Getting a Cuban visa (tourist card) is required for many travelers to Cuba, including US travelers. Most of you don’t need to fill out an application form or hand in your passport to a consulate or embassy. Where you’ll get a Cuban visa and how much it’ll cost depends on where you’re traveling from. In this blog, you’ll read all about how to get a Cuban visa as an US traveler.
What is a Cuban Visa (Tourist Card)?
A Cuban tourist card, also referred to as a visa, is a document needed by most travelers to enter Cuba. In addition to your passport, you’ll need to present this to Cuban Immigration officials when you arrive in Cuba. It is a slip of paper on which you’ll need to fill out your name, date of birth, passport number and citizenship. The slip has 2 identical sides with a perforation in the middle. Upon arrival, a Cuban immigration official will take one side and when you leave, an official will take the other side.
Example of a Cuban visa (or Cuban tourist card).
Do I Need a Cuban Visa?
Most travelers to Cuba will need a tourist card to enter and travel within the island. These are the countries that do not require visas to enter Cuba. If you do not see your country on this list, then you will need a tourist card to visit Cuba. Travelers from the US, Canada, UK and Australia all need tourist cards to travel to Cuba. Otherwise, we suggest contacting your nearest Cuban embassy or consulate to ask if you need a visa for Cuba.
Where can I Get a Cuban Visa?
Most US travelers to Cuba can get the Cuban tourist card with the airline they’re flying to Cuba with. If flying from the US, below are links with more information about obtaining tourist cards with a few US airlines that fly to Cuba:
You can usually purchase your Cuban tourist card either at check-in or at the departure gate of your flight to Cuba by credit/debit card only. If you have questions, it’s best to call your airline.
Alternatively, you can pre-purchase your Cuban tourist card online with Cuba Visa Services.
PRO TIP: Everyone on our 9-day trips will be traveling under the OFAC category “Support for the Cuban People”. This is probably the most common category for many travelers to Cuba.
How Much is a Cuban Visa?
The price of a Cuban tourist card will vary depending on where you’re flying from and the airline you’re flying with. The cost for most US travelers flying with US airlines will be anywhere from $50 – $85 USD payable by card with your airline.
How does the Cuban Visa Work?
Once you receive your Cuban tourist card, you will need to fill it out with a black pen neatly and completely. Some airlines might also fill it out for you. You will need to print your last name, first name, date of birth, passport number and nationality on both sides of your Cuban tourist card. Keep it in a safe place during your travels. When you arrive in Cuba, an immigration official will take one side. Be sure to keep the other side safe during your visit to Cuba because you will usually need to present it to immigration upon departure from Cuba.
PRO TIP: Make sure you fill out each side legibly and correctly. If you make a mistake, you will need to purchase a new tourist card.
Cuban visa in hand and you’re ready to visit Cuba!
Exchanging money in Cuba and the country’s currency system can be a complex matter and difficult to navigate. The Cuban government is notorious for making monetary and economic reforms at random and with little notice. This blog will introduce you to the basics of Cuba’s currency and of exchanging money plus tips to help you understand Cuba’s currency system.
What is the Currency in Cuba?
Before finding out how to exchange money in Cuba, it’s important to know a bit about Cuba’s currency system. Cuba’s official currency is the Cuban peso (CUP). The moneda libremente convertible (MLC*) is also in use in certain places. The Cuban peso is a closed currency so you can’t buy, sell or trade it outside of Cuba. This means that you won’t be able to legally exchange other currencies for pesos before your trip. You can only do so in Cuba.
Official exchange rates are determined by the Cuban government and are subject to change at any moment without notice. You can see the government’s recent exchange rates on CADECA’S WEBSITE. This website may not be updated regularly or have the most current rates.
The Cuban convertible peso (CUC) is no longer in circulation in Cuba!
*MLC stands for moneda libremente convertible. It is a term created by the Cuban government for foreign currencies, usually US dollars and euros.
Cuban pesos (CUP)
Which Currency Should I Bring to Cuba?
Simply put, the best currency to bring for purchases and spending in Cuba is the US dollar (USD) or euro (EUR) for US travelers.
