Traveling to Cuba
Traveling to Cuba can be one of those life transforming experiences. Here we present some practical information to help make that a reality. There are always two aspects of going to Cuba, the part having to do with the Cuban government, of course, and, especially in the case of the US, the part having to do with your country of residence.
For the Cuban government end, see Cuban Government sites in Cuba, Cuban Interests Section in Washington DC, and Cuban Law, Visas, & Security. If you are a Cuban American living in the US, see the very informative new site by the Cuban Interests Section in Washington, DC. You fall under a separate system than other Americans and must tend to those details.
For the US government end, see US Government.
These regulations have changed and will continue to change, see the State Department site. Also, under Bush, the number of people being fined for going down illegally went up, people were being sent fine letters without being "caught in the act," raising suspicions that Canada and Mexico turned over passenger manifests. We don't know if this is continuing, Of between 25,000 and 100,000 illegal visits in 2002, only some 600 received letters in Bush's last year for fines.
A category which used to provide an out was to be fully hosted by a Cuban entity. The level of proof now required is high - you must have full documentation for every expense.
There are some categories which qualify for a treasury
license: full time students, musicians, dancers, anyone going down for professional
reasons, journalists, and so on. Treasury tends to encourage group travel and frowns on
individual researchers, which makes you wonder who is the collectivist here....
Others who apply for a license that they need to receive in their hands
are subject to resource scarcities within Treasury, the body that grants licenses. Unless
of course you get one through your academic institution if they have had the foresight
(perhaps with some help from you, dear reader!) to get a general license enabling them to
issue licenses to their students, staff, and faculty.
We do not recommend going through the Bahamas. US Customs there have been known to confiscate religious objects. Also, as one reader reports: "Jamaica, Bermuda, and the Dominican Republic permit US Customs and CIA 'stations' in their major airports; Mexico does not." Note that the CIA is probably more focused on spying than law enforcement, so the determining factor is more likely the presence of Customs.
When you travel via Cancun, you pass customs in the US. Via Canada, you
pass US customs in Canada, but they seem more reasonable and less apt to 'tag' you. Do not
bring cigars back, they are very illegal... and if you've been bad and have asked the
Cubans and the Mexicans not to stamp your passport (bribing the Mexicans with $20 folded
into your passport, although some say that is not necessary), then be sure to tell the
truth if later on a US Customs agent asks you where you've been. It's a worse sin (a
felony) to lie to a federal officer than to go to Cuba without a license, which is
punished by fines, typically hefty these days. Be aware that you have to ask both the Cubans and the
Mexicans to not stamp your passport or they will. The Cubans will
usually honor this request
When you come back from Cuba under a license, you are able to bring in items protected by the Berman amendment: books, CDs, videos, even works of art.
The regulations on this vary from airline to airline -- check with them. Cubana is among the strictest, and will even refuse to take on excess bags or will charge you charge $7 a pound. Check with your carrier ahead of time. Their stated policies are sometimes stricter than what they do on the ground...
Tourist visas for anyone, American or not, as long as you were not born in Cuba or are not visiting Cuban relatives, are easy to obtain and come as a part of your travel package when you buy your ticket. Visas for journalists and researchers declared as such are a separate matter and require an application to the Cuban Consulate in your country (Washington, DC for the US). Cuban Americans born in Cuba also need to get special permission as they are viewed with somewhat more suspicion and have to be checked out... see Cuban Interests Section.
Be sure to understand some essentials of Cuban law. You will need to have a hotel
room arranged in Cuba before you get there, or at least have one to declare to Imigracion
when you arrive. You can stay at a friend's house or a licensed private boarding house,
but we suggest you do that only if they have cleared the way for it. Cuban citizens
can be fined $1,000 (a fortune in Cuba) for having a foreigner as an overnight guest if
they themselves don't
1) get permission from Imigracion or
2) pay $100/month or more for a license to do this on a commercial basis.
