Pre-Departure Cuba Checklist

Pre-Departure Cuba Checklist



No need for any complicated jabs to visit Cuba but you will need to have medical insurance in order to enter the country. Most US airlines now offer travel insurance included on the cost of your tourist card- about 5 US dollars for each day you are in country. Your boarding pass acts as proof of payment, so don't throw it away after your arrive. Keep it simple, drink bottled water, pack a good insect repellent and you should have a problem free trip.


You will need to buy a Tourist Visa to enter Cuba (valid for up to 30 days - Approx. $100US). Available for purchase when you check-in for your flight from US airports. Look for the "Cuba Travel Ready" kiosk when you check in for your flight. Your passport needs to be valid for at least 6 months beyond your entry into Cuba. All of your paperwork and travel requirements will be reviewed and double checked by me personally as part of your pre-departure travel service from

US Citizens are authorized for travel to Cuba under 12 very specific categories by the US Department of Treasury - Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC). Please review the sample affidavit below to make sure your proposed travel falls within the scope of at least one of these categories. General licenses constitute blanket authorization and are "self-executing."  In other words, persons traveling on general license do not need to notify OFAC of their travel plans - but are required to keep copies on file for 5 years in case of audit. 


We will be traveling under General OFAC Travel License 515.574 - "Support for the Cuban People". Here are the rules that regulate how we spend money on the island.

(a)General license. The travel-related transactions set forth in § 515.560(c) and other transactions that are intended to provide support for the Cuban people are authorized, provided that:

(1) The activities are of:

(i) Recognized human rights organizations;

(ii) Independent organizations designed to promote a rapid, peaceful transition to democracy; or

(iii) Individuals and non-governmental organizations that promote independent activity intended to strengthen civil society in Cuba; and

(2) Each traveler engages in a full-time schedule of activities that:

(i) Enhance contact with the Cuban people, support civil society in Cuba, or promote the Cuban people's independence from Cuban authorities; and

(ii) Result in meaningful interaction with individuals in Cuba.

(3) The traveler's schedule of activities does not include free time or recreation in excess of that consistent with a full-time schedule.

Note 1 to paragraph (A):

Each person relying on the general authorization in this paragraph must retain specific records related to the authorized travel transactions. See §§ 501.601 and 501.602 of this chapter for applicable recordkeeping and reporting requirements.


Note 2 to paragraph (A):

Staying in a room at a rented accommodation in a private Cuban residence (casa particular), eating at privately-owned Cuban restaurants (paladares), and shopping at privately-owned stores run by self-employed Cubans (cuentapropista) are examples of activities that qualify for this general license. However, in order to meet the requirement for a full-time schedule, a traveler must engage in additional authorized Support for the Cuban People activities.

(b) An entire group does not qualify for the general license in paragraph (a) of this section merely because some members of the group qualify individually.

(c)Certain direct financial transactions restricted. Nothing in paragraph (a)(1)(iii) of this section authorizes a direct financial transaction prohibited by § 515.209, with the exception oftransactions on behalf of a non-governmental organization.

(d)Specific licenses. Specific licenses may be issued on a case-by-case basis authorizing the travel-related transactions set forth in § 515.560(c) and such other transactions as are related to support for the Cuban people that do not qualify for the general license under paragraph (a) of this section.


Firstly and possibly most importantly - none of your US credit cards, or ATM Bank cards will work on the island. Cuba is for the most part a completely cash driven economy. Please read this section carefully to avoid any unwanted hassle.
When budgeting, keep in mind that I will be paying for all of our meals, accommodation and transportation along the way, so you will only need enough cash for alcohol, souvenirs and tips for local staff . However I always recommend keeping some emergency cash put away as a contingency.
You may also be asked to pay entry fees into certain museums or shows. Usually under 15 dollars.  
You will have some small out-of-pocket fees for entry to nightclubs, special events and certain museums... not ever more than $30 for the bigger more popular bands or shows. Most are free or under $10. Of course have some cash to buy any art or souvenirs. The general rule of thumb is to have an average of $25CUC a day for each day you are in the country. Alcoholic drinks average about $3CUC each - a bottle of rum runs about $10CUC. Wine averages about $18CUC per bottle and there is not usually a good selection. Cold Beer is usually $1-$2CUC .
Cuba currently runs a complicated 2 currency system: the Convertible Cuban Currency (CUC) has the same value as the US Dollar (USD). All of your transactions will require this currency and you will not be able to use US dollars to buy anything. 
** You loose about 13% in commission fees when exchanging USD to CUC... $100USD = $87CUC.

When you change dollars in Cuba, the Cuban government levies a penalty of 10% just because you are changing dollars, Then they levy a 3% financial transaction charge. So in total you are docked 13%."

That means you'll get 87 CUCs for every $100 you change.

