Frequently asked questions

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FAQ's - Frequently asked questions

Please take into account that, despite the political differences and regulations that Americans must follow when travelling to Cuba, it is a very special destination where its people welcome Americans respectfully and always try to show you their most authentic traditions and ways of life in a very friendly and courteous manner.

Always remember to enjoy your trip.


Currency Exchange and Money.


Where can I exchange currency in Cuba?


There are two types of currencies in Cuba.  The first is the Cuban Peso (CUP), used primarily by the Cuban population for basic purchases.  The second is the Cuban Convertible Peso (CUC), which is the currency mostly used by tourists.  It is important to make sure you are getting back the right change in the right currency when making transactions and purchases.

You can exchange USD or EUR for CUC at any airport, hotel, exchange bureaus in town and some appointed banks. The current fee for USD exchanging is 13%, (i.e. for 100 USD, you will get 87 CUC) and it remains the same no matter where you exchange your currency. Bills that are torn or written on will not be accepted for exchanging into CUC.

When exchanging money into CUC, try to get small denominations to make purchases easier, as many places (little stores, bars and restaurants) do not always have the possibility to break down smaller notes.

Your passport is required for currency exchange operations.

How much money should I bring to Cuba?


This is a great question. It is important to note that ATM, debit, and credit cards from the U.S. do not work in Cuba due to the U.S. embargo. Therefore, any spending money you may want or need for incidentals has to be brought with you in cash. Money spent while traveling varies a great deal, depending on personal preference.

We do recommend bringing a minimum of $100 per day. If you think you might want to purchase artwork, music, cigars, rum, or enjoy evening entertainment, or buy gifts for friends and relatives, you may want to plan on bringing more than $100 per day.  It's always easier to bring your excess money home with you rather than to run out of money while in Cuba.

It's also worth noting that Cuba isn't a commercially oriented country, meaning there aren't a lot of items to buy. However, the few items that are available are generally expensive as most prices for goods are comparable with costs in the United States.

Due to President Obama's announcement to normalize relations with Cuba (December 17, 2014), Americans are now allowed to bring back up to $400 worth of Cuban goods of any kind, with a maximum of $100 of cigar or alcohol purchases. The $400 limitation does not include artwork, music or informational materials, which are allowed in unlimited quantities.

For further details regarding Cuban goods, please visit this website: 

http://www.treasury.gov/resource-center/sanctions/Programs/Pages/cuba.aspx  

Is tipping for services necessary in Cuba?


Tipping is a way of life in Cuba. It is common to tip people in all walks of life if they do something special for you (including restaurant staff, housekeepers, porters, taxi drivers, concierge, and others in the hospitality industry). To assist you in tipping your Cuban guide and driver, we’ve created a simple guideline below based on your satisfaction of the services received. Tipping is a highly personal matter and the guideline below is only suggested rates for tipping. You may tip more or less depending on your preference.

Experience in the field and long-time patterns have provided us with average estimations on tipping rates we use to issue suggestions to foreign tourists, which are listed as follows:

·         Cuban Guide: 5-8 CUC per person per day.

·         Cuban Bus Driver: 3-5 CUC per person per day.

·         Bartenders: 1 CUC per drink.

·         Housekeeping: 1 CUC per day.

o   Note: We suggest tipping housekeepers on a daily basis, rather than at the end of your stay.

·         Taxi Drivers: 10% of the fare.

·         Parking guards (Parqueadores): 1 – 2 CUC during your parking stay.

·         Musicians: 1 CUC.

Bathroom Attendants: mostly small CUC currency coins (10 cents, 25 cents).

Are U.S. credit cards valid in Cuba?


US-issued credit cards, debit cards and ATM cards do not work in Cuba. You must have cash in order to make any purchases or pay for any services, and most places will not take USD, so you must exchange currency upon arriving.  Tips, however, can be given in any currency. Traveler’s Checks may also be difficult to cash while in the island due to internal and foreign economic policies.

Immigrations, Customs and Travel Arrangements.


Who can visit Cuba?


Please visit this website for references.

Goverment Treasury Page

Do I need a visa to travel to Cuba?


A Cuban visa, which is referred to as a "tourist card," is required for all visitors to enter Cuban soil. It consists on a two-part card set for Cuban immigration officials to take one half upon arrival, and the other half during departure. Your Cuban visa is included in your flight package and will be received with your other flight documents at the airport in Miami upon check-in. Cubabien guarantees the handling of the paperwork regarding your trip.

There are two types of special visas required for specific settings, as listed below:

·         Special Press Visa.