Cuba is experiencing one of its worst bouts of inflation so prices in CUP are extremely elevated, but USD and EUR and are accepted at many private food and beverage establishments. These are the only types of places we dine at on our 9-day trip.
At the official government exchange houses, 1 USD/EUR is approximately 110/117 CUP respectively.
When paying in US dollars or euros, you will often receive change in CUP. You can use this to tip your server, bartender, etc. Be sure to ask at every place you visit what their USD or EUR to CUP exchange rate is. 1 USD/EUR is valued at varying amounts of CUP at private restaurants, bars and cafes. For more information about what to tip, check out our blog about Tipping in Cuba!
PRO TIP: When bringing US dollars or euros, it’s best to bring smaller bills of 20s, 10s and 5s. Avoid bringing too many bills above 20.
A cold, refreshing Cuban beer on a hot day!
How can I Exchange Money in Cuba?
The most common place to exchange money in Cuba is the CADECA, the official government currency exchange office. You will see these offices at the Havana airport as well as in major cities and tourist destinations. The official exchange rates are set by the government and do not really vary too much from office to office.
As of August 29, 2022, 1 USD = 110 CUP. This includes the 8% conversion fee that CADECA charges. All other currencies have a 2% conversion fee.
Many hotels will often exchange money, but it is not recommended to exchange there because of the inflated exchange fees they charge.
There are many unofficial money exchangers on the street, but we do not advise our travelers on how to do this. If you choose to exchange money in Cuba in this way, it is at your discretion and own risk!
At the end of your trip, you can exchange your remaining CUP back to an available foreign currency at the airport. CADECA in the city may exchange CUP back to foreign currency for you depending on availability. You can also try to spend the rest of your CUP. Keep in mind that CADECA in the city or at the airport may impose a $100 USD/EUR limit when exchanging back from CUP.
PRO TIP: As most taxis at the airport will accept USD or EUR, we recommend that all travelers on our 9 day trip wait to exchange money in Cuba until they meet with the guide on the evening of Day 1 of the trip. He will offer guidance on exchanging money at the first meet when you arrive.
CADECA are legal Cuban government exchange houses where you can exchange currency
Can I use my Debit/Credit Card in Cuba?
In short, you cannot use a debit or credit card in Cuba as an US travelers and you should not rely on any card as a main method of payment. No US debit or credit card will work in Cuba so basically: No, you cannot use your debit/credit card in Cuba.
Many cards issued from non-US banks may work in Cuba, but the common issues with cards are twofold: 1.) Card readers don’t always function properly because they’re outdated or they experience connectivity problems; 2.) ATMs are known to break down or run out of cash when withdrawing Cuban pesos.
It’s best to be prepared to deal in cash only during your travels to Cuba. We never recommend relying on a card as a main method of payment for the above-mentioned reasons.
PRO TIP: You may be advised to get an MLC debit card on arrival in Cuba. We do not recommend getting this card. It is offered by the Cuban government and works primarily at state-run businesses which we do not patronize on our trips. Most private restaurants, bars, casa particulares, etc. do not have card readers and will not accept payment by any type of card.
How Much Money Will I Need for my Cuba Trip?
For travelers on our 9-day trip, we recommend bringing 600 – 900 USD/EUR in cash for the few lunches & dinners that are not included as well as tips, souvenirs and any other optional activities that you wish to participate in based on past travelers’ feedback. This will vary depending on your spending habits and travel style. We strongly advise bringing more money than you expect to spend in case of an emergency!
Many travelers have told us that they found Cuba to be much more expensive than other developing countries. Be prepared to pay as much for food and beverages as you might in a ‘developed’ Western country.
Below are some approximate prices for food, drink, souvenirs, etc. to help you budget for your trip:
• Meal at a nice, sit-down restaurant: 20 – 30+ USD/EUR • Cocktail: 5 – 10 USD/EUR • Can of beer: 2 – 3 USD/EUR • Wifi (1 hour card): 1 USD/EUR
*These are only approximate prices and cost of items may vary depending on location and your personal preferences.
