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Upon returning from her 2nd three-week visit exploring Cuba, TPG Contributor Lori Zaino describes everything you must know prior to heading there. Every photos room by Darrel Hunter.

With a current ease in travel constraints to Cuba and also exciting news thatnonstop flights in between the US and Cuba room officially launching this September,many Americansare planning to visit — girlfriend caneven usage AAdvantage miles to redeem compensation flightson American airlines now, so no excuses. However, part things just aren’t straightforward in Cuba and also being mindful ofa couple of key things — like what to load — might prove come be crucial for a safe and successful trip. Here are 10 necessary things you have to know prior to you go.

1. Who deserve to Go

The united state government at this time approves ofUS citizenstraveling underone of 12 certain categoriesfor a valid visit to Cuba. Girlfriend won’t have to actually apply for a visa or license if you’re traveling for one of these 12 reasons, however, friend must have the ability to offer proof that your pilgrimage actually fits into one of these categories if asked for by the US federal government or a personalizeds officer.It’s also recommended the you store records and also receipts of whatever you go in Cuba for up to 5 years after you return. Comprehensive informationthat can aid you self-categorize have the right to be found here — you’llalso it is in asked come specify your reason for going whenever you’re booking flights or accommodationsonline.

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It’s important to know the rules and also regulations for who deserve to actually walk to Cuba.

Just because that reference, the 12 authorized categories for us citizens travel to Cuba space as follows:

Family visitsOfficial business of the U.S. Government, foreign governments and particular intergovernmental organizationsJournalistic activityProfessional research and also professional meetingsEducational tasks (ie. People-to-people tours)Religious activitiesPublic performances, clinics, workshops, athletic and other competitions and exhibitionsSupport because that the Cuban peopleHumanitarian projectsActivities of private foundations or research or education institutesExportation, importation or infection of information or information materialsCertain authorized fiddle transactions.

2. Wherein to Stay

Right now, girlfriend can book vacation rentals throughAirbnbusing a united state credit card, agreat points-and-miles earning choice if you’re booking v a card like the Chase Sapphire Preferred, which lets you earn 2x clues on travel and also dining at restaurants and 1 suggest per dollar spent on all various other purchases worldwide.

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You deserve to use Airbnb come rent out anincredible early american house in Cuba.

On the hotels front, Starwood is plan to open two Havana hotels in 2016— friend can even use Starpoints tobook a continue to be at the 4 Points by Sheraton Havanausing rewards earned indigenous yourStarwood wanted Guest® credit transaction Card native American Express.

It’s essential to keep in mind that if you’rebased in the USand choose to prepay her hotel continue to be withyour us credit card, you’ll have to shot booking your remain online through a Canadian or British take trip agent, since US financial institutions don’t work in Cuba together of yet. Transforming your IP address can also help with this procedure since numerous sites room blocked native booking Cuba travel from the US. The course, calling this outsidetravel agencies and working v someone over thephone is another option. Every little thing you do, be certain to pre-book all accommodations as areas tend to fill up really quickly, particularly with the current surge of tourists to Cuba native the US.

3.What to expect atCuban Airports

Arriving in Cuban airports deserve to be a harrowing experience, mainly because the framework aren’t quite what American travelers are offered to. Most areas of the airplane in Havana, for example, room not air conditioned, for this reason be all set for long, sweaty waits in line.

Upon landing, you’ll instantly be command to customs,where an immigration officer will certainly most likely ask friend a few questions and stamp your visa tourist map — it’s unclear however whether you’ll be expected to salary $20-$25 in cash to obtain this or if it’s going to be consisted of in the price of brand-new AA and also Silver airways flights to Cuba. If, for some reason, you don’t want your passport to obtain a stamp, permit the customs staff memberknow.

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Airports in Cuba might not have the many updated infrastructure in the world, yet they gain the task done.

The customs officer may likewise ask friend to show proof of health and wellness insurance, since as of might 2010, Cuba needs all travelersto have actually this when in the country(although it’s precious noting that US-based insurance to plan wouldn’t administer coverage if I was in Cuba). The being said, during my last two trips come Cuba, i was not asked to show this at the airport.

