Here is a quick checklist and some FAQs that you should consult before your visit to Cuba and Havana. This section is packed with useful information for your trip and answers to some basic questions that most people have when they plan a visit to Cuba. If you have a question which is not answered on this page, then please write us a message by using this link.

Cuba and Havana checklist and FAQ

As far as I know almost no rental apartments have wifi. It is something that 99.9% of people in Cuba do not have. You might find some casas advertising that they do have wifi, but if you actually ask them, they will tell you that it is not real wifi.

For example, in Havana, the only way to get internet is to connect to a public wifi hot spot. There are a few of these places available, mostly in parks and along the waterfront. If the casa is located near a public wifi, the landlords sometimes tell their guests that the casa has wifi. But in reality, it is just the public wifi. In any case, you always have to pay for the wifi usage. The public wifi is not free. It costs 1.50 cuc per hour (and you have to buy a wifi card to use it) and sometimes it works, sometimes it does not work at all. That’s just how cuba is…

It is common for foreigners to bring small gifts to give out to local Cubans. While gifts and donations are never expected, they are always well received. Considering that the average Cuban is relatively poor and the cost of goods in the country is relatively high, most Cubans do not have much economic slack to spend on non-essentials. Furthermore, due to the American embargo, it is often expensive or impossible to purchase certain foreign goods. Small, everyday items, which foreigners take for granted, are considered major gifts in Cuba and will make a huge difference to the recipient.

Some websites state that you should never give out gifts because it ruins the local culture or spoils the people. They might have a point. But I have lots of friends in Cuba and I enjoy bringing them some things every time I visit.

I don’t recommend bringing soaps or shampoo or cleaning supplies. Cubans have these things and they are not expensive to buy.

But if you are staying in a casa particular, the hosts would probably feel very happy to receive some small gifts. Token items like a box of chocolates or an old (but functioning) cell phone or a magazine or book are always well received.

If the hosts have kids, you can bring a few toys. Dolls or action figures or toy cars. Soccer balls and baseballs are fun and kids love them.

Some people bring clothes too. It’s more of a familiar gift, but if you know somebody or expect to make some friends in Cuba, they certainly would not mind getting some gently used clothes.

You don’t have to feel pressured to give anything. But you don’t have to feel shy or uncomfortable to give things either.

Using Western Union, you can send money from the USA to Cuba. You can only use this service from the USA. You cannot use Western Union in Canada or any other country to send money to Cuba.

The way to send the money is that you initiate the money transfer from the USA to Cuba. You or a friend can walk into any WU branch in the USA and do this. On the Cuban side, you have to find a Cuban citizen who will accept the money for you. This is easy to find. Outside of any WU branch in Cuba you will find people who will accept the money for you. You can pay them 5cuc for this service. Or you just ask your Cuban landlord to help you with this. The Cuban has to sign a paper at the WU office stating that he is not a communist. The transfer then goes through, without a hitch.

You don’t need to do anything else. You don’t need a certificate from the Treasury or anything (As some websites say.)

The cheapest way to eat in Cuba is to buy street food. Sandwiches are available for about 10 pesos (Moneda Nacional) (Equivalent to 40 cents USD). Juices are 3 to 5 pesos. Hamburgers vary in quality. Cheap ones can be had for about 3 pesos (do not buy or eat these… they suck). Better ones generally cost about 8 pesos (they are pork burgers.. generally taste ok). Egg sandwiches are cheap and healthy, and usually cost about 5 to 10 pesos. Pizza is usually not very good and usually costs 10 pesos. Traditional pulled pork sandwiches usually cost 5 pesos each and are good, but skimpy. You might want to order a few.

In sit down restaurants, the cheapest meals will be on the oferta menus. These are traditional Cuban foods, offered on pre-fixed table d’hote meal plans which include a main dish, a drink and a dessert, usually for about 5cuc. These are almost always good value meals, and the most popular offerings. These foods are generally pork or chicken based. Fried chicken legs, breaded pork steaks, etc.

Other dishes will be more expensive. Lobster or fish is usually over 10cuc.

Be aware that in most cities, the street food stands stop selling food at about 6pm. So if you are on a tight budget and planning to eat only street food, you should plan to eat supper early.

Note that there is a shortage of rental vehicles in Cuba. Even if you desperately want to rent a vehicle, you are unlikely to be able to find one for rent, unless you visit during a very low tourist season. Furthermore, even if you manage to book a rental car online, you are unlikely to actually find a car waiting for you when you arrive at the rental desk. If there is a car, you might have to pay the rental clerk a bribe in order to actually take the car out of the lot. That’s just the way things are in Cuba.

Car rentals are a popular, albeit expensive option to explore Cuba. State-run car rental outlets are located all over the island and are particularly concentrated in large cities and in tourist hot spots. Both tourists and locals can rent vehicles.