If you are a reporter or journalist traveling with Cubabien for journalism purposes, please note you will need a Special Press Visa to enter the island as a U.S. correspondent.

·         Cuban-American Travelers.

If you are a Cuban-American born in Cuba and living in the U.S. under a permanent resident status, you may need a special visa. You may call our Cubabien information bureau for more details. (786-762-2280)

Which legal documents do I need to travel to Cuba?


The needed legal documents in order to be able to travel to Cuba are listed as follows:
Passport: Any American traveling to Cuba will need a valid passport. It is mandatory that the passport be set to maintain its validity for at least six months after traveling on a Cubabien Travel program, so be sure to check the expiration date.
An Airline Ticket (2 copies: MIA-Cuba; Cuba-MIA; PAX receipt) 
o Note: make sure to check flight and check-in times.
An Asistur Stamp (located on the back of the Charter Ticket). This medical insurance is included for all travelers from the US to Cuba for medical emergency handling purposes.  Havanatur representatives will assist you if any medical services are needed during your stay in Cuba.
Cuban Visa.
Authorization Letter with copy of OFAC License or Travel Affidavit. Upon returning, you may asked for this by U.S. Immigration and Customs officials. 
Customs Declaration.


Basic Items.


Which items should I pack for my trip to Cuba?


The recommended basic items for Cuban tourists are listed as follows:

ü  Clothing: Seasons in Cuba are similar to those in the United States, specifically to the state of Florida’s climate setting. During the summer months (May through September), we recommend packing light clothes as the weather will most likely be very hot with high levels of humidity. During the rest of the year, it’s advisable to bring a long-sleeved shirt or light sweater for the evenings. Since you’ll be walking from place to place throughout your stay, casual walking shoes or sneakers are recommended. Daytime clothing can be casual, but should be appropriate according to international dressing codes. You may also want to pack a nicer outfit for evening dining if you choose.

o Note: Temperatures in Cuba can range from 60 °F in the winter (not very common) to 90-100 °F in during summer months.  It is common to have air conditioner in restaurants, hotels and other indoor facilities, so layering can also be wise. Also keep in mind that not all places have A.C. in Cuba, so sometimes it can also be quite hot.  

ü  Bathing suit: Bringing a bathing suit is almost mandatory. Cuba is known for its unique beach spots and attractions, and tourists are given the possibility to visit them and enjoy their many features. Plus, many of our hotels feature swimming pools.

ü  Bug Spray: Due to Cuba’s tropical climate settings and the abundant presence of several mosquito species (specially during nighttime), we recommend bringing it (specially travelers with acute allergic reactions or skin diseases).

ü  Sunscreen, sunglasses and sun hats: Daytime temperatures in Cuba, especially during summer season, can reach high levels (highest registered temperature reads have shown up to 38 °C or 100.4 °F) and are associated with the reception of high solar radiation rates due to the island‘s proximity to the Tropic of Cancer. In order to enjoy all of the country’s features and avoid severe sunburn from prolonged exposure, we recommend the use of these products and clothing.

ü  Rain gear: The rainy season in Cuba typically runs from May to November and the dry season is between December and April. Keep in mind that it may rain at any time, so it is wise to always have rain gear when traveling to Cuba. 

ü  Prescribed and non-prescribed medications: Cuba offers tourists the possibility of buying Over the Counter (OTC) drugs in International Drug Stores. Nevertheless, since most tours implicate moving from place to place, bringing internationally recognized OTC drugs and basic first aid components (such as hand sanitizers, Band-Aids and sticking plasters) is also recommended. As with most international destinations, tourists with mandatory prescription drugs must bring them in their individual, original, pharmacy-issued bottles.

ü  Cash: Due to Cuba’s political and economic status, Credit Card Terminals and ATM functions regarding U.S. credit cards do not work. It is mandatory for foreigners (especially U.S. citizens) to bring cash in order to cover their expenses. Details regarding currency exchange and money handling are explained below.

Note: PLEASE REFER TO CUBAN CUSTOMS policies for allowances, restrictions and limitations: (www.aduana.co.cu).

Language.


What is Cuba’s official language?


Cuba’s official language is Spanish (Castillian).

However, Cuban-Spanish contains considerable variation, and even native-Spanish speakers might be lost in translation at times. The majority of Cubans only know Spanish, but in larger cities and tourist areas, English is more commonly spoken. 

Do I need to learn Spanish?


Cubabien has no Spanish language pre-requisite, in fact the majority of our participants have little Spanish fluency. All groups are led by local, professionally trained Cuban guides, who are bilingual and will serve as your translator while you are in Cuba.

