Street in Habana Centro at dusk.
Photo Ana Lorena

Ultimate Cuba travel planning and preparation guide

Getting ready to visit Cuba in 2024

Mysterious, exotic, and confounding. Cuba’s secrets are revealed during your island stay. Preparing for your Cuba trip is like visiting most other countries, with some notable exceptions. This guide will reduce stress and make your Cuba trip easy and fun.

Keeping current with rapid changes in Cuba

Cuban girl in Havana with sunglasses.
Cuba is in a constant state of change.

Our Cuba travel orientation guide is geared toward US guests but is helpful for sojourners from any nation. Things change in Cuba at a dizzying pace. We update this page regularly based on reports from our American visitors and our expert Cuban staff in Havana.

Travel with peace of mind – protect your travel investment

Cuban woman in wind.
Trip insurance = freedom from worry.

Cuba is very safe and healthy. But things can still go askew before and during travel. We strongly recommend trip interruption and cancellation insurance to safeguard your Cuban holiday investment. Even if you decline travel insurance, do take a moment to review the costs and benefits.

Documents and money matters. Don’t leave home without…

Cuban boy with umbrella in Havana.
Be prepared and bring the essentials.

Passport Must be valid for one week beyond your stay.

Buy airline tickets nowSee list of US commercial flights to Havana.

Cuban Tourist Visa All Cuba Explorer travel packages include a visa to enter Cuba. Keep it with your passport. Independent Cuba travelers can purchase a Cuban visa here.

Certificate of Legal Cuba Travel Cuba Explorer visits are 100% legal. Cuba Explorer verifies your Cuba trip conforms to US government Cuba travel regulations. We supply you with an official Certificate of Legal Cuba Travel document.

Cuban emergency medical insurance  Cuba requires all visitors to have emergency medical coverage during their stay. This coverage is included in the cost of all commercial flights originating in the United States. Your boarding pass is proof of emergency medical coverage if needed in Cuba. This coverage is not a substitute for trip interruption and cancellation insurance.

Additional trip insurance documents if you purchase this option.

Online Immigration and Customs form Cuba requires all visitors to complete a web-based migration and duty form 48 hours before arrival. The website is called D’Viajeros. Once you have completed the form, you are given a QR Code to present to your US airline at the check-in counter and to Cuba immigration on arrival. Read our simplified instructions for filling out the somewhat confusing D’Viajeros form.

Cash is king US debit cards don’t work in Cuba. US credit cards work in a handful of hotels for in-house services only. Traveler’s checks are difficult to redeem. Don’t get caught short of funds while abroad. US dollars are readily accepted. Carefully study Money matters in Cuba. Cuba Explorer travel packages are nearly all-inclusive, so cash requirements are minimal, and should money problems arise during your stay, we help.

What to wear in a tropical paradise – comfort + fashion

Cuban girls share lipstick.
Cuban street beauticians.

There is no dress code in Cuba. However, you still want to be comfortable and not stand out like a Christmas tree. Review What do I pack for Cuba travel? We share some fitting ideas for what to wear in a warm climate, plus essential medicine and hygiene products you may require that aren’t available in Cuba.

What you can, and cannot take to Cuba

Cuban woman at Carnival in Santiago.
Packing tips for maximum enjoyment.

Permitted items You can bring cameras, personal DVD and CD players, gaming devices, mobile phones, laptops, MP3 players, hairdryers, electric shavers, binoculars, radio receivers, musical instruments, and sound recording devices for personal use. If you bring more than two of these items, Cuban customs may ask if you intend to leave them on the island. If you say you plan to leave any of these things, duty may be charged.

Prohibited items Narcotics (Cuba is a zero-tolerance nation). Explosives, pornography, anti-Cuba literature, aerial drones, stand-alone GPS devices, walkie-talkies, and things considered to be weapons are no-nos.

Money If you bring more than the equivalent of USD 5,000 in cash, you have to declare it or risk confiscation. Please review Money matters in Cuba.

Prescription medicines Must remain in original containers with prescription labels intact. Bring all that you’ll need for the duration of your stay. Refills in Cuba are not possible.

What about water, street food, and health services in Cuba?

