The Cuba "Travel Card" &
t
hings you should know before visiting Cuba.

 

Before visiting Cuba...

be sure, to get a "Travel Card". The cuban "travel card" is a form of Visa for entering the country. Prior my departure I was asking a couple of friends through facebook, if I still needed one of these "travel cards". Some said no, some said yes, others couldn't tell. 

All I can tell is that airport-officers will check for your "Travel Card" before stepping inside the airplane towards Cuba, at the french airport in Paris "International Airport Charles de Gaulle". The first queue is for checking the "travel card", the second queue will be for your passport. 

A friend of mine who was visiting Cuba in summer 2017 had the chance to buy a "travel card" at the german airline "Lufthansa" office at the airport in Frankfurt. However "AirFrance" is not selling any travel-cards at the airport in France!

So how to get a cuban travel card?

In my case as a Luxembourg-citizen, I would have needed to get to the nearest cuban embassy (in Brussels {Belgium} or Bonn {Germany} - 4 hours driving). I checked out the website of both embassies, but their specific website wasn't working. I sent them an e-mail with my requests, however they never wrote back. 

A friend sent me a flyer with given instructions, how to apply for a "travel card" through postal service through the cuban embassy. They requested a filled out form, a copy of the passport, 2 recent id-photos. After the embassy will have got your letter, they would recontact you to make a wire-transfer of the given amount of money. It didn't sound that convenient. 

Thank God, I found the french website called "NovelaCuba". You fill out an online form on their website, without any photos, and you can pay online through paypal or with your credit-card. I paid 27€ for the tourist card and 7€ for the shipping costs, and I got the card a couple of days later in my mailbox.

You will fill out the card yourself with a pen: your First- & Surname, your passport-number, and the arrival- & departure date of your Cuba-trip. Very easy!

I'm pretty sure they will ship the travel-card all across Europe, maybe worldwide. Check out their website for further informations. 

Just to be sure, get your Travel-Card in advance, to avoid any bad surprises (like being denied into the country). Of course during the flight, the cabin-crew will hand you out another form that you must fill-out.

 

Things you should know before visiting Cuba:

 

  • Besides the travel-card, you will need a certificate of a medical insurance. You'll have to prove that you're insured in case of sickness or accident. Depending on the contract of your credit-card, you might be medically insured if you have paid the flight ticket with your credit-card. I know for my country, most VISA-Gold or VISA-Prestige cards offer you a travel insurance. In my case, I called the customer-service and they e-mailed me the medical certificate for free. Otherwise you'll have to contact your insurance company and tell them about your upcoming trip to Cuba. 
     
  • For years, tourists had to pay a tax as soon as they were leaving Cuba again. You paid that tax (30-50$) at the airport. The government removed the tax, but instead they are asking for a medical insurance (which wasn't required a couple of years ago). 
     
  • I bought 3 paintings/prints/posters in Cuba (total costs: 50€-55us$). After the security check, I was moved to a table, where the customs were checking the rolled painting (all 3 were rolled in a paper-tube). They told me I had to pay 3 CUC for each painting, because they needed to stamp it with a tax. I told them that I didn't carry any more pesos with me, except for some change. So they only charged me 6 CUC for all three. 
     
  • Ask you bank more than once, if your credit-card will work in Cuba. I had the nightmare, that my main VISA-card wasn't working, even though it wasn't issued by a US-bank. If you card isn't working in  Cuba, the only way to get money is exchanging cash or getting money from your family through "Western-Union" (however not on a sunday!). Most of the banks in Cuba are closed in Havana on sundays, the only one where you can withdraw money at, is the famous Hotel "HOTEL NACIONAL DE CUBA". Ask for the CADECA (Casa de Cambio). And  obviously don't forget your passport!
     
  • People in Cuba don't have a fixed internet-line at home. WIFI-spots are available throughout the city on different public wifi-spots called "ETECSA". However you will need to buy a one-hour card for 1 CUC (1 us$). You can buy the cards at the Etecsa-Shops, however there's high-probably gonna be a waiting line of 30 minutes. People in the streets, especially nearby wifi-spots, will sell you the same cards for double the price 2 CUC a card. If you don't want to wait in line, get one in the street. Some hotels offer specific Etecsa-cards which will only work at their hotel. 
     
  • Prior your departure install different apps on your mobile-phone. For example the online-banking app of your bank. Because one of my VISA cards wasn't working, I had to put money on my second VISA card. I could only do the transaction with the iphone-app of my bank. Of course it allows you to check how much money you've already spent on your trip. Very useful!
     
  • No Internet, no wifi, no google-maps! Havana isn't that kind of a big city! However it's easier to get by with a map. Download the app "maps.me" (green icon) and download the offline-map-data at home for Cuba. So in case you get lost, or are looking for an ATM, or just any street... you will be glad that your phone can help you with the guidance.
     
  • Don't expect the best Mojitos or Cuba-Libres in Cuba! Cuban people are poor! They mostly use the cheapest rum & cheapest sugar (if they don't used a pre-made mix of lime and sugar) for your cocktails. The ice they use isn't the same quality as the ice we are used to in our cocktails. Don't blame it on the cubans! They are doing the best they can, to make you a good cocktail. However I gotta admit, that I make better Mojitos at home, than 95% of all those that I had drunk during my cuban holidays. Actually that was one of the things I like about the cuban culture, they keep everything very simple, the food, the drinks, their way of life. Almost nothing is fancy in Cuba.
     
  • Don't get overdressed ! There are barely no fancy places. If you're going to a very fancy hotel for a drink, obviously it will be packed with only tourists. Be nicely dressed if you feel like it, but don't over-dress, period. Most of the cubanas walk around in flip-flops at night. Feel like on holidays, dress like on holidays.
     
  • Obviously you will need a plug-adapter for your electronic devices. Bring two! I stayed at one hotel and two different "casa particular". I forgot my adapter in the first casa, when moving to the second. Finding a plug-adapter in Havana, or telling cuban people what a plug-adapter is (in english), is an impossible task. Luckily I found one at the "LEICA" photo-shop next to the "parque central". Without adapter you can't charge your phone, you can't make online bank-tranfers in case of an emergency. 
     
  • Don't buy cigars on the streets! I was told the same, and still I bought some on the streets. Later I bought 2 "Cohiba" cigars at the factory, and I could instantly distinct the original cigar from the fake one. Don't buy cigars in the streets!
     
  • If you want to get in touch with cuban people, don't hesitate to spend a couple of pesos. On your trip cubans would love to be invited for a cocktail (2-4$) or a beer (1$). You can spend an hour with some cubans, and share a couple of beers with them. They will tell you about their life, their culture, their history, their government. I have to admit it's not easy to differ from "good people" and "bad people". You won't bump into really mean people in Cuba... so don't worry about that. You will share some drinks or food with some "random" cubans, but you will also make new friends, the "good ones". The "good ones" usually won't ask you for further money, if they do it's gonna be for 1 CUC. I spent many drinks for different cubans, however I really don't regret it, because they brought me to places I would have never found as a solo-traveler in a foreign country. Some of them offered me a drink afterwards, or just made me a small present for showing some gratitude.
     
  • Cuba is very safe! At least that's what I felt in the capital of Havana. I definitely felt as safe as in Japan. People just wouldn't believe me but it's true. Check out some of my blog-posts about my experiences with "safety-issues" in Cuba.

 

Now ... go out and enjoy the beautiful country of Cuba!

Happy holidays.

Frank.