Want to know what gifts you can bring for the Cuban people to help them? In Cuba, most people lack access to a lot of the things that we would consider basic necessities. Most of you, including travelers on our 9-day trip, will visit Cuba under the OFAC category “Support for the Cuban People”. Your trip is a great opportunity to bring some small things that could make a big difference and help the Cuban people. Below is a list of some ideas for gifts for the Cuban people you can bring.
There is an embargo placed on Cuba by the U.S. and Cuba’s government tightly controls the distribution of goods to the people. A combination of these two things (as well as many other political, economic, and social factors) makes getting items that most consider basic necessities very difficult in Cuba. For example, many of us wouldn’t think twice about running to the local pharmacy to pick up some Ibuprofen or Aspirin if we have a headache. This simple task isn’t so easy in Cuba because shortages of over-the-counter medicines as well as prescription medications are common, especially these days.
Due to shortages of everything from cooking oil to antihistamines and everything in between, we always recommend that travelers to Cuba who want to help bring gifts for the Cuban people to donate to those in need. You don’t have to pack your suitcase full of donations, but if you have some spare space in your luggage, basic items to help the people of Cuba are a great way to do some good while traveling.
Any gift for the Cuban people you bring will usually be appreciated as there are shortages of pretty much everything you could imagine. However, there are three main things that are extremely hard to come by in Cuba: medicine, clothing, and toiletries.
Most over-the-counter medicines, ointments, vitamins, supplements, etc. are next to impossible to find in Cuba. These are probably the most necessary things that are hardest to come by for the Cuban people. Below is a list of ideas for medicines and medical supplies you could bring:
Anything related to personal hygiene is hard to obtain in Cuba. When you can find it, the supply is very low or it’s very expensive for the average Cuban person. Here is a list of things that don’t take up much space in your suitcase and would make great gifts for the Cuban people:
PRO TIP: If you bring shampoo, conditioner, and shower gel for your trip, you can just leave them behind for the cleaning lady at your casa and even if they’re just half full, they’ll make great gifts for the Cuban people. And as a bonus, your suitcase will be much lighter on the way back home!
Clothing of any kind can also be difficult to find for many Cuban people. When you can find it, it’s expensive, very low-quality, and often in poor condition. For this reason, we always suggest bringing clothes as gifts for the Cuban people. They don’t have to be brand new or high fashion; even lightly used, but in good condition is alright.
PRO TIP: We recommend children’s clothing because these are often the most expensive and difficult to find in Cuba.
Pretty much everything under the sun in Cuba is hard to find so any little extras that you would like to bring will be great gifts for the Cuban people. If you bring bottles of any liquids or creams, even half-full bottles are OK! The items below are not essential but are still hard to get. Here is a list of miscellaneous items that you can bring to help out the Cuban people:
Most travelers on our small group trips have told us that they weren’t sure who to give their gifts for the Cuban people to. It can be hard or awkward to decide who to offer them to. We understand that giving them to a random person on the street can be uncomfortable. We recommend giving your gifts to the cleaning ladies at your casa particular. They are often part-time hires by the casa owners and make less than the average Cuban so they are great recipients of these gifts. You can give them the gifts in person or leave them in your room with a little note at the end of your stay.
PRO TIP: The casa particular owners are often in better economic situations than many other Cubans as they usually have family in the US or overseas that often help them with goods and money. They’ll be appreciative of any gifts you may have for them, but we recommend giving your gifts to the cleaning ladies as they typically earn less and have access to less.
Pretty much any Cuban person you encounter on the island will usually be happy to receive a gift in any form as long as it is offered with a warm smile. Gifts for the Cuban people are not mandatory but can make a big difference. Whatever you decide to bring and whoever you decide to give it to will be very much appreciated. Happy travels!
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Thanks to the blog so that I prepared some practical gifts for the local people. My biggest regret was that I didn’t think of bringing some writing pens. It ended up that three people in different occasions asked if they could have my pens for their kids. Pens are so cheap here and don’t take space. So bring a bunch. Happy travel!
That’s a good one! We’ve added it to the list since you suggested it 🙂
I saw! Thanks for adding.
Hey 🙂 where and how did you approach the Cuban people to give them your donations? Thanks
We always recommend giving them to the cleaning ladies at your accommodation as they usually are part-timers who earn much less than the average Cuban person which already is not much. Otherwise, you can give them to people you may meet during your travels in Cuba. On our trips, our guides will also help you find people to give them to if you ask 🙂
I wondered this very thing but took many things to give and thought that we would figure it out when we were there. I was correct in my thinking like that. I always carried small light weight items such as hair clips, hair ties, gum and combs in my bag, just waiting for an opportunity. Sure enough it came. A little girl was asking me for money or something and she was overjoyed when I pulled out the decorative hair clips for her. She hugged me many times just for the simple item. I found out where she lived, returned… Read more »
These are helpful suggestions, thanks.
Glad you found them helpful! Safe travels 🙂
My wife and I travel light so we already have a case full of things to give away. Is the tax on goods totalling more than $50 still in force? We have old cell phones, new clothes and shoes, baby food eye to give away but don’t want a huge tax fine
Hmm… I’ve actually never heard of that rule (tax on goods totaling more than $50). The only thing I’d say is to be careful about how many cell phones, tablets, or computers you bring in because those are some of the items that customs in Cuba are looking for in terms of paying taxes. I think the rule is 1 cell phone, tablet, and computer per person. None of our past travelers have had issues with clothes, shoes, or food in the past, even in large amounts.
Thanks, I’ll take an extra cell phone and tell them it’s a back up 😹
I read about the tax before traveling. we just returned from Cuba yesterday. When we arrived no one asked us anything about what we might be bringing, perhaps because we only had two carry on bags. One bag was our personal items, the second bag was filled to the brim with items to give. It was so satisfying to give so many things to the people. They were more than thankful.
Would they allow cooking oil to be taken. If so, how would one package it for transport? Just curious
They usually do, but Crisco or some other solid cooking oil may save a little more space in your luggage. Be sure to check with TSA’s website to be sure of what you can/cannot pack and whether it needs to be in carry-on or checked luggage.
Curious about bringing seeds for them to plant there. Is that a big no no ?
Cuba’s official Customs website says no: https://www.aduana.gob.cu/en/basic-page/phytosanitary-and-veterinary-provisions
I’m sure people have successfully done it, but it’s at your own risk/discretion!