Planning a Trip to Cuba: To-Do List Before Travel

Dariece Swift author's bio Goats On The Road

Planning to travel to Cuba isn’t as simple as preparing for a trip to the rest of Latin America and the Caribbean. There are many things to think about before heading off to this tropical paradise. We’re travelling to Cuba in just a few days and for us, as Canadians, these are the pre-trip preparations and planning that we’ve had to do:

Purchase Travel Insurance

It’s always a wise decision to have travel insurance when going abroad, but if you want to enter Cuba, it’s actually a legal requirement that you have insurance and you’ll be asked to show proof of policy at the airport.

Update: January, 2016

As of January, World Nomads Insurance now offers coverage for Cuba! Well, for residents of the UK, Australia, South Africa, and many more nations they do.

They do not insure Canadians for Cuba.

We’re considered expatriates and therefore had to book a different (and more expensive) policy. We booked through Travel Cuts and the policy is through TIC Insurance. Travel cuts also offers regular travel insurance policies.

Update May 22/15: We weren’t asked to show proof of insurance when we arrived at immigration. However, other travellers from Israel and Japan were asked. The Japanese tourist didn’t have any coverage and was forced to purchase an expensive policy at the airport, at $5/day. We still recommend getting travel insurance before taking off. 

Book Your Flight

If you’re flying from Latin America, there are a few airlines that you can consider:

AeroMexico – Flies from many countries, with flights going via Mexico City. We’ve flown with AeroMexico in the past and the airline and service was great.

Interjet – Flights from Mexico.

Cubana, Avianca, Copa and Taca Airlines have daily flights out of many hubs in Central and South America.

flights to cuba with aeromexico

North America and Europe:

CanJet, Air Transat, Air Canada and WestJet – Flights from Canada.

Aeroflot, Air Berlin, Air Europa, Air France, Air Italy, Condor (to name a few) – Offer regular flights from many parts of Europe.

Check out this Forbes article which states that direct flights are now available from New York, Tampa and Miami, although American travellers still must fall under one of the twelve categories of authorized travel.

We suggest looking on booking engines such as, and to find the best flights.

This is our itinerary with Copa Airlines which we found on Kayak’s booking engine:

Guatemala City (Guatemala) -> Panama City (Panama) -> Havana (Cuba)

Havana (Cuba) ->San Jose (Costa Rica)

NOTE: Always clear your cache when booking flights, or, open in an “incognito” tab. Booking websites remember your searches and more often than not, they will raise the prices on your ticket!

Look what happened to us when booking to Cuba:

planning a trip to Cuba
Can you believe it?!

We searched for our flight and it showed up as $481. The next day we went online to pay for the flight and it came up as $606! So, we opened the website in an incognito window, and there was our original price of $481. What a scam.

Banking and Budgeting

If your bank or credit card is issued in the United States, or through an American banking company, it will not work in the ATMs in Cuba. We have been told that our TD Canada Trust debit card and our TD Visa Credit Card will work for withdrawing local currency, but we also plan to bring some Euros to exchange if needed.

Update May 22/15: Yes, our TD Canada Trust Debit card worked at the ATM machines. Note that there is a 3% charge for using the ATMs in Cuba! Factor that into your budget.

Remember to have enough cash in your bank account for the amount of money you plan to withdrawal at the ATMs. Performing your regular online banking transfers won’t be so easy in Cuba, as accessing wi-fi and internet is very difficult, slow and expensive.

money in cuba
Make sure you have enough money on you, and in your bank account for setting off

Also, remember to contact your bank and tell them you will be using your Debit and Credit cards out of country. Again, if they freeze your account, it will be very difficult to reactivate while you’re in Cuba.

Euros, Canadian Dollars and British Pounds are the most commonly accepted currency for exchange, with US dollars being the worst. If you want to swap American Dollars for Cuban Convertible Pesos, be aware that you will be charged an extra 10% fee for changing this currency. Also note that Australian Dollars aren’t accepted.

To be safe, it’s important to have a varied combination of currency when travelling. We plan to have our debit card, credit card, US Dollars and Euros. We’ll exchange the Euros (and dollars if we absolutely have to) at the money exchange booths in Cuba.