Rental rates for small cars start at about 45 CUC per day with an additional 15 CUC for insurance, which is mandatory. There is usually an additional charge of about 30 CUC for a full tank of gasoline. If you later return the vehicle with a full tank, this amount will be deducted from your total bill. Small cars are usually inexpensive, Chinese sedans and compacts. They are adequate, but offer very few frills. Larger cars and luxury vehicles are also available, but daily rental rates are much higher.

When renting a car in Cuba it is important to watch for scams. Make sure that you receive an official, computer printed receipt for all the services you are paying for. If possible, try to pay for the transaction with your credit card. All credit card transactions are processed through corporate channels, so fraudulent transactions are uncommon. The vast majority of scams are perpetuated when clients pay for rental services in cash. Furthermore, always inspect the vehicle before taking possession and, if possible, snap a few photos of the outside, especially if there are scratches or damaged areas on the vehicle. Always return the vehicle with a full tank of gas.

VERY IMPORTANT: It cannot be stressed enough – Be extremely careful when driving in Cuba! If you get into an accident in Cuba, even a minor one, you will be forced to remain on the island until an accident investigation is completed. This can sometimes take months. This is one of the main reasons foreigners are discouraged from renting vehicles in Cuba. There are dozens of stories of tourists who rented cars, had minor accidents and were then forced to stay in Cuba while a police or court-ordered investigation was conducted. This process is part of Cuban law and it cannot be modified or changed, even with the intervention of foreign embassies.

The cheapest method to make international calls is to buy an international phone card (tarjeta internacional). These can be acquired at any ETECSA point of sale office. They cost 10 CUC. These phone cards allow you to use any land line or public phone to make international calls. The instructions on how to use the card are written on the back. You always simply dial the number 166 in order to enter the directory, and then you enter your card number and the pin. Most international calls cost between 1.40 CUC per minute (North America) and 1.50 CUC (rest of the world). While still expensive, this is the cheapest option. All other international calling cards purchased from sources outside the country will not function in Cuba. You can also use your international cards to make local calls, but this will be expensive. The best option for local calls is to use the Tarjetas Propia, as mentioned earlier.

You can also use your cell phone to make calls from Cuba, but this will usually be very expensive. The base rate is about 1.30cuc per minute, plus there will be roaming charges applied from your domestic telecom company. If you have a roaming plan that includes Cuba, then your rates might be slightly lower, but still expensive.

In 2015 the Cuban government opened a network of public WIFI spots throughout the island. It is common to see dozens of locals and foreigners seated along the sidewalks using their phones and laptops to connect to the internet in these areas. The internet connection is not very fast, but good enough for checking emails and catching up on some news. To access the WIFI internet you must find a WiFi hot spot (many parks have wifi and in Havana the area around the sea wall (Malecon) has wifi). The official cost to use the service is 1.50 CUC per hour of WIFI. You can buy the wifi cards at any ETECSA office (ETECSA is the national telecom provider in Cuba). However, beside the WIFI spots you will always find residents reselling their access cards for a small mark-up. You can purchase your WIFI time from one of these re-sellers if you cannot find an ETECSA office. Be discreet while purchasing these cards, as it is not legal for Cubans to sell their internet access to foreigners. You will not get in trouble for buying a card, but if the police sees a Cuban selling it to you, the Cuban will get a fine.

If you desire a more stable or robust internet connection you can use the WIFI located in higher end hotels or internet cafes throughout Cuba, which are starting to roll out these services. At all of these locations, you must always pay to use the internet. Cafes and hotels generally charge about 5 to 10 CUC per hour of usage. If you did not bring a computer with you to Cuba, many hotels offer computer terminals which are connected to the internet. The cost to use the terminal and internet is sometimes slightly higher than using just the WIFI with your own device.

If you have reserved an airport pickup, to take you from the airport to your casa particular, then you will not have issues with scams. As long as you meet the taxi driver at the airport, he will take you directly to your casa, without issue.  You can click on this link to reserve an airport pickup.

99% of casa scams occur when tourists choose to find their own way to their casa particulars. A foreigner walking alone on the street with luggage and a map is a prime target for a scammer. 

  1. The most common scam occurs when you ask for directions to your casa or a kind stranger approaches you to offer help. Inevitably, the scammer will try to guide you to a different casa (to make commission) or to his own house. The scammer might even say that the casa you reserved is no good, or is no longer renting, and then try to convince you to follow him to a better place. This is always a scam. Don’t fall for it. This scam is particularly prevalent in Havana and Trinidad.
  2. The scammer might be waiting outside a popular apartment building or rental casa. They just wait beside the door or gate. When you approach, the scammer pretends to be the landlord. They greet you and ask you how your flight went. Everything seems normal. But you never enter the casa or the gate. The impostor/scammer tells you that the room is already rented to another guest or that there was a water leak (any excuse) and he guides you to another casa particular. He will inevitably get a good commission for bringing you to this different casa. Meanwhile, the original casa owner is inside his house, waiting for you to show up and ring the doorbell. You never arrive. Always confirm the identity of the landlord where you have your reservation and make sure to enter the correct house. Do not identify yourself and be friendly with random people in the street. 

