Expert's Corner

Hello! My name is Jacqui Birchall. I am a retired Surrey (BC) high school teacher. My students and I travelled to Cuba with this wonderful people. It was an amazing experience for my students, students who cried as we left Cuba. I am happy to answer any questions you may have about how to organize your trip and any other questions you may have about Cuba. I have been lucky enough to have spent time teaching in Cuba and I have travelled extensively throughout the island. I invite you to take your classroom to Cuba with us!
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General Travel License

U.S. Cuba Legal Travel University & College faculty, staff & students, K-12 teachers are eligible to travel to Cuba under the General License, a process that can be completed by individuals & educational institutions without submitting the application to OFAC.

Cuba Legal Travel

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Cuba, with its mix of Spanish and African roots, is the largest, least commercialized, and most exciting island in the Caribbean. It is also one of the world's last bastions of communism with a fascinating modern history. Cuba's relative political isolation has prevented it from being overrun by tourists, and locals are sincerely friendly to those who do venture in.

Why you should go to Cuba?

Cuba is an archipelago of islands located in the northern Caribbean Sea at the confluence with the Gulf of Mexico and the Atlantic Ocean.

Cuba is a paradise for beach lovers. There are few places in the world with as many beaches as Cuba and as beautiful as the ones in this amazing Caribbean Island.

Cuba has some of the biggest and better conserved Spanish colonial architecture cores in America. No wonder Cuba’s Architecture is one of the most significant attractions for foreign visitors to the largest island in the Caribbean.

Cuban culture is influenced by its melting pot of cultures, primarily those of Spain and Africa.

Sport is Cuba's national passion. Baseball is by far the most popular; other sports and pastimes include basketball, volleyball, and athletics. Cuba is a dominant force in amateur boxing, consistently achieving high medal tallies in major international competitions.

Cuban music is very rich and is the most commonly known expression of culture. The central form of this music is Son, which has been the basis of many other musical styles like salsa, rumba and mambo and an upbeat derivation of the rumba, the cha-cha-cha.

Cuban cuisine is a fusion of Spanish and Caribbean cuisines. Cuban recipes share spices and techniques with Spanish cooking, with some Caribbean influence in spice and flavor. The traditional Cuban meal is not served in courses; all food items are served at the same time.

Animal life is varied in Cuba, with over 15,000 species of fauna, of which 10% could be on the verge of extinction: 250 vertebrate species are endangered, rare or have become extinct in the last 350 years. The total number includes 42 mammals, 350 species of birds, 121 reptiles, 46 amphibians, 2947 molluscs, 7493 insects and 1300 arachnids.

More than 6000 species of plants are present in Cuba, of which around 3000 are endemic, and 950 plant species that are endangered, rare, or have become extinct in the last 350 years.

Please, visit our Cuba Resources page for further details.

Fundraising ideas

Money is the greatest factor preventing Cuba educational travel. Yet this can be overcome by asking for help.

Fundraising is an excellent way to make your group Cuba tour affordable for more of your students. Because fundraising teaches organization and cooperation, it also enhances group bonding and the educational aspect of the entire experience.

Nothing will bring your students closer than working towards a common goal. It also gives students a sense of pride for financially contributing to their Cuba tour.

Easy fundraising ideas: Holiday gift-wrapping or flower sales are two fun and quick ideas.

Moderately easy fundraising ideas: If you want to make a few hundred dollars, a car wash, garage sale, sell art work or crafts you produce or a spaghetti dinner are great fundraising options. Try to get local businesses to donate supplies to keep costs down.

More challenging fundraising ideas: If you're trying to raise some significant cash, try a silent auction or gift calendar. The following fundraising projects may take the most time and advanced preparation, but they yield great results for your students.

