21 Cuba travel questions – answered

Cuba

Thinking about going to Cuba for the first time? No idea what to expect? Recent changes to the Cuba regulations policy make travel to Cuba a lot easier—and soon with our daily service to Havana, Camagüey, Santa Clara and Holguín—a lot less expensive! Find out everything you need to know about Cuba travel.

1. Is travel to Cuba for tourist activities permitted?
No, ordinary tourism travel is off limits. Travelers are also expected to have a full-time schedule of activities related to their category of travel. And it’s advised that records of travel transactions/receipts be retained for five years.

2. How can a U.S.-based customer travel to Cuba?
Travelers must qualify for one of two licenses, or authorization from OFAC to travel to Cuba:

  • Specific license: is issued only in certain cases to the traveler directly by OFAC. JetBlue customers will need to provide the specific license number at time of booking.
  • General license: Most eligible U.S. travelers will qualify for this license. A general license means travelers do not have to seek approval from the U.S. government before traveling to Cuba as long as they fall within OFAC’s reasons for travel.

For more information about on people-to-people travel and other general license categories, visit the OFAC FAQ page.

Street sidelined by decaying buildings in Old Havana with a big cuban flag; Shutterstock ID 112151150; name: Chan Tran; Client: Jetblue; Publication: Blog; Story ID: n/a

3. What are the travel requirements for Cuba travel?
Visit the Cuba FAQ section on jetblue.com to learn about the different travel document and baggage requirements for U.S. residents, Cuban Nationals with U.S. residence, and Cuban residents.

4. Can I bring my pet to Cuba?
Yes, your cat, dog and/or emotional support/service animal can travel to Cuba as long as they have the travel requirements and documentations found here. This includes details on how to obtain a household pet declaration and certificate from the Cuban Consulate.

5. What power plugs do I need in Cuba?
Most of Cuba—including 90% of the hotels—uses a 110-volt current with the standard American two- or three-prong outlets. However, some of the newer hotels and resorts are 220-volt currents and only accept the European two-prong round prongs.
Travelers should bring personal appliances rated for 110-volt current, with U.S.-style prongs or converters, and carry a three-to-two-prong adapter for any appliance that has a three-prong plug.

6. Can I use my credit cards?
Because ATM and credit cards issued by U.S. banks do not work in Cuba yet, you should plan to arrive with enough cash to last you through the end of your trip, unless your card is issued from a non-U.S. bank. Note that U.S. travelers will not be able to access additional cash at any time during their stay.

7. What should I pack?
Pack anything essential you’ll need or think you’ll need, including, but not limited to: cash, toiletries, toilet paper, bug spray, sunscreen, medications and infant supplies.

8. What should I know about Cuban currency?
Two currencies are used in Cuba: convertible peso (CUC$) and Cuban pesos (moneda nacional, abbreviated MN$). It’s recommended that first-time visitors use CUC$ since all visitor services are paid with convertible pesos (e.g., accommodations, rental cars, bus tickets, museum admissions, restaurants, Internet access, tips). U.S. dollars are not accepted as currency in Cuba. The convertible peso cannot be purchased outside of Cuba, so you’ll have to buy it when you arrive in Cuba. The 1:1 exchange rate means 1.00 Cuban convertible peso equals $1.00 USD, but note that there’s an additional surcharge and extra service charge for exchanging U.S. dollars—about 12-14%.

The Cuban peso (MN$) is not used by majority of visitors but is legal for foreigners to use. It can get confusing because Cubans refer to both currencies as pesos, so learn to know the physical differences between the twos. You can also detect if you’re being charged in Cuban pesos if the price seems too high (the exchange rate is about 24 MN$ to 1 CUC).