The easiest way to avoid these kind of scams is to reserve and airport pickup. A professional driver will meet you at the airport and bring you directly to your specific casa particular, without problems. You can click on this link to reserve and airport pickup.

Please, if you make a reservation at a casa, please try to show up at the casa. Landlords lose a lot of revenue when tourists make reservations and then just never show up or cancel at the last moment. It degrades the trust of the casa community and it causes frustration for everybody involved.

If there is really a problem and you must cancel your reservation, please do so as far in advance as possible. At least 4 or 5 days. This gives the landlord a chance to rent his unit to another client and not have vacancy.

If you have a reservation and need to cancel, please contact the landlord directly, or contact us at this email (casas.bestcubaguide@gmail.com), or this number +53 53 89 5036

 

In Cuba, we have to rely on trust. 95% of the time, when a landlord confirms a reservation, it is confirmed in stone. He will be waiting for you when you arrive and everything will go smoothly.

5% of the time (or less), there will be problems. Maybe the landlord has booked another guest or the casa will have an issue (no water or no electricity) and you will be forced to stay at another casa particular. It’s rare, but it happens. It’s just how it is in Cuba. 

The landlords will always try to find you another casa that meets your needs. My team at BestCubaGuide.com will try everything possible to find you the best casa possible. Whenever there is a problem, there is always a solution. You will never be left outside.

As I said, problematic occurrences like this are rare. We have very good relations with the casas listed on this website and we trust the owners to fulfill their duties and responsibilities. 

A far more common problem is when tourists make reservations to casas and then never show up or leave early. This is distressing to landlords and ends up costing them a lot of money. In a poor country like Cuba, this is obviously a very serious issue.

Some casas do and some don’t. Generally, most casas offer some breakfast options, like eggs, bread, jam, cheese and fruit. it usually costs about 4 to 5 cuc per meal.

Not all casas offer dinner meals. Dinner in a casa usually costs about 8 CUC, but can vary depending upon what exactly you choose to eat. Fish and lobster will cost more than pork and chicken.

Meals are never included in the price of the casa, they are always addition. Even if a casa says that breakfast is included, it just means that they are charging you 5$ more per night for the breakfast to be included. And if you choose not to have breakfast, then the price will be 5$ lower.

Generally I recommend trying breakfast at the casa for casas in the countryside, outside of Havana. You will usually get a great meal. Furthermore, in smaller towns it can sometimes be more difficult to find breakfast restaurants on the street. In Havana you can easily find sandwich shops selling egg breakfasts with juice for less than 1$, so eating a meal in the casa is a bit more of a luxury.

Once you have booked a casa, the check in is very simple. You arrive in Cuba and go to the casa. If you are arriving in Havana and have organized an airport pickup with us, then we will have a taxi waiting at the airport to pick you up and bring you to the casa you reserved.

Once you arrive at the casa, the owner will take your Cuban visa slip. He will write your name on a state issued reservation book. The owner will return your visa to you within 12 hours. He simply needs it to confirm your reservation at the Cuban immigration office. You can pay for your casa stay immediately or if it is late at night or you did not have a chance to exchange all your money, you can pay the next day.

If you want, you can also pay just a few days and then pay the balance at the midway point of your stay. Generally there is no big rush to pay for the casa. Just pay before you leave.

Please look on the Casa Particular page and send a few messages to a couple of casas, using the contact form at the bottom of each listing.

The casa owner, or my team of assistants in Havana will contact you with a confirmation of your booking, or a suggestion for other casas if you first choice is not available.

You can also just walk around any city in Havana or Cuba and look for rental properties. Since Havana is a very large city, this is time consuming and not recommended. In smaller places like Vinales and Trinidad, it can easily be done.

Terminal 2 is tiny. It’s basically just a big room. Most American travelers and some international flights from Scandanavia and China will land at Terminal 2.

There is only 1 exit from Terminal 2. You will pass through a gauntlet of taxi drivers. Just find the driver who is holding up a sign that says your name, and you will be fine. That driver will show you where the money exchange office is and he will help you with your bags.

 

For exchanging money at the airport, in Terminal 3, the exchange desk is on the second level of the airport. The arrivals gate is on the first level of the airport. You just take the escalator up the stairs and you will see 2 exchange offices. You can go there to exchange your money.

If you have organized and Airport Pickup through the BestCubaGuide.com website, then it’s probably best to meet the driver first, and then go change your money, so that you don’t miss your driver. The taxi driver will be waiting for you at the arrivals gate (ground floor) when you arrive.

If you have organized an Airport Pickup through the BestCubaGuide.com website, then the taxi driver will be waiting for you at the arrivals gate (ground floor) when you arrive.

If you arrive a bit early and wandering around the airport, (if you go up the escalator, to exchange you money on the second level) then you might miss the driver.

Just remember that the driver will be on the ground level, at your arrivals gate, and that is where you can find him. It’s probably best to meet the driver first, and then go change your money.

arrival gate at Havana airport terminal 3This is the airport gate in Terminal 3 where you will probably exit from. The taxi driver should be waiting right in front in order to pick you up. If he is not there, wait a few minutes. He will show up.