Cuban woman snacking.
How to avoid tummy troubles in Cuba.

Can I drink the water? We recommend you avoid tap water and drink bottled water at all times. Cuba Explorer supplies bottled water free of charge during your excursions. Bottled water is always available at your accommodations.

What about street food? It’s a personal decision. You have to weigh missing out on tasty treats over possible digestion issues. Very few visitors report tummy troubles from eating cooked street food.

What if I get sick or injured? A doctor or nurse is accessible during your Cuba Explorer trip, at your accommodations, nearby clinic, and tour activities.

Vaccinations. Cuba travel alerts. Should I worry?

Cuban boy and his dog.
Cuba is healthy and safe, like Norway.

Visit our Vaccinations for Cuba page for updates about Covid and general health and safety concerns for Cuba. There is no requirement for evidence of Covid status or vaccination records to visit or exit Cuba.

Should I believe travel alerts about Cuba? All advanced nations consider Cuba to be one of the safest travel destinations. The Trump administration’s vindictive listing of Cuba as a Terrorist Nation is denounced as unfounded by the United Nations and the vast majority of member countries. Sadly, US government travel advice to some nations is politically biased.

Great offline Cuba map – never get lost in Havana

Old Cuban man in Santiago.
Navigate Havana’s mysterious streets.

Paper maps are hard to find, costly, and awkward.

Download the super best offline travelers’ map of Cuba at

Visitors and locals love because it is so easy to get lost in Havana. is a comprehensive offline map app for Android and Apple phones and tablets.

Download now before you come to Cuba because internet on the island is slow.

Cuban internet – not as fast as in the USA

Cuban boy smiling in Havana.
Cuban youth are internet fiends!

You can take your mobile phone, laptop, or tablet to Cuba and connect to the internet from local hotspots or at your hotel. Most Cuba Explorer hotels provide free WiFi access. Some private home rentals have internet access. WiFi rates range from 1.00 to 2.00 USD per hour. Be prepared for the Cuban internet connection to be slower than at home. Some US telephone carriers provide roaming services in Cuba, but you’ll pay an arm and a leg.

Will my US mobile phone work in Cuba?

Cuban boy swimmer.
Make a mobile phone travel plan now.

Cuba Explorer’s Havana office provides emergency internet and US telephone calls for our guests at no charge.

Easiest mobile access in Cuba Many big US mobile phone service providers have international travel plans that include Cuba. This is the surest way to stay in touch with family and work. Carefully study your roaming plans before you arrive in Cuba. Mobile phone and data use in Cuba can be expensive!

A local but time-consuming alternative is to rent a Cuban SIM card or rent a Cuban cell phone. See Federal Communications Commission (FCC) or contact us for help.

What happens when I arrive in Cuba?

Cuban school girls.
We have your back from arrival to departure.

Cuba Explorer guests are hosted from touchdown to departure with 24/7 VIP attention. We provide you with detailed arrival instructions before you come to Cuba. And we are always available to help with any questions.

You are family Cuba Explorer staff meet and greet guests upon arrival at your Cuban airport. We return you to the airport for departure following your tour. Cuban airport-hotel transfers are included in your travel package. If you arrive early or depart later than scheduled tour days, we help with airport-hotel transfers. During your stay, our team is at your beck and call. Never a need to worry.

Gifts and ‘donations’ for Cubans in need

Cuban girl playing in street.
Gifts of friendship during the blockade.

Cubans welcome gifts, however small. Gift-giving is an island tradition.
We have a list of suggested gifts for Cubans, things most needed during these difficult times.

You’re bringing gifts. Do not describe them as donations. On arrival, if Cuban customs asks about items you intend to leave behind, describe them as gifts. The word donation raises concerns because, in the past, bad people brought harmful things into Cuba disguised as donations.

How do I wash my clothes in Cuba?

Cuban boy at Havana Carnival.
There are no laundromats in Cuba.

There are no public laundry facilities in Cuba. If you need laundry services, ask your chambermaid or hotel front desk. They’ll help you. Generally, the cost is between 6 and 8 USD for a plastic shopping full bag of clothes. Ask the price first.

If you stay at a private Cuban home, ask your host for assistance.