Although knowledge of Spanish isn’t required, you are encouraged to learn simple words and basic phrases in order to maximize your experience with the Cuban people.

What Spanish language resources do you recommend?


If you don't have a strong knowledge of Spanish, we encourage you to take some time to learn and practice some basic conversational sentences. You may want to purchase an English/Spanish dictionary (we recommend 501 Spanish Verbs by Christopher Kendris, and Langenscheidt Spanish Pocket Dictionary) and/or download audio language lessons from the following reliable language learning software: iTunes, Rosetta Stone, or the Pimsleur Approach. You can also take a conversational Spanish class at a local language school.

Transportation


Which are the recommended means for transportation for tourists in Cuba?


We strongly recommend the use of Taxis, since they are available throughout the city and are quite safe.  There are different types of taxis, including those that charge in local Pesos and those that charge in CUC. The safest and most direct ones are the yellow cabs (known to locals as “55”), which can be called with the help of your hotel staff.

Buses are also available in Havana and to get between cities and towns. However, they are sometimes a bit more challenging to figure out by foreigners, since they follow specific routes. If the route chart is unavailable, you could always ask a local for directions.

How do taxi fees work in Cuba?


There are several types of taxis found in Cuba. Official taxis for tourists (“55”) are the easiest taxis to take, as they include a reliable and accurate meter. We advise that if the driver does not turn on the meter, simply ask him to do so, or ask for the rate in advance if the driver claims it to be broken.

It is not uncommon to encounter tourist taxis without meters. If this is the case, we recommend getting a quoted rate before taking it. Rates for metered taxis and unmetered taxis tend to be comparable. In the case of unmetered taxis, negotiating a fare is acceptable.

There is also a type of taxi used only by Cubans, and it comes at a reduced rate, paid only in Cuban pesos. These drivers seldom pick up tourists and mostly charge them in CUC in exchange for reaching a specific destination.

Pedal and yellow Coco-Taxis are other fun means of transportation to cover short distances. Both can be found throughout Havana and are cheaper than traditional taxis. We recommend tourists to negotiate the fare with your driver before accepting a ride.

Tourists are only allowed to take taxis that charge in CUCs. Approximate fares start at a flat rate of 1 CUC and cost an additional 1 CUC for each kilometer. A common fare between Old Havana, Vedado, and Centro Havana neighborhoods is 3-5 CUCs. To go from Old Havana to Miramar cost 8-12 CUCs.

Electricity


What are the particularities regarding electricity in Cuba?


The first thing to know regarding this subject is that it is possible to experience temporary power outages while in Cuba, due to the limited resources on the island. Although, this seems to be happening less frequently in the past few years.

The electric current specs in the island are similar to those in the U.S. The main voltage pattern found throughout Cuba is 110 V. Sometimes both European and American plugs can be used, and it is common to find 110 V and 220 V sockets in many places. Most hotel rooms offer both. However, we strongly advice you to bring a converter if your electronic equipment is not travel-ready (105-240 V).

Hotels


What do I need to know regarding hotels in Cuba?


The first thing to know is that the star system in Cuba is quite different than that in the US.  Expect slightly lower standards at the properties, along with fewer amenities. Remember that Cuba has had limited resources for a very long time and the government does what it can to try to update their facilities as needed.

Breakfast, lunch and dinner buffets are typically included at hotels and offer a lot of variety, sometimes with different or more limited products than you might be used to.

Please note that is not uncommon to have temporary power outages, problems with Air Conditioner systems (either being too cold or not working properly), and problems with toilet flushing systems due to lack of water pressure (which in turn is subjected to variations).

Phone and Internet Services.


What do I need to know regarding international calls and Internet services in Cuba?


The first thing to know is that due to internal and foreign policies, US cell phones do not work in Cuba, even if you have an international plan.

It is possible to call home from your hotel by visiting the business center or dialing directly from your hotel room. If you wish to use the phone in your room, you will need to leave a cash-deposit at the front desk so that they activate your line.  It can be expensive to call home, sometimes more than 2.50 CUC per minute, and connection charges may also apply. You can also purchase local calling cards to use at pay phones or land lines.

As for internet services, Wi-Fi is not available throughout Cuba except at some hotels or public places. Most hotels also have a business center with computers where internet service is available. However, connection hours are limited. Connection fees can reach up to 12 CUC per hour depending on the hotel.  Because of the limited technology in Cuba, it is not uncommon to have internet outages.

