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Cuba

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Summary

  • Exercise normal safety precautions in Cuba. Use common sense. Look out for suspicious behaviour. Monitor the media and other sources of information for changes to local conditions.
  • You could face problems accessing funds in Cuba. Credit cards, debit cards and travellers cheques aren't accepted if they're issued by US banks or Australian banks affiliated with US banks. This includes all American Express and Westpac Bank cards and some Visa and MasterCard cards, depending on the issuing bank. See Entry and exit.
  • Foreigners without access to funds have been detained and deported by local authorities. Have a variety of ways to access your money. Take an emergency supply of cash, including enough to leave Cuba if your bank cards don't work. See Entry and exit.
  • Driving in Cuba can be dangerous. If you're involved in an accident, you're likely to be detained, regardless of who is at fault. You could be prevented from leaving Cuba until the case is resolved. See Local travel
  • Hurricane season is June to November. Landslides, mudslides, flooding and disruptions to essential services can occur. Follow the instructions of local authorities. See Natural disasters.
  • If you're travelling to Cuba during hurricane season, contact your travel provider to check whether tourist services at your planned destination have been affected. See Natural disasters.
  • Australia doesn't have an Embassy or Consulate in Cuba. The Embassy of Canada in Havana provides consular assistance to Australians in Cuba. This service includes the issuance of Provisional Travel Documents. The Australian Embassy in Mexico can also assist Australians in Cuba.
  • Access to the internet and email is restricted by government regulations. Speak to your service provider about phone access as many Australian phones, even with global roaming, don’t work in Cuba.

Entry and exit

Every country or territory decides who can enter or exit through its borders. The Australian Government cannot intervene on your behalf if you do not meet your destination’s entry or exit requirements.

Visas

You'll need a visa to enter Cuba.

If your visit is for tourism, you can get a 'tourist card', through your travel agent or airline, or through an Embassy or Consulate of Cuba.  The 'tourist card' includes a tourist visa.

In other circumstances, you'll need to apply for your visa through an Embassy or Consulate of Cuba.

Visa and other entry and exit conditions (such as currency, customs and quarantine regulations) change regularly. Contact an Embassy or Consulate of Cuba for up-to-date information.

Other formalities

You must present proof of comprehensive travel insurance to enter Cuba. Travellers who plan to participate in high-risk sports or sporting competitions and travellers of 70 years of age and older are required to purchase additional insurance from Asistur, the Cuban insurance provider.

The list of duty free items that you can take into Cuba is limited. If customs authorities consider that any item is not personal use, they can seize it. Items that draw heavily on electricity and equipment using satellite technology, can also be confiscated. More information: General Customs of the Republic of Cuba

Contact the nearest Embassy or Consulate of Cuba for up-to-date information on official requirements for minors travelling without their parents.

A departure tax applies and is included in the cost of your airline ticket.

Travelling to and from Cuba through the United States

If you’re travelling from the US to Cuba, see our US travel advice for entry conditions.

Australians can travel from Cuba to the USA under the US Visa Waiver Program or with a valid visa.

More information: USA

Travelling to and from Cuba through Canada

If you transit or travel via Canada, you'll need an eTA (electronic Travel Authorisation) for Canada.

More information: Canada

Passport

Make sure your passport is valid for at least six months after the date you intend to return to Australia.

Your passport is a valuable document and attractive to criminals who may try to use your identity to commit crimes. Always keep it in a safe place.

Be aware of attempts to obtain access to your passport by deception. If you are forced to hand over your passport, contact an Australian Embassy, High Commission or Consulate for advice.

If your passport is lost or stolen, you must notify the Australian Government as soon as possible.

Money

Cuba has two official currencies: the Cuban Convertible Peso (CUC) and the National Peso (moneda nacional or MN). Foreigners will always use CUC. The MN is worth substantially less than the CUC. It's illegal to remove CUC bills from Cuba.

Australian Dollars can't be exchanged in Cuba. The US Dollar attracts a large commission fee to exchange.

