Cuba FAQs: Questions? We Can Help
See important booking information below regarding travel to Cuba.*All About Cuba!
Why should I consider traveling to Cuba?
Cool cars, great beats, a welcoming vibe, gorgeous historical sites, baseball and delicious eats, all set on a naturally beautiful backdrop; no wonder the number of Americans traveling to Cuba has increased by 40% in 2015! Now, with eased travel regulations, you can experience all of the wonder of Cuba through escorted tours which not only take you through Havana, but allow you the time to interact with locals for a more authentic experience.
Will I feel welcome in Cuba?
Yes! Cubans are very friendly and warm. Many of them keep up with American pop-culture as much as possible through friends or relatives living in the U.S. as well as with limited internet access and watching American movies and TV shows; plus, many Cubans in Havana are bilingual.
Who should go on Vacation Express escorted tours?
Our people-to-people tours are for active travelers who are looking for a trip that will stimulate their minds and senses. This is an adventure for the curious traveler, those who would like to learn about the Cuban perspective on the world and how Cuba is shaping its children who will be the future of the island, art and music lovers and people who are interested in history will all find the island nation full of exciting discoveries. The escorted tours are especially poignant for those who are of Cuban ancestry. We offer an opportunity to experience your heritage in a way that is meaningful whether you are first, second or third generation. Not to mention, Cuba is a great alternative to European travel, as it is closer to home and has enough history and beauty to rival Europe.
Do many Americans visit Cuba?
Yes! Americans have always traveled to Cuba for a variety of reasons; celebrities like Jay-Z and Beyoncé, Katy Perry, Conan O’Brien, Usher and Jimmy Buffet have all been to Cuba, and that’s in addition to the 40% increase of Americans traveling to Cuba in 2015 now that OFAC has eased travel restrictions.
Have Americans traveled to Cuba in the past?
Before U.S. and Cuba relationship cooled, Cuba was a hot spot for American jetsetters. It was considered “America’s Playground”, and since the embargo, Cuba has continued to grow as a tourist destination for other countries.
How is Cuba different from other Caribbean islands I’ve been to?
Due to Cuba’s unique history with the U.S., it looks like a scene from the 1950s! There are classic American cars parked on streets lined with stunning Spanish colonial architecture which is partially renovated and partially awaiting restoration. Take a seat on the malecon, known by the locals as “the world’s biggest couch”, and take in the history of the city while witnessing it being restored. Many of the classic cars serve as taxis or can be rented by the hour, a big draw for visitors! The island’s natural beauty is remarkably well preserved with walkable cave systems, pristine coral reefs and breathtaking vistas. You’ll want to go before the large influx of visitors changes the distinct aura of the island.
Doesn’t salsa music come from Cuba?
Yes! It is one of the three most popular and well known styles of music in Cuba along with rumba and jazz. You’ll find street musicians are common in Cuba, as it is a state-sponsored job. Another classic way to experience Cuban music is to visit the Tropicana Club, which features showgirls and a 40-piece band so dynamic it inspired the Las Vegas shows we know today! Cuban nightlife is vibrant with everything from salsa clubs to lounges to art walks. Havana is a true night owl!
What is Cuban food like?
Cuban cuisine is a mix of Spanish, African and Caribbean cuisines. Rice, root vegetables, tropical fruits and meats are seasoned with garlic, onion, citrus, vinegar and olives. Flavors are complex rather than spicy. In addition to traditional Cuban cuisine the island offers a wide selection of restaurants and paladares that serve a variety of international cuisines. Paladares are a favorite among travelers. They are privately owned restaurants set in a renovated houses or mansions that serve large, multi-course meals. State owned restaurants provide slightly smaller portions but offer spectacular views as they are located in premium spots the island. You will be able to experience both types of restaurants on your escorted tour, as well as a breakfast buffet offered by your hotel. If you are vegetarian, you will find there are many options that may suit your dietary needs, for example rice, beans, fried plantains and fresh fruit.
In which time zone does Cuba operate?
Cuba operates in Eastern Standard Time [EST], same as New York City.
When is the busiest time of year for Cuba?
Cuba experiences a surge in visitors during the months of July and August; however, the main high season for travel to Cuba is from November to March. Since Cuba is warm year-round, it is an ideal destination to visit during the winter months.
How and when can I go to Cuba?
You can go to Cuba now, and the best way to go is by booking our 5-night Historic Havana tour.
Is Cuba safe for Americans?
There are low incidents of theft or violent crime in Cuba, but as with anywhere in the world, travelers should always exercise basic awareness at all times, not leave belongings unattended and should take the same basic precautions they would in any other large city. You may also consider checking the State Department for any Cuba-specific travel warnings.
How does the U.S. Embargo against Cuba affect me?
One of the many things the U.S. Embargo had a direct effect on was travel for Americans to Cuba for tourism. Tourism to Cuba for Americans is still prohibited. Despite a number of changes in 2015, the U.S. continues to maintain a comprehensive embargo against Cuba, which has been in place since 1963.
Planning Your Trip to Cuba
What are people-to-people tours?