Update May 22/15: Money is exchanged at changers called Cadeca, which can be found in the cities. If you are coming from Canada, England or Europe, you won’t lose any money on exchanging your home currency, as there isn’t any fees at the money changer! For us, we lost a lot of money – when using our ATM card, we were charged 3% by the machine, and we’re waiting to see our end of the month bank statement to see if TD Bank charged us for using the machine as well.

We also decided to bring Euros with us and had to take Guatemalan currency out of the ATM in Guatemala, then change it over to Euros. We lost money two times there on the exchanges.

So, coming from a country other than your own, expect to pay ATM fees and lose out on conversions!  

We’re budgeting ourselves $100 Canadian dollars/day while we’re in Cuba. Hopefully this amount will be a bit high, but we want to make sure we have enough to cover our expenses while we’re there. Our friends over at Never Ending Voyage have created a budgeting tool called the Trail Wallet App. You input your expenses every time you purchase something (water, food, accommodation, bus, etc.) and it keeps track of your spending throughout the day. It also lets you know (at the end of your trip) which percentage of your spending went towards which category of items.

We’ve just downloaded it and are excited to give it a try when we’re in Cuba!

trail wallet app budget for cuba
The Trail Wallet App


Update May 22/15: The app was awesome and we highly recommend using it. Our average was $67.75 USD / day for the two of us. However, that’s without paying for accommodation. I would add on another $25 USD / day for that. 

The Cuban Currency

The Cuban Convertible is pegged at the US Dollar 1:1.

The money situation in Cuba is really confusing – there are two currencies used! The Cuban Convertible (CUC$) is the currency that you’ll be using for almost all of your purchases (accommodation, transportation, restaurant meals, bus tickets, internet), while the Cuban Peso (CUP$) is the currency that the locals are paid in, and the one that they most often spend. Street-food, small snacks and food at local markets will be charged in CUP.

Certain items can only be paid for using CUC, meaning that locals often can’t purchase many items.

1 CUC = 1 USD

1 CUC = 25 CUP

We plan to have the equivalent of $10 USD in Cuban Pesos (CUP) on us each week, as we’ll use that currency to buy street food and smaller items from the market. Apparently, a small cheese pizza from a street vendor will cost us 5CUP, which is the equivalent of $0.20 USD!

peso pizza in cuba
Peso pizza! – photo by: Never Ending Voyage

Booking Accommodation

Casa Particulars (private homes) are guesthouses/homestays in Cuba. You’ll be provided with a room in a family’s home, a private bathroom and the option for homemade meals. But more importantly, you’ll be living with locals and will be treated like family!

Why would you even consider a hotel when there are homestays like this available?

We usually like to book our accommodation ahead of time when travelling, but in Cuba, booking engines such as, and don’t offer any listings for the country…however, does! It has a wide selection of hostels, guesthouses and casas available.

We’ve partnered up with HostelsClub and will be staying in some lovely casa particulars around the country, this is a picture of our first one in Havana…we’ll have to take better photos when we’re there ๐Ÿ™‚ This casa has excellent reviews on and also on the hostel booking site.

where to stay in havana cuba
Our first casa particular will be at the home of Daniel and Fina!

Update May 22/15: Casa particulars are the way to go! The families we met were very kind, the rooms were spacious and clean and the homecooked meals were delicious. 

Tourist Card/Visa

To enter the country, you will need to have a Tourist Card. If you’re travelling on a tour, this will usually be included in your package. However, if you’re travelling independently (like we are), then you will need to sort this out yourself. If you do decide to go on a tour, check out Esencia Experiences for tailor made holidays in Cuba.

We suggest contacting the airline that you booked through to figure out how to get this card. We called Copa Airlines who advised us that the card will be available for purchase at the airport during our 1 hour layover to our connecting flight in Panama City. It’s possible to purchase the Tourist Card at the Havana airport when you arrive, but there is a risk that you won’t be able to board your plane to Cuba without having this card. It’s best to get it in advance if possible.