 

 

 

 

 

Havana airport info deskThis is the info desk, just in front of the arrivals gate. The ground floor of the Havana airport is tiny. It only has 2 gates. You can’t get lost. The only way you can get lost is if you move to another level of the airport. If you are waiting for your taxi driver, do not go to a different level. The driver will always wait on the ground floor, at the arrivals gate.

 

The taxi won’t really stop along the way. Unless you have something in particular that you want to see. Driving through the countryside, you will see interesting things, but there is nothing really noteworthy to stop for along the highway. It would be nice to stop at farms and walk in some fields, but fundamentally, you could easily see a farm or walk in a field once you are in Trinidad. You are better off going directly to Trinidad and then seeing interesting things.

Either way, if you are in a taxi and want to stop along the way, just ask the driver. If you have to take a bathroom break, then the driver will stop at the next rest area. It’s no problem.

If you want to stop at a particular attraction along the way, the driver would probably stop. But he might ask for more money. The driver is usually on a fixed schedule and might have other clients planned for that day, so he  might not want to stop for long periods of time.

I would suggest you exchange some money at the airport exchange office (CADECA) so you have a bit of walking around money for when you arrive to Havana, and you have some money to pay for your casa. You don’t have to pay for the casa immediately upon arriving. 
 
You can pay your casa landlord on your second day, once you have had a chance to settle in and get your money exchanged. Or you can pay him all at once on the day you arrive, after you see the apartment. Either way, it won’t matter much.
 
For apartments on the BestCubaGuide.com website, the apartment will be exactly as seen on the photos.  If you like the photos, then you will like the apartment.

If the apartment that you are renting has a kitchen (Usually composed of a sink, a fridge, and an electric or gas stove top), then there will almost always be utensils and pots and pans included. If not, then the landlord will usually have some to offer you, for free.

If you plan to cook, I would suggest you bring sugar and salt and spices, as those things can be a bit difficult for foreigners to buy. You might also need oil, which they have at the supermarket, but you would have to buy a 1 liter bottle, which might be much more than you will need for your stay.

No, you cannot buy a Cuban SIM card and phone number. You can only rent a SIM card and phone line. 

Bring you existing phone and rent a Cuban sim card once you are in Cuba. You can get one at the ETECSA office in the Havana airport. It will cost about 3cuc per day to rent the line, plus you would have to recharge the card with credit.
 
You can also rent the sim card in Havana at most ETECSA sales offices, but there will likely be a huge lineup of local Cubans there.
 

Probably, but it will be expensive to use it. Cuba uses the GSM network and rents cell phone satellite services from Italy. Most phones will work in Cuba, even if you are from the USA. Note that the details of Cuba/USA cell phone service are still developing, but there are many links online that can give you up to date info.

http://www.cubaculturaltravel.com/travel/staying-connected

But either way, cell phone use in Cuba will be expensive. Most providers charge over 1$ per minute to use your phone in Cuba. If you are concerned about cost, then try to get on a roaming package before coming to Cuba.

Most Canadian and European phones will work in Cuba. But again, it will be expensive if you don’t have a Cuba roaming plan.

Data charges are very expensive and data does not always work in Cuba, and is very slow. Don’t use data…

 

You should show up at the airport 3 hours before departure. This is the standard rule for all international flights. In 90% of cases, the check-in counter only opens 3 hours before departure. Arriving more than 3 hours before would be useless.

You would usually be fine to arrive just 2 hours before. The delays are just so that your luggage can be put on the plane. If you have no checked bags, then you can usually show up just 1 hour before departure (to pass through security).

Cuba tourist visas are handled by your airline. In 95% of cases the visas are handed out on the plane, as you make your way to Cuba. (This applies to most Canadian travelers)

In about 5% of the other cases, you have to buy the visa in the airport of your home country, before boarding the plane. The airline representatives will clearly tell you how to do this, if this is the case. (This is the case for most American travelers)

 

For American travelers, your airline must, by law, offer to sell you a visa before you arrive in Cuba. Usually the visas are sold at the airports. The airlines charge a lot more than normal for these visas. Sometimes more than $100 USD. It is a money grab by the American airlines, but there is little that can be done about it at this point. If you want to get your visa in advance and call your airlines, it is likely that you will speak to a customer service rep who will have no clue as to where you can get your visa. You are better off just going to the airport and asking at the customer service counter. They will tell you where to buy the visa, in the airport.

There are some websites that sell visas online. Honestly, it is cheaper and faster to just get your visas from your departure airport.

 

Technically, yes. All travelers to Cuba must have valid medical/travel insurance. 

Practically, no, 99% of visitors to Cuba have no insurance. Unless you visibly look sick, nobody at the airport in Cuba will ask you for your proof of insurance.

If you want medical insurance and are worried that you might need it, then I recommend that you get it. If you are American, then you will have to find an insurer that covers Cuba. Most don’t. But you can easily buy insurance when you land in Cuba. There is an insurance office in the airport. The insurance is called Asistur. It costs about 3 to 5cuc per day. It’s cheap and the coverage is good.