Exchange euros and you don't get that financial slap on the hand, but you are subject to changing financial markets. At the time of publishing you get 88 euros from a $100 USD when exchanges with a bank in the US., You an then exchange them @ 96.70 CUCs in Havana when you arrive. As experienced travelers know, you generally won't get a favorable exchange rate for your U.S. dollars at an airport exchange, so don't wait until you're about to take off if you're planning to convert from U.S. dollars to euros and then to CUCs.

 CUP (Cuban National Peso)

The second currency is Moneda Nacional (CUP). It is used by Cubans to buy food, pay utility bills and buy certain goods. It’s unlikely you’ll use these at all during your trip.  
Make sure you bring only brand new $100 US dollar bills for currency exchange. Old bills will not be accepted.
*Only exchange cash at a bank or the official exchange house CADECA (Casas de cambio) to avoid being ripped off. There is no variation in exchange rates as all banks and CADECAs are government owned.

Cuba’s economy is 100% cash driven - This means no ATMs or Credit Cards. Large bills can sometimes be hard to break, so make sure you bring plenty of money in small denominations of CUC when you head out the door each day... even for tips when using the bathroom (about .25 cents per flush and includes toilet paper). Yeah, seriously. 


Only fairly recently - in 2008 - Cuba opened the island to mobile communications. Even more recently - in 2016 - some US phone companies signed agreements with the state-run CubaCell carrier for service (including AT&T, Verizon and T-Mobile) but not all of those agreements are functioning at full capacity. Sorry, but you will not have any sort of data on your US phone. This means that all of your internet based apps like Facebook, SnapChat, Google Maps, Whatsapp, Viber, or FaceTime... and yes sadly - even Tinder - will not work using your mobile phone service. You will not be able to send text messages internationally. All you will be able to do is make good old fashioned phone calls at about $2 per minute. Even then, you will need to check with your service provider before leaving to make sure Cuba is covered in your roaming area.


Internet is hard to come by and quite expensive in Cuba. About $3 for one hour of dial-up speed connection and only available at certain government approved wifi hotspots - usually located out in the open on public plazas or on random designated street corners. Finding a place to buy the 37 digit scratch-off wifi prepaid internet cards can sometimes be a pain in the butt too. So in general, I advise people to give up on the idea of having any sort of internet connection while on the trip. Just disconnect and chill out. Set up your email vacation responder - change your voice message to let the ones you love know you are out-of-pocket. Pretend like it's 1997.

In case of emergency, I will have a local CubaCell phone with me at all times.
You may give this number out to close family if they need to urgently get a hold of you.


Cuba is as famous for its delicious rum cocktails as it is infamous for its dreary food. Luckily the food is improving and you can now expect to eat, as well as you drink. However, expect little variety in the countryside and plenty of rice and black beans. Cuba’s repertoire of ingredients is quite limited and those with special dietary requirements (especially gluten free, vegetarians and vegans) should consider bringing some extra food with them to supplement their diet.


A small portable camera and obviously a bathing suit plus flip-flops, High Protection sun cream (SPF 50+). You can buy inexpensive and rather cool looking panama style hats almost anywhere tourists go. Bring light cotton and linen clothing suitable for tropical climates and a light hoodie jacket or fleece for cooler evenings. Sturdy shoes or boots for walking on cobblestone streets or on dirt trails in the country. We will be riding horseback, so at least one pair of long pants too. Cubans generally dress casually by day but are always impeccably clean, groomed and perfumed.
On evenings out, high heels and spandex are par for the course. Cuban women have no issues at all showing off their bodies and often show a lot of skin, but avoid bringing expensive or flashy jewelry. Also, ensure you bring all necessary medication as well as a good insect repellent and some antihistamines in case you get bitten. I also recommend you bring a small first aid kit to cover any basic needs you may have like aspirin and band-aids.  Pencils and pens are fun gifts for children and adults alike. 


All of the homes we will be staying in have easy access to 110v-AC power, similar to the ones found in most US homes. Sometimes, older places may only have two-prong outlets. If you are bringing a laptop, and it has a three-prong (grounded) plug- make sure you bring a two-prong outlets adapter (known as a ground-lifter).     



Cuba is one of the safest destinations to travel to and it’s highly unlikely you will feel threatened during your stay. However, common sense dictates that you take the usual precautions and avoid backstreets and uninhabited areas. Dress down and keep jewelry to a minimum. Violent crime is almost non-existent, but crime of opportunity is quite common. Never leave your phone or any bags unattended or they will disappear faster than you can imagine. 

During your stay you’ll almost certainly have an encounter with a friendly local trying to sell you cheap cigars, or take you to a local restaurant and may possibly even try to set you up with one of his family members! Known locally as “jineteros” these Cuban hustlers earn their living from commissions made from steering tourists towards the services they offer including "Salsa Classes". A polite refusal is usually all you need to get rid of them!


Tipping is part and parcel of everyday life in Cuba. Wages here are very low so people who look after tourists expect a tip for good service. 10% is the minimum expected amount when out at night, and if you have a guide and/or driver you should budget for a tip which you can give them at the end of your tour. Usually I will recommend you on the amounts but when in doubt, set aside  about 5CUC for each day.