This fine can be doubled if not paid in 30 days, after which they go to jail at the rate of $1/day. Cubans can get permission to have a foreign friend stay at their house, but this requires that they go and declare you with Imigracion and you will need to go and show your passport. As of spring, '99, this procedure has been simplified and anyone can have a foreign guest by paying for a $50 ($40?) stamp ahead of time with Imigracion, which gives one permission to have a foreign guest for a determined stay.
Once in Cuba, be aware that some Cubans are eager to hustle you and that this can be severely punished - prostitution can get the woman 5 years in jail and, under the new laws, 20 years or more for the pimp. Informal street vending can be punished by fines and jail time. Ordinary Cubans walking the streets with foreigners are automatically subject to a check on ID papers to the point where many Cubans refuse to walk with foreigners as they could be fined if their papers are not in order. This is even more the case for black cubans, who will be singled out when white cubans are let by.
In general, Cuban police lean over backwards not to molest tourists since Cuba is so
dependent on tourism for income and since Cubans are basically very polite people and
hospitable to strangers.
Personal security on the island is in general quite good. Until recently, crime was little known. That is changing with the continued economic hard times and we have seen a rise in crime which reached dangerous levels in '97 and '98 in certain areas such as Old Havana (Habana Vieja) and parts of Santiago, where purse snatchings and muggings were common. Because of this, there is now extra vigilance by the police who have taken to asking for IDs a lot more frequently and crime has gone down all over. Such ID checks are common in tourist and high visibility areas such as the Malecon along the Havana shore. It is less common in non-tourist areas. There are recent (2001) changes in the penal code which drastically increase prison sentences, though prisoners are eligible for parole after serving half of their sentences, unlike the US where parole is increasingly not part of the picture. Already a Cuban can get a jail sentence of up to 70 years for fighting with or attacking a tourist. Even so, best to consult local Cubans on what are the safe areas and what aren't. However, with the crackdown, folks report that foreigners feel they can walk the streets again...
The level of crime in the worst places is not even comparable to US levels, though hard numbers are not easy to come by. Many Cubans are in fact supportive of the current crackdown as there is a tremendous personal fear triggered by a few murders. They have nothing to compare this to and are unaware that their murder rate is far, far less than what can be experienced in any major US city.
The dollar is no longer recognized in Cuba. You will need to change them into Convertible (CUC).
Credit cards, including Visa/MasterCard, are recognized in Cuba so long as they are not from a US bank. People report mixed results with travelers' checks. Non-US based checks definitely work, as do checks bought in the US via companies such as Thomas Cook. Some have reported that US based CityBank traveler's checks work but American Express don't -- perhaps this is a result of some past dispute. Others say American Express checks work fine. However, we did get a note from an American Express employee who lost her checks in Cuba and was refused reimbursement. So it may be the case that you can cash checks bought in the US or from a US company, but you may not be able to get your money back if they are stolen! Check on this matter with whoever you buy from...
US travelers frequently either pay in cash or use travelers checks from Thomas Cook. One easy way is to establish Canadian card is Transcard, a debit card where you can deposit funds before your trip, even if you do not live in Canada. If you travel through a third country, you can buy travelers' checks in that country (not American Express!) before getting into Cuba, and they will be recognized in Cuba as well as reimbursed if lost.
US dollars in Cuba are known as "fula" and Cuban pesos, "nacional"
Sending money to Cuba: see Money Transfers and Package Delivery
|Canada||Anais Valdez: Montreal
Fax: (514) 526-6662
|Cuba||Cuba Linda: started by former CIA agent
Phillip Agee in Havana
|+53-7-553980, fax +53-7-553686.||www.cubalinda.com|
|Olivia King Center||Not a travel agent, but organize itineraries around the religion and the culture. Based in Havana|
|Europe||Cuba Linda||France||Reserve a private house in Cuba, "casa particular."|
|Mexico||Cuba Travel Corporation
FAX (98) 48-0175
CEL (98) 74-2822
|USA||Marazul Tours: New Jersey and Florida||800 223-5334||www.marazultours.com|
|Common Ground Travel||413 203-1125||www.commongroundtravel.com|
|Caribbean Air Services||305 681-3007||Caribbean-Air-Service@avstop.com|
Visit their web site, www.cuba-travel.com. Roberto Paneque is Cuban and knows his island well. He can fix you up with a variety of deals. Cancun is a flexible departure point, with many flights to Havana. AeroMexico is among the most lenient airlines for excess weight, charging only $1 pound as of 6/99 (double check!).
