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Q&A: Answers to 10 top questions about US travel to Cuba

Q&A: Answers to 10 top questions about US travel to Cuba

Old May 2, 16, 2:25 pm
  #1  
formerly known as daveland
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Q&A: Answers to 10 top questions about US travel to Cuba

I recently returned from Cuba and have several friends planning trips right now. Given how unique of a trip this is at this very point in time, I put together an article about the most commonly asked questions (i.e. - where can I get Wifi? Can I spend dollars?)

Travel to Cuba from the US: Your 10 biggest questions… answered

Comments welcome

Last edited by MilesTalk; May 2, 16 at 2:32 pm
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Old May 3, 16, 12:54 pm
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Some misinformation

Cuba is largely a unique travel experience due to the quirkiness of the US-Cuba relationship. This results in a number of interpretations, even by recent visitors, who draw wrong or partially correct conclusions from their observations.

Here's a few comments:

(1) It was my experience that CUCs are pronounced "kooks" rather than "cooks".
(2) The exchange rate for the US dollar, after fees that apply only to exchange of US dollars, appeared to be closer to 87 cents, not 90 cents. I believe that an exchange of CUCs back into US dollars will also be subject to the same fees, meaning that people who exchange too much money will end up suffering a 26% penalty. Only exchange what will be reasonably needed. Any major hotel will happily exchange money.
(3) Travelers who think ahead will benefit from bringing Euros, Canadian dollars, Swiss franks, and other major currencies, as these are not subject to the special exchange fees...especially if you have money left over from a prior trip where you obtained those currencies. However, if you need to buy these currencies in the U.S., you will probably find that the U.S. financial institution that provides these currencies to you also charges substantial fees -- so any savings over the Cuban experience may be illusory. Also, don't expect the Cubans to exchange Danish kroner or other minor currencies.
(4) Going to the beach: let's not be silly. Going to the beach is not more "touristy" than many other activities, such as eating at a private restaurant (palador) or buffet at an all-inclusive resort, visiting the cathedral, or mailing a postcard. Feel free to go to the beach.
(5) Verizon: I received a text message from Verizon saying "welcome to Cuba", so I think texts will work with certain carriers. Calls are US $2.99 per minute.
(6) Credit cards: previous posts and press releases from U.S. credit card issuers suggest that restrictions have been lifted, although it is also correct that implementation of changes that will allow U.S. issued credit cards to be used will not happen immediately.
(7) What you tell your banker: the "fact sheet" suggests not telling your banker that you need foreign currency to take to Cuba. If this is really a problem, just tell the banker that you've changed your mind and now plan to travel to Europe or Canada, or find a new banker. Perhaps, if this is really true, then perhaps the banker should stop you from taking US dollars to Cuba as well. Let's be real: people do not really care.
(8) Coverage of the first cruise ship to travel Miami-Havana on May 2, 2016 included a comment that it may still not be legal to bring back Cuban cigars. That's wrong. Cigars and rum may now be brought back by U.S tourists from Cuba subject to certain limits. Everyone on my trip did so.
(9) What the travel is called. In my mind, I went to Cuba as a tourist. The Treasury Department may consider my trip something else. I don't care what they want to call it. I feel free to characterize my travel the way I want. It's also fairly clear that the Obama Administration is not enforcing rules that do exist, which is not unexpected -- there's always some discretion (see illegal immigration; state marijuana laws; and the like).

Last edited by Reindeerflame; May 3, 16 at 1:13 pm
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Old May 3, 16, 3:19 pm
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It doesn't seem like you are responding to the points in my article, but I'm not 100% clear so a few replies:

- The exchange rate is set for USD with a 10% penalty on top of the exchange rate fees. So yes, around 13% would be about right for USD. If you go to a local currency exchange in a big city you should be able to do around 5% and then you'll pay around 3% in Havana. You will save about 5%. Up to you if that is worth it or not but that is why it's suggested.

- I said the beach probably isn't "worth it" but no question it's fine to go even if "technically" not allowed.

- Texts will work on Verizon. AT&T/T-Mobile/anyone else will say NO SERVICE your whole trip.

- Credit cards: I don't think you got that from my article - I very clearly said no plastic from the US will work at all.

- I actually had the experience of going to a currency exchange in NYC, mentioning Cuba, and having them cancel the transaction and telling me to go elsewhere as they could not "un-hear" what I said and banking regulations forbid it. That's why I shared that - might as well avoid saying anything that will make a hassle for you...

- The last comment is (I think) a bit flippant. The law is the law. You can do what you want but it's a bit reckless (IMHO) to imply to others they should ignore the law. The law, as it stands now, says the trip has to be for one of the 12 accepted categories of travel and, if you self-certify, you must keep a record of what you did for 5 years. For all you know, relations between the two countries could sour again and a different climate has different blow back for those who went "illegally." I certainly don't expect that, but I wouldn't be giving other people advice to ignore the law.

Last edited by MilesTalk; May 3, 16 at 4:04 pm
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Old May 3, 16, 5:05 pm
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I don't think there are any remaining legal impediments to U.S. credit cards being accepted in Cuba. From my understanding, those impediments have now been lifted. The reason U.S. cards don't work appears to largely be a result of implementation issues. I agree with the basic premise that U.S. travelers should not expect their credit cards to work at the moment.

The issue of nomenclature is something I think is quite funny. Some people seem to think that U.S. travelers who say "I went to Cuba as a tourist" are misspeaking, because if they went legally they would have gone under one of the authorized categories. I'm thinking of the issue more generically -- the way one would describe the trip in nonbureaucrat-speak -- as an ordinary traveler. Those of us who want to travel as tourists to Cuba need to jump through some hoops -- yes -- but we don't need to let the U.S. government tell us how to think. That's what I object to. There's no need to be such slaves of irrational policies.