People-to-people tours are dynamic and educational non-academic tours. You will have a bilingual tour guide and direct contact with Cuban volunteers, artists, doctors and more while seeing how Cubans live and work.
Do I have to pay a deposit for the people-to-people tours?
Yes, if you book your travel to Cuba more than 95 days in advance, we do require a $250 deposit per person. Any deposits you pay are applied toward the total cost of your trip.
What is included in the people-to-people tours?
The following are included in your escorted tour package price:
- Activities as outlined in the itinerary of your choosing
- Bilingual tour guide and driver
- Most gratuities
- Transportation throughout Cuba
- Hotel stay in Cuba at hotel outlined in the itinerary of your choosing
- 2 bottles of water per person per day
- Most meals while in Cuba [We've included a breakdown of which meals are included on the individual tour itinerary pages]
What is the minimum age for travelers on a people-to-people tour?
People-to-people tours may be booked for travelers 16 years of age and older.
Can I book a flight to Cuba through Vacation Express?
At this time, Vacation Express does not offer a flight-only option for travelers.
Can I book a hotel in Cuba through Vacation Express?
Yes! Vacation Express is excited to offer you hotel accommodation choices in various cities throughout Cuba for individuals who are eligible to travel to Cuba under one of the 12 general licenses. If you book one of our people-to-people tours, you will not need to book a hotel as your hotel stay is already included.
What kind of air-inclusive package to Cuba can I book?
Vacation Express offers escorted people-to-people tours which include your hotel stay, most meals while on the island, plus a robust daily itinerary that allows you to experience the Cuban people and culture. Full details on inclusions/exclusions and itineraries are listed on our escorted tour pages. Under U.S. law, Cuba is not currently open to Americans for tourism. Vacation Express is able to provide trips to Cuba through people-to-people travel because it falls under the “Educational Activities” general license [see here]. Vacation Express also offers many hotel options for people who are traveling to Cuba for a reason other than an escorted tour.
Do I have to pay any taxes upon arrival or departure at the airport?
The Cuban Departure Tax of 25 CUC [equivalent of $25 USD] is included in your airline ticket price.
What hotels will I stay at while in Cuba?
The hotels chosen for the escorted tours are listed on the detailed itinerary pages.
Do the hotel rooms on the escorted tours itinerary have air conditioning and safes?
Yes, all hotel rooms have air conditioning and safes.
Do I need a passport to travel to Cuba?
Yes, you need a passport that is valid for at least 6 months after completion of your travel.
Will my passport be stamped by Cuban immigration?
Your passport may be stamped by Cuban immigration. If you are traveling under one of the 12 general licenses, you are traveling to Cuba legally and should not worry.
Do I need a visa to travel to Cuba?
Yes, you will need a visa in order to enter Cuba. The visas are sometimes called “tourist cards” and have two parts; immigration officials in Cuba will take one part upon arrival and the second part upon departure. There are multiple places you can purchase a visa to Cuba. Cuba Travel Services offers this service in a convenient form for travelers who are flying on American Airlines or on another airline.
What travel documents will I need?
For entry into Cuba, you will need your passport [that is valid for at least 6 months after completion of your travel], a visa and Cuban medical insurance in addition to completing a self-certification form. You must keep these records for five years.
Are there any items I am prohibited from bringing with me to Cuba?
Cuba does not permit travelers to import certain items such as narcotics, explosives, pornography, electrical appliances, light motor vehicles, car engines and products of animal origin. The United States prohibits the export of most items from the U.S. to Cuba without a license; however, you may bring personal effects such as clothing, jewelry and toiletries as personal baggage [see here]. You may also bring your cell phone and laptop, provided they are personally-owned.
Are there any items I’m not allowed to bring back from Cuba?
You may only return with $400 worth of merchandise per person, with no more than $100 of that merchandise consisting of alcohol and/or tobacco products. Such items must be intended for personal use only
Can I still visit Cuba if I am not a U.S. citizen but I have a green card?
Yes. If you are a U.S. permanent resident, you may travel to Cuba under one of the 12 authorized travel categories. The same Cuba travel rules will apply to you as those that apply to U.S. citizens.
Do I have to have traveler's health insurance?
Yes. Since April of 2010 the Cuban government has required all travelers to Cuba to have medical insurance.
Do I need any vaccinations before traveling to Cuba?
Travelers to Cuba typically do not require any special vaccinations, but if you have any questions please contact the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: http://www.cdc.gov.
While You're There
What is Cuba’s currency?
There are two main currencies in Cuba:
CUC "convertible peso" [moneda libremente convertible] – This currency is what you will use. The exchange rate is 1 USD = 1 CUC. This does not account for the fee to exchange USD to CUCs which runs 10% and up.
CUP "Cuban peso" [moneda nacional] – This currency is used only by locals. The exchange rate is 1 CUC = 24 CUP.
Can I exchange money ahead of time?
No. The CUC is a “closed” currency, which means it cannot be exchanged outside the country. When you arrive in Cuba you will have an opportunity to exchange your money.
Where can I exchange my money once in Cuba?
