Thanks to all who have read our posts on 12 Helpful Tips for US Travelers to Cuba (Part One and Part Two). Your individual responses have been great and very positive. There have been a few questions that we’ve been getting asked frequently so we thought we should write a follow-up.
Just to remind you about Havana VIP Tours, we are a leader in customized arts, music, sports and cultural travel to Cuba. Our other project, ARTempoCuba, publishes Cutting Edge Art in Havana, the definitive guide to Cuban contemporary art. We’ve been involved with Cuba for 18 years, employ a full-time staff in Cuba of event and travel planners, and art curators, not to mention our team of drivers and guides, and those in the US split time between Havana and the U.S. So I hope you’ll find that we know what we’re talking about.
1) Can we go to the beach? This is by far the most frequently asked question. The answer if you are an U.S. citizen or permanent resident is no, not unless you’re a marine biologist or a geologist or some other related professional and are going to study the beaches in Cuba for a professional reason. Remember that all general tourism to Cuba by U.S. persons remains prohibited by the U.S. economic embargo under the Helms-Burton Act. U.S. persons may legally travel to Cuba under any one of 12 General License categories granted by the U.S. Department of the Treasury Office of Foreign Asset Control (OFAC). You can check out the OFAC Cuba rules here where you’ll note that lying around on the beach drinking mojitos and smoking Cohibas is not one of the allowed categories. Sorry.
2) What happens if we go to the beach anyway? Look, we get it, you want to enjoy the tropical beaches of Cuba. Unfortunately, it’s actually against U.S. law for Americans to do so. Your Canadian, French, English, German, and Australian allies (just name a few) are all lying around drinking daiquiris on the white sands, but if OFAC determines that you as an American engaged in such non-permitted activities while in Cuba you could be subject to a fine or even jail time.
3) Can I get travel insurance to cover my trip to Cuba? Yes. Allianz Global Assistance offers trip interruption, trip cancellation, and baggage loss protection for travel to Cuba. To get the best rates when ordering your coverage please include our ACCAM code F204678. You must still purchase required Cuban Government travelers’ health insurance which is usually bundled into your trip if you travel through Havana VIP Tours or another agency. If you’re unsure about whether the Cuban health insurance is included in your trip, either ask your travel service provider or just wait until you arrive in Cuba. If you don’t have it, they’ll let you know at Cuban passport control, and send you to a desk where you can buy it right in the arrival area.
4) How much money should I bring? Should I bring it in U.S. Dollars or in Euros? Bring plenty of cash (not credit cards or travelers’ checks). ATM’s and credit cards linked to U.S. financial institutions are still not yet working in Cuba. So bring more cash than you think you could possibly need. It’s better to return home with your unspent cash than to run low on money during your trip and have to curtail your activities. As far as dollars versus euros, there are many “experts” here on the interwebs that correctly point out that Cuba exchanges euros at a better rate than dollars. However, in our experience this is rarely worth the extra effort because you will lose value on the double exchange fees, first from U.S. dollars to euros, and then from euros to Cuban convertible pesos (CUC). On $1,000 U.S. dollars you might net an extra $10-$20 CUC by exchanging into euros before traveling to Cuba.
5) Should I go on a group tour? Some people love organized group tours because they enjoy meeting and traveling with all the other people on the tour. Our typical client doesn’t. A group tour with a bus-load of 30 strangers ain’t for them. Our clients like to travel with a few friends who want to do a customized itinerary that suits they’re interests and travel style. As we said in our previous blog post, the group “People-to-People” bus tours that most U.S. travelers take to Cuba are the most cookie-cutter, generic, shrink-wrapped tours there are. That’s why we at Havana VIP Tours concentrate on arts and cultural tours for couples or groups of friends of two to eight persons. You can see more, do more, and spend less if you stay off the bus tours. We do organize specialized tours for larger VIP groups like an art museum group traveling together, but we don’t organize bus tours where anyone can sign up.
6) Can I DIY my travel plans? Yes, at the risk of costing ourselves business, you can definitely “do-it-yourself” plan your travel to Cuba. You can buy your air tickets from our buddies at CheapAir.com and reserve places to stay on Airbnb. But when it comes to booking your lodgings please be wary of bait-and-switch scams, as we talked about in our post about how to find good lodgings in Cuba. Where an agency like Havana VIP Tours adds value is that we take all the guess-work out of traveling to Cuba. Instead of spending hours pouring through guidebooks and sifting through the mis-information on sites like TripAdvisor, you can rely on our exclusive network and on-the-ground knowledge. We are insiders and design the very best itineraries based on the latest up-to-the-minute information. We put you into the best accommodations, provide you with the best guides, and, as we said in our post about Havana nightlife, because we what’s hot or not, we hook you up for the very best food, drinks, and nightlife. We’ll show you the best of Cuba and take the hassle and uncertainty out of your travel planning.
7) Can I invest in Cuba? Its surprising how often we’re getting this question. Really, this is a very complicated topic because “invest” can mean a lot of different things. Mostly, people mean “Can I buy a house or a bar or restaurant?” as opposed to “Can I invest in agriculture or construction via a Cuban state-owned enterprise?”. The answer is “no” to the former and “maybe” to the latter, and we don’t recommend either.
It’s true there’s a housing boom (or bubble) going on in Havana right now, with some properties selling for over $1 million purchased by foreigners. However, this is very risky. Under Cuban law, only Cuban citizens or foreign permanent residents can legally own homes in Cuba, and likewise only they can apply for the necessary permits to open one of the 180-plus categorized small businesses currently allowed under Cuban law (including restaurants). Under U.S. law, it’s likewise prohibited for Americans to engage in financial transaction in Cuba. Remember, there’s an economic embargo the U.S. has in place against Cuba. Most of the foreigners doing these transactions in Cuba are Europeans or Latin Americans with years or experience in Cuba, many of whom are married to Cuban citizens. But there is no such thing as a Cuban mortgage, no such thing as title insurance, not even such a thing as homeowners insurance in Cuba. As to whether you can invest via a Cuban state-owned enterprise the rules for this are looser on the Cuban side, but still require permission from OFAC on the U.S. side.
Overall, our advice to would-be investors in Cuba is: Hold your horses. Come down here. Several times. Learn for yourself. Then if you still absolutely must do it – be prepared to lose every penny. Not that you absolutely will lose, just have the right risk threshold which is 100%.
Those are our answers to your most frequently asked questions. Please feel free to keep ‘em coming.