Electricity in Cuba is similar to America but different

Cuban woman at Carnival in Santiago.
Cuba has two types of electricity.

Electricity in Cuban hotels is often 220 volts. We suggest you purchase a Type ‘C’ European Travel Plug Adapter for electrical devices you bring to Cuba. You can buy Type ‘C’ adapters from Amazon, Walmart, or electronics stores. Here are examples from Amazon. Example ONE, example TWO, and example THREE. Type ‘C’ adapter will always come in handy for international travel.

Most private homes have both 220 and 110-volt electrical outlets.

Be kind, be on time for scheduled activities, or opt-out

Cuban girl performs folkloric dance.
Your activities are arranged in advance.

Eastern Time is observed across Cuba, the same as in New York and Miami.

Unlike some Central and South American countries, Cuba doesn’t operate on ‘Latin time’. Respecting schedules is the same as in the United States.

Cubans who have worked hard preparing special activities for you will feel really bad if you are late or absent. Perhaps they arranged a special meal, guest speaker, or cultural presentation. If our bus is delayed because you overslept, the whole group schedule must be juggled.

Your guide announces the bus schedule the day prior. Your accommodations have wake-up call services.

All is copacetic for free spirits If you don’t want to participate in a scheduled activity, or if you had a really good time the night before, that’s ok. We don’t judge. Just tell your guide in advance so she/he will not worry or lose time attempting to track you down.

Tipping and gratuities for Cubans

Cuban trumpeter in Santiago.
Tipping is much appreciated in Cuba.

Feel good about tipping Your Cuban tour guide and tour driver depend on tips and share them with their coworkers and family. They also contribute a percentage of tips to the national health and education systems. Treat tipping in Cuba as you do at home – be kind to those who assist.

Hint You decide the amounts you’re comfortable contributing. Tipping in US dollars makes planning and budgeting easier.

Here’s the amount of tips most Americans share. You can always leave more. The amount you give is totally optional and up to you. See How much should I tip in Cuba? for more info.

Tour guide 8.00 to 10.00 USD per day per guest

Tour driver 5.00 to 7.00 USD per day per guest

Restaurant staff 2.00 USD to 5.00 USD per guest based on service

Hotel porters 1.00 USD or more if you have lots of luggage

Chambermaids 2.00 USD per day per guest

Museum guides and special guides 2.00 USD per guest

Musicians at restaurants 1.00 USD per guest

What about gifting instead of tips? Cubans in the service industry need money to spend on what they really need. They already get a lot of leftover toothpaste, toiletries, and other stuff. Give personal items you don’t need to your new Cuban friends.

Once again on safety in Cuba

Cuban streets are safe.
Cubans are friendly and helpful.

Cuba is among the safest countries in the world, with a meager crime rate. However, precautions with personal belongings are necessary, as you would in Paris, London, or Barcelona. Don’t leave small items unattended in public areas. Don’t wear expensive jewelry. It attracts pickpockets. Keep cameras and handbags secure to your person at all times.

Participants must use a hotel lockbox for valuables, travel documents, air tickets, passports, and cash.

Only carry the amount of cash you need daily, about 100 USD. Leave the rest of your money in your hotel lockbox, along with your travel documents, passport, and other valuables. (Your actual passport is necessary to exchange money.)

Taxis and public transportation

Family outing on a motorcycle.
Cuban family outing on a motorcycle.

During your Cuba Explorer tour, transportation to and from activities is included. During your free time, you’ll want to explore on your own. We recommend taxis. Private cars are quite common and offer legitimate taxi services. Both are ok. Be sure to agree on a price for your destination before you enter a taxi.

Is Cuba really that different than other countries? Yes, and…

Cuban woman in body paint.
Cuban dancer in body paint for performance.

Everything is very different: language, climate, customs, and demeanor. But it is refreshingly different.

Cubans are courteous, emotive, candid, and have a great sense of humor. Yet, all of the small material conveniences and services we take for granted are absent in Cuba.

While Cubans are punctual, delays can happen because of transportation and communications problems. The latter does not impact our programs because our services are independent.