The card costs $20 or $25 USD depending on where you buy it. This card will be stamped by the immigration officials upon your arrival and departure. You will keep half of the card, and the immigration official will keep the other half. Make sure you don’t lose your part of the card or you’ll have to pay 15 CUC to replace it, and it will most likely be a long and complicated process.

tourist card for cuba
The Tourist Card

Update May 22/15: We were able to purchase this tourist card in Guatemala City (the first leg of our journey). We purchased it right at the counter that we checked-in at. It cost $20 USD.


For us, we don’t have to change our packing list for a trip to Cuba, because we carry everything we own on our backs! However, some useful items to pack are:

  • Hiking shoes and sandals (there are some incredible hikes and pristine beaches)
  • Loose-fitting, breathable clothing ( the humidity levels are quite high in Cuba, dress accordingly)
  • Pants (many nightclubs, bars, and shows require you to wear pants – no shorts allowed)
  • Bathing suit
  • Toiletries ( we’ve heard that basic items like shampoo, toothpaste, sunscreen and deodorant are hard to find, and they’re expensive)
  • Medical / first aid items (again, hard to find at the shops)

Check out some of our packing lists here:

The Complete Travel Packing List For Women

The Complete Travel Packing List For Men

Ultralight Travel: Revamping Our Backpacking Gear

First-Aid Kit Checklist For Backpacking

Update May 22/15: Many of the small pharmacies in the cities had toiletries available and they weren’t as hard to find as we had thought they would be. The only other thing we wished we had packed were gifts for the casa owners/families that we met. Luckily, we still had some Canadian stickers on us so we gave those out, but having something more substantial from our home country would have been nice to give away. 

Get Going!

Planning and preparing for a trip is all part of the fun. Just make yourself a list and check off completed tasks as you go. When we return from Cuba, we plan to update this list and make any additions, or deletions as needed. There’s not a whole lot of information on the web for independent travel in Cuba, and we plan to provide you with lots of information when we get back.


Have you travelled to Cuba? What are we missing from this list? Share with us below!

Lead Image By: Never Ending Voyage

Planning a Trip to Cuba- To-Do List Before Travel

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Dariece Swift author's bio Goats On The Road

Written by

Dariece Swift

Dariece is a co-founder of Goats On The Road, and an expert in saving money, finance management, building an online business and of course... travel. She loves meeting new people, trying new cuisines, and learning about the unique cultures of our world. She has over 12 years of experience helping others to realize their travel dreams and has worked in numerous jobs all over the world to help pay for travel.

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45 thoughts on “Planning a Trip to Cuba: To-Do List Before Travel”

  1. Ha, I ate way too many of those little pizzas during my time in Cuba. They are indeed really cheap. Learning how to work the dual currency was so key. Enjoy your time in Cuba. I can’t wait to read about your thoughts!

  2. Thank you for the heads up regarding clearing your cache when looking for flight tickets. You just saved me a small fortune last night when I was booking my flights from London to New York! ๐Ÿ˜€

  3. Hey Goats, I follow your travels on Youtube with admiration and a touch of envy! I enjoyed your Pamir Highway trip so much. I couldnt make it last year because I couldnt get the Gorno Badakhsan permit. Your Cuba tips are so useful for those wanting to rush there before the country changes. I am going soon. Thank you.

  4. I am 67 years old and have been travelling once a year to Asia…still working but in the next two years retirement!,, I think this year instead of Asia I will go to Cuba. Looking forward to your posts when you return

  5. Hiya Joan … I too am 67, live in england, fortunately I am already retired, and soon as can I’ll be visiting Cuba – I think it could become an exciting country for travel in a few years … take care of yourself in the next 2 years so you get to enjoy a long adventurous imspirational retirement

  6. Hey Justine!
    Thanks for the comment. We too ate soo many of those pizzas – man were they cheap, and we actually thought they didn’t taste too bad! The peso food was pretty good ๐Ÿ™‚


  7. Hi Sudha!

    Great to hear from one of our YouTube followers ๐Ÿ™‚ Thanks for stopping by. The Pamir Highway is great, so hopefully you can go back one day and get that permit! Same goes for Cuba, we highly recommend it.


