Cuba travel guide
Immaculate beaches and verdant hills, wildlife-rich rainforests and tumbling waterfalls, imposing mountain ranges and vibrant cities, all wrapped in defiantly Revolutionary politics; the island of Cuba can rightfully claim to be one of the most singular destinations on the planet.
The largest and most populous island in the Caribbean, Cuba's 1959 socialist revolution and the subsequent US trade embargo has frozen the island in time; vintage American cars still roar through the ramshackle streets of its cities, while horses and carts clatter through the countryside.
The capital, Havana, serves up a heady mix of dilapidation and debauchery. It is a city where beautifully restored colonial buildings rub shoulders with the rundown tenements of regular Cubans. The contrasts can be stark, but Havana’s ubiquitous salsa rhythms, uninhibited dancing and potent cocktails galvanise the city and make for an enthralling urban experience unlike any other.
Cuba’s other cities are experiences in themselves. Santiago de Cuba is a veritable melting pot of Afro-Caribbean cultures, where pastel covered buildings meet grand cathedrals. And then there’s Trinidad, which offers a snapshot of a bygone era with its cobblestone streets, faded colonial façades and charming courtyards.
Delightful though these cities are, for many visitors Cuba’s greatest allure is its beaches. Christopher Columbus described the sandy coast of Guardalavaca as “the most beautiful land I have ever seen,” and you can see why he was so taken – the improbably white sands and warm turquoise waters are exquisite. Others prefer to head inland and gaze upon the verdant, limestone peaks of Viñales, where Cuba’s famous tobacco is cultivated.
As Cuba slowly opens up to the West, modern resorts have become increasingly common, but the most rewarding stays are in casa particulares. These private homestays offer a true insight into everyday Cuban life, which you won’t get in a hotel.
Though travelling around Cuba can be challenging, the country’s affable climate, captivating history, beautiful beaches, swinging salsa rhythms and ubiquitous mojitos are fair compensation indeed.
110,860 sq km (42,803 sq miles).
11,392,889 (UN estimate 2016).
99.5 per sq km.
President Miguel Díaz-Canel since 2018.
Manuel Marrero since 2019.
Last updated: 26 November 2019
The travel advice summary below is provided by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office in the UK. 'We' refers to the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. For their full travel advice, visit www.gov.uk/foreign-travel-advice.
The hurricane season in Cuba normally runs from June to November. You should monitor weather updates and track the progress of approaching storms.
The Cuban Government has announced that it is taking measures to manage electricity and fuel supplies in the coming days and weeks in view of limited stocks and deliveries of oil in September. Government measures include prioritising supplies for essential services. The Government has said there will be notice of any planned power cuts. Transport services, including trains and buses, are being reduced. Tour operators, hotels and owners of casas particulares will be aware if their services are to be affected.
You must take out comprehensive travel and medical insurance before you travel. You will be expected to present your insurance policy on arrival in the country.
Crime levels are low and mainly in the form of opportunistic theft.
Be cautious when travelling in Cuba. Driving standards are variable.
UK health authorities have classified Cuba as having a risk of dengue, and Zika virus transmission. For more information and advice, visit the website of the National Travel Health Network and Centre website. You should take steps to avoid being bitten by mosquitoes.
Although there’s no recent history of terrorism in Cuba, attacks can’t be ruled out.
Most visits to Cuba are trouble free.
If you’re abroad and you need emergency help from the UK government, contact the nearest British embassy, consulate or high commission.
Safety and security
To reduce the risk of theft from luggage during baggage handling, both on arrival and departure, remove all valuables, lock suitcases and if possible have them shrink-wrapped before check-in.
There are a small number of bogus tour agents and taxi drivers operating at the airports and around Old Havana. Don’t travel with anyone other than your tour operator. If you need to take a taxi, make sure it’s a registered one and not a private vehicle.
Car-related crime and muggings occur from time to time, not only in Havana but also in Santiago de Cuba and other areas. Take care in central Havana at night. Use a taxi rather than walk, even if you’re only a few blocks away from your destination. There have been attacks on foreigners in hire cars after their tyres have been deliberately punctured. If you get a puncture in a remote area, drive on to a town before stopping. Don’t stop for hitch-hikers as they’ve also been known to carry out attacks.
Beware of pickpockets and bag-snatchers, especially in Old Havana, on public transport, at major tourist sites and in nightclubs. Don’t carry large amounts of cash, avoid wearing expensive jewellery and leave valuables in the hotel safe. Carry a copy of your passport and lock the original away. Beware of thefts from rooms, particularly in private guest houses (‘casas particulares’). Hi-tech items like phones and laptops are highly sought after in Cuba and are particularly attractive to thieves
You can drive in Cuba using a valid UK driving licence for up to 6 months from the date of your entry into the country. Foreign residents, both permanent and temporary, who stay in Cuba for more than 6 months will need to pass a Cuban Driving test so they can get a Cuban Licence and submit a letter from the Embassy involved stating that it is a valid document. If you rent a car make sure the insurance includes local third party cover.