Australian travellers often experience problems accessing funds due to unique banking arrangements in Cuba. Credit cards, debit cards and travellers cheques aren't accepted in Cuba if they're issued by US banks or Australian banks affiliated with US banks. This includes all American Express and Westpac Bank cards, and some Visa and MasterCard cards, depending on the issuing bank. Before you travel, check with your bank whether your cards will work in Cuba.

International money transfer agencies such as Western Union aren't available to Australians in Cuba. A local company, Asistur SA, can provide similar services, but not on weekends, and the services take a number of days. Australians caught without money in Cuba can seek to have funds transferred to them via Asistur SA.

ATMs are limited outside Havana.

In the past, tourists without access to funds have been detained and deported from Cuba.

  • Don't rely on one source of funds.
  • Make sure you have a variety of ways of accessing your money such as cash, debit or credit cards from various non-US banks and travellers cheques issued by non-US banks.
  • Take an emergency supply of cash, including enough to leave Cuba if your bank cards don't work.

Safety and security

Crime

Violent crime, including assault, sexual assault and robbery, has occurred against foreigners in Cuba.

Pickpocketing, bag snatching and other petty crime occurs, particularly on public transport, intercity buses and at major tourist areas such as in Old Havana, El Centro, Vedado and the Malecon, and on the beaches of Playa del Este, Varadero and Santiago de Cuba.

Thefts from hotel and guesthouse accommodation occur. Theft of items from checked baggage at Cuban airports has occurred, including during security screening.

Criminals posing as tour agents or taxi drivers operate at the airport and in Havana.

Car-related crime is increasing. A common ploy used by thieves is to slash car tyres and then assist in repairs, while an accomplice steals from the vehicle. Thieves who pose as hitchhikers are also common.

  • Carry only what you need. Leave other valuables in a secure location.
  • Don't tempt thieves – avoid displaying expensive watches, jewellery, phones and cameras.
  • Don't place jewellery, cameras, electronics and other valuable items in your checked luggage – carry valuables securely on your person or in your carry-on baggage.
  • Only use established tour operators and registered taxis.
  • Pay close attention to your belongings, especially on public transport and in tourist areas.
  • Keep vehicles doors locked, windows up and valuables out of sight at all times, including when moving.
  • Don't pick up hitch hikers.
  • Be wary of people who offer to assist if your car is damaged.
  • If you're a victim of crime or theft, make sure you get a written police report (Comprobante de Denuncia) from the Cuban police (Policia Nacional) before you leave Cuba.

Terrorism

Terrorism is a threat throughout the world. More information: Terrorist threat worldwide

Local travel

Road travel

Driving in Cuba can be dangerous, particularly at night. Hazards include inadequate street signs and lighting, poorly maintained roads and vehicles, and pedestrians, farm animals, bicycles and unlit carts on roads.

If you're involved in an accident, you're likely to be detained, regardless of who is at fault. You may be prevented from leaving Cuba until the case is resolved.

  • Check you have adequate insurance cover before driving.
  • Familiarise yourself with local traffic laws and practices before driving.
  • Be alert to possible hazards, especially if you need to travel at night.

More information: Road travel

Driver's licence

You can drive in Cuba with a valid Australian driver's licence and an International Driving Permit (IDP). You must obtain your IDP before departing Australia.

To rent a motor vehicle you must be at least 21 years old.

Motorcycles

Check with your travel insurer whether your policy covers you when using a motorcycle, quad bike or similar vehicle. Your policy may not cover you for accidents that occur while using these vehicles. Wear, and ensure your passenger wears, a correctly fastened and approved helmet.

Taxis

Criminals posing as drivers operate at the airport and in Havana. Mopeds and three-wheel 'Coco-taxis' are particularly dangerous.

  • Only use registered taxis. Avoid unlicensed private taxis.
  • Don't use mopeds or three-wheel 'Coco-taxis'.

Public transport

Avoid public transport as many vehicles are poorly maintained.

