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Beagletorque
6th September 2015, 07:29 PM
Beagletorque Cuba Tips Based on April 2015 visit.

Visa – you will need a visa and if you travel independently you will need to sort this out yourself. They easiest way is to visit the Cuban Embassy in London and fill out the forms there and then. It can be done by post but an additional charge is made. There is less information on the Embassy website than there was but I did email them and got a fast response. http://www.cubadiplomatica.cu/reinounido/EN/ConsularServices.aspx#TouristCard

Arriving at Havana Airport.

Depending on when you travel it will be hot and you will be tired. It will take some time to get through passport control, wait for your luggage and then get through customs, so brace yourself for a long wait and have plenty of water with you from the plane. We bought water in the duty free in the UK to bring out in Havana, it was worth it! Our wait was 1 1/2hrs but there were stories of over 4 hours depending on various problems with the luggage belts etc…

Passport control.

They take this very seriously so don’t joke or offer cash! The main questioning when we went was regarding Ebola and had you visited Africa or had any of your friends been there. This may be out of date now. They take their time on each person so just be patient.

Luggage.

This can take some time to emerge and then only a few bags at a time so don’t get involved in the scramble to find a spot at the beltside as it is not worth the hassle of everybody pushing past you when their bags appear before yours.

Customs.

They are very strict on what you can and can’t take in to the country so check and make sure you are not carrying illicit goods accidentally! Checks seemed to be limited to whether your airline baggage labels tied up with the stickers on your passport/boarding card so DO NOT remove them before you clear customs otherwise they will go through your whole luggage. It may be that the unloaders remove the odd label to indicate which bags need to be checked by customs, so double check yours are still there before you exit!

Getting Cash.

Cuba has two parallel currencies; the National Peso which is what the locals use on a daily basis and the tourist Convertible Peso which is linked to the US dollar at 1 to 1. There are 24 National Peso to 1 Convertible Peso or CUC as it is often referred to. So basically you pay 24 times more than the locals. You can get National Pesos at the bank and buy street food etc. very cheaply like the locals, if you dare!

As you can’t get any Cuban cash before you get there, there are money official changers at the airport - expect long queues again, but do not be tempted to use any unofficial exchange offers! My hot tip to avoid waiting at the airport is to offer the taxi driver English Pounds to take you into central Havana or where ever your hotel / casa is located. I just pulled out a 20 note and said where I wanted to go (which would have cost $25USD) and he was very happy to accept as that was worth $30 to him. I then changed money at the bank the following day.

I took all my money in UK and changed it as we went along at the bank. Do not change too much at a time, I would say 200 as a limit. This is because I changed 400 one day and the clerk had to go to the senior man to get authorisation and everything got a bit complicated! Bearing in mind the bank employees get $25 per month so $600 is like 2 years’ salary for them.

Funny things that happen at the bank!

The banks open early in the morning, but, supposedly, before 10am is reserved for elderly customers. Go into the bank and you will see people waiting to be served, probably seated too. You will see the overseer, in bank uniform, standing organising the queue. Tell him/her that you want to do “intercambio”(exchange) and they will tell you what to do, either wait your turn in the queue or go ahead to a particular counter, not all do exchange. ONLY ONE person can be at the window at a time or they get very funny! You will need your passport and your local address detail for the exchange. The bank clerk will examine everything very thoroughly and look very suspiciously at your English pounds several times, don’t worry this is quite normal, do not feel or look guilty! You will then get a slip of paper with the exchange detailing each denomination of note and coin that you will be given. The money will then be counted out in front of you and you must pretend to pay full attention. If it is a male clerk, then my experience is that, or 1 CUC will be missing when you double check later, this seemed to be quite normal and you should consider it as a tip. If it is a young lady then they will smile very sweetly and you should tell them that the few coins adding up to less than 1 CUC is a little tip for her as she has been so efficient! (This may not be official bank policy but this was my experience!)

DO NOT, under any circumstances, take a photo (http://e-group.uk.net/forum/showthread.php?p=357794#post357794) inside the bank!

More tips to follow.....

mm500
6th September 2015, 07:38 PM
I went there 2 years ago and was caught out by a few surprises. Will read this tomorrow and no doubt commiserate myself on not researching better.

Trouble is I always wing it and there are times one can get caught out...

Mal.

rosco
6th September 2015, 07:58 PM
Excellent post with some very useful information.

raymondo
6th September 2015, 09:54 PM
These Hot Tips have been noted, and will help us a great deal when we travel to Cuba. I will be waiting in anticipation over the next few days for further info, thanks again.*chr

Harbrimar
6th September 2015, 10:55 PM
Another tip, make sure that you dont lose the immigration card; this is the piece of paper which is stamped when you arrive They do not put a stamp in your passport). I was there earlier this year and it somehow fell out of my passport in the scramble to pick up suitcases. I lost mine and reported it to the check in desk prior to flying back. I was told to stand to one side and two police officers collected me and took me to another part of the airport. I had to stand outside an office, reminded me of my old school days standing outside the headmasters office. I spent about 15 minutes waiting and wondering if I would be able to get on the flight. Eventually a police inspector gave me my passport and a new piece of paper. He shook my hand and sent me on my way. What a relief! A beautiful country and very friendly people but get there before hoards of travellers start arriving from the USA now that diplomatic relations have been restored.

OM USer
8th September 2015, 12:30 PM
Some good tips even if I never make it there.

Wally
8th September 2015, 03:10 PM
:tup The info just adds cream on top of the cake on what has proven to be an excellent series of photographs. *chr

Beagletorque
8th September 2015, 06:56 PM
Another tip, make sure that you dont lose the immigration card; this is the piece of paper which is stamped when you arrive They do not put a stamp in your passport). I was there earlier this year and it somehow fell out of my passport in the scramble to pick up suitcases. I lost mine and reported it to the check in desk prior to flying back. I was told to stand to one side and two police officers collected me and took me to another part of the airport. I had to stand outside an office, reminded me of my old school days standing outside the headmasters office. I spent about 15 minutes waiting and wondering if I would be able to get on the flight. Eventually a police inspector gave me my passport and a new piece of paper. He shook my hand and sent me on my way. What a relief! A beautiful country and very friendly people but get there before hoards of travellers start arriving from the USA now that diplomatic relations have been restored.

You're right it is the other half of your visa you needed to get in! The Cuba Visa is a piece of heavy paper about 3x7" with tear line down the middle. When you enter the country they take the first half at passport control and stamp the second portion so you end up with a bit of paper about 3" square which you need to get out, along with 25 CUC (notes only no coins). TAKE GOOOD CARE OF IT!! Going home you have to queue up after check-in to pay the 25 CUC and they then stamp the remaining half the visa to say you have paid. Passport control check this on the way out and take the remaining portion. I'm pretty sure some poor devil has to pair them all up again to make sure everyone has left the country as they are supposed to! I'll cover this again in "getting home". . . .

Beagletorque
4th November 2015, 12:39 PM
"Cuba is a great county and a **** hole at the same time. It all depends on you. All you need to take with you to make your holiday a success is: observational skills, sense of humour, money, creativity, patience and an adventurous mind. The rest will come without effort!"

This quote comes from http://www.bestcubatravelguide.com/ which looks like it could be of interest for travellers to Cuba. Most of what I have read, with the benefit of hindsight, is true. The ebook may worth looking at, but the website is free!