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Cuba

If you’re travelling to Cuba, our travel advice and updates give you practical tips and useful information.

Get travel and medical insurance

Before travelling to Cuba, you must have comprehensive travel insurance that will cover all overseas medical costs, including medical evacuation for the full duration of your stay. Remember to read the small print in your policy and make sure it covers everything you’re planning to do.

As comprehensive travel insurance is a requirement in Cuba you will have to present a copy of your insurance on arrival there. In exceptional cases you can get a policy from Cuban insurance companies at your port of entry. For more information, visit the Cuban Foreign Ministry’s (Spanish language) website.

Remember, we can’t pay for any emergency expenses you may incur on your trip so travel insurance may save you a lot of money if things go wrong.

Overview

Security status

Irish citizens in Cuba should exercise a high degree of caution.

Latest Alert

Extreme Weather in the Caribbean Region

The Atlantic hurricane season generally runs from June to November each year and can also affect the eastern and southern USA with heavy rain, flooding and extremely high winds.

Citizens with plans to be in the affected region during this period should consider the need to travel based on information relating to extreme weather projections. 

Hurricane Maria is currently heading across the Caribbean Sea as a category 5 storm towards Montserrat, the Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico after causing widespread damage on the island of Dominica.

Winds of up to 160mph (260km/h) and heavy rains were recorded in Dominca late on Monday as the eye of the hurricane passed. A tracking forecast has indicated that the eye of Hurricane Maria will move over the north-eastern Caribbean Sea on Tuesday, and approach the Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico Tuesday night and Wednesday.

The storm will continue moving toward Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands as a strong Category 4 or a Category 5 and is not expected to diminish in strength.

Hurricane Irma passed over the Caribbean on 7 to 10 September causing severe flooding and damage to buildings and infrastructure across the region, including popular tourist areas. Some areas may still be without mains water supply or electricity, so extra care is needed during hours of darkness. Airports have reopened and flights have resumed but there may be delays.

You should continue to follow the advice of the local authorities and your hotel or tour operator.

If you have a holiday booked for a future date you should liaise with your tour operator or contact your hotel to check if there has been any damage/whether the hotel is open and functional. There may be problems with utilities and services for the foreseeable future while the recovery is underway.

If you have a holiday booked for a future date you should liaise with your tour operator or contact your hotel to check if there has been any damage/whether the hotel is open and functional. There may be problems with utilities and services for the foreseeable future while the recovery is underway.

Irish citizens in Cuba should follow the advice of their tour operators who are guided by local authorities, and stay in touch with their airline. Independent travelers should follow advice of their hotel or casa particular (B&B). Irish citizens in Cuba should keep family and friends updated as to their safety and whereabouts. 

There is currently an outbreak of Zika Virus (a dengue-like mosquito-borne disease) in Central and South America and the Caribbean. Irish Citizens are advised to follow guidance available on the website of the Health Protection Surveillance Centre (HPSC) at http://www.hpsc.ie/A-Z/Vectorborne/Zika/.

Before travelling to Cuba, you must have comprehensive travel insurance that will cover all overseas medical costs, including medical evacuation for the full duration of your stay. You will have to present a copy of your insurance on arrival there. In exceptional cases you can get a policy from Cuban insurance companies at your port of entry. For more information, visit the Cuban Foreign Ministry’s (Spanish language) website.

Emergency assistance

Because there is no Irish Embassy or Consulate in the Cuba, we are limited in the help we can offer you in an emergency situation. However, if there is an emergency, or if you need help and advice, you can contact our Consular Assistance Unit at the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade in Dublin on +353 1 408 2000.

Other EU embassies

You can also contact the Embassies or Consulates of other EU countries for emergency consular assistance, advice and support.

Our tips for safe travels

  • Purchase comprehensive travel insurance which covers all your intended activities
  • Add an alert for your destination within the Travelwise App.
  • Register your details with us so that we can contact you quickly in an emergency, such as a natural disaster or a family emergency
  • Follow us on twitter @dfatravelwise for the latest travel updates
  • Read our Topical ‘Know Before You Go’ guide

Safety and security

Most visits to Cuba are trouble-free but you should take sensible precautions:

  • Don’t carry your credit card, travel tickets and money together - leave spare cash and valuables in a safe place. 
  • Don’t carry your passport unless absolutely necessary and leave a copy of your passport (and travel and insurance documents) with family or friends at home.
  • Avoid showing large sums of money in public and don’t use ATMs after dark, especially if you’re alone. Check no one has followed you after conducting your business.
  • Avoid dark and unlit streets and stairways, and arrange to be picked up or dropped off as close to your hotel or apartment entrance as possible.
  • Keep a close eye on your personal belongings and hold on to them in public places such as internet cafés, train and bus stations.

Petty theft

Theft from luggage during baggage handling at airports, both on arrival and departure, is common. You should remove all valuables, lock suitcases and consider having them shrink-wrapped before check-in.  

Petty crime such as pickpocketing and bag snatching occurs, particularly on public transport, intercity buses and at major tourist areas including in Old Havana, El Centro, Vedado and the Malecon, as well as on the beaches of Playa del Este and Varedero. You should take all necessary precautions if you are in Centro Havana at night and take a taxi to your accommodation rather than walk, even if your accommodation is only a few blocks away.

Thefts from hotel and guesthouse accommodation occur. You’re advised to ensure that valuables are held securely and to exercise due caution at all times. 

Serious crime

Car-related crime and mugging incidents are increasing in Havana, Santiago and other areas less frequented by tourists. There have been attacks on foreigners using hire cars after staged punctures and by bogus hitch-hikers. Don’t pick people up. If you get a puncture in a lonely spot, drive on several kilometres, preferably to a town, before stopping.

