042215 Cuba – Region Status Report

The risk information in this report is retrieved from U.S. Department of State, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the World Health Organization, and International SOS. It provides general guidance for UT Dallas travelers. Please note the revision date of this report, printed on the title of the post with format (mmddyy),  and go to the direct sources listed above for the most up-to-date information.  The information in this report may change without prior notice.

UT Dallas travelers and trip organizers of a trip to this location are encouraged to use this report, the sources listed above and the Traveler Toolkit in the development stages of: a study abroad program, pre-departure Orientations, mitigation and prevention training, as well as group and personal emergency management plans.

Report Sections

Exit, Entry and Visa Requirements

  • Passport. A valid passport is required for entry into Cuba.
  • Visa. Contact the  Cuban Interests Section in Washington to determine the appropriate type of visa required for your purpose of travel.
  • Entry Restrictions. Persons subject to U.S. jurisdiction must be licensed or be exempt from licensing requirements. UT Dallas students, faculty and staff can check the Travel to Cuba webpage to determine if their travel purpose fits under the General License for Educational Activity.
  • Dual Nationality. The Cuban government requires U.S.-Cuban dual citizens to enter and depart Cuba using a Cuban passport. However, such persons must use their U.S. passports to enter and depart the United States. Dual nationals should be aware if requested to sign “repatriation” documents, that the Government of Cuba views a declaration of repatriation as a legal statement on the part of the dual national that he or she intends to resettle permanently in Cuba.

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Safety and Security

  • Public demonstrations. There are no guarantees that a demonstration will not turn violent. Avoid demonstrations. Get relevant alert messages through the International SOS Assistance App.
  • Violent crime. U.S. citizens and other foreign travelers indicate that the majority of incidents are non-violent and theft-related. In the event of a confrontation, travelers should not resist, as perpetrators may be armed.
  • Theft. Thefts generally occur in crowded areas such as markets, beaches, and other gathering points, including Old Town Havana and the Prado neighborhood. Be aware of your surroundings. Do not to leave belongings unattended, or carry purses and bags loosely over one shoulder. Avoid wearing flashy jewelry or displaying large amounts of cash. Ensure your valuables remain under your personal control at all times.
  • Hustlers. Cuban “jineteros” (hustlers) specialize in swindling tourists. While most jineteros speak English and go out of their way to appear friendly, many are professional criminals who may resort to violence to acquire money and other valuables from travelers.
  • Interactions with police. U.S. citizens traveling to Cuba should be aware that the Cuban government may detain anyone at any time for any purpose, and should not expect that Cuba’s state security or judicial systems will carry out their responsibilities according to international norms. Cuba does not consider itself obligated to allow U.S. consular officials to have access to detained Cuban-born U.S. citizens, whom the Cuban government views as Cuban citizens only.
  • Territorial waters. Cuban territorial waters are extremely dangerous and difficult to navigate, even for experienced mariners. The potential for running aground is very high.
  • International SOS Travel Risk Rating. Low.

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Health and Medical

  • Medical care. While medical professionals are generally competent, many health facilities face shortages of medical supplies and bed space.
  • Prescriptions. If you need ongoing prescription medicine, you should arrive with a sufficient supply for your stay in Cuba. A copy of the prescription and a letter from the prescribing physician explaining the need for prescription drugs may facilitate their entry into the country.
  • Medications. Many medications are unavailable. Use the CDC Healthy Travel Packing List for Cuba for a list of health-related items to consider packing for your trip. Talk to your doctor about which items are most important for you.
  • Vaccines required. None per the U.S Department of State.
  • Vaccines recommended. The CDC indicates that all travelers should be up to date on routine vaccinations while traveling to any destination, and that most travelers should get the Typhoid and Hepatitis A vaccines.
  • International SOS Medical Risk Rating. Medium.
  • Outbreaks. None currently reported by WHO.
  • Common traveler illnesses:
    • Diarrhea: Diarrheal illness is common among travelers, even in those staying in luxury accommodations. The CDC has a comprehensive webpage on food and water safety, and offers the free Can I Eat This? mobile app.
    • Dengue: Prevent mosquito bites. Visit the CDC Avoid Bug Bites page.
    • Cholera: Eating or drinking fecally-contaminated food or water is the main risk factor. The CDC has a comprehensive webpage on food and water safety, and offers the free Can I Eat This? mobile app.
    • Rabies: Risk exists in most parts of the country including urban areas of Havana. CDC recommends this vaccine for travelers involved in outdoor activities that put them at risk of animal bites. To see other groups at risk visit the CDC Rabies page on Cuba.
  • CDC Travel Notice. Cholera in Cuba. Level 1, practice usual precautions.

