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|49 Comments

49 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.

  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.

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