Lost or stolen passports

If your passport is lost or stolen, getting a replacement can take up to two weeks so keep your travel documents secure at all times. Getting a replacement passport will be easier if you are able to provide a copy of the lost or stolen one, so keep photocopies of your passport.

Reporting crime

If you’re a victim of a crime while in Cuba, report it to the local police immediately. And you can contact us at the Irish Embassy in Mexico City.

Driving

Many vehicles, including public transport, suffer from lack of maintenance and roads are poorly lit and sign-posted. If you want to drive:

  • Bring your full Irish driver’s licence and your international driving permit and make sure you have adequate and appropriate insurance
  • Driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs is against the law and you risk being detained, fined or banned from driving if caught
  • Keep your vehicle doors locked and your bags kept out of sight to prevent opportunistic bag-snatching if you’re stopped at traffic lights
  • Beware of cyclists, potholes and cars that stop without warning to pick up hitchhikers

Traffic accidents

If involved in an accident, you are likely to be detained, regardless of who is at fault. If you have a traffic accident where someone is killed or injured, the police investigation may take several months during which time the driver will normally not be allowed to leave Cuba. In some cases the driver may be imprisoned during this delay.

Public transport

  • Only use established tour operators and regulated taxis
  • Avoid using mopeds or three wheel Coco-Taxis for travel around Cuba

Hiring a vehicle

If you’re hiring a vehicle, we advise you not to hand over your passport as a form of security. If you’re allowing your passport to be photocopied, keep it in your sight at all times.

Check that you have adequate insurance and read the small print of the vehicle hire contract (particularly any waiver that will come into effect if the vehicle is damaged).

Hurricanes

The hurricane season in Cuba extends from June to the end of November.  Always monitor local and international weather updates for the region by accessing, for example, the Weather Channel, or the US National Hurricane Centre website.

In some areas, adequate shelter from a severe hurricane may not be available to all who may choose to stay. You should familiarise yourself with your hotel or cruise ship evacuation plans and identify your local shelter. Carry your travel documents at all times (ie passport, picture IDs) or secure them in a safe, waterproof location. You should also contact friends and family in Ireland with updates to let them know you’re safe.

Local laws and customs

Remember, the local laws apply to you as a visitor and it is your responsibility to follow them. Be sensitive to local customs, traditions and practices as your behaviour may be seen as improper, hostile or may even be illegal.

Personal identification

You must carry personal identification with you at all times in Cuba and you could be detained if you can’t produce it to the authorities on request. We advise you to carry a photocopy of the relevant page of your passport and keep the original in a safe place.

Illegal drugs

Cuba is increasingly used as a transit country for drugs destined for Europe. Cuban law allows for the death penalty and courts are handing out very severe penalties (in excess of twenty years) for all drug related offences. Avoid any contact with prohibited drugs. Always pack your entire luggage yourself and never carry any items that do not belong to you in or out of the country.

Additional information

Entry requirements (visa/passport)

If you are unsure of the entry requirements for Cuba, including visa and other immigration information, ask your travel agent or contact the nearest Embassy or Consulate of Cuba.

You can also check with them how long your passport must be valid for.

Health

Check with your doctor well in advance of travelling to see if you need any vaccinations for Cuba.

Medical facilities

Generally, Cuba’s medical services are acceptable, although basic medicine and equipment aren’t always available. You should bring any prescription drugs you take regularly. A copy of the prescription and a letter from your doctor explaining your condition can be helpful at customs.

The medical facilities in Havana are better than those available elsewhere in the country, but it’s sometimes necessary to medically evacuate those who require urgent specialist care. This can be very expensive so you should ensure that your medical insurance covers you for this. If you need medical treatment you will be expected to pay in hard currency; a basic hospital stay can cost as much as €250 per day plus medical expenses.

Malaria

Malaria and dengue fever are endemic in low-lying rural areas of Cuba and outbreaks can occur throughout the year. If you plan to visit these areas, before travelling there you should consult your doctor about suitable anti-malarial medication and on arrival take adequate precautions against being bitten by mosquitoes. Mosquito repellent and clothing covering as much skin as possible provides some protection, and swampy water should be avoided.

Dengue fever

Recently there have been reports of an increase in dengue fever in some areas of Cuba, including Havana. Cuban public health authorities are undertaking insect control measures, including fumigation and aerial spraying. The chemicals can cause discomfort and you should close windows and doors if fumigation is being carried out nearby.

A H1N1 Virus (Swine Flu)

Cuban authorities responded to the swine flu outbreak with stronger screening measures at all ports of entry. If you’re entering or leaving the country, or reporting for domestic flights, you may be subjected to medical examinations and, in some cases, quarantined for up to day days for medical observation if you are believed to have symptoms of the virus or have come into contact with a suspected carrier of the virus.

Get up-to-date information on the swine flu epidemic in Cuba on the (Spanish language) website of the Cuban Ministry of Health.

Money

Irish citizens in Cuba most frequently need consular assistance due to difficulties using debit/credit/cash point cards and exchanging money so please be aware of the following:

  • Credit cards and travellers' cheques drawn on American banks are not accepted in Cuba. You should confirm with your bank before departure that your credit card will be accepted in Cuba
  • There are virtually no ATMs available for drawing cash against debit cards in Cuba
  • While Western Union operates in Cuba, only Cuban nationals can access its services – foreign tourists can’t. There is no other way of transferring funds to Cuba
  • Northern Irish and Scottish sterling bank notes/coins cannot be exchanged in Cuba