You can buy health and wellness insurance ahead of time virtual to cover you throughout your expedition to Cuba, or if you’re asked around it at the airport and you don’t have proof that a policy (via one insurance card or certificate), it’s possible to purchase a policy therethrough Asistur, a local insurance company— luckily, itspolicies commonly start at just a couple of dollars every day. Girlfriend may additionally be request by the airline you’reflying to present proof that your health and wellness insurance when you inspect in, however again, this wasn’t the situation in my experience on either of my two trips.

Once you’ve clearing customs, it’s time come head over and pick up your bags.It’s worth stating that you more than likely shouldn’t fill anything of value in your checked luggage — I’d recommend this once traveling almost everywhere really, yet it may bring extra weight inCuba. Since particular items are nearly impossible to obtain in Cuba, girlfriend don’t want anything of worth to come to be lost.

Be all set to wait a when for your bags, too, together it sometimes deserve to take up toan hour for them come come the end — Cuban airports simplydon’t have sufficient baggage trains and trolleys to work-related with, specifically when several flights come in at once.

4. Exactly how to salary With regional Currency and also Credit Cards

Cuba offers two currencies, Cuban Convertible Pesos (CUC) and Cuba Pesos (CUP or MN, because that Moneda Nacional). CUC is the currency tourists will need to acquire while locals usage Cuban Pesos. The easiest means to call the difference? CUCs have monuments on them, when Cuban Pesos feature the encounters of neighborhood heroes.That gift said, it can be worth her while to keep a couple of dollars precious of Cuban Pesos on you simply in instance you plan on taking the local bus, orif you plan to buy water, fruit or ice cream on the street, specifically in less-touristy areas.

Whereas Amex and Mastercard have actually both stated they space trying to have their cards duty in Cuba, in ~ the moment, no US-based credit or debit cards can be supplied there — this also includes making use of a debit map to take it cash out of a Cuban ATM. However, if you have actually a credit card from an additional country, such together Canada or what in Europe, it’s likely your card will work but be conscious that over there is a 3% fee if you’re making use of ATMs in Cuba or making any type of payments. It’s also worth noting that hotels space really the only locations that will accept cards, so even if girlfriend do have actually a non-US credit card, over there aren’t many places touse the in the very first place.

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Paying my room business bill in ~ the Hotel Nacional through a Spain-based credit transaction card, one of the few times ns was in reality able to usage a card!

5. Exactly how to Exchange Money

The us dollar is currently at a 1:1 proportion with the CUC, however, Cuba fees a 10% taxes when trading US dollars to CUCs, so you’ll finish up losing out a bit. For this reason, it’s a better idea to change Canadian dollars, british pounds or euros if you take place to have any on hand. To provide you a far better idea that what come expect, the euro was readjusted at a rate of 1.07 CUC and also the pound at a rate of 1.40 CUC during my many recent expedition in May. Otherwise, setup on bringing sufficient US dollars to exchange and last you throughout your whole trip. While not ideal, it’s the case at hand, so simply take an excellent care of her cash and also be certain to guard that wisely.

Also, keep in mind that Cuba does not accept Australian Dollars (AUD) for exchange. Additionally,euros may be welcomed at will in Varadero, Guardalavaca, Cayo Largo del Sur, Cayo Coco and Cayo Guillermo.

On the left, Cuban Pesos. On the right, CUC (Cuban Covertible Pesos), which you’ll be utilizing as a tourist.

Money have the right to be exchanged at the airport, yet expect come encounter lengthy lines — the same goes for exchanging money at the cruise terminals in Havana, Cienfuegos or Santiago de Cuba if you opt to visit Cuba that way.

You can also exchange moneyat a Cadeca(currency exchange house), whichcan typically be found inside her hotel — you’ll likely get a better rate at among those 보다 at the former desk. When youhave yourCUCs, profession someback because that a little quantity of Cuban Pesos to have on hand in instance you’re planning come visit less-touristy areas or buy snacks ~ above the street.

Here space a couple of more tips for an altering money:

Be sure to have actually crisp bills to exchange, v no rips or tearsRemember the you won’t it is in able toexchange coins (i.e. A two-euro coin), justpaper moneyYou can readjust money ago at the airplane if friend don’t usage it every — just be ready for lengthy linesAlways gain a receipt when you change money to save for your records simply in case.