The internet is the best way to communicate with your family back at home. Before traveling, we recommend you to warn your family about the difficulties regarding communications between Cuba and the US.  Not only can it be costly, but sometimes business centers are not open during the hours that are convenient to your schedule. Also, internet may be experiencing difficulties, or you may have problems getting a line to the US from Cuba since they are often rerouted through third countries.


Restaurants


What do I need to know regarding restaurants in Cuba?


There are two types of restaurants in Cuba: state-run and privately owned (known as “Paladars”).  Both are widely available throughout Cuba and more and more private restaurants are springing up on every corner. Selections are usually more varied at Paladars, but some state-run restaurants are also quite good.

Restaurant menus don’t always have as much variety as in the US. Choices can be limited, though this is also changing.

People, Music, Culture and Religion.


What is the population of Cuba?


With a diverse population spread throughout densely packed, large cities and rural countryside, Cuba is home to 11.2 million multi-ethnic residents. Its demographics can be traced to Amerindian roots and the longstanding presence of Spanish settlers, who brought African slaves to work at tobacco, coffee, and sugar plantations. Immigration and emigration that occurred during the 20th century has left its mark, too. As a result, Cuba has a small Asian population as well as residents with Portuguese, British, Irish, Greek, Russian, and Dutch ancestry.

What kind of music is Cuba famous for?


Music is everywhere in Cuba and the following represent some of the island's most popular genres:

o Son: Son gave birth to all other Cuban music genres. It originated in the 19th century as a combination of Spanish verse & chorus and African vocals and drumming.

o Salsa: This famous genre is descended from Cuban son, but also borrows heavily from other styles, (particularly American jazz). Salsa dancing has been influenced by Afro-Cuban paces.

o Rumba: A catch-all word for various forms of Afro-Cuban song and dance.

o Bolero: Originated from Santiago de Cuba, this is a romantic and heart-felt genre, usually performed by soloists or a harmony duo in the form of a ballad.

o Cuban Jazz: Jazz is extremely popular throughout the island, and Cuban jazz musicians are famous throughout the world. The annual International Jazz Festival in Havana and venues like La Zorra y el Cuervo and the Jazz Café are great options to experience top talent in the field.

o Nueva Trova: This politicized genre rose after the Cuban Revolution in 1959, and was made famous for its folksy and emotionally charged style.

o Timba: A modern and faster-paced version of Cuban son-derived salsa that has become a dominant sound in Cuba today. It draws on African folk dances and rhythms like rumba, but also rap and reggae.

In addition to traditional signature music styles, Cuba offers international music styles (such as rock, pop or reggaeton) with trademark songs written, composed and performed by national musicians, groups and bands.

Can I visit a synagogue, or Jewish congregation/community while in Cuba?


Yes, it is possible to visit a synagogue or Jewish congregation/community while in Cuba, provided the visit is part of the traveler’s full-time schedule of educational exchange activities authorized by the U.S. Department of the Treasury, Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC).

Therefore, if you wish to visit a synagogue or Jewish congregation/community while in Cuba, you will need to contact them directly to see if they have availability during times when you are not required to participate in the full-schedule of educational exchange activities as part of your tour, and required by OFAC. Typically free time is in the evening. However most congregations have family and work commitments to tend to. (Please see below for address and contact information)

Similar to synagogues and congregations in the United States, availability and access to the public may be limited.  Visits by non-congregational members need to be scheduled and with a purpose. Visits are at the discretion of the synagogue or congregation.  Please be understanding and note that due to the influx of Jews from the United States, as a result of the religious and people-to-people license categories, visits by individuals are increasingly difficult to obtain.

Can I attend Shabbat or other Jewish services at a synagogue while in Cuba?


Yes, it is possible to attend a Shabbat or other Jewish services while in Cuba. If you wish to visit a synagogue or Jewish congregation/community while in Cuba, you will need to contact them directly to see if there will be a service, when the service is being held, and if there is space to accommodate you at the service. If you do opt to attend Shabbat or other Jewish services while in Cuba, please inform your Cubabien tour leader and Cuban guide so they know your whereabouts. All scheduling and arrangements must be made by the individual guest.

o   Note: For more information, please contact:

El Patronato - La Casa de la Comunidad Hebrea de Cuba

Synagoga Beth Shalom (Conservative).

Address (Official): Calle I, esquina 13, Vedado, Ciudad de la Habana.

Phone:53-7-832-8953

Fax:53-7-33-3778

Email: beth_shalom@enet.cu or patronato_ort@enet.cu

Contact: Adela Dworin (President).

 


Health and Safety



U.S. Customs/Return trip.



Cubabien specific questions.