9. How do I get around Cuba?
Taxis
The easiest way to get into town from the Havana airport is by taxi. The ride is about 20-30 minutes from the city center, and the cost is about 20-25 CUC. When a taxi has no meter, agree upon a price before you get in the cab. Vintage taxis in Havana—or colectivos—only go through a set route and cost 10 CUP or 0.50 CUC per person.
Bus
You can easily and cheaply travel all around the county by the Viazul Bus. Try to buy tickets the day before, and plan to arrive at the Viazul station at least 1 hour before departure. If the bus is booked up, another option is shared taxis, which is usually the same price as the bus and quicker. You can find taxi drivers offering a shared ride in the front of the bus station, or arrange to have the shared car pick you up from your hotel/casa by visiting an Infotur, Cuba’s tourist information offices.
Car Rental
If you wish to rent a car, note that the minimum age to rent is 21 years. Book far in advance, especially if you need an automatic (there aren’t many available), and make sure you have enough cash to cover the daily rental rate, fuel (pay upfront or upon return), mandatory insurance (10-30 CUC/day) and a 200-300 CUC deposit. That’s a lot of cash to carry because remember, U.S. credit cards are still not accepted in Cuba.

cubacar

10. What’s the weather like in Cuba?
The rainy season in Cuba is May through November, and the dry season is between December and April. However, like Florida, it may rain at any time. Temperatures are moderate ranging from the mid-60s in the winter to the mid-90s in the summer. Most hotels and restaurants do have air conditioning, but it’s not uncommon that places in Cuba do not.

11. Is there Internet in Cuba?
Wi-Fi is not yet widely available, but many hotels in Cuba have Wi-Fi and/or business centers with computers that have Internet access. There are also Internet cafés around the bigger cities. Generally speaking, the Internet connection is very slow, so just consider a trip to Cuba as an Internet detox.

12. Can I use my cell phone in Cuba?
Some U.S. cell carriers (Sprint and Verizon) now have roaming services available in Cuba. It is possible to rent a Cuban cell phone at Cubacel in the airport, which makes calls within Cuba much cheaper than a roaming international phone. There are Cubacel offices in Terminals 2 and 3 at José Martí International Airport in Havana.

Visit the FCC site for more information on telecommunications in Cuba.

13. Do I need to be able to speak Spanish?
Knowing a few simple phrases will be helpful, but most Cubans understand some English.

14. Is the water safe to drink in Cuba?
According to the U.S. embassy, it’s best to drink bottled water while in Cuba. Avoid ice.

15. What are the best places to stay in Cuba?
Travelers can either stay in hotels or in casa particulars, which are private rooms or apartments rented by locals.

16. Where should I eat in Cuba?
There are two types of restaurants in Cuba—state-run and privately run ones known as paladares particulares, also known as in-home restaurants. If you’re looking for more than just rice and beans, try eating at the paladares since the food quality and service are generally better. How to tell a paladar apart from a government restaurant? See where the locals are eating or waiting to dine. And if you feel like you’re in someone’s living room, chances are you’re in a paladar.

17. Is Zika impacting Cuba?
Travelers should refer to the CDC’s Zika Virus in Cuba page for the latest information.

18. What should I know about tipping in Cuba?
Tipping goes a long way in Cuba, since most Cubans earn their money in moneda nacional (MN$). Leaving a small tip of 1 CUC can make a huge difference.
Resorts/Hotels: We recommend tipping for good service with bellboys, hotel maids and bar/restaurant staff.
Musicians: Are found on every corner and playing in most restaurants, especially at dinner. Tip .50 CUC to 1 CUC when the hat comes around.
Tour guides/drivers: 3 CUC per day
Restaurants: Tip 10% for standard service if tax/service is not already added; %15 for excellent service.
Taxis: 1 CUC is fine for short-haul trips.

19. What’s the proper way to greet Cubans?
You shake hands with strangers; a kiss or double-cheek kiss is appropriate between people who have already met.

20. Can I bring back Cuban cigars and rum?
U.S. travelers can bring back $400 worth of goods and merchandise—but only up to $100 worth of alcohol and tobacco products.

Additionally, ‘information materials,’ such as artwork, posters, music, movies, books, photos and the like can be purchased and brought home legally, with no limit on quantity or value.

21. What do I need to know about departing from Cuba?
You’ll need to present the remaining half of your visa at departure– you cannot leave Cuba without presenting it. If you lose the card, note that it may take at least a day for the card to be replaced.

Visit jetblue.com to learn more about JetBlue’s nonstop service to Cuba.