In any case, the first reports of the initial Miami-Havana cruise ship on May 2, 2016 suggest that travelers roamed through historic Havana at leisure with virtually no participation by anyone in so-called people-to-people exchanges.
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Old May 9, 16, 12:57 pm
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Lightbulb Wi-Fi Calling

Originally Posted by daveland View Post
- Texts will work on Verizon. AT&T/T-Mobile/anyone else will say NO SERVICE your whole trip.
If you have Wi-Fi calling enabled on AT&T/T-Mobile/MetroPCS you might be able to make calls once you are able to jump on the Wi-Fi signal. We had members of our party connect to Wi-Fi and make calls from that. It worked on AT&T. Not sure about other networks since they may not allow international roaming.
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Old May 9, 16, 2:05 pm
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Originally Posted by SBayGirl View Post
If you have Wi-Fi calling enabled on AT&T/T-Mobile/MetroPCS you might be able to make calls once you are able to jump on the Wi-Fi signal. We had members of our party connect to Wi-Fi and make calls from that. It worked on AT&T. Not sure about other networks since they may not allow international roaming.
Sure - but you'd need to be connected to the pay per use national Wifi network which is located almost nowhere and you have to pay for. Were you lucky enough to be staying at a hotel with working Wifi?
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Old May 9, 16, 3:17 pm
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The issue of terminology is a funny one. I agree. If you go on a people-to-people tour, Cuba will still issue you a tarjeta de turismo (tourist card) and consider you to be a tourist, even if our government tells us we can't be one.

Originally Posted by Reindeerflame View Post
(4) Going to the beach: let's not be silly. Going to the beach is not more "touristy" than many other activities, such as eating at a private restaurant (palador) or buffet at an all-inclusive resort, visiting the cathedral, or mailing a postcard. Feel free to go to the beach.
Yeah, but you're not supposed to be staying at that all-inclusive resort either if you want to abide strictly by U.S. law. That's leisure tourism to Cuba and the U.S. doesn't yet permit it.

You have a luxury, reindeerflame, that Dave and I do not. I worked on an update to a major guidebook to Cuba last year. (With all that had changed, it was a total overhaul.) If we're writing about travel to Cuba for publication, it would be irresponsible of us not to state explicitly what U.S. law requires. Now, what an individual chooses to do with that information is a personal decision, of course, and these days, someone can probably get by with bending the rules. We can couch it in those terms, but no one should tell himself that spending an afternoon at the beach in Cuba conforms to U.S. law.
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Old May 9, 16, 5:24 pm
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Originally Posted by daveland View Post
Sure - but you'd need to be connected to the pay per use national Wifi network which is located almost nowhere and you have to pay for. Were you lucky enough to be staying at a hotel with working Wifi?
Yes, our hotel had Wi-Fi (for pay). There was also a conference center with free Wi-Fi. I hear some hotels have free Wi-Fi.
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Old May 10, 16, 3:06 pm
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Originally Posted by SJOGuy View Post
The issue of terminology is a funny one. I agree. If you go on a people-to-people tour, Cuba will still issue you a tarjeta de turismo (tourist card) and consider you to be a tourist, even if our government tells us we can't be one.



Yeah, but you're not supposed to be staying at that all-inclusive resort either if you want to abide strictly by U.S. law. That's leisure tourism to Cuba and the U.S. doesn't yet permit it.

You have a luxury, reindeerflame, that Dave and I do not. I worked on an update to a major guidebook to Cuba last year. (With all that had changed, it was a total overhaul.) If we're writing about travel to Cuba for publication, it would be irresponsible of us not to state explicitly what U.S. law requires. Now, what an individual chooses to do with that information is a personal decision, of course, and these days, someone can probably get by with bending the rules. We can couch it in those terms, but no one should tell himself that spending an afternoon at the beach in Cuba conforms to U.S. law.
I beg to differ. The all-inclusive resort we stayed at in March 2016 for two nights was included as part of the lodging accommodations of our people-to-people exchange arranged by our tour organizer under a U.S. Treasury license.

It just shows that writing a guidebook is not terribly helpful under these circumstances, especially when things are changing all the time and when rules are not enforced. People are looking for real, practical advice, not unnecessary discussion of hapless rules.
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Old May 10, 16, 6:30 pm
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No. You're missing my point. Writing for publication about travel to Cuba requires that we state what the rules are. It would be irresponsible for Dave and me not to do that. We can then temper that with a discussion that things are in a state of flux and that there is some room for interpretation. You can say, "Go the beach." It's more complicated than your flat-out statement makes it.

In the end, sure, our end results are the same. An American can probably hang out at the beach with no worries of any sanctions. Dave and I are in a position where we have to provide more background. You don't have to.
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Old May 13, 16, 3:54 pm
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Better not to write a book in cases like this.

Travel books are largely obsolete anyway. That's why we have FT.
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Old Jul 1, 16, 8:00 am
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Originally Posted by daveland View Post

- The exchange rate is set for USD with a 10% penalty on top of the exchange rate fees. So yes, around 13% would be about right for USD. If you go to a local currency exchange in a big city you should be able to do around 5% and then you'll pay around 3% in Havana. You will save about 5%. Up to you if that is worth it or not but that is why it's suggested.
See post #3 here:
https://www.lonelyplanet.com/thorntr...2-trip-to-cuba
Seems practical and economical

Originally Posted by daveland View Post
- I said the beach probably isn't "worth it" but no question it's fine to go even if "technically" not allowed.
I don't think there is anything that "technically" does not allow a visit to the beach. The "rule" has to do with the percentage of time you spend on your declared one of the 12 reasons.
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