Whilst valid foreign driving licences are generally accepted, it may be advisable to obtain an International Driving Permit (IDP). From 28 March 2019, you will need to have a 1968 International Driving Permit (IDP), as 1949 IDPs previously issued by the UK may no longer be accepted for use after this date.
From 1 February 2019, you can only get IDPs over the counter from 2,500 UK Post Offices. You will not be able to buy an IDP outside the UK, so get one before you travel.
All drivers and passengers of motorcycles and scooters are required by law to wear a crash helmet. In view of serious accidents that have involved tourists, you should not use mopeds or three wheel Coco-Taxis for travel around Cuba.
Driving standards are variable. Many vehicles, including public transport, are badly maintained. Roads are poorly lit and sign-posted. Beware of cyclists, potholes and cars that stop without warning to pick up hitch-hikers. Vehicles that break down are often left on the road until repairs can be made. Avoid driving at night, when animals and unlit vehicles are a real danger.
Don’t drink and drive.
If you’re involved in a serious traffic accident the police investigation may take several months to resolve. During this time you will normally not be allowed to leave Cuba and may even be detained. If convicted of killing someone in a road traffic accident, you can expect to receive a very lengthy prison sentence. If you do have a serious accident, contact the British Embassy as soon as possible.
Radio taxis are generally reliable. Avoid private taxis and the older model private cars being offered as taxis which lack proper licensing and modern safety features.
There are concerns about standards of maintenance of public transport. The FCO can’t offer advice on the safety of individual airlines. However, the International Air Transport Association publishes a list of registered airlines that have been audited and found to meet a number of operational safety standards and recommended practices. This list is not exhaustive and the absence of an airline from this list doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s unsafe.
In 2008 the International Civil Aviation Organisation carried out an audit of the level of implementation of the critical elements of safety oversight in Cuba.
You can find a list of recent incidents and accidents on the website of the Aviation Safety network
Safety concerns have been raised about INSEL Air. The US and Netherlands authorities have prohibited their staff from using the airline while safety checks are being carried out. UK government officials have been told to do the same as a precaution.
Cuba is a one-party state. There is a high level of social control and a strong police presence. There are widespread restrictions on freedom of speech, association and assembly for Cuban nationals. Political demonstrations or gatherings not sanctioned by the government may be broken up. You should avoid demonstrations or large public gatherings.
Although there’s no recent history of terrorism in Cuba, attacks can’t be ruled out.
There’s a heightened threat of terrorist attack globally against UK interests and British nationals, from groups or individuals motivated by the conflict in Iraq and Syria. You should be vigilant at this time.
Local laws and customs
Cuba has strict regulations governing the export of antiques and artworks. You should obtain and keep the receipt for anything you purchase as it may be requested by Customs on departure. Some art and antiques need an export permit from the Country Heritage Office (known as Bienes Culturales). It is advisable to ask the vendor if it is needed and they have the required permit for the item you are buying.
Professional photographers may need an import permit for their photography equipment, as well as the appropriate visa. The policy on importation of drones is under review and, for the time being, Cuban Customs advises visitors not to bring drones. They may be confiscated on arrival and returned on departure; these procedures may take some time.
Cuba has strict laws on unauthorised professional photography, and on taking unauthorised images of children, young people or women.
Cuba has strict laws on the use, possession or trafficking of illegal drugs. Cuban courts are handing out severe penalties for those convicted of drugs-related offences. Pack all luggage yourself and don’t carry items for anyone else.
Cuba prohibits the import of all meat products and fruit. If you arrive in Cuba with any meat or fruit, it will be confiscated and destroyed.
Avoid military zones and other restricted areas. Be particularly careful when taking photographs or videos in these areas, which are not always clearly signposted.
The Cuban authorities take a serious view of any breach of their immigration rules. In some cases those who overstay are detained by the immigration authorities on departure and detained while investigations into their activities are carried out.
Homosexuality is legal in Cuba, but there are few places where gay people can socialise openly. Same-sex couples - particularly if one partner is Cuban - should be careful about public displays of affection, which can lead to unwelcome attention from the police and local authorities. See our information and advice page for the LGBT community before you travel.
The information on this page covers the most common types of travel and reflects the UK government’s understanding of the rules currently in place. Unless otherwise stated, this information is for travellers using a full ‘British Citizen’ passport.
