The Ultimate Cuba Travel Checklist

What To Bring And How To Prepare For Your Cuba Trip

  • Your Passport & Cuban Visa (Tourist Card)

    You need your passport to travel to Cuba. I know it seems like common sense to bring your passport, but here are a couple of other things to check. Make sure your passport does not expire within 6 months after your return date from Cuba. If it is going to expire then you need to go ahead and renew it. It typically takes about 4-6 weeks, and you can find more info about that here.

    Your Cuban Visa/Tourist Card is typically very easy to obtain these days (2019). This is not to be confused with the OFAC general travel license from the United States. The Tourist Card is a document required to enter Cuba. Most airlines will offer this to you when you leave for your trip. For airlines, you will buy this the day you leave for Cuba at your airline’s “Cuba Check-ins” counter inside of the airport. If you have a connecting flight before Havana, you may have to buy it at your final airport before Cuba. The Tourist Card usually costs around $50-100 depending on the service operators.

    There are certain rules for people that were born in Cuba. If you were born in Cuba and need to get a visa, please contact us at [email protected] and we will help you. Depending on the year you were born you may have to get a Cuban passport from the Cuban consulate.

  • Detailed Itinerary

    A detailed itinerary is required for the United States citizens traveling under most OFAC general licenses. Even if you are traveling from another country it is a good idea to create an itinerary. When you arrive in Cuba you may discover events or places you want to see. If you have a printed itinerary you can write down anything that may change during your travels. There are a lot of things to see around Cuba, and a detailed itinerary not only keeps you legal (US citizens) but also helps you to cover more ground and have a better experience. If you need help with your itinerary, Havana Music Tours can help with that too… We offer an itinerary design service that includes setting up reservations for restaurants, music venues, and transportation. Any way you decide, we highly recommend a detailed itinerary!

  • Currency Exchange

    There are two currencies in Cuba: CUP and CUC. CUP is the currency that Cubans primarily use. It is the money that the Cuban people are paid with and also what they use to pay for necessities in Cuba. CUC is the currency used primarily by tourists. You (the tourist) will exchange your home countries’ currency (U.S. Dollar, Euro, Canadian Dollar, etc) for CUC to be able to purchase food and products in Cuba. You WILL need to have plenty of cash as there are not many options to use credit cards. Some places, like hotels, may accept credit/debit cards. But, almost all banks in the United States have blocked credit and debit card transactions in Cuba. So make sure to bring enough cash… I have seen people run out of money in the city and at the airport… It is better to lose a little exchange percentage when you are leaving than to run out of money in a country where you do not have access to more. Western Unions are strictly for the Cuban people. Tourists are not allowed to accept Western Unions in Cuba. What is enough money? I recommend around $30-100 U.S. dollars per day depending on how many extra things like souvenirs and such you plan to buy. Anyway, definitely bring more… Again, Cuba is a place where you want to have extra money when you leave… Not $0.

    If you are traveling from the United States and plan on bringing more than $500 or so dollars, it may be worth exchanging dollars for Euros at your local bank. There is a 10% penalty in Cuba on the U.S. dollar upon conversion. The U.S. dollar is usually one to one with CUC, but when you subtract the 10% penalty and the 3% transaction fees you get roughly .87 CUC for every one U.S. dollar. This is why Euros may be better, especially if you plan to spend a lot of money in Cuba.

  • Cell Phones, WiFi, and Maps

    (**Update 2019**) There is now mobile data in Cuba, but you must buy a SIM card from ETECSA and your phone must be unlocked. The most data you can buy at a time is 4GB and costs 30CUC. You typically get 3G internet, but in some places you can now get 4G

    Your cell phone should work in Cuba, but it is probably very expensive. I’ve heard of $2-3 per minute to talk on the phone in Cuba to the U.S. I would check with your carrier specifically for their Cuba policy. I recommend only using your phone if you really need to. Your casa particular host, tour leader, or hotel staff should be able to help you contact local restaurants and order taxis as you need.