If you are Canadian or from the UK you can get travel insurance from most online insurance agents. It is very cheap. You can also buy it when you land in Cuba.

 

Sure. The tours last for 2 hours and cost 50cuc per carload. There is more information on the taxi tour page.

Just fill out the form on the taxi tour page and I will organize everything for you.

No problem, just fill out the form at the bottom of the Taxi page and I can arrange that for you and your group.

No problem. I can book a private taxi for you or your group to anywhere on the island. Just check out the taxi section of the website for all prices. You can make the reservation online on that page. If you want, you can also send a message directly to this email. casas.bestcubaguide@gmail.com

Sure. The old American car taxis on the road in Cuba can be used by everybody. They are like small buses. They go along a fixed route and passengers get on and off. It costs 10MN to use them within Havana and 20MN to get from Havana to the suburbs.

For all the details of the routes and other info, you can look in the Real Havana guidebook.

The short answer is yes. The long answer is, it depends.

The general rule is that, if the water tastes ok and looks clean, then it is fine to drink. Sometimes if you are in a beach side community, the water will taste salty. The taste is not good. Obviously, I would not recommend drinking this water. The water is perfectly clean, but it just has a high salt content and would not be very tasty.

In Havana, I drink the water all the time. Throughout Cuba and Havana there are water treatment plants which do a good job of treating all the water. Furthermore, there are chlorination stations throughout Havana that ensure that water is disinfected throughout the city.

In any event, despite the fact that the tap water is perfectly safe, if you still have concerns, you can always simply buy bottled water in any Cuban supermarket at a very low cost. Water quality should never be used as an excuse to avoid visiting Cuba.

On occasion, as can happen in any city, a localized boil water advisement will be issued, usually due to construction work or a broken water main. This is rare and the advisement is issued usually as a precaution rather than a warning.

Interesting Note: There have, in the past, been a few, very limited, cholera outbreaks, usually affecting no more than half a dozen people, and always localized in the extremely poor outskirts of the far eastern provinces. These were proven to have been caused by poor sanitation within crowded living quarters rather than contaminated water sources. So, unless you anticipate sleeping on the floor of a crowded ghetto in a remote village located at the eastern tip of the island, you should have no worry at all about contracting cholera.

No, you cannot. It is useless. Any credit card issued from an American source is absolutely useless in Cuba. Even if you read somewhere that you could use it.. Even if your friend or family member said you can use it. Even if you called Chase bank yourself and the operator said it should work… forget it.. It will not work in Cuba.

What about other credit cards. Like a card from the UK?

Maybe it works, but maybe not. Even if the issuing bank says that it will work, there is probably a good chance (over 50% chance) that it will not work, or will only work in certain banks. In Cuba, the banking system is antiquated. Even if your card technically works, there are so many other problems that come up on a daily basis, that in practical terms, the card can sometimes be useless.

For example, UK, Australia and Canadian cards are generally supposed to be accepted. But maybe the bank has other issues and cannot process the card. The phone system is down or there is a power outage or the internet system is broken for the day. Maybe the outage lasts a week. This is very common. Maybe you are in Trinidad and want to get money from your card, but the teller explains to you that they can only extract money from your card in the bank in Old Havana. That is a 5 hour car ride away…. So you will basically be stuck with no money.

It happens all the time. And I have had to personally lend money to tourists on several occasions. It’s always a mess. Just bring cash and don’t depend on your credit cards in Cuba.

I would not recommend being dependent on using a credit card in Cuba. Cash is always the best choice.

Maybe your credit card works, but maybe not. Even if the issuing bank says that it will work, there is probably a good chance (over 50% chance) that it will not work, or will only work in certain banks. In Cuba, the banking system is antiquated. Even if your card technically works, there are so many other problems that come up on a daily basis, that in practical terms, the card can sometimes be useless.

For example, UK, Australian and Canadian cards are generally supposed to be accepted. But maybe the bank has other issues and cannot process the card. The phone system is down or there is a power outage or the internet system is broken for the day. Maybe the outage lasts a week. This is very common. Maybe you are in Trinidad and want to get money from your card, but the teller explains to you that they can only extract money from your card in the bank in Old Havana. That is a 5 hour car ride away…. So you will basically be stuck with no money.

It happens all the time. And I have had to personally lend money to tourists on several occasions. It’s always a mess. Just bring cash and don’t depend on your credit cards in Cuba.

Credit Cards

Credit card usage in Cuba is very rare. The only places that are equipped with credit card processing equipment are large tourist resorts, and hotels in main cities. Restaurants and state stores almost never accept credit cards.

If you are planning on bringing and using a credit card, make absolutely sure that it has not been issued from an American banking institution. All American-based credit cards will be refused because of the American embargo on trade with Cuba. Most other credit cards, especially those issued from European or Canadian banks can be used.

