Latest update

This Advice was last issued on Wednesday, 29 January 2014.   It has been reviewed and reissued with editorial amendments. The overall level of the advice has not changed. We continue to advise Australians to exercise normal safety precautions in Cuba.

Cuba overall

Summary

  • We advise you to exercise normal safety precautions.
  • Pay close attention to your personal security and monitor the media for information about possible new safety or security risks.
  • Hurricane season is June to November when landslides, mudslides, flooding and disruptions to essential services may occur. Monitor local media reports and follow the instructions of local emergency officials.
  • If you are travelling to Cuba during hurricane season, you should contact your tour operator to check whether tourist services at your planned destination have been affected.
  • Travellers often experience problems in accessing funds in Cuba. Australian dollars cannot be exchanged in Cuba and many debit cards are not accepted. Cash advances may be obtained at banks, large hotels or Cadeca exchange houses against Visa or Mastercard only. Credit cards, debit cards and travellers’ cheques are not accepted if issued by US banks (this includes all American Express cards) or Australian banks affiliated with US banks.
  • Australia does not have an Embassy or Consulate in Cuba. The Australian Embassy in Mexico provides consular assistance to Australians in Cuba. The Canadian Embassy in Havana can also assist Australians.
  • Be a smart traveller. Before heading overseas:
    • organise comprehensive travel insurance and check what circumstances and activities are not covered by your policy
    • register your travel and contact details, so we can contact you in an emergency
    • subscribe to this travel advice to receive free email updates each time it's reissued.
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Entry and exit

You will need a visa to enter Cuba. A tourist card, which is considered a visa for entry for tourism purposes, can be obtained through your travel agent or through your nearest Embassy or Consulate of Cuba. You can also obtain the tourist card at some airports, including Mexico City, at the point of departure to Cuba. Information regarding visas for other purposes, such as study or work should be obtained from the nearest Cuban Embassy or Consulate. Visa and other entry and exit conditions (such as currency, customs and quarantine regulations) change regularly. Contact the nearest Cuban Embassy or Consulate of Cuba for the most up to date information.

Departure tax of 25 Cuban convertible pesos (CUC25) is payable at the airport and must be paid in CUC.

Travellers must present proof of comprehensive travel insurance in order to enter Cuba.

There are no commercial flights for foreign tourists between the USA and Cuba. If you are travelling through the United States of America with your final destination being Cuba you will need to meet USA entry/transit requirements. You should check your visa needs well in advance of travel with the nearest Embassy or Consulate of the United States. See also our travel advice for the USA.

Australians transiting other Central American countries when travelling to the United States should note that Central American airlines will not accept passengers for United States destinations without proof of onward or return tickets, even if the person may be eligible to enter the United States under the visa waiver program.

Customs authorities in Cuba may confiscate items they do not consider to be for the personal use of the traveller. Electrical items that draw heavily on electricity, as well as equipment using satellite technology, may be confiscated and not returned. The list of duty free personal items that travellers can take into Cuba is limited, and if not considered for personal use, may be seized. You can obtain further information from the nearest Consulate of Cuba or from General Customs of the Republic of Cuba online at www.aduana.co.cu.

Make sure your passport has at least six months' validity from your planned date of return to Australia. You should carry copies of a recent passport photo with you in case you need a replacement passport while overseas.

Safety and security

Terrorism

Terrorism is a threat throughout the world. You can find more information about this threat in our General advice to Australian travellers.

Crime

We advise you to exercise normal safety precautions in Cuba. Pay close attention to your personal security and monitor the media for information about possible new safety or security risks.

The incidence of petty and violent crime in Cuba is increasing. Travellers have been the victim of violent crimes such as assault, sexual assault and muggings. 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, Varadero and Santiago de Cuba. Valuables such as cameras, mobile phones and jewellery should be kept out of sight. Thefts from hotel and guesthouse accommodation occur.

Criminals posing as bogus tour agents or taxi drivers operate at the airport and in Havana. Travellers are advised to use established tour operators and registered taxis.

Theft of items from checked baggage at Cuban airports has occurred, including during security screening. Avoid placing jewellery, cameras, electronics and other valuable items in your checked luggage. Carry valuables securely on your person or in your carry-on baggage

Car-related crime is increasing. A common ploy used by thieves is to slash car tyres and then assist in repairs, while an accomplice steals from the vehicle. Thieves who pose as hitchhikers are also common.

Money and valuables

Before you go, organise a variety of ways to access your money overseas, such as credit cards, travellers' cheques, cash, debit cards or cash cards. Australian currency and travellers' cheques are not accepted in many countries. Consult with your bank to find out which is the most appropriate currency to carry and whether your ATM card will work in Cuba. Many ATM cards are not accepted in Cuba.