  • Talk with a merchant about selling an organic or fair trade product like coffee to your friends or door to door in your neighbourhood.
  • Part-time jobs: keep your eyes open and let your friends know you need Cuba travel funds. They may point you to one-time jobs that can pay $50-$100 dollars for a day's work.
  • Baby-sit for parents in need of free time. Use your time when the kids are sleeping for reading, study and planning.
  • Tutor a youth in skills you have that they need.
  • Yard work, trimming and mowing lawns is a sure bet. Everyone needs this service. Also think about house cleaning – it's easy, fun and appreciated.

  • Brainstorm with your teachers and friends and suggest anything that you think may work. Your enthusiasm and motivation will move others to help you. So keep a positive attitude and keep trying. In all of these cases, personal contact and accountability are key to the success of your fundraising efforts.

    Get creative, and let us know what works for you so that we can continue to expand our suggestion list to assist others.

    Cuba entry documentation requirements

    Valid passport, airline tickets, Cuban Tourist Card, Asistur Cuban Health Care Insurance (supplied by Authentic Cuba Travel).

    Luggage weight limits and restricted items

    Cuba restricts total incoming luggage weight to 30 kilos (66 pounds). If you bring more you could be subject to a 10.00 CUC (Cuban Convertible Peso) surcharge per extra kilo (2.2 pounds). An additional 10-kilo (22 pound) allowance is made for donations of medicines and medical items.

    PERMITTED ITEMS: You can take photographic and video cameras, personal DVD, PDA, CD and game device, cell phones, including ones that are GPS enabled (all are costly to use), laptops, MP3 players, hair dryers, electric shavers, binoculars, portable radio receivers, musical instruments, and sound recording devices FOR PERSONAL USE. If you take more than one of the above items, Cuban Customs may ask if you intend to leave them on the island. If you do, tariffs may apply. If you take more than the equivalent of $5,000 USD in cash, you'll need to declare it. Prescription medicines should remain in their original containers with labels intact.

    PROHIBITED ITEMS: Narcotics, explosives, pornography, anti-Cuba literature, stand-alone GPS devices, walkie-talkies, and items that might be considered weapons.

    Internet and Telephones

    You can take your laptop to Cuba without complications, but connecting it to the internet is difficult. If you want to access your email at your hotel, you'll have to use computers at its business center. Rates per hour vary between 5.00 and 10.00 CUC (Cuban Convertible Pesos). All internet access is limited to dial-up connection speeds.

    The least expensive way to make international or local calls is on public ETECSA blue phones using ETECSA calling cards you must buy in Cuba. To call Canada you must dial 119 + 1 + (area code) + phone number. The cost is about $2.50 per minute.

    We strongly discourage the use of hotel room phones for local or long distance calls – it can prove costly! If you call North America collect, the connection fee is about $10.00 plus $3.50 per minute.

    Donations and Gifts

    Cubans welcome and need donations.

    Please consider focusing your donation efforts towards schools, teaching aids, student supplies, and toys for kids!

    These could include memory sticks, calculators, pens, markers, games, pencils, erasers, flashlights and note pads. Also appreciated are multiple vitamins (for children and adults), toothpaste, toothbrushes, soap, shampoo and good quality used clothing and shoes. Baseball bats, balls, gloves, caps and T-shirts are very popular!

    Do not distribute donations on the street. Your guide will suggest schools and institutions in need.

    NOTE. Please do not tip your guide, bus driver, chambermaids or restaurant staff with leftovers or gifts in place of money.

    IMPORTANT. When entering Cuba do not declare any items you intend to leave behind as donations as it could result in lengthy delays and possible confiscation of materials. If your luggage is searched and you are questioned as to why you're bringing 100 pencils (for example), say, "they are for friends" and leave it at that. Luggage inspections rarely happen unless your bags exceed weight limits.

    Laundry

    There are no public laundry facilities in Cuba. If you need laundry services, ask your chambermaid or hotel front desk. They'll give you costs and instructions for this service.

    Electrical standards and time zone

    Electricity in Cuba is 110 volts, 60Hz (same as Canada), however some hotels and resorts also have 220 volt service and outlets. An electrical adapter is rarely needed.