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Local Law

  • Identification. U.S. citizens are encouraged to carry a copy of their U.S. passport with them at all times so that, if questioned by local officials, proof of identity and U.S. citizenship is readily available. The original should be kept in a secure location, preferably in a safe or locked suitcase.
  • Illegal entry/exit. Attempts to enter or exit Cuba illegally, or to aid the irregular exit of Cuban nationals or other persons, are prohibited and punishable by stiff jail terms.
  • Drugs. Penalties for possession, use, or trafficking in illegal drugs in Cuba are severe, and convicted offenders can expect long jail sentences and heavy fines. Those accused of drug-related and other crimes face long legal proceedings and delayed due process. In some cases, the Cuban government has not permitted U.S. consular access to Cuban-American prisoners.
  • Traffic laws. U.S. citizen drivers involved in traffic accidents that result in the death or injury of any party may be held criminally liable, regardless of fault.
  • Photography. Cuba forbids photographing military or police installations or personnel, or harbor, rail, and airport facilities.
  • Sexual conduct and pornography. You can be prosecuted in the United States for engaging in sexual conduct with children or for using or disseminating child pornography.
  • Counterfeit and pirated goods. These are widely available. It is illegal to buy them and to bring them back to the U.S. Do not buy them.

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Customs Regulations

  • Importation of weapons. Entering Cuba with a firearm or even a single round of ammunition is illegal, even if the weapon or ammunition is taken into Cuba unintentionally. U.S. citizens entering Cuba with a weapon or any quantity of ammunition, even accidentally, are subject to fines or possible imprisonment.
  • Export. Goods of Cuban origin such as Cuban cigars and rum, with the exception of informational materials, may be seized at U.S. Customs’ discretion at the port of entry to the U.S.
  • Additional customs details. Please see the U.S. Department of State website on Customs Information.

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LGBT Rights

  • Laws. There are no legal restrictions on same-sex sexual relations or the organization of LGBT events in Cuba, but same-sex marriage is not legally recognized.
  • Information. For more detailed information about LGBT rights in Cuba you may review the State Department’s annual Country Reports on Human Rights Practices.

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  • Transportation and Accommodations. There are laws recommending that buildings, communications facilities, air travel, and other transportation services accommodate persons with disabilities, but in practice these facilities and services are rarely accessible to persons with disabilities, and information for persons with disabilities is limited. Most roads and sidewalks throughout the country are poorly maintained.
  • Also see the Traffic Safety and Road Conditions section.

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  • Credit cards. U.S. citizens and permanent residents are prohibited from using credit cards in Cuba. U.S. dollar, personal checks, and travelers’ checks cannot be used in Cuba.
  • Currency requirement. The Cuban government requires the use of convertible Cuban pesos or non-convertible Cuban pesos (“moneda nacional”) for all transactions.
  • Currency exchange. When exchanging currency, use state-run offices to convert dollars and avoid independent/street vendors.
  • Additional money details. Please see the U.S. Department of State website on Customs Information.

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Traffic Safety and Road Conditions

This information is for reference only, and may not be accurate for particular locations or circumstances.

