Sausage,precooked Bacon in sealed pouches as well as packets of powdered milk,powdered eggs. Is this store packaged foods allowed? Will be have problems going through customs? Do we have to say it is for our consumption? Or do I have to say it is for family? Thanks you So much.

    • Mario August 13, 2018 at 1:54 pm - Reply

      If questioned, you must say that it is for your own personal consumption. You are not permitted legally to bring items into Cuba which are not for your personal consumption or which you intend to leave in Cuba. For small things the customs officers won’t care, but for a luggage full of stuff, it might raise eyebrows.

      Personally, I recommend that you don’t bring in too much stuff. I do not recommend that you purchase things in order to bring to Cuba. If you have toys and small items around the house which are still good, then bring them, but there is no point in buying food and bringing it to Cuba. In Cuba, food is expensive, but most Cubans have more than enough to eat. If you are buying food to bring to Cuba, you should just bring money instead and give out an extra tip to people who help you or for friends you make while traveling. It is easier for you and for the Cubans.

      I hope this helps

  39. John August 23, 2018 at 4:56 pm - Reply

    I have 35 baseball gloves that I’m bringing on September 8th 2018. I’m staying at the Sevilla in Havana and wondering where I may bring the gloves to.

    • Mario August 24, 2018 at 11:18 am - Reply

      Hi, if I was you, I would hand out the gloves to kids on the street. Go for a walk after school along Paseo de Prado (Paseo de Marti) and you will see a couple of large parks near the Malecon. These are like a block or 2 away from your hotel. https://goo.gl/maps/BnLP3orhphA2 The parks will have kids in them after school and on weekend. The kids will be playing soccer or baseball. These kids are all poor and most will be barefoot. I would give out some gloves there and others gloves to other poor kids in the area. I prefer hand to hand giving so that I am sure the items go to the people who will use them. But if you want you can also contact this organization and give your gloves to them. http://takealeadcuba.org/

      Also note that bringing 35 gloves might raise suspicions at customs. Typically you are only allowed to bring in personal goods for personal use. Customs is just worried that you will try to bring the gloves in to the country in order to sell them.

  40. Susan September 6, 2018 at 10:42 pm - Reply

    If I am taking new toys like Barbie or Hot Wheels is it better to remove them fom their packaging?

    • Mario September 7, 2018 at 12:13 am - Reply

      Hi, I don’t think it would make a big difference either way. Obviously, without packaging they will take up less space in your luggage, which would be good for you. I don’t think you will have any issues at customs bringing in some toys in the original packaging. And the kids in Cuba won’t care about the packaging either way. So it’s really up to you. Have a great trip!

  41. Susan September 8, 2018 at 4:16 am - Reply

    Are there any fabric stores to shop in? Or would fabric also be an appreciated gift?

    • Mario September 10, 2018 at 12:36 pm - Reply

      Hi, there are some small fabric shops in Havana. Mostly fabric is simply sold at local state owned shops which also sell other household goods. Sometimes they sell fabric when it is available and sometimes they don’t. Fabric would be an ok gift, but note that sewing machines in Havana are few and far between and from my experience very few people have the time and know-how to make clothing. The seamstresses and tailors in Havana are very good, but there are just not many of them and common folks don’t seem to devote much time to sewing and clothes making. Fabric will be an excellent gift for a host which can use it, but generally it will not be a universally appreciated gift, in my opinion.

  42. Susan September 16, 2018 at 10:28 pm - Reply

    Our recent (9/11/18) experience with entering Havana from a cruise ship was quite different than what we expected. The cruise announced ahead of time that Cuban authorities would not allow anyone to bring anything into the country. We thought, oh well, they confiscate the few toys and ball caps we brought, they will still end up in a happy kids hands. Nope, they would not allow us to even discard them, we had to take everything back to the ship. We encountered another family that had family in Havana and had brought things for them, being mindfull of the limits, they too were turned back. The word is that if arriving by cruise, the officials will allow nothing, zero tolerance, no matter how little you bring, no matter how much you insist it is for your personal use.

    • Mario September 17, 2018 at 1:53 pm - Reply

      Thank you for this info Susan. Apparently the Cuban government has started cracking down. There were abuses by both the local Cubans and the cruise riders. It seems that cruise passengers were acting as mules and bringing in a lot of goods which would eventually be resold in Cuba. This was hurting local businesses and circumventing importation laws. Also, Cubans were hanging around the cruise ship terminals and hustling tourists for goods. This was problematic on many levels and caused crime to increase. The government decided to impose a ban on almost all cruise imports. Note that similar restrictions are likely to be enforced on tourists entering from air.

      Fundamentally the government has no issue with small items entering the country undocumented, but the problem comes when thousands of foreigners and locals create an organized system to import items and circumvent inspections. Large scale abuses and smuggling are starting to become an issue and the government is taking action. It’s an unfortunate situation all around. Cuba is unfortunately the kind of country which can take 1 step forward and then 2 steps back. Lots of motion but little progress. We will have to see how this all turns out.

    • Rosemary Ogden November 5, 2018 at 1:27 pm - Reply

      Hi Susan, My husband and I were in Havana on October 12, 2018 and we had no problems getting off our cruise ship and getting through customs with things we brought to share. Each of us wore an inexpensive children’s back pack that had our own things plus gifts to share. We had a small bag inside the backpack to put our own belongings in for the return to the cruise ship and left the backpacks with the driver of the car we used. He was more than happy to give the backpacks etc. to his family.

  43. Tricia November 28, 2018 at 3:22 am - Reply

    Mario,
    I am curious with the comments about medications needed. Are there certain medications that are needed? Tylenol, Motrin, antibiotic ointment, what else? Is there a website that would have specifics? I work in a medical office and we were thinking of donating nearing expiration supplies but not sure how to get them there. Thoughts?

    • Mario November 28, 2018 at 3:02 pm - Reply

      Hi Tricia,

      While most of the larger hospitals and clinics in Cuba are relatively well stocked, the smaller doctors offices and remote clinics do not have many supplies. In Cuba, there are many doctors in each neighborhood who work out of home offices. They deal mostly with common ailments and easy to treat problems and they help alleviate the stress on the hospitals. When people bring medical donations, the supplies usually trickle down to these home based doctors. I too have access to a large amount of medical supplies and otc medications and I always either bring it directly to home based family doctors or to doctor friends which I personally have. I never give it to unqualified people, as even benign otc meds can become dangerous if misused.

      That being said, in addition to the meds you mentioned, I know there is a great need for asthma inhalers, cortisone creams and sinus medications, ranging from simple saline washes to corticosteroid strays to open the airways. Lidocaine type sprays and creams are also wonderful. Other ideas are bandages, examination gloves, scalpels, wound-care kits, masks, disposable needles. Basically anything that you would find in a standard examination room in any clinic in North America.

      The easiest way to bring stuff to Cuba is to simply take it in a luggage and go to Cuba or send it with friends who are going to Cuba. If you are located in Canada I know that there are many organizations who specialize in bringing supplies to Cuba and giving them directly to the doctors who need them. In the Toronto area there are two places: https://www.melekare.ca/donationsforcuba/ and http://njttoronto.com/ .

      I hope this helps and thank you!
      Mario

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