cuba information

Cuba

FAQs & Important Visa Information

When we describe Cuba as 'the new kid on the block', we're not exaggerating. The government only lifted sanctions on U.S. citizens traveling to this fascinating country as tourists in 2009, and even then, there were all manner of restrictions which have since somewhat loosened. If you're booking your dream trip around Cuba with Intrepid Travel, it's important to know about the bare necessities, like visas, currency, and the exact meaning of 'People-to-People Travel'. Read on, and brace yourself for an experience like no other...

What is the Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) and what does it do?

OFAC “administers and enforces economic and trade sanctions based on U.S. foreign policy and national security goals against targeted foreign policies and regimes … and other threats to the national security, foreign policy or economy of the United States.” As of January 16, 2015, Intrepid U.S. is authorized to provide People-to-People trips pursuant to a general license under 31 C.F.R. 515.565(b), rather than needing a specific license. For more information, we strongly encourage you to visit OFAC's website.

What does People-to-People Travel mean?

In many ways, tourism in Cuba is still illegal, unless you declare that your visit is an educational one, in order to meet the regulations set forth by OFAC's People-to-People general licence. So, Intrepid Travel's special People-to-People Travel itineraries have been carefully constructed to provide engaging, intimate experiences with Cuba’s dynamic residents. Your itinerary will mean you'll be immersed in everyday Cuban living and learn all about their customs, history, food and family-life. It's important to understand that People-to-People Travel allows for very little free time, as your time will be spent experiencing Cuba at its most authentic, through one-on-one talks, in-person visits, guided tours and even salsa classes.

Unlike other tours and experiences we offer here at STA Travel, you cannot opt out of any of the activities on your People-to-People itinerary. By not participating, you may be individually liable for criminal or civil penalties. However, you are still able to explore on your own before or after your scheduled itinerary is complete. So, you can still grace Havana's infamous bars and dance floors, head out to find the most Instagram worthy snapshots, or just get some well-deserved R&R on one of Cuba's stunning beaches before you jump on the Intrepid wagon!

What currency does Cuba use?

Cuban residents use two currencies. The peso, also known as Moneda Nacional (MN$) is mainly used by locals, and convertible pesos (CUC$), are mainly used by tourists. One US dollar should buy you one CUC dollar, which is currently roughly worth 25 pesos. However, Cuba operates as a dual economy, and its hard currency is the Cuban convertible peso (CUC). This means travelers must use CUCs to pay for personal consumption in Cuba or to purchase informational materials. If you're wondering what falls under the category of 'informational material', head to our 'Can I buy items in Cuba and bring them back to the U.S.?' FAQ.

Are U.S. dollars accepted in Cuba?

You won't be able to use U.S. dollars at all in Cuba, so you'll need to convert all of your money into CUC upon arrival at the airport. This exchange is currently subject to a 10% Cuban tax, but its subject to change at any time. You can visit xe.com to find out the latest information. At least the ratio of U.S. dollar to CUC is the same, meaning it will be easy to keep track of the exchange rate, and your spends!

Where can I exchange money in Cuba?

You won't run into many issues exchanging your U.S. dollars to CUC in Cuba. You'll be able to do it at the airport, and in most hotels and banks in Havana. It's important to remember however, that Traveler's Cheques from the U.S. aren't insured or accepted in Cuba.

Can I use my U.S. credit or debit card in Cuba?

U.S. financial institutions are now permitted to process credit card and debit card transactions in Cuba which related to authorized travel expenses... However, most Cuban vendors are not set-up to process such transactions, for example, their card readers, if they have them, may not recognise your American bank card.

ATMs can also be quite temperamental in Cuba, so funds may not be accessible electronically. Therefore we advise you to travel with sufficient cash and remember to only put what you need in your wallet from day to day, whilst leaving the main bulk somewhere safe at your accommodation. Prices in Cuba are similar to those in the United States, so this may be used as your guide on how many CUC you'll need.

Do I need a visa to visit Cuba?

Everyone is required to obtain a Cuban visa prior to visiting the country, and it's up to the individual traveler to organize their own. Entry requirements can change at any time, so it's important that you check for the latest information on the Cuban consular website, however your STA Travel Expert will also be happy to point you in the right direction with acquiring visas when you call to book or enquire. Remember that visas can take several weeks to process, so it's best to apply for one as soon as you've booked your tour.

Another essential for anyone planning a visit to Cuba is travel insurance; without proof that you're insured, you'll be denied entry to the country.

Can I buy items in Cuba and bring them back to the U.S.?

If you're worrying about the famous embargo on goods, don't; it won't affect you. You're allowed to bring $400 worth of goods from Cuba back to the U.S. per person, provided that (rum and cigar fans may want to brace themselves here) no more than $100 of the merchandise consists of alcohol or tobacco products, and the merchandise is imported for personal use only. Despite this, there are no monetary limits at all on acquisition of 'informational materials'; you can bring educational, cultural or artistic goods, like books, paintings, posters, photographs, films CDs of Cuban music back to the U.S. without any restriction on quantity. There's also no limit on personal spending in Cuba.

How much should I budget for a trip to Cuba?

As a rough guide, a beer in Cuba can cost as little as $1, and most meals in restaurants are under $10, so it's safe to say you won't need to break the bank when it comes to your spending money, especially since you have your accommodation and most meals included in the cost of the current Hola Cuba package. But, as most travelers have learned by now, it's always better to bring a little more than you think you'll need. Also make sure you've read your trip details thoroughly so you know what's included in the trip price and what isn't. This should make budgeting a little easier.

You should also make sure you have access to an additional $500 (U.S.), to be used when unforeseen incidents or circumstances outside our control (e.g. a natural disaster, civil unrest, strike action or an outbreak of bird flu) necessitate a change to our planned route. We find many people ask whether or not there are any limitations to how much you can spend whilst in Cuba. The short answer? No. There's no limit, apart from the one we discussed earlier on the value of items you decide to bring back to the U.S. with you.

How safe is Cuba?

The security environment in Cuba is relatively stable and characterized by a strong military and police presence throughout the country. Violent crime is uncommon in Cuba, but thefts do sometimes occur. Visitors should avoid wearing flashy jewelry or displaying large amounts of cash. When possible, visitors should carry a copy of their passport with them and leave the original at a secure location. The local equivalent to the “911” emergency line in Cuba is 106 for the Police Department and 105 for the Fire Department.

Will my cell phone or PDA device work in Cuba?

U.S. cell phone, texting and smart phone-based internet will not work in Cuba, meaning you'll have to make calls from your hotel. Inquire about rates before placing calls, as they are generally very expensive and must be paid for in cash. Satellite phones are also not allowed in Cuba. You could consider buying a cheap Cuban SIM card for your cell if you really want to stay connected for the duration of your trip.

Does Cuba have internet?

Some hotels and public internet store provide internet access however, it may not be reliable or up to the standards you are accustomed to at home.

Our People-to-People tour of Cuba

Now that you've got past the important stuff (and/or printed it out for later), you can get on with planning your trip to this captivating Caribbean island. Whether it's the fascinating history, Havana's colourful patchwork of buildings and classic cars, or the idea of so many gratifying interpersonal exchanges with the locals that intrigues you the most, our Hola Cuba package with Intrepid Travel offers it all...

9 Day Hola Cuba

People-to-People package

From $3,999Incl. Flights
  • Maximum 16 travelers per group
  • Includes 8 breakfasts, 7 lunches and 7 dinners
  • Accomodation: Private homestays, known as 'Casa Particulars'
  • Transport: Private coach transfer
  • Airport transfers included*
  • Havana, Trinidad, Vinales, Cienfuegos