The authorities in the country or territory you’re travelling to are responsible for setting and enforcing the rules for entry. If you’re unclear about any aspect of the entry requirements, or you need further reassurance, you’ll need to contact the embassy, high commission or consulate of the country or territory you’re travelling to.
You should also consider checking with your transport provider or travel company to make sure your passport and other travel documents meet their requirements.
Make sure you get the right visa for your visit. As well as tourist visas, there are other visa categories for different types of travellers.
If you’re entering Cuba as a tourist, you’ll need to get a tourist card before you travel.
For more information and advice about visas, contact the Cuban Embassy.
If you’re a dual national, you should contact the Cuban Embassy for advice on entry requirements before you travel.
Your passport should be valid for the proposed duration of your stay. No additional period of validity beyond this is required.
Health screening at entry ports
The Cuban authorities have strengthened their health screening at entry ports. If you show symptoms of a temperature or infectious disease like Zika; or have come in contact with a suspected carrier of the disease, you may be subjected to a medical examination. In some cases you may be referred for medical observation for up to 10 days.
There’s a mandatory airport tax of 25 Cuban convertible pesos (CUCs). This fee should be included in the cost of your airline ticket. If in doubt, check with your airline.
Some electrical items with heavy power consumption may be confiscated on entry to Cuba. Global Positioning Systems (GPS) are also subject to import requirements and may be confiscated. Confiscated items are normally returned on departure.
Mobile telephones, tablets and laptops can be taken to Cuba, but any inbuilt GPS should be disconnected or disabled. For more information on Cuban customs regulations, including a list of prohibited and regulated items, visit the Cuban Customs Administration website.
Travelling to Cuba from the USA
Travelling for tourism reasons directly from the USA to Cuba isn’t allowed under US law. The law applies to US nationals and all foreign nationals who are either resident in the USA, or travelling through the USA en route to Cuba. Those travelling on direct flights between the UK and Cuba, or via other countries excluding the USA, are unaffected by this US legislation.
Under certain conditions, travel is permitted from the USA to Cuba, including on the direct flights which operate between the two countries. Everybody travelling on these routes (both US citizens and foreign nationals) will need to comply with US law and travel for one of 12 permitted reasons/categories of travel. Tourism isn’t one of these 12 permitted reasons/categories. For more information see the US Department of the Treasury website and the US State Department’s travel advice for Cuba. For travel-specific questions, see the Code of Federal Regulations 31 C.F.R. 515.560 and the US Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) frequently asked questions.
Yellow fever certificate requirements
Check whether you need a yellow fever certificate by visiting the National Travel Health Network and Centre’s TravelHealthPro website
UK Emergency Travel Documents
UK Emergency Travel Documents are accepted for entry, airside transit and exit from Cuba.
At least 8 weeks before your trip, check the latest country-specific health advice from the National Travel Health Network and Centre (NaTHNaC) on the TravelHealthPro website. Each country-specific page has information on vaccine recommendations, any current health risks or outbreaks, and factsheets with information on staying healthy abroad. Guidance is also available from NHS (Scotland) on the FitForTravel website.
General information on travel vaccinations and a travel health checklist are available on the NHS website. You may then wish to contact your health adviser or pharmacy for advice on other preventive measures and managing any pre-existing medical conditions while you’re abroad.
The legal status and regulation of some medicines prescribed or purchased in the UK can be different in other countries. If you’re travelling with prescription or over-the-counter medicine, read this guidance from NaTHNaC on best practice when travelling with medicines. Many medicines are unavailable in Cuba. You should bring a sufficient supply of any prescription drugs you take regularly. A copy of the prescription and a letter from your doctor explaining your condition, treatment, medication and dosage may be helpful at customs.
While travel can be enjoyable, it can sometimes be challenging. There are clear links between mental and physical health, so looking after yourself during travel and when abroad is important. Information on travelling with mental health conditions is available in our guidance page. Further information is also available from the National Travel Health Network and Centre (NaTHNaC).
UK health authorities have classified Cuba as having a risk of dengue, and Zika virus transmission. For more information and advice, visit the website of the National Travel Health Network and Centre website.
To control the spread of mosquito-borne diseases, the Cuban authorities are carrying out chemical fumigation measures across the island. The chemicals used may cause some discomfort if you come into contact with them.
Medical facilities in Havana are better than elsewhere in Cuba, but you may need to be medically evacuated if you need specialist care. This can be very expensive. If you need medical treatment you - or your insurance company - will be expected to pay in hard currency before your departure. A basic hospital stay can cost as much as £200 per day plus medical expenses. Psychiatric care facilities for foreigners are extremely limited and difficult to access. Make sure you have adequate travel health insurance and accessible funds to cover the cost of any medical treatment abroad and repatriation.