ATMs (cajeros automaticos) are rare. A few can be found in some hotels and very touristic areas in large cities, and at major airports. You should never depend on these machines. Breakdowns are frequent and withdrawal limits are low. In some cases, even if you are using a credit card issued from a non-American institution, you may still require the assistance of a bank teller in order to complete your transaction.

Personal checks, traveler’s checks, and bank drafts are almost completely unheard of.

PayPal And Other Payment Transfer Services

It should be noted that due to the trade embargo, you will not be able to use any American based money transfer services while in Cuba. If these services are web based, such as PayPal, you will be able to access the websites; however the actual payment will be blocked. This applies even if you are paying for something which is completely unrelated to Cuba. Simply attempting to initiate a transfer via a computer based in Cuba may lead to the temporary suspension of your account. The American government enforces the trade embargo very vigilantly, especially when it comes to international money transfers.

CADECAs

In Cuba, you can change money in state-operated exchange houses called CADECAs. These locations are usually clearly indicated on street signs and can be found in all cities and towns and at most airports and hotels. The CADECAs located in cities usually offer better foreign exchange rates than those at hotels and airports. It is advisable to exchange just a bit of money at the airport, upon entering the country. This will give you some purchasing power until you can locate a CADECA offering better rates.

CADECA offices will exchange all types of foreign currency. The most common currencies exchanged are Euros, British Pounds and Canadian and American dollars. You cannot convert all currencies in Cuba. For example, Australian dollars are not accepted. To exchange some currencies, you might have to visit a main CADECA office rather than a satellite branch.

A full list of all the currencies which are accepted for conversion as well as their daily conversion rates can be seen at http://www.bc.gob.cu/English/exchange_rate.asp

Foreign currencies are all converted first to Cuban Convertible Pesos (CUC). If you want Moneda Nacional, you can convert your CUC currency to MN on a 1:24 basis, as part of a separate transaction.

Contrary to some beliefs, tellers at CADECA offices are very honest when exchanging foreign currency. Scams at these locations are extremely rare. In order to exchange foreign currency you will be asked to provide a piece of ID, usually a passport, and your information will be entered into a computer. The clerk will count out your money, confirming the amount with you, and then give you a printed slip indicating how much Cuban currency you will receive back. The clerk will then count out the Cuban currency two times before passing it to you. You are free to take your time to recount the currency. Generally, clerks will refuse all tips so as to remain completely impartial in the transaction.

Note: It is best to convert your foreign currency to Cuban currency at several intervals throughout your trip rather than converting everything at once. If you find yourself with a lot of Cuban currency at the end of your trip and want to convert it back to your original foreign money there will be substantial foreign exchange charges. This might easily reduce the value of your currency by 5%. Furthermore, taking a large amount of Cuban currency out of the country is not permitted. A few dollars is fine, but if Cuban customs finds that you have many hundreds of dollars in CUC as you exit the country, it can be confiscated.

Banks

Another way to exchange foreign currency is to use a bank. There are several large bank brands operating in Cuba, and all are capable of exchanging foreign currency. Although banks might, on occasion, offer slightly better exchange rates than CADECAs, it should be noted that the lineups to get into a bank are often very long. In addition, while a bank can exchange your foreign currency into CUC, they are not permitted to exchange CUC into MN. The only place to do this is at a CADECA.

Other Foreigners

One of the cheapest ways to convert currency is to exchange it privately with other foreigners. This strategy works best for the most popular currencies like Canadian dollars, Euros, and American dollars. The best location to meet foreigners looking to exchange currency is at an airport CADECA. You will usually encounter many foreigners who have just completed their trip in Cuba and are eager to sell their leftover CUC. Since CADECAs usually charge an exchange fee of at least 5%, you can offer a slightly lower rate and buy these CUC directly from the foreigners. You will both benefit by saving the standard exchange fees.

Australian dollars cannot be exchanged in Cuba. They are basically worthless. Cuba only accepts to exchange currency from a few countries. The countries and their exchange rates are listed here: http://www.bc.gob.cu/espanol/tipo_cambio_METROPOLITANO.asp

If you are landing at the Varadero Airport, you can take the Viazul bus to Varadero, and vice versa. The cost will be 7cuc. But the bus does not pass frequently. In most cases, it is not practical to take the Viazul bus to and from the airport. A taxi will be much more expensive (25cuc) but you will be able to set your own schedule and be sure to arrive on time.

The other option is to take a shuttle bus to and from the airport. This usually costs 10cuc. These buses are used by the major hotels and resorts to bring clients from the airport to the hotels. But you can use them too, even if you are not staying in a hotel. In the Varadero airport, these buses wait for passengers in the parking lot. Simply approach a bus and ask them if and when they are going to Varadero. You might have to wait a few minutes until they pick up all their passengers. You pay the bus driver 10cuc and they will take you to downtown Varadero and drop you off close to your casa.

You can take one of these buses back to the airport at the end of your trip, but you would have to go to a hotel and wait for the bus there, near the lobby. These buses pass every half hour of so. Just hand the bus driver 10cuc and they will take you to the airport if there is space on the bus (usually there is).