    Eastern time is observed across Cuba, the same as Toronto, New York and Miami.

    Arriving in Havana, your guide, bus driver and hotel

    Your Authentic Cuba Travel guide and bus driver will meet you at the airport. Once you collect your luggage and pass through Cuban Customs into the main airport lobby, your guide will have a sign displaying the name of your tour.

    Your guide will help you with currency exchange at the airport, ensure your luggage is put onto our bus, then take you to your hotel and assist with check-in.

    Money matters

    The Cuban Convertible Peso (CUC) is the only currency used by island visitors. All goods and services are priced and paid for in the CUC. The CUC floats in value against world currencies. Exchange rates vary daily. Today's rates are based on 1.10 USD equals one CUC.

    Participants should carefully evaluate daily spending needs prior to departure. A minimum of $50 per day is recommended. It is better to plan to take more money than to get caught short of funds.

    Change your money into CUC at a bank, your hotel, or at a CADECA (Casas de Cambio SA – exchange bureau). Never exchange your money on the street or through an individual Cuban (including your guide).

    Credit cards and travellers checks issued by Canadian and European banks are accepted (AMEX is never accepted!).

    But please confirm with your bank before you depart as regulations change constantly. Canadian travellers If you have a MasterCard issued by a credit union or caisse populaire it won't work in Cuba. Contact your branch for more information.

    Cash advance and other transaction fees on credit cards in Cuba can run as high as 10% or more, plus the exchange fee. Credit cards and travellers checks issued by US banks are not accepted. Debit cards do not work in Cuba.

    A photocopy of your passport is sufficient identification. However, your actual passport is necessary when conducting banking transactions in Cuba.

    The Cuban Convertible Peso (CUC) can only be purchased in Cuba. Spend it or exchange it on the island before you return home.

    Tipping in Cuba

    Give tips in CUC (the money Cubans can spend on the things they need). If you make a special friend, then a nice gift is appropriate, together with personal things you don't need to take home.
    We recommend the following amounts in Cuban Convertible Pesos (CUC).
  • Tour Guide: 2.50 CUC per day per person
  • Tour Bus Driver: 1.50 CUC per day per person
  • Porters: 1.00 CUC per person or more if you have lots of bags
  • Restaurant staff: 10% of cost of meal or 1.00 CUC whichever is greater, per meal per person
  • Chambermaids: 1.50 CUC per day per room (can be split with your roommate)
  • Taxi Drivers: 10% of total fare in CUC

  • Health and safety

    Cuba is considered among the safest countries in the world with a very low crime rate. However precautions with personal belongings are necessary – do not leave things unattended. Don't wear expensive jewelry – it attracts pickpockets, which are a growing problem. Keep cameras and handbags secure to your person at all times.

    Participants should use a lockbox at hotels for valuables, travel documents, air tickets, passport and cash.

    Always carry some cash in small amounts each day, we suggest between 40.00 and 60.00 CUC. The rest of your money remains in your hotel lockbox, along with your travel documents, valuables and passport.

    While Cubans have no problems with the water, we recommend you drink bottled water at all times for peace of mind.

    A doctor or nurse is available to participants throughout the tour either at your hotel, nearby clinic or en route to destinations.

    No vaccinations are necessary or required to enter or travel to Cuba.

    Panhandlers and hustlers

    We strongly advise against giving money to individuals who approach you on the streets. When an individual approaches you on the street and asks for money, or with offers to provide guide or other services, just say no with determination and move on.

    You risk getting ripped-off. Don't be shy, don't feel bad, and don't let them waste your precious time in Cuba. To do otherwise could cost you heartache and your wallet! Remember, nearly half of every dollar you spend on this trip goes into the island's health care and education system – to Cubans who need and deserve it.

    Leaving Cuba

    All visitors must set aside 25.00 CUC for your Cuban airport departure tax.

    Please, visit our Travel Formalities page for further details.


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