Planning a program to Cuba and don’t know where to start? Or already planning to go, but still unsure about a few things? Here are 3 common questions and answers:
1. Q: How do we get tickets to Cuba now, do we need to worry about OFAC, and which of the 12 reasons do I select regarding my visit to Cuba?
A: Buy your tickets online, with your miles, or as a group through the group desks at each airline. Pretty much every US carrier has direct flights now, but they do not all fly from / to the same cities. Consider flying into one and out of another city. For example, into Havana and out of Santa Clara. Santa Clara is small and less visited and very easy to enter and exit. If you do fly like this and are on two airlines, make sure to keep your inbound flight ticket information, because Cuban immigration does not see this very often.
You do not need to worry about OFAC anymore. If you are a university group, you can select Educational Activities. But Support of the Cuban People is generally just as legitimate, and this is what small groups, individuals, etc., generally should select.
2. Q: What about changing money?
A: Cuba as 2 currencies. CUC (for tourists) and CUP (Peso for locals), but you can use both. Some stores will only accept one or the other. But the reality is that in Havana, you might not even see a CUP. We recommend not changing your money at the airport. The banks and exchange centers are where you normally will change your money. USD are not legally accepted anywhere, but people will accept them, and some people will give you a very good exchange rate for them, since the official exchange rate for USD is about 10-13% lower than other currencies (because of the embargo). If you are staying at a homestay, ask your hosts, and they might know someone traveling to the US. In that case, you might get .90 or even 1:1 for USD. Santa Clara seems to have some of the best rates. If you buy something around $100 in USD, you might be able to get 1:1 or .95: $1. But you probably will have to pay more to pay someone in USD for a service, like a ride between cities, or pay for your accommodation in USD, etc.
If you can get Euro or Canadian Dollars at a good exchange rate before going to Cuba, get some of those currencies. Airports and banks in the US do not generally give good exchange rates in the US, but some places do. You just need to look around. You might even find that some of your neighbors or people on NEXTDOOR will give you a very even exchange rate just to get rid of what they have. One of our participants exchanged about $400 USD for CAD an EUR this way before going to Cuba.
In smaller towns, and non-tourist stops, you will see and be able to use CUP. You might even get change this way. Shops that accept CUP are WAY less expensive than those that accept CUP. In Havana, prices will seem similar to the US, but once you step outside, or even walk through Havana Central (between the Old Town and the Capital), you will see the difference in costs.
3. Q: How do we use internet?
A: Internet is one of the most complicated issues at the moment, but that will change eventually, as it already has.
Using internet is a real pain. You have to buy this card at Etecsa for 2 CUC for 1 hour of internet,(and often wait in line for an hour); at a tourist shop if you can find one selling it for about 3 CUC; in a plaza from one of the guys hanging around (first they will ask for 4 CUC, bargain to 3). Or you can buy them from any hotel for 4.50 CUC. Keep in mind the exchange rate is .875 to the dollar in the banks, or about 1:1 for euros. More on currency in another post. You need to log into this site, to use the internet anywhere in Cuba, even if the casa you stay in has Wi-Fi. Mostly, you’ll see people in plazas or near hotels using internet because these are the main places you can access it. It might be hard to get online but moving just a few feet in another direction will give you better coverage. Make sure to log off if you don’t use up your credit, otherwise it will run out.
See photos and links through this link: https://cuba9716.tumblr.com/
For questions about traveling to Cuba, feel free to reach out to us. Here are some more photos of visas, people in the park using Internet, a typical Russian-made Lana used as a taxi, and the arrivals at the airport in Havana.