Cuban restaurants: Purchase food in EUR, tip in CUP!
Cuba’s currency exchange and monetary system are ever-changing and quite complex at times. By knowing what to expect beforehand, you’ll have a great trip that you’ll never forget. Remember that on our Globe Drifters 9-day trip, your guide will be there to help point you in the right direction. Happy travels!
Cuba is somewhat uncharted territory for many travelers and there are a lot of questions surrounding travel to the island. Cultural visits in support of the Cuban people for US travelers are a bit of a novelty. This is our list of the top 10 Cuba travel tips to help prepare you for your trip so you can have the best time ever!
#1: Things Will Break Down
The old colonial buildings and vintage cars are amazing. However, they are old and that means they often break down. Replacement parts for things that you may consider basic are hard to come by in Cuba. If a replacement part is needed, Cubans have to improvise with whatever they have. They cannot simply order the part online or go to the shop and buy it. There is usually never an easy or quick way to fix things that break because Cuba still lacks a lot of resources to make repairs.
Also, power outages are becoming increasingly common. These may happen with little to no notice and are mostly due to the country’s very outdated and crumbling power supply plants.
It’s important to come to Cuba with this in mind and a good amount of patience. For example, if something breaks at your casa particular, kindly speak to someone working there about whatever appliance is broken and understand that it may or may not be able to be fixed during your stay. Your host will do their utmost to make you feel at home and comfortable.
Classic cars are beautiful, but old and prone to breakdowns
#2: Expect Limited Internet and Phone Access
Telecommunication in Cuba has improved a lot over the years. However, cell phone and internet usage are very limited on the island. For US travelers, some of your service providers may advertise call and text messaging in Cuba. They typically have very high roaming charges for incoming/outgoing calls and texts though. Even if your provider says that you will have service in Cuba, it is very possible that you won’t have service during your trip. Calls and texts might work, but the internet (data) on your phone will not. When you land in Cuba, you will usually get a message from your service provider with the cost of texts and calls.
The internet can be hard to come by in Cuba. Be prepared to have only a few chances at most to connect on our 9 day trip. It can be accessed at some telecommunication stores in the form of WiFi cards. These cards can be used in designated public squares, parks and some hotels. On our trips, your guide will point out where you can purchase the WiFi cards and use them. Most major tourist hotels or Etecsa sales points sell the cards. Unfortunately, even when purchasing these cards, connection can be spotty at best.
It’s best to inform your family and friends not to expect daily emails, calls and messages from you during your visit to Cuba. Also let them know not to worry if they don’t hear from you since internet can never be guaranteed in Cuba. If you travel with us, we will have your emergency contact information and in case of an emergency, we will contact the number you provide us.
We know it can be hard because we are so used to having lots of telecommunication options at our fingertips. Try to enjoy this “digital detox” opportunity! It’s not every day that you have an excuse not to be glued to your phone, tablet or computer!
#3: Learn a Little Spanish
Spanish is the official language of Cuba. Don’t expect to be able to speak English everywhere you go. If you stay in a casa particular, there might be little to no English spoken. If it is spoken, it could be broken and/or limited. When visiting a store or restaurant or bar, interaction in English is not always guaranteed. Many non-Spanish speaking visitors to Cuba rely on gestures as a means of communication which are part of the fun of traveling!
We suggest learning some key phrases in Spanish before going. We suggest the standard “Please” and “Thank you” as well as “I would like…”, “How much is it?” and “It’s OK.” It’s also wise to brush up on food and numbers before you go. Most guidebooks will have useful phrases in them. Also, Duolingo is a free online learning tool that we love to help you learn some basic Spanish.
#4: Stay in a Casa Particular
A casa particular is a type of accommodation in Cuba. It is similar to a guesthouse or bed and breakfast. You can find casa particulares in most large to mid-sized cities and in some smaller, more well-traveled towns in Cuba. You can identify a casa particular by the mandatory sticker with a blue anchor on the door. This indicates that it is a legal accommodation for foreign visitors.