In Varadero the Viazul bus terminal is located at the corner of Autopista (the highway) and 36th street in Varadero. The bus sometimes makes a short stop in downtown Varadero, in front of the Hicacos park. If you are staying in a casa particular in Varadero, both stops are fine, as they are both in downtown Varadero, near where most of the casas are located. You can give the bus driver the address of your casa and he can tell you which stop it is closes to.

If you are staying at a hotel in downtown Varadero then both stops should be fine. Again, you can ask the bus driver which stop would be best. If you are staying at a large resort hotel in the eastern part of the peninsula, then you should probably get off at the main terminal. There are many taxis usually waiting at the terminal, and they can drive you directly to your hotel. Varadero is a long peninsula, so taxi costs can vary considerably depending on how far your hotel is. Estimate about 10cuc, minimum.

 

On the Viazul bus, you can usually get off wherever you want along the route. Just tell the driver in advance and he will stop the bus and let you off, with you luggage.

Also, for your bus ride to Havana, the bus will make 3 stops in Havana. The first stop is in Old Havana. The second stop is in Vedado, just beside the University of Havana. The last stop is at the main terminal in western Vedado (Nuevo Vedado). If you are staying in Old Havana, you should get off at the first stop. If you are staying in downtown Vedado or Centro Habana, then get off at the second stop.  The last stop is at the terminal, in Nuevo Vedado, is rather distant from most casas. 

You can reserve your tickets online at www.Viazul.com.

If you cannot reserve your ticket online, then you will have to go to the reservation desk. In small towns, the reservation desks are usually located near the town squares. Locals will always know where the bus terminal is in any small town. In Havana, the reservation desk/bus terminal is in the western Vedado region, at the corner of 26th street and Zoologico (the Havana Zoo). You can go there to book your tickets.

Usually you have to book Viazul tickets several days in advance. There is a bus shortage in Havana and due to the recent influx of tourists, the bus system is overloaded. If you cannot find a ticket, then your best bet is to use a taxi. Many tourists have trouble getting bus seats, so there are usually many taxis and tourists waiting in front of the bus terminals. I recommend that you chat with other tourists waiting near the bus station and if you are all going to the same town, then you can share a taxi ride together. The price per person usually comes to about the same as the Viazul would have charged.

The Viazul is the Cuban national bus line. It is a bus service offering air conditioned coach style buses that travel all over the island. If you want to explore different cities in Cuba, then the cheapest way to get there is to use the Viazul. You can reserve your tickets online at www.Viazul.com.

The Viazul bus is slow because it makes many stops along the route. For example, from Havana to Varadero, the bus might stop 5 or 6 times, or more. The trip takes 3.5 hours. In a taxi, the same trip takes 2 hours.

On the Viazul bus, you can usually get off wherever you want along the route. Just tell the driver in advance and he will stop the bus and let you off, with you luggage.

The bus has air conditioning and a bathroom.

You must arrive at the bus stop 30 minutes before you depart, in order to check your luggage and check in.

Bus schedules are fairly reliable. Delays sometimes happen, but it is rather dependable.

Also, for your bus ride to Havana, the bus will make 3 stops in Havana. The first stop is in Old Havana. The second stop is in Vedado, just beside the University of Havana. The last stop is at the main terminal in western Vedado (Nuevo Vedado). If you are staying in Old Havana, you should get off at the first stop. If you are staying in downtown Vedado or Centro Habana, then get off at the second stop.  The last stop is at the terminal, in Nuevo Vedado, is rather distant from most casas. 

 

 

In order to make any purchases in Cuba, you must use Cuban currency. There are two types of currency in Cuba. The convertible peso (Peso Convertible) and the Cuban peso (Moneda Nacional). 

The convertible peso is traded at the same value as the American dollar. It is typically referred to as the CUC (pronounced like the English word cook). It is the currency that most foreigners use in Cuba. It has a high buying power and is the only form of currency accepted at hotels and large state-run stores. The CUC can be broken down into 100 centavos (cents).

Since the CUC is pegged at a 1 for 1 rate to the American dollar, all you have to do to calculate the exchange rate for your money to CUC is to calculate the exchange rate of your native currency to the American dollar.

Note: If you are exchanging American dollars to CUC, there is an additional 10% tax for the conversion, meaning that your American dollars will only get 90% of their converted value. For that reason, it is always more economical to use Canadian currency or Euros when converting to CUC.

The Cuban peso is usually referred to as the Moneda Nacional. Its name is commonly abbreviated as CUP or MN. It was the historical currency used in the country and its purchasing power has been highly eroded over the years. Most state workers are still paid in Moneda Nacional and the majority of Cubans use this currency for most of their daily transactions.

1 CUC is equal to 24 pesos in Moneda Nacional (MN). Calculated the other way around, 1 peso (MN) equates to about 4 cents CUC (4 centavos).

Interesting Fact: The Cuban government has recently decided that it will eliminate the dual currency system. They plan to eventually merge the CUC and the Moneda Nacional into a single common currency. A time-line for this unification has not yet been established. In preparation for this merger, many state stores (restaurants in particular) have begun accepting payment for their offerings in either currency. The exchange rate which many of these locations offer is usually 1 CUC = 23 MN. This is slightly inferior to the 1:24 rate charged at CADECA exchange houses.