    Wifi in Cuba is very limited and you can only access at certain hotspots and hotels around the country. You must buy a WiFi card from an ETECSA (Cuban communication provider) store or a hotel. These cards are usually about one hour at a time for tourist and each card comes with a scratch-off username and password. You must type this in each time you want to connect at a WiFi park or hotel. Keep in mind that sometimes hotel cards can only be used at the hotels and not at the WiFi hotspots. I highly recommend getting all of your important internet related activities accomplished before arriving in Cuba. It is actually a great experience to disconnect and really spend time learning about the Cuban culture. The lack of WiFi could be exactly what you need to clear your mind!

    Gps/maps like Google and Apple seem to be lacking in their information for Cuba. So, I highly recommend downloading an app called “Maps.me” and then downloading offline maps of Cuba. From my experience and to the best of my knowledge, this map app has the most destinations listed for Cuba. It will also give you offline walking/driving directions. But, I also recommend writing down or typing out the important addresses on your detailed itinerary.

  • Proper Clothing - What To Wear And Pack For Cuba

    Cuba is definitely a place where you can dress up and go see some amazing live music or an incredible show. However, depending on when your trip is, it can be pretty hot and tropical during the day. The summer is pretty hot and humid, and in the winter it can be warm during the day but you may need a small jacket at night. Be sure to pack comfortable walking shoes and light vented clothing for your daytime activities.

    Most music venues and live shows require you wear certain attire. For example, at the famous Latin jazz club “La Zorra y El Cuervo” the men must wear pants and no one is allowed to wear sandals or flip-flops. In this case, you may want to prepare time in your schedule to go home and freshen up before going out at night.

  • Medicines and Toiletries

    Cuba is known for some of the best healthcare in the world. Historically if there is ever a crisis in the Carribean, Cuba will literally send multitudes of doctors to help their neighbors. They extend this universal form of healthcare not only to their citizens but also to tourists for a small cost. They even have tourist hospitals specifically for helping foreigners. If you are traveling from America and possibly other countries, there is a requirement to purchase health care and is typically included in your airline fare. It usually costs only $25 per person and if you already bought your flight, you may not have noticed it.

    When traveling to Cuba, I still recommend having all of your necessary medicines and vitamins.  It can be more difficult to find things like aspirin or any other medicines you may need. We recommend bringing enough soap and maybe even some to share with your new Cuban friends. Things like toothpaste, soaps, toilet paper, paper towels, ointments, can all be harder to find in Cuba and also unaffordable for most average Cubans. I recommend bringing one or two rolls of toilet paper with you in your luggage and carrying some around in a fanny pack or backpack during your trek around Cuba. In some places that you visit around Cuba, there may not be very much if any toilet paper available. So having some in a backpack could save the day… It is also customary to tip to use the bathroom in Cuba. At restaurants, music venues, bus stops and more there is usually a person watching after and cleaning the bathrooms. They work to earn their wage by people leaving a small tip to use the bathroom and even purchasing toilet paper (if they have any). If you already have toilet paper then you may only need to tip as a courtesy.

    Also, never flush toilet paper down the toilet in Cuba. Throw it in the trash next to the toilet.

  • Spanish Translator App Or Dictionary

    It is okay if you do not speak Spanish, but knowing a few phrases and having a quick reference can definitely help. In the touristy areas a lot of Cubans speak English, but maybe your casa particular host only speaks Spanish. If you use something like google translate, be sure to download the entire language to be usable offline before arriving in Cuba. It is difficult to download certain things on the internet. We also recommend investing in at least one or all of the following:

    Spanish phrasebook (This book is great as an audiobook because you can practice pronunciation and learn vocabulary)

    Spanish pocket dictionary (A great back up if your google translator isn’t working right or you want to study different words/phrases in comparison to English)

    Also, this video is a great video to get a couple of useful Spanish words in the toolshed!

  • Travel Insurance

    Travel insurance is always a good idea, especially if you are traveling internationally. For a relatively low cost and depending on which plan you choose you can buy insurance for your flights, cruises, tour costs, accommodations, flight changes, medical emergencies and more. If you are in need of travel insurance and no matter how or where you choose to travel. I definitely recommend checking out the coverages over at Travelex.