Casa particulares are one of the best ways to have a more genuine experience in Cuba.
Casa particulares are generally very safe. Most have a small safe inside each room where you can securely store your valuables. They are owned and operated by private Cuban citizens who often live on the property. A casa may consist of up to 5 – 7 rooms or as little as 2 – 3 rooms. On our 9 day trip, we only stay at casa particulares.
The families who own and work at the casa will try their best to make you feel at home. Most casa particular owners are very friendly and love to talk to guests. Our travelers have said that the casa particulares in Cuba were highlights of their trip. The casas provide a great opportunity to interact with everyday Cubans. They also offer a different experience than staying in hotels.
#5: Don’t Visit Cuba during Hurricane Season
Hurricane season in Cuba is from June to November. Hurricanes are most likely to happen in September and October. We don’t recommend traveling to Cuba during these months. Hurricanes don’t occur frequently in Cuba, but they can happen. Our trips are in March, November and December/January to avoid peak hurricane season in Cuba.
Americans cannot use any debit or credit cards in Cuba. No US card will work in Cuba. Even if you’re not American, we do not recommend relying on any card as a main method of payment.
Cash is king in Cuba!
Some may advise you to get an MLC debit card on arrival in Cuba. We do not recommend getting this card. The Cuban government produces it and it works primarily at state-run businesses. We do not patronize these places on our trips. Most private restaurants, bars, casa particulares, etc. do not have card readers and will not accept payment by any type of card.
#7: Get a Visa (Cuban Tourist Card)
A Cuban visa, also known as a tourist card, is mandatory for many travelers to Cuba, including those from the US. Most of you won’t need to fill out an application or hand in your passport to an embassy. If you’re from the US, you can usually get your Cuban visa with the airline you’re flying with.
Most travelers must get a Cuban tourist card (visa) to enter Cuba.
You can usually purchase your Cuban visa at check-in or at the departure gate of your flight to Cuba by credit/debit card only. If you have questions, it’s best to call your airline. Alternatively, you can pre-purchase your Cuban visa online with Cuba Visa Services.
If you’re not from the US, it’s best to contact your nearest Cuban embassy to see if you need and how to go about getting a Cuban visa.
Wondering what to pack for your trip to Cuba? Our advice is to pack everything you’ll need. Finding phone chargers, shampoo, conditioner, bandages, aspirin, socks and pretty much everything else in between are hard to find in Cuba. If you can find them, they are very expensive. That’s why it’s best to pack everything you think you’ll need. If you have any extras, you can leave them behind as gifts for the Cuban people.
Travelers from the US must travel to Cuba for one of the categories approved by the US Treasury’s Office of Foreign Asset Control (OFAC). You can see the approved categories at the US Department of the Treasury’s website. All of our 9-day trips go under the category “Support for the Cuban People”. We adhere to the required full-time schedule of activities as related to this category.
#10: Realistic Food Expectations
Food in Cuba is delicious, but tends to be very simple due to extreme food shortages on the island. There isn’t much variety compared to what you’re used to and much of the food is what’s in season and it’s generally organic as Cuba doesn’t rely heavily on pesticides and GMOs. The best thing to do is to have the correct expectations as food in Cuba may not be as plentiful or great in variety as where you’re from. Most still find it delicious despite the food shortages. Dishes are always handmade and prepared with lots of love!
Food in Cuba is delicious, but tends to be very simple. Many travelers to Cuba are pleasantly surprised at the quality of the food. There typically isn’t as much variety as most you might be used to, but it is generally fresh, in season and organic as Cuba doesn’t rely as heavily on pesticides and GMOs as other countries. When it comes to food in Cuba, it’s best to have the correct expectations as food may not be as plentiful or great in variety as where you’re from.
Breakfast, Lunch & Dinner in Cuba
A standard Cuban meal is basic and is composed of what is in season. Seasonings and condiments are also basic and dishes are typically not heavy on the sauce. It’s important to keep in mind that there are food shortages on the island so the quantity and what’s available will vary depending on this as well as what’s in season. Please be mindful of the amount of food you waste.