 

 

Contrary to some popular myths, foreigners cannot generally buy goods using American dollars. This might have been the case at some point in the past, but it is no longer an option.

You can sometimes find people that will accept American dollars or Euros or other currencies, but on any official level, these currencies cannot be used to buy goods in Cuba. It’s like anywhere else in the world. If you go to New York city with Euros you can probably find somebody to accept your Euros in exchange for a slice of pizza, but overall you are expected to pay for goods in USD.

And in Cuba, you are expected to pay for goods in either CUC or CUP (Moneda Nacional)

Most tourist guides dismiss the importance of the Moneda Nacional currency and recommend that foreigners simply stick to using the CUC currency. If you are staying at an all inclusive resort or plan to spend all of your time in touristy areas, then this is fine. If, on the other hand, you are planning to explore the island or visit non-touristy areas, it will be much more economical to use the Moneda Nacional currency for most of your expenditures.

The CUC currency is used in tourist resorts, high end hotels, fancy restaurants and to rent apartments. Furthermore, it is used in large state-run supermarkets and stores and to take certain types of taxis. While in some situations, you must pay for your goods and services in CUC, there are many other instances where you can shop at locations which sell identical products, at a far lower price, in MN currency.

Moneda Nacional is sometimes called CUP.

Basically, you should have CUC and MN in your wallet and know how to use them. 1 CUC is worth 24 MN. 1 peso Moneda Nacional is worth about 4 cents CUC (equivalent to 4 cents USD). If you don’t know how to use the money or if you do not insist on getting change back, you usually will not get change back on your purcahse… You will simply be scammed and the server will keep all the change.

For 99% of street food purchases, you can and should pay in MN. Basically anywhere that accepts payment in MN, you should pay in MN. The reason for this is that most places generally do not carry or offer change in both currencies. And if you hand over a huge bill to pay for a small purchase, than the storekeeper will instantly know that you are a foreigner and they will in most cases try to rip you off by giving incorrect change.

For example: There is a sandwich on sale for 5MN and you want to buy it. You offer to pay with a 3CUC bill. The correct change on your purchase would be 2cuc plus 19mn, or a total of 67 mn (1cuc = 24mn).

In this situation, the most likely outcome is that the storekeeper does not offer you any change at all. He just gives you the sandwich and say “have a nice day.” If you insist on change, he might offer you a 10 peso MN bill or maybe a 20 peso MN bill. Or maybe he just reaches into his pocket and hands you a 25 cents CUC coin, or a 50 cents CUC coin. A token amount of change just to make you go away. You will never get exact change. Even a Cuban local would not get exact change on this transaction. The local would probably get about 65mn in change, if he is lucky. 

The best and easiest way to pay for small purcahses is with small denomination bills. If the sandwich costs 5mn, then pay with 5mn. Or pay with 10mn and you will always get 5mn back as change. Always keep things simple.

For 99% of street food purchases, you can and should pay in MN. Basically anywhere that accepts payment in MN, you should pay in MN. The reason for this is that most places generally do not carry or offer change in both currencies. And if you hand over a huge bill to pay for a small purchase, than the storekeeper will instantly know that you are a foreigner and they will in most cases try to rip you off by giving incorrect change

For example, if you want to buy an ice cream cone (a Frozzen, low dairy ice cream), the typical price is 1 peso MN (So this is about 4 cents cuc). If you give the ice cream man 1 peso MN, you are fine. If you give him 5 pesos MN or 10 or even 20 MN, he should give you the correct change. Maybe if you give them a 50 peso MN bill or higher they might look at you strangely, but they should still have change.

If you approach the same seller and give him 1 CUC, he will probably not give you any change, even though that CUC is worth 24 pesos MN. If you insist on change, he will almost never give you 23 pesos MN back. He might give you a 10 peso MN bill or maybe a 20 peso MN bill.  Or maybe he just reaches into his pocket and hands you a 25 cents CUC coin, or a 50 cents CUC coin. 

Sometimes the sellers don’t give change because they are trying to scam gullible tourists. Other times they might honestly not have change or not want to waste time searching for it. The purchasers should use common sense too. You can’t expect to pay for a 4 cent item with a 5 dollar bill and then expect perfect change. That’s why you should always carry both currencies, in a variety of denominations.

USD – There is a 10% tax on all USD to CUC transactions. The moment you try to change 100$ USD to CUC, you are dinged for 10%. Plus, after that there is a normal exchange fee, usually 3%. So, despite technically being at par, if you exchange 100USD, you will only get back about 87 CUC.

Only the USD faces the 10% penalty. All other currencies only face the usually exchange fee of 3 or 4 %. For this reason, it is usually best to bring Euros or Canadian Dollars. 

Exchange rates can be found here: http://www.bc.gob.cu/espanol/tipo_cambio_METROPOLITANO.asp

 

 

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