The grand-dady of the Cuban tour operators. Many tours covering a variety of subjects. Like any US group, they must insure compliance with licensing requirements. Departures via Miami and other points. See: www.marazultours.com.
Ms Valdez, a Cubana, is experienced in putting together those Quebec charter flights
that are such good deals. Departures from Montreal are on Friday and the weekend, less
frequent than Cancun. Ms Valdez can also route you via Cancun, Toronto, or other points,
"Los Jueves y Sabados las salidas son Montreal-Habana (vuelos directos y con horarios interesantes para todos). Los Domingos son vuelos con escala en Varadero para las personas de Matanzas. Tambien ofrecemos vuelos a Holguin, Ciego de Avila. Ofrecemos vuelos nacionales reservados desde Montreal. Hoteles para todos los bugets. Alquileres de autos. Alquiles privados de aviones de 2 hasta 7 pasajeros. Excursiones culturales. Paquetes de grupos especializados para todos los eventos." firstname.lastname@example.org
"We have flights 3 times a week. Thursday and Saturday, the flights are Montreal to Havana, direct flights with convenient hours. Sundays are flights with stops in Varadero for those going to Matanzas. We also offer flights to Holguin and Ciego de Avila. We also offer internal flights reserved from Montreal. Hotels for all budgets. Car rentals. Private plane rentals from 2 to 7 passengers. Cutlural tours. Specialised group packages for all events." email@example.com
2016 Joliette, Montreal
Canada, H1W 3G6
Tel: 1-866-526-0022 (toll free)
Fax: (514) 526-6662
Cuban Government Web Sites
Cuban Interests Section
A little piece of Havana in DC! 202 797-8518 and 8519
For the consulate: 202 797-8609, 8610 (frequently busy, you may have to redial 50 times)
See also our page on them, where we list events we hear about: Cuban Interests Section
For travel to Cuba, the visa is given directly by the travel agency/tour operator so you don't need to contact the Section. Only Cuban Americans, journalists and researchers need to clear their visas through the Cuban Interests Section.
See especially OFAC's Cuba
Sanctions Program - Guidelines and Information
and also their Cuba legal page: http://www.treas.gov/ofac/legal/index.html
There are two pieces on efforts to defend the right to travel to Cuba:
Wall of Lawyer to Defend Travel Right
Global Exchange mounts challenge to Treasury's control of travel rights
Date: Sun, 28 Jun 1998 22:27:53 EDT
Subject: Cuba Travel
As most of you are aware, despite impressions in media to the contrary, travel by
Americans to Cuba and VISAS for Cubans coming to the US are more difficult than ever
before to obtain for common folks. With the change in regulations
stating the new catagory "presumed guilt," there really is no way to travel to
Cuba without risking fines and harassment, EXCEPT and ONLY with a license from the US
Treasury. America, once "Land of the Free'" is anything but that. We no
|Web Site Informs on Cuban Issues
To help Americans understand the rules and regulations governing travel to Cuba, the U.S. embargo against the island and other issues, the State Department has unveiled a special Web site, reports The Associated Press.
The Web site address is: www.state.gov/www/regions/wha/cuba/index.html
For the first time since the early 1960s, there are direct passenger flights between New York and Cuba starting Friday Dec 17, 1999. The flights by Marazul Charters go from Kennedy Airport to Havana. The round-trip fare will be $629, about $300 less than from New York to Havana via Miami.
At Jose Marti Airport, Havana
We have heard that from Montego Bay you can take a boat to Santiago de Cuba in Oriente for $40.00. Seems like a nice way of getting there without an automated passenger manifest... That's all we know, folks. For further details, consult a travel agent.
Travel to Cuba
Besides hotels, there are private houses ("casas particulares"), which, under license, can rent rooms or apartments. Note that without a license, the Cuban runs a risk of up to a $1,000 fine.
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