It’s also a good idea come leavetips forguides, hotel portersand other service employeesin us dollars, euros or CUC — but not in Cuban Pesos, i m sorry aren’t worth as much.

6. Just how to Usethe Internet

Most hotels administer internet at an additionalrate, i m sorry can range from $2-$12 every hour. Periodically you have the right to pay to affix to one of two or three computer systems in a hotel business center, but typically, net comesin the form of a prepaid card wherein you scratch off a code and connect through your own devices.

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A look in ~ some web cards in Cuba.

As of right now,theMeliá Cohiba and also the Saratoga Havana are the just two hotels in Havana that provide free internet to guests, and it’s quite slow. Technically, these room two the the many expensive hotels inthe city, so perhaps free isn’t the ideal word— included in the price is probably an ext accurate.

The most necessary things to remember when using web cards are:

The net isn’t super quick (i.e. Party watching her favorite shows on Netflix most likely isn’t one option)It’s notsuper reliable and may go in and out even if you do pay for itSometimes the concierge desks (where you deserve to buy them)are close up door or run out of cards in the evenings and won’t have more until the next dayYou have the right to be verbally spanked for buying too plenty of cards. Ahotel clerkonce told me ifI retained buying them, over there wouldn’t be enough for theother hotel guests — store in psychic I just bought six of themover the course of 3 daysMost cards room valid for an hour of web service, for this reason if you just use 30 minutes, you deserve to disconnect and also reconnect later on to usage your staying timeYou can also buy internet cards in ~ ETESCA cell phone stores, however be all set to speak Spanish and also haggle a bit. Here, friend can uncover cards precious for 5 hours — if you’re luckyThe cards are likewise valid for usage at number of outdoor Wi-Fi points, like along La Rampa and also at several parks and plazas transparent Havana.

7. Just how to MakePhone Calls and Send message Messages

Since youwon’t have the ability to get muchroaming business in Cuba on your us cell phone call (if you can control to gain it come work, the won’t be cheap), you have a few other options. If you setup on being there because that a while, you might consider renting a cell phone, butkeep in mind that you won’t have any data with it, just access to calls and also texts. Frequently times, Airbnb rentals will provide you the alternative to usage or rent a cell phone throughout your stay, or if you’re lucky, they’ll let friend borrow one for free and you’ll just have to pay for any type of minutes you use.

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Lines exterior ETECSA, the cabinet phone and internet map store.

Cubacel, activate by ETECSA, is the main phone agency in Cuba — you can buy a center card indigenous a neighborhood office to put inside an unlocked phone the operates top top a 900 MHz frequency. However, this procedure isn’t easy, with lengthy lines and very little English spoken, for this reason it might be fairly an undertaking to get yourself a card.

8. Howto Not get Cheated — In Taxis, Markets and Anywhere else on the Island

Thanks come my light hair and also eye color, ns was always approached by locals in English and also offered higher prices normally reserved for tourists. However, ~ above busting out several of my fluent Spanish, the vibe of the situation adjusted entirely and also I was treated as much an ext of an same — ns was maybe to acquire lower prices and more insider info this way, so if friend speak any kind of Spanish at all, also just a little, shot it out. The will obtain you lot further and earn youmajor brownie points through the locals.

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Once us realized Havana-based taxi driver Ivan to be a cool dude giving fair prices, we provided him several times transparent my trip.

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Bargaining is additionally a good tool. I asked my Airbnb hold what species of price were usual for various things therefore I can use the to my benefit if necessary. Try your hand in ~ hagglingif you desire a fair price, also if girlfriend can’t speak perfectSpanish.

For tranquility of mind, once you uncover a taxi driver you prefer (and whogave you a fair price), ask because that his or her map or call number and continue to use them for the remainder of your trip — you’ll do a new friend and also save some money in the meantime. As soon as we realized Havana-based taxi driver Ivan, pictured above, to be a cool dude giving fair prices, we finished up using him several times because that rides throughout my trip.For pickups or tours, here’s how to with him: bacervant50