Traveling to Cuba? What you need to know

Posted October 14, 2015
Updated October 19, 2015

WRAL's Leyla Santiago and Zac Gooch spent almost two weeks in the island nation exploring the links between Cuba and the United States.

Since President Barack Obama announced in December 2014 that the United States plans to restore full diplomatic relations with Cuba, travelers are beginning to mark their calendars in preparation to visit the Caribbean nation. To help you better plan and prepare for your trip, here are some important things you need to know about traveling to Cuba.

Will I need a Visa if I want to travel to Cuba?

Yes. All travelers to Cuba, including religious workers, should contact the Cuban Embassy in Washington to determine the appropriate type of visa required for their purpose of travel. A valid passport is also required to enter the country.

Is travel to Cuba for tourist activities permitted?

No. Consistent with the Trade Sanctions Reform and Export Enhancement Act of 2000, travel-related transactions involving Cuba are only permitted for the 12 categories of activities including: research, journalistic activity, educational activities, and people-to-people travel.

Can I use my U.S. debit or credit card in Cuba?

Yes. But travelers are advised to check with their bank before traveling to Cuba to determine whether their institution has established the necessary mechanisms for its issued credit or debit cards to be used in Cuba.

Can I use U.S. dollars in Cuba?

No. Since November 2004, the U.S. dollar has not been accepted for commercial transactions. The Cuban government requires the use of convertible Cuban pesos, or non-convertible Cuban pesos for all transactions. You can exchange U.S. dollars to CUC at the airport or hotel, however, there is a minimum 10 percent fee.

Are there spending limits while in Cuba?

No, but travelers cannot return to the U.S. with merchandise exceeding $400 per person, provided that no more than $100 of the merchandise consists of alcohol or tobacco products and the merchandise is imported for personal use only.

Can I buy Cuban made cigars and alcohol while I am in Cuba?

Anyone who is authorized to travel to Cuba may purchase alcohol and tobacco products while in Cuba for personal consumption while there. Travelers may return to the United States with up to $100 worth of alcohol and/or tobacco products acquired in Cuba in accompanied baggage, for personal use only.

Will my cell phone work in Cuba?

Not in most cases. However, Cubacel allows visitors from the United States to rent a SIM card with pre-paid minutes in amounts of CUC 10, 20, or 40 (U.S. $10, $20, or $40), plus a daily rental fee for the SIM card of CUC 3 (U.S. $3) for use in your own phone. You are advised to contact your wireless provider to check whether your phone operates on the compatible standard and request that your carrier unlock your mobile phone.

To make landline phone calls from Cuba, you can buy a pre-paid calling card (available at certain hotels and resorts) for use at public payphones.

In Sept., Verizon Wireless became the first U.S.-based company to offer roaming to Cuba. Customers using a World Device who are traveling to Cuba can opt-in to add the Pay-As-You-Go International Travel option. While in Cuba, voice calls are $2.99 per minute, data is $2.05 per megabyte and standard international messaging rates apply.


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