When you arrive in Cuba you can exchange your money at a CADECA [currency exchange], your hotel lobby or an international Cuban bank like the Banco Central de Cuba. There are also kiosks at the airport after passing through customs, which some travelers recommend since hotels may charge a higher exchange rate. Exchange rate fees start at 10% and can be more depending on where you exchange money. You will need your passport to exchange money. Never exchange money on the street or with an individual.
Are traveler's checks accepted or able to be exchanged in Cuba?
Traveler’s checks can only be cashed in select hotels. They are not insured in Cuba and are not a reliable monetary resource on the island. Taking cash is highly recommended as you don’t want to fall short while on the island.
How much money should I bring?
You should plan to bring at least $100 USD per day since U.S. based credit cards aren’t widely accepted. If you know that you enjoy purchasing souvenirs and may purchase snacks and drinks, you may want to bring more. Note that travelers returning from Cuba may bring back to the United States up to $400 USD worth of Cuban merchandise for personal use only—no more than $100 USD of which can be alcohol and tobacco products for personal use only [see here].
Are major credit cards accepted in Cuba?
U.S. financial institutions may, but are not required to, allow travelers to use their credit or debit cards while in Cuba. Before traveling, you should check with your bank to make sure your card will work in Cuba. However, because it is highly unlikely that merchants in Cuba will accept credit or debit cards yet or you may find out once your arrive on the island that your credit or debit cards do not work, we highly recommended that you take cash and plan to take a little more than you may actually spend. $100 USD per day is a good guide.
Can I have money wired to me if I run out?
U.S. persons generally may not wire money to travelers in Cuba; therefore, travelers are encouraged to bring sufficient cash.
Is tipping an expected custom in Cuba?
It is appropriate to tip in Cuba for those who provide you services. In restaurants it is customary to leave 10% for the server if it has not already been included in the check. The same would apply to housekeeping at the hotel. Due to the dual currency in Cuba, many Cubans rely on tips to supplement their income.
Can I tip in USD?
No. When tipping, do so in CUC pesos.
Can I buy cigars or alcohol?
Yes! However, you may bring back to the United States for personal use no more than $100 worth of alcohol and/or tobacco products. Also, if you plan on buying more than 23 cigars, be aware that they must be in their original packaging with a holographic seal and you must provide an invoice of purchase.
Are there taxis in Cuba and how much do they cost?
Yes, there are several types of taxis in Cuba. Official taxis are metered. If the taxi is unmetered, you will be able to negotiate price. Tourists are only allowed to pay for taxis in CUCs.
Do I need to bring a power converter?
Not necessarily. Cuba’s power sockets are designed to accept both North American flat-pinned plugs as well as the European round-pinned plugs. It is important to note, however, that neither polarized plugs nor three-pronged plugs will fit into the sockets. You should also check your plugs ahead of time to make sure they accept 220V. If not, you may need a converter.
Will my mobile phone work?
You should check with your cell phone provider. At this time, we are aware of only Verizon and Sprint having agreements to work in Cuba, but there may be roaming charges associated with use and coverage may be spotty.
How can I call home?
The best option is to purchase a prepaid phone card and use a public phone. Calls from resort phones are very expensive.
Will I be "connected" while in Cuba? Is there WiFi?
While at the hotel you can purchase an internet card which will allow you to connect at slower speeds than you are accustomed to. There are very few Wi-Fi spots throughout the island and you will need to purchase Wi-Fi access cards through ETESCA to access these.
Where can I find the U.S. Embassy?
The U.S. Embassy in Havana reopened on July 20, 2015 and is located at Calzada between L & M Streets, Vedado, Havana.
Is the water safe to drink?
Tap water is safe for hygienic use at the hotels, but we advise drinking bottled water, especially if you have a sensitive stomach.
What if I get sick or hurt while I am on the island?
The Cuban government requires all visitors to the island to have health insurance, which is included in your people-to-people package price when booked through Vacation Express. There are hospitals and medical facilities throughout the island which can assist you as the health insurance covers you while you are in Cuba.
*COMPLIANCE WITH U.S. LAW: U.S. law prohibits U.S. travelers from traveling to Cuba for tourism. U.S. travelers can only go to Cuba for one of 12 authorized reasons, including family visits and people-to-people educational activities. The 12 categories are listed in the Cuban Assets Control Regulations [CACR] at Section 515.560 (a)(1)-(12) and described in more detail in those identified sections of the CACR, HERE. It is the U.S. traveler’s sole responsibly to understand and comply with existing restrictions under U.S. law. Each U.S. traveler is required under U.S. law to retain records of their travel to Cuba for five years. The U.S. government could ask you to produce those records.
*CUBA TRAVEL CERTIFICATION: Each U.S. traveler must complete a written certification, available HERE, identifying the travel category that authorizes his or her travel to Cuba in order to allow Vacation Express to book that travel. Vacation Express must obtain this certification and retain it for five years, as required under Section 515.572(b) of the CACR. Should you have any questions about the requirements of U.S. law relating to your travel to Cuba, please consult a lawyer.