Air travel

The Australian Government doesn't provide information on the safety of individual commercial airlines or flight paths. See the Aviation Safety Network website for information on aviation safety in Cuba. More information: Air travel

Laws

You're subject to all local laws and penalties, including those that appear harsh by Australian standards. Research laws before travelling, especially for an extended stay.

If you're arrested or jailed, the Australian Government will do what it can to help you under our Consular Services Charter. But we can't get you out of trouble or out of jail.

Drug laws

Penalties for drug offences are severe and include lengthy prison sentences in local jails. More information: Drugs

Other laws

You must carry photo identification at all times in Cuba. You can be detained if you're found without identification. Contact the Embassy of Canada in Havana if you lose your Australian passport or other identification documents. 

Serious crimes, such as espionage and mass murder, can attract the death penalty. Under the Cuban judicial system, charges aren't laid until the investigation is complete. The accused can be jailed for the entire period of the investigation.

Activities that are illegal in Cuba include:

  • drink driving
  • engaging in black market activities
  • photographing military or police installations, harbours, rail or airport facilities.

Seek local legal advice before preaching a religion or importing religious material - doing so may be illegal.

Australian laws

Some Australian criminal laws apply overseas. If you commit these offences, you may be prosecuted in Australia. Laws include those relating to:

  • bribery of foreign public officials
  • child pornography
  • child sex tourism
  • female genital mutilation
  • forced marriage
  • money laundering
  • terrorism.

More information: Staying within the law

Dual nationals

Cuba doesn't recognise dual nationality. This may limit the ability of the Australian Government to provide you consular assistance if you're an Australian-Cuban dual national and you're arrested or detained.

Australian-Cuban dual nationals must enter Cuba on a valid Cuban passport, but will be required to show their Australian passports on departure from Cuba. Dual nationals may need to seek permission to enter Cuba. If you're a dual national, check your obligations with an Embassy or Consulate of Cuba before you travel.

More information: Dual nationals

Health

Physical and mental health

Consider your physical and mental health before travelling, especially if you have an existing medical condition.

  • At least eight weeks before you depart, see your doctor or travel clinic for a basic health check-up, and to discuss your travel plans and implications for your health.
  • Get vaccinated before you travel.

More information:

Medication

Not all medications available over the counter or by prescription in Australia are available in other countries. Some may be illegal or a controlled substance, even if prescribed by an Australian doctor.

Before you leave Australia, check if your medication is legal in each country you're travelling to and find out if any quantity restrictions or certification requirements apply. Consult your doctor about alternatives well in advance of travel

Many pharmaceutical products are in short supply or unavailable in Cuba. Take enough legal prescription medicine with you to last for the duration of your stay so you remain in good health. All medication brought into Cuba must be in its original container and have a clear label. Carry copies of your prescription and a dated letter from your doctor stating the generic name of the medicine, how much you'll take and that it's for personal use only.

More information:

Health risks

Mosquito-borne illnesses

Outbreaks of the mosquito-borne illnesses dengue fever and Chikungunya are common, particularly during the wet season (April to November). There is limited transmission of Zika virus in Cuba. The Australian Department of Health advises pregnant women to discuss travel plans with their doctor and consider deferring non-essential travel to affected areas.

Protect yourself against insect-borne diseases:

  • ensure your accommodation is insect proof
  • take measures to avoid insect bites, including using insect repellent and wearing long, loose fitting, light coloured clothing
  • seek medical advice if you have a fever, muscle pain, rash or severe headache.

Other infectious diseases

Water-borne, food-borne and other infectious diseases (including typhoid, hepatitis, meningitis, leptospirosis, viral meningitis, conjunctivitis and rabies) are prevalent. More serious outbreaks occur from time-to-time. Outbreaks of cholera are seasonal and common. 

  • Use good hygiene practices including frequent handwashing.
  • Boil drinking water or drink bottled water with intact seals.
  • Avoid ice cubes.
  • Avoid raw and undercooked food.
  • Seek medical advice if you have a fever or are suffering from diarrhoea.