  8. Hey Danielle!

    It sounds super confusing, but to be honest, when you’re there, it’s really easy. Basically, the National Pesos are what most of the locals are paid in and are used for things like fruit, veg, local buses, and food at peso food joints (popcorn, ice cream, pizza, sandwiches, juice, coffee, rice meals).

    Other things that are listed in Convertibles are luxury items – tourist buses, hotels, restaurants, car rentals, etc. These items are pegged at the US Dollar and are MUCH more expensive than items listed in National Pesos.

    We kept around $5 – $10 worth of National Pesos on us for those moments when we wanted to buy peso food or juices. If you lived off of that food and rode in the local bus, you would have a very cheap trip!


  9. Hi Sarah,

    Well, you can either wait until it’s legal to travel independently, travel there on a tour, or, you can fly to Mexico first and then fly to Cuba…and then try to figure out what to do when you arrive at the US border ๐Ÿ™‚ We met Americans doing this while we were in Cuba!

  10. Thanks for the (timely) update! I’m a U.S. citizen, but now a permanent resident of Ecuador. Retired, lived (and taught EFL) in Vietnam for 2 years, now eager to explore the whole of this part of the globe. Am headed to Cuba the end of October (traveling independently). Curiously, Ecuador is quite cozy w/ Cuba, but nonetheless the official currency here is the U.S. dollar. Guess I’ll have to find me some Euros before I head to “The Forbidden Land”. ๐Ÿ˜‰

  11. That’s fantastic! Enjoy your trip to Cuba on your Ecuadorian residency ๐Ÿ™‚ FYI you can bring your debit card and use that at the ATM machines (provided your card isn’t from an American bank??) If not, you’ll have to get some Pounds, Canadian Dollars or Euros!

    Have fun.

  12. Yes, I’ll have to double-check with my EC bank, but I think they’re international and my debit card might work in Cuba.

    One quick question re: insurance. I have EC government medical insurance, but I’m sure it won’t be valid in Cuba (i.e. no repatriation, EC won’t reimburse). You mention one can buy the required insurance at the Havana airport (at $5 per day). That doesn’t seem too very expensive to me, but I’m wondering… If I should choose instead to pick up some temporary travel medical insurance (like IMG which I carried for 3 yrs while in Asia, or WorldNomads, etc.) – just what are the $$$ limits required by Cuba? i.e. $xx,000 medical, repatriation, etc.?

    Thanks much ,

  13. Hi Dyanne,

    I don’t think I would rely on getting insurance at the airport. We, however, weren’t even asked to show proof of insurance, even though it is a requirement…so, up to you!

    World Nomads doesn’t cover Cuba actually. We went with TIC via Travel Cuts in Canada and were insured for only 100K.

    Good luck ๐Ÿ™‚

  14. Thanks for the reply. I’ve since checked into the Thorn Tree forums (Lonely Planet, happy to see they’ve been resuscitated) and found a link to the Cuba insurance:

    (Click on the “INFORMACIร“N AL VIAJERO SOBRE LOS SEGUROS DE VIAJES PARA ENTRAR A CUBA” link to see .pdf w/ the coverage and rates)

    Apparently Cuba only requires 25k illness/accident plus 5k repatriation – which can be had for $3.00/day.

    And yes, apparently they might not ask, so I’m not keen on dropping $114 for 16 days of IMG insurance on the (apparently rare) chance they’d ask me. If they do, I’ll take my chances on buying the Cuba insurance which TT says can be had right at the airport.

    And yes too – in my research, turns out World Nomads doesn’t insure for Cuba, and even Travel Guard requires “…an affidavit that you will be traveling in Cuba on a “licensed” tour” – sigh.

    All that said, I think I’ll also carry a somewhat dignified scrap of paper outlining my Ecuador insurance – should they ask, it might just pass muster…

    In any case – I’m STOKED! Little more than a month to go! ๐Ÿ˜‰

  15. I am sitting in the Tampa airport having returned from Havana this morning. If you are an American who meets one of the twelve approved categories for legal travel to Cuba you can buy a ticket on (Cuba Travel Services) and fly out of NYC (JFK), Miami or Tampa. “Athletic Competitions” is one of the legal categories so I flew from Tampa to Havana to run the Marabana 21k. 567 Americans ran the 2015 Marabana which was held on November 15.