Breakfast in Cuba is plentiful and fresh! It is included every morning at the casa particular on our trips and usually is made up of eggs and bread, seasonal fruit, fresh fruit juice (i.e. guava, papaya, mango, etc.), coffee and tea. (What is a casa particular? Read our blog about accommodation in Cuba!)
Fresh and in-season fruit is commonly served at breakfast in Cuba.
A typical lunch and dinner in Cuba consist of white rice or beans and rice, a salad made up of vegetables that are in season (i.e. cucumber, tomato, cabbage, avocados, etc.), some type of grilled, fried or stewed meat and sometimes fish and a root vegetable or banana in some form (i.e. cassava, taro, potatoes, plantains, etc.) You may also see the occasional seafood dish (i.e. shrimp or lobster).
PRO TIP: If you like your meals to be seasoned or with lots of spice, then we recommend that you bring your own spices and condiments such as hot sauce or whatever you prefer.
Locally sourced produce is a large part of Cuban food…Truly farm-to-table!
Traditional Cuban dishes
Below are a few of our favorite typical Cuban dishes to try while you’re traveling in Cuba:
Ropa vieja: This is one of Cuba’s most famous dishes and literally translated, means “old clothes”. It’s shredded beef slow-cooked in its own juices and stock along with tomato sauce, onions and bell peppers.
Pollo fricasse: Chicken simmered in a tomato-based sauce with onions and sometimes other in-season vegetables.
Moros y cristianos: Most will know it as “rice and beans” and you’ll find it at almost every Cuban restaurant. Literally translated, it means “Moors and Christians”. Black beans and rice are boiled in the same water and other ingredients are sometimes added for more flavor (i.e. garlic, pepper, oregano, etc.).
Platanos: They’re known around the world as plantains or cooking bananas and are less sweet than bananas. In their unripened state, you’ll see them sliced thin and fried (chicharritas/mariquitas), flattened and double fried (tostones/chatinos). Or when they’re ripe, they’re sliced up and fried as a sweet, gooey treat.
Vegetarian & Vegan Food in Cuba
Vegetarian and vegan food in Cuba is available and Cubans are gradually becoming more aware of vegetarianism and veganism though neither are all that common there. More and more, you’ll find vegetarian and vegan options on menus and restaurants specializing in cuisines catering to the needs of these diets, especially in Havana.
Understand that while it may not be difficult to get a vegetarian or vegan meal in Cuba, you generally won’t find much variety and you may very well get tired of being offered the same thing at every meal (i.e. rice, beans, salad, fruit, etc.) If you’re a strict vegetarian or vegan, we suggest bringing some of your own snacks on the trip to supplement your diet.
Those who travel with us to Cuba will be able to provide us with your dietary restrictions when you sign up for the trip. Our guide will make sure all the restaurants during your stay in Cuba have adequate offerings to match your dietary needs.
Vegetarians and vegans will delight in the organic, non-GMO produce of Cuba.
Drinks in Cuba
Drinks in Cuba are iconic worldwide. The mojito and daiquiri immediately come to mind, but Cuba is full of wonderfully refreshing drinks.
Traditional Cuban drinks
Below is a list of a few of our favorite non-alcoholic drinks and cocktails that you may not have heard of:
Canchanchara: Some consider it a forerunner of the mojito and daiquiri. This drink is made up of a mix aguardiente (very strong liquor distilled from sugar cane), honey and lime juice.
Habana especial: A lovely, fruity cocktail with 3-year-old Havana Club rum, fresh orange or pineapple juice and a splash of grenadine.
Limonada frapeada/frappée: It’s a frozen daiquiri minus the rum and is equally refreshing under the scorching Cuban sun!
Guarapo: The juice of sugarcane poured over a cup of ice to satisfy your thirst and your sweet tooth.
The daiquiri: An icon of Cuba and made famous by Hemingway.
Food in Cuba still manages to be delicious despite the lack of access to food and appliances to cook it with. Dishes are always made by hand and with lots of love. Although it might not be as great in variety as you are used to, there’s something for everyone! Happy travels!