Extreme shortages of everything require great innovation. Cubans continuously rise to the challenge. We advise coming to Cuba with an open mind until you get a lay of the land. Patience and understanding are the watchwords.

Words from wise travelers If you go to Cuba looking for problems, you will be overwhelmed, as they exist in abundance. On the other hand, if you visit with an open mind, in the spirit of learning about a wonderful people and their unique society and culture, your journey will be unmatched. Cubans are as thrilled to have you as their guest as you are about getting to know them. Unlike some other countries, there is no animosity towards Americans.

Race, sex, and LGBTQ+ issues. Black Lives Matter in Cuba.

Cuban costume at Santiago Carnival.
About race, sex, and LGBTQs in Cuba.

Race and sex and LGBTQ+ issues are upside down compared to the United States.

Skin color is a spectrum. A minority of Cubans are either white or black. The vast majority of Cubans fall many shades in between. Don’t assume local comments about color are necessarily racist. The historical context is different. There are scores colors in Cuba. Best to assume every Cuban is proud of their place on the color wheel.

Cuba is not like other Latin countries where women get pinched and squeezed on their private parts in public. Some Cuban men are not beyond issuing flirtatious comments to women. Female travelers can respond as they please – consider it a compliment or insult. When women tell men in Cuba to desist, they do. “No means no” reigns supreme in Cuba. Suffice it to say Cuba is among the safest nations in the world for female travelers.

Homophobia, like racism in Cuba, cannot be compared to the United States, where hostility and physical violence are a daily occurrence. There are no laws against LGBTQ+ in Cuba. Lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people don’t get shamed or beat up. They share the streets and public spaces equally. The vast majority of heterosexual people in Cuba consider homophobia to be a more significant problem than homosexuality.

Panhandlers and scammers

Baby Cuban cowboy.
Begging: not common but best to ignore it.

We strongly advise against giving money to individuals who approach you on the streets. While in tourist areas, you may encounter professional scam artists who pester foreign guests with sob stories that win them hundreds of dollars a week. When an individual approaches you on the street and asks for money or offers to provide guide or other services, say no. Wag your finger back and forth with determination (indicating you are not interested) and move on.

Failure to do so means you risk getting ripped off. Don’t be shy or feel bad. To do otherwise could cost you heartache and your wallet!

Returning to America from Cuba. Dos and don’ts.

Cuban man smoking cigar.
Rum and cigars. Yum. You can imbibe in Cuba. But you can’t take them home.

There is no limit on how much money you can spend in Cuba.

Souvenirs and handicrafts require no export permission.

Original works of contemporary art require an official export permission letter to leave the country. The artist or gallery will provide this documentation.

Trump banned Cuban alcohol and tobacco from entering the US. How mean is that?

Only 5,000 CUP (Cuban pesos) per person can leave the country. Don’t attempt to leave with more. It has no value outside of Cuba except, perhaps, as souvenirs.

Services at Cuban airports inside the security areas require payment in Euros or Canadian dollars. Cuban pesos are not accepted.

Sharing your memories leads to positive changes for Cuba

Cuban couple playing around.
Cuba means memories for a lifetime.

Did you know that American visitors to Cuba have a significant impact on improving US-Cuba relations?

Recording your trip and sharing photos, videos, and blogs with friends helps build ties of understanding between regular Cubans and Americans. Visitors who share their Cuba experiences help shift public opinion in favor of normal relations with Cuba.

Parting words for US citizen-ambassadors

Young Cuban woman in Santiago.
While in Cuba, Americans are happier.

When visiting Cuba, locals see you as a representative of your nation and its people, reflecting the enlightened outlook of kindhearted Americans. Cubans endure extreme hardships. Their material conditions are very low compared to conditions in the United States. Many problems Cubans face result from the 60-plus years of economic blockade enforced by Washington.

Nonetheless, Cubans view regular Americans as their best friends in the hemisphere. Islanders welcome them graciously.

In Cuba, we say, “A true friend remembers the song in your heart when you have forgotten the lyrics.”  

Cuban photographers reflecting the lives of Cubans

Photographs on this page are by Cuba artists Ana Lorena Gamboa Fernández, Norlys Pérez Padrón, and René Silveira Toledo. Contact us about use of these images.