    I arrived in Tampa with a Cuban stamp in my passport plus three bottles of Havana Club Rum and ten cigars. The U.S. Customs Officer asked what I was doing in Cuba. I told him running the Maratรณn de La Habana-MARABANA. He said “welcome home.”

    Departure tax of $25. was paid to Cuba Travel Services at the Tampa airport. The ticket on includes the Cuban ASISTUR medical insurance (they put an ASISTUR stamp on the back of your ticket itinerary) which is advisable as a Canadian in our party tripped and fell and had to get seven stitches in his hand. Total out of pocket cost at the Cuban medical clinic was $35.

    I’ll post photos and more tips on my website.

  16. This is great information! My husband and I are leaving for Cuba in less than two weeks and we can’t wait! As an American, I know I’ll need to get Euros, pounds, or Canadian dollars changed to CUC. But is there a best method for obtaining CUP?

  17. I read the section about the currency and how there are two different ones, how about paying in USD? have you had any experience doing that and if so how accepted is it? it would be great for me to know because I dont know how much I will be spending so it would make it easier if I could just pay in dollars.

  18. For CUP, you will need to exchange your CUC. You can do it at the same places that you exchange your Euros, Dollars, etc. Also, if you purchase something that is priced in CUP, but you use CUC, you can often receive change back in CUP.

    Make sense?! haha. Enjoy your trip ๐Ÿ™‚

  19. Hi David, you cannot spend US Dollars in Cuba. In fact, it’s the least desirable of the “main” currencies. Canadian, Euros and Pounds are the best. Aussie Dollars cannot be exchanged for Cuban Convertibles, and US Dollars can be exchanged, but for a 10% charge. It’s best to bring Canadian, Pounds or Euros.

  20. Haha I’m glad somebody likes the Cuban pizza because I never could get used to how different it tastes (pretty sure the cheese is no real cheese, lol.) I prefer the hotdog stands instead for chease peso food…there is one on La Rampa across the street from Copelia’s ice cream parlor.

  21. I totally agree: Why would you even consider a hotel in Cuba when there are homestays like this available? Not just the stay, but meals are also more economic plus you can experience the authentic Cuban family lifestyle.

  22. Hello,
    I am flying from the US to Havana with a stop in Panama on Copa Airlines. Has anyone had personal experience going through Panama and getting their tourist card/visa at the airport? Does Copa supply this before boarding.. And do you/did you get it at the US airport or the Panama airport.

    All the best,

  23. Very helpful! All the tips and suggestions,especially money issues.
    My trip is scheduled for December for the 32nd International 2016 Cuba Jazz Festival in Havana.

  24. Awesome article!!! I am planning a solo trip to Cuba in January! I’m really excited. I am from the USA but a lot of American Airlines donfly now to Cuba, I’ll probably play it safe and leave from Cancun.

    I hear it is some what imperative to learn Spanish, since Cuba is not A large tourists place, knowing basic Spanish is a must. Did you two know Spanish? Or did you get by with English?

    Knowing about the casas is awesome! I think that would be perfect for a solo traveler like myself.

  25. Fantastic information! I am making notes like crazy. We are going in January and plan to travel independently. Did you ever rent a car and go on your own, or is renting a taxi with driver a better idea? What would a taxi cost approx? Could you do that for a week or two to travel all around the country? We love to explore an entire country, away from the big cities, so driving is usually the best way to do that. Awesome site – just discovered it, and will be signing up. Any tips for fellow bloggers? (

  26. We had an interesting experience in Trinidad this year on a family trip to Cuba. The shopkeeper returned us change in their national pesos instead of CUCs. This meant it was more than 20x less. Being from Europe I noticed this 2 hours later and returned to the shop. After a short chat in my broken Spanish with ladies in the shop, they understood the problem and returned us the CUCs. The Cuban people are really nice.

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