Medical facilities

The standard of public medical facilities is basic in Havana and very limited in smaller towns and rural areas. Private medical facilities are available and well equipped, but the Cira Garcia Hospital is the only private hospital available to tourists in Havana. Servimed clinics can provide emergency medical care in the major tourist areas.

Doctors and hospitals require cash payment prior to providing treatment.

If you become seriously ill or injured, you may need to be evacuated a destination with appropriate facilities. Medical evacuation can be very expensive.

Natural disasters

Cuba can experience hurricanes, severe storms, earthquakes and tsunamis.

If a natural disaster occurs:

  • secure your passport in a safe, waterproof location or carry it on you at all times (in a waterproof bag).
  • closely monitor local media and other sources such as the Global Disaster Alert and Coordination System and Caribbean Disaster Emergency Response Agency.
  • follow the advice of local emergency officials.
  • contact friends and family in Australia with regular updates about your welfare and whereabouts.
  • seek local advice before entering affected areas.

If you're travelling to Cuba during hurricane season or following a natural disaster, monitor weather reports and contact your tour operator to check whether tourist services at your planned destination have been affected. Contact your airline for the latest flight information. 

Hurricanes and severe weather

The hurricane season is June to November, when landslides, mudslides and flooding occur. The direction and strength of hurricanes can change with little warning.

If there is a hurricane or severe storm, you may not be able to leave the area: flights in and out of affected areas could be delayed or suspended, and available flights may fill quickly. Access to sea ports could also be affected. Roads may be blocked. Power, communication systems, emergency and medical care, food, fuel and water supplies, and other essential services could be affected. In some areas, adequate shelter from a hurricane may not be available for all those who stay.

If a hurricane is approaching, follow the advice for all natural disasters above and:

  • make sure you know your hotel or cruise ship evacuation plans
  • identify your local shelter
  • closely monitor alerts and advice from the U.S. National Hurricane Center and local authorities

More information: Severe weather

Earthquakes and tsunamis 

Cuba is located in an active earthquake zone and is susceptible to tsunamis. Familiarise yourself with earthquake safety measures for each place you stay and visit.

To receive tsunami alerts, register with the Global Disaster Alert and Co-ordination System.

Move immediately to high ground if advised by local or regional authorities or if you experience any of the following:

  • feel a strong earthquake that makes it hard to stand up, or a weak rolling earthquake that lasts a minute or more
  • see a sudden rise or fall in sea level
  • hear loud and unusual noises from the sea 

Do not wait for official warnings. Once on high ground, monitor local media.

More information: 

Where to get help

Depending on what you need, your best option may be to first contact your family, friends, airline, travel agent, tour operator, employer or travel insurer. Your travel insurer should have a 24-hour emergency number.

Emergency phone numbers

  • Fire: 105
  • Ambulance: 104
  • Police: 106

Always get a police report when reporting a crime.

Tourism products and services

To complain about tourism services, contact the service provider directly.

Australian Government

The Consular Services Charter explains what the Australian Government can and can't do to assist Australians overseas.

Australia doesn't have an Embassy in Cuba. The Embassy of Canada in Havana, provides consular assistance to Australians in Cuba and can issue Australian Provisional Travel Documents. You can also get consular assistance from the Australian Embassy in Mexico.

Canadian Embassy, Havana

Calle 30 No.518 (esq. 7ma)
Miramar (Playa)
Ciudad de la Habana, Cub
Telephone: +53 7 204 2516
Fax: +53 7 204 7097
Email: havan@international.gc.ca
Website: canadainternational.gc.ca/cuba

Australian Embassy, Mexico City

Ruben Dario 55, Polanco
Colonia Bosques de Chapultepec, CP
11580 Mexico D.F. Mexico
Telephone: +52 55 1101 2200
Fax: +52 55 1101 2201
Email: consularpassports.mexico@dfat.gov.au
Website: mexico.embassy.gov.au

Check the Embassy website for information about opening hours and temporary closures that may affect service provision. 

If you're unable to contact one of the above embassies in a consular emergency, contact the 24-hour Consular Emergency Centre on +61 2 6261 3305, or 1300 555 135 within Australia.

Additional information