Cases of cholera were reported in parts of the country in 2015.
If you need emergency medical assistance during your trip, the emergency number (for ambulance) is 104. You can also contact one of the International clinics located in the majority of tourist areas across the island. Your hotel or casa particular will be able to tell you where it is. In Havana, the Cira Garcia Clinic - Calle 20 No 4101 y Avenida 41, Playa on tel: 204 2811 (+ Ext 445 to request an ambulance) - offers such facilities to foreign nationals. You should contact your insurance/medical assistance company promptly if you are referred to a medical facility for treatment.
The hurricane season in Cuba normally runs from June to November. You should monitor the progress of storms on the National Hurricane Centre website, follow local weather advisories and contact your travel company, cruise operator or local tour representative to check for any changes to travel arrangements. See our Tropical Cyclones page for advice on what to do if you are caught up in a storm.
The hurricane season in the Caribbean frequently coincides with heavy rains, which may cause flash floods and landslides. In the aftermath of a hurricane in Cuba, power, communications and water supplies can be disrupted. Even in holiday resorts, utility services can’t be guaranteed. In the event of extreme weather conditions flights to and from Cuba may be delayed or cancelled.
Cuba is located in an active earthquake zone. Strong earthquakes occur infrequently and most seismic events pass unnoticed. If a natural disaster occurs, follow the advice of the local authorities.
To learn more about what to do before, during and after an earthquake, see this advice from the US Federal Emergency Management Agency.
Cuba operates a dual currency system. Visitors usually use the Cuban Convertible Peso (CUC), whereas locals use the Cuban Peso (CUP). The CUP is worth much less than the CUC; check transaction sums carefully. US dollars aren’t accepted as legal tender; you’ll be charged 10% commission to exchange them.
Check with your bank before you travel to confirm that your debit, credit and ATM cards will work in Cuba. If your bank can’t confirm this then you should bring sterling or euros in cash, or travellers cheques. Bank notes should be in good condition with no tears, rips or markings. American Express travellers cheques aren’t accepted in Cuba.
Travellers cheques and credit cards drawn on American banks aren’t widely accepted. There are virtually no ATMs available for drawing cash against Cirrus or Switch cards. Scottish and Northern Irish bank notes can’t be exchanged. Credit card transactions, including withdrawals from ATMs, are subject to local commission charges of approximately 3% in addition to your bank transaction charges.
Don’t change money anywhere other than at Cadeca exchange houses, large hotels or banks, due to the prevalence of forged currency. Always check transactions carefully. Where possible ask for small denomination bills. Ignore individuals offering exchange facilities to avoid queues.
Travel advice help and support
If you’re abroad and you need emergency help from the UK government, contact the nearest British embassy, consulate or high commission. If you need urgent help because something has happened to a friend or relative abroad, contact the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) in London on 020 7008 1500 (24 hours).
Foreign travel checklist
Read our foreign travel checklist to help you plan for your trip abroad and stay safe while you’re there.
The FCO travel advice helps you make your own decisions about foreign travel. Your safety is our main concern, but we can’t provide tailored advice for individual trips. If you’re concerned about whether or not it’s safe for you to travel, you should read the travel advice for the country or territory you’re travelling to, together with information from other sources you’ve identified, before making your own decision on whether to travel. Only you can decide whether it’s safe for you to travel.
When we judge the level of risk to British nationals in a particular place has become unacceptably high, we’ll state on the travel advice page for that country or territory that we advise against all or all but essential travel. Read more about how the FCO assesses and categorises risk in foreign travel advice.
Our crisis overseas page suggests additional things you can do before and during foreign travel to help you stay safe.
Refunds and cancellations
If you wish to cancel or change a holiday that you’ve booked, you should contact your travel company. The question of refunds and cancellations is a matter for you and your travel company. Travel companies make their own decisions about whether or not to offer customers a refund. Many of them use our travel advice to help them reach these decisions, but we do not instruct travel companies on when they can or can’t offer a refund to their customers.
For more information about your rights if you wish to cancel a holiday, visit the Citizen’s Advice Bureau website. For help resolving problems with a flight booking, visit the website of the Civil Aviation Authority. For questions about travel insurance, contact your insurance provider and if you’re not happy with their response, you can complain to the Financial Ombudsman Service.
Registering your travel details with us
We’re no longer asking people to register with us before travel. Our foreign travel checklist and crisis overseas page suggest things you can do before and during foreign travel to plan your trip and stay safe.
Previous versions of FCO travel advice
If you’re a British national and you have a question about travelling abroad that isn’t covered in our foreign travel advice or elsewhere on GOV.UK, you can submit an enquiry. We’re not able to provide tailored advice for specific trips.
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