BasicsTime: GMT -5
Electricity: Most older hotels use 110 volt power, 60Hz, while newer hotels use 220 volts, 60Hz. A variety of outlets are in use, but the flat and round two-pin plugs are most common.
Money: The official currency is the Cuban Peso (CUP), divided into 100 centavos, but the 'tourist' currency is the Peso Convertible (CUC), which replaces the US Dollar as currency in tourist related establishments like hotels, restaurants and so called 'dollar shops'. US Dollars are no longer accepted as payment, and a 10 percent commission or more is charged to exchange them, therefore the best currency to bring along is Euros, the British Pound or Canadian Dollars. The CUC is almost equal in value to the US Dollar. Some places only accept Cuban Pesos and others only Pesos Convertible (usually tourist related establishments). Money should only be changed at official exchange bureaux or banks to avoid scams confusing the two currencies. Visa and MasterCard are generally accepted only in major cities and hotels as long as they haven't been issued by a US bank; Diners Club has limited acceptance, and American Express is not accepted anywhere on the island. No US-issued credit or debit cards will work in ATMs, but those holding cards issued in other countries should be able to get pesos at most major tourist destinations.
Currency Exchange Rates
Language: The official language is Spanish, but English is spoken in the main tourist spots.
Entry requirements for Americans: US nationals must have a passport valid on arrival. A visa is also required if the visitor does not have a Tourist Card.
Entry requirements for UK nationals: British nationals must have a passport valid on arrival. A visa is also required if the visitor does not have a Tourist Card.
Entry requirements for Canadians: Canadian citizens must have a passport valid on arrival. A visa is also required if the visitor does not have a Tourist Card.
Entry requirements for Australians: Australian citizens must have a passport valid for a minimum of 2 months from the arrival date. A visa is also required if the visitor does not have a Tourist Card.
Entry requirements for South Africans: South African citizens must have a passport valid on arrival. A visa is also required if the visitor does not have a Tourist Card.
Entry requirements for New Zealand nationals: New Zealand citizens must have a passport valid for two months beyond the date of arrival. A visa is required if the visitor does not have a Tourist Card.
Passport/Visa Note: In lieu of a visa, a Tourist Card ("Tarjeta del Turista") may be issued by tour operators, travel agents, or airlines for a single-entry holiday trip of up to 30 days, provided accommodation has been pre-booked and paid. A return ticket or proof of onward travel is required, as well as sufficient funds to cover the period of intended stay in Cuba (US$50 or equivalent per person per day). All those entering Cuba must hold travel insurance, with coverage in Cuba, to ensure cover of medical expenses for the period of stay. It is highly recommended that your passport has at least six months validity remaining after your intended date of departure from your travel destination. Immigration officials often apply different rules to those stated by travel agents and official sources.
Travel Health: Health insurance, with provision for emergency repatriation, is compulsory for visitors to Cuba. Those travellers without adequate health insurance will be obliged to purchase Cuban health insurance on arrival. No vaccinations are officially required, however visitors are advised to take precautions against typhoid, particularly if travelling to rural areas. Vaccinations are also recommended for hepatitis A and hepatitis B. Most of the more serious tropical diseases are rare in Cuba, but viral meningitis and dengue fever do occasionally break out, even in urban areas like Havana. Dengue fever is on the increase in most of the Caribbean and the best prevention against it is mosquito repellent and suitable clothing to avoid being bitten. Rabies should only be a risk for those at risk of animal bites, but if you are planning to spend a lot of time outdoors a vaccination should be considered. Food in Cuba is generally considered safe. Bottled water is available and advised for the first few weeks, although mains water is chlorinated. Cuban medical facilities are mediocre and many medicines are unavailable, so those requiring regular prescription drugs should bring them with, along with a copy of the prescription and a doctor's letter to facilitate entry through customs.
Tipping: Tipping in convertible pesos is very welcomed as salaries in the service industry are small. A 10 percent tip is appreciated in restaurants and by taxi drivers. Although giving out items like toothbrushes and pens is popularly recommended by travellers, this practice is sometimes frowned upon and certainly not necessary - service staff would almost always prefer a tip to these sorts of gifts.
Climate: The Cuban climate is tropical and temperate with cool trade winds to provide relief from the heat and humidity. Havana's weather is typical for Cuba; it is generally sunny and hot year round apart from when it is stormy, which is why it is considered a year-round tourist destination. There is not much variation between day and night temperatures along the coast, and average sea temperatures are 77°F (25°C). The rainy season, from May to October, is also the hurricane season, but most hurricanes strike between August and October, while the wettest months in Havana are May and June. Hurricanes are usually more of a problem on the south coast of Cuba and Havana is typically safe from the worst of the tropical storms. Summer temperatures average around 81°F (27°C) with humidity at about 80 percent. Temperatures of about 68°F (20°C) are normal in winter. The temperature very seldom drops below 50°F (10°C) in Havana. The most popular time to visit Havana is in the winter months of December and January but, although avoiding the hurricane season is probably wise, Havana's weather is pleasant for travellers all year.
Safety Information: Cuba is considered comparatively free from the threat of global terrorism, but has an increasing crime rate. Visitors are warned that theft from baggage during handling in airports is common, and valuables should not be packed in suitcases. Be wary of pickpockets and bag snatchers in Old Havana, at major tourist sites and on buses and trains. Visitors are advised to take taxis after dark rather than walk but you should always make sure taxis are registered and not just private cars. If there are political demonstrations of any kind during your holiday you should avoid them; Cuban authorities are known to clamp down on street protests quickly and sometimes violently. Tropical storms and hurricanes usually occur between June and November; although good warning is given, electricity, water and communications can be disrupted for weeks.
Local Customs: Visitors should address Cuban men as 'señor' and women as 'señora'. While many Cubans will engage in political discussion and debate, it is not advised to criticise the government too vocally, and one should be respectful of revolutionary figures such as Fidel Castro and Ernesto 'Che' Guevara. Homosexuality is legal in Cuba but public displays of affection between same-sex couples are not always well-received by locals. The penalties for possession of illegal drugs are very strict, as are the penalties for any breach of Cuban immigration rules.
Business: Cubans tend to be warm and hospitable, and business is conducted more informally than in many other countries. Establishing a good relationship is vital to successful business and some time may be given over to small talk. Due to relative isolation from the global economy, business in Cuba tends to take some time and effort, and one is often hemmed in by the country's communist practices. Punctuality is always important, but don't expect meetings to begin on time or deals to be struck quickly. The dress code tends to be more casual than elsewhere but businesspeople still usually wear collared shirts and the dress code for women is sophisticated. Business hours are usually about 8.30am to 12.30pm and 1.30pm to 4.30pm, Monday to Friday. Some businesses are open every second Saturday.
Communications: The international access code for Cuba is +53. Public telephones are widely available for domestic as well as international calls, but international calls are expensive. Prepaid phone cards are available. Wifi availability in Cuba is expanding rapidly but there is still limited connectivity and internet access is often expensive. A prepaid NAUTA internet card is needed; which you can purchase from a ETECSA station located throughout major cities or at upscale hotels. Once you have a NAUTA card you will need to find a wifi hotspot, in a modern hotel or in a wifi park.
Duty free: Travellers to Cuba over 18 years do not need to pay customs duty on 400 cigarettes or 50 cigars or 500g of tabacco; 2.5 litres of alcohol; medicines and perfume for personal use; and gifts to the value of CUC 60. The import and export of local currency is prohibited.