  • Road Conditions.
    • Travelers may encounter very poor and dangerous road conditions.
    • Secondary streets often are not well maintained.
    • Secondary rural roads are narrow, and some in very bad condition making them impassable by cars.
    • Many roads and city streets are unlit, making night driving dangerous. Avoid night driving.
    • Some cars and most bicycles lack running lights or reflectors.
    • Street signage tends to be insufficient and confusing.
    • Many Cuban cars are old, in poor condition and lack signals, reliable breaks and other standard safety equipment.
    • Due to the rarity of cars in rural roads, pedestrians, bicycles, carts, unfenced livestock and farm vehicles wander onto the roads.
  • Driving
    • It is done on the right-hand side of the road, as in the U.S.
    • Speed limits are sometimes posted and generally respected in urban areas.
    • Use of seatbelts is generally required, all motorists are required to wear helmets.
  • Accidents involving motor vehicles
    • Unconfirmed reports suggest car accidents are now the leading cause of death in Cuba.
    • Many accidents involve motorists striking pedestrians or bicyclists.
    • Drivers found responsible for accidents resulting in serious injury or death are subject to prison terms for up to 10 years.
    • Cuban authorities may prohibit drivers of rental cars involved in accidents from leaving the country until all claims are settled.
    • Witnesses to vehicular accidents may not be allowed to leave the country until the investigation has been completed.
  • Public Transportation and Rental Vehicles
    • Taxis are available in busy commercial and tourist areas.
    • Radio dispatched taxis are generally clean and reliable.
    • Do not use unlicensed taxis, as they may be used by thieves to rob passengers.
    • Buses designated for tourist travel generally meet international standards of cleanliness and safety.
    • Public buses, known as “guaguas” are crowded, unreliable, and havens for pickpockets. These buses usually will not offer rides to foreign visitors.
    • “Co-co” taxis are considered unsafe and should be avoided. These are yellow-hooded, three-wheeled modified motorcycles without seat belts or other safety features.
    • Rental car agencies provide roadside assistance as condition of the contract.
    • Agencies generally respond as needed with tow trucks and/or mechanics.
    • Anecdotal reports indicate the maintenance that rental car agencies provide to their fleets is inadequate and may cause an accident.
  • Review additionally the U.S. Department of State Road Safety Overseas article.

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Victims of Crime

  • In an emergency, dial 106 (police) or 105 (fire).
  • The U.S. embassy or consulate can assist U.S. citizens with:
    • Replacing a stolen passport. The loss or theft in Cuba of a U.S. passport should be reported immediately to the local police and to the U.S. Interests Section in Havana
    • Helping you find appropriate medical care if you are the victim of violent crimes such as assault or rape;
    • Putting you in contact with the appropriate police authorities, and if you want us to, we can contact family members or friends; and
    • Helping you understand the local criminal justice process and direct you to local attorneys, although it is important to remember that local authorities are responsible for investigating and prosecuting the crime.
      They also maintain information on their website on how to report child abuse situations to the local authorities.

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Stay up to date

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UT Dallas Travelers Comments

Find below highlight comments of UT Dallas travelers for this country.

  • “Cuba was more expensive than anticipated, especially for the students. Two students ran out of money. Now that we have experience, we can give better guidelines in terms of budget. Make sure students understand that Havana is expensive, particularly for tourists.” UT Dallas Trip Leader, Spring 2015.
  • “Tipping is expected in Cuba. Be sure the students understand that the faculty will cover all payments and tips. Students were told by people they engaged either as part of the program or outside of the program, that they weren’t paid or tipped in order to obtain a little something extra. If faculty is not present, be sure students understand these arrangements so they don’t feel obligated to tip.” UT Dallas Trip Leader, Spring 2015.
  • “From our arrival in Havana, we immediately noticed a variety of attempted “mild scams” by locals in hopes of gaining an extra buck.       From the hotels in Havana and Varadero, there were extra people put on our bills, extra meals, and extra phone calls. Linked to the above point, some of the tour guides told students they weren’t paid, the bus driver said he hadn’t been paid, some people who received payment for their efforts told students they hadn’t been paid, all in hope of gaining extra bucks. Programs leaders to Cuba must warn students of this and maintain a very high level of vigilance and record keeping.” UT Dallas Trip Leader, Spring 2015.

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