Cuba has two official currencies: the Cuban convertible peso (CUC) and the national peso (moneda nacional or MN). Transactions involving foreigners almost always take place in Cuban convertible peso. When receiving change after a transaction, be aware that the national peso is worth substantially less than the Cuban convertible peso. Cuban law states that it is illegal to remove CUC bills from Cuba.

Travellers often experience problems in accessing funds in Cuba. Australian dollars cannot be exchanged in Cuba and many debit cards are not accepted. The US dollar is not accepted as legal tender, and now attracts a large commission fee at exchange. Cash advances may be obtained at banks, large hotels or Cadeca exchange houses against Visa or MasterCard only. Credit cards, debit cards and travellers’ cheques are not accepted if issued by US banks (this includes all American Express cards) or Australian banks affiliated with US banks. International money transfer agencies such as Western Union are not available in Cuba (a local company, Asistur S.A., can provide similar services, but at greater cost, and not on weekends). Outside of the capital Havana, the availability of ATMs is limited.

Make two photocopies of valuable documents such as your passport, tickets, visas and travellers' cheques. Keep one copy with you in a separate place to the original and leave another copy with someone at home.

While travelling, don't carry too much cash and remember that expensive watches, jewellery and cameras may be tempting targets for thieves.

As a sensible precaution against luggage tampering, including theft, lock your luggage. Information on luggage safety is available from Australia's Civil Aviation Safety Authority.

Your passport is a valuable document that is attractive to criminals who may try to use your identity to commit crimes. It should always be kept in a safe place. You are required by Australian law to report a lost or stolen passport. If your passport is lost or stolen overseas, report it online or contact the nearest Australian Embassy, High Commission or Consulate as soon as possible.

Australians are required to pay an additional fee to have their passport replaced. In some cases, the Government may also restrict the length of validity or type of replacement passports.

Local travel

Driving in Cuba can be dangerous, particularly at night, due to inadequate street signs and lighting, and poorly maintained roads and vehicles. Roads are often shared with pedestrians, farm animals, bicycles, and unlit carts that usually don't give way to vehicles. If involved in an accident, you are likely to be detained, regardless of who is at fault. You may not be allowed to leave the country until the case is resolved. Visitors to Cuba are advised not to use mopeds or three-wheel Coco-taxis as they are particularly dangerous. For further advice, see our road travel page.

We recommend you use only registered taxis. Radio taxis can be booked by telephone. Avoid unlicensed private taxis.

Access to the internet and email is restricted by government regulations. Check with your local service provider regarding cell phone access as many Australian phones, even with global roaming, do not function in Cuba.

Telephone and electricity services are unreliable.

Airline safety

Please refer to our air travel page for information about aviation safety and security.

On 4 November 2010, an Aerocaribbean passenger aircraft crashed en route to Havana from Santiago de Cuba, killing all 68 passengers and crew on board, including two Australians.

Laws

When you are in Cuba, be aware that local laws and penalties, including ones that appear harsh by Australian standards, do apply to you. If you are arrested or jailed, the Australian Government will do what it can to help you but we can't get you out of trouble or out of jail.

Information on what Australian consular officers can and cannot do to help Australians in trouble overseas is available from the Consular Services Charter.

You must carry photo identification at all times in Cuba. Travellers may be detained if found without identification. Australian travellers who have lost passports and other identification documents should contact the Canadian Embassy in Havana in the first instance.

Serious crimes such as espionage and mass murder may attract the death penalty. Under the Cuban judicial system, charges are not laid until the investigation is complete, and the accused may be jailed for the entire period of the investigation.

Penalties for drug offences are severe and include lengthy prison sentences served in local jails.

Penalties for child sex tourism are severe.

Engaging in black market activities in Cuba is illegal.

It is illegal to photograph military or police installations, harbours, rail or airport facilities. These areas are not always identified.

Anyone considering preaching a religion or importing religious material should seek local advice, as it may be illegal.

The acceptance of same-sex couples has broadened recently, however caution should be exercised. Public displays of affection can lead to unwelcome attention from the police and local authorities. See our LGBTI travellers page.

Drinking and driving is against the law.

Some Australian criminal laws, such as those relating to money laundering, bribery of foreign public officials, terrorism, forced marriage, female genital mutilation, child pornography, and child sex tourism, apply to Australians overseas. Australians who commit these offences while overseas may be prosecuted in Australia.

Australian authorities are committed to combating sexual exploitation of children by Australians overseas. Australians may be prosecuted at home under Australian child sex tourism and child pornography laws. These laws provide severe penalties of up to 25 years imprisonment for Australians who engage in child sexual exploitation while outside of Australia.

Information for dual nationals

Cuba does not recognise dual nationality. This may limit the ability of the Australian Government to provide consular assistance to Australian/Cuban dual nationals who are arrested or detained.

Australian/Cuban dual nationals must enter Cuba on a valid Cuban passport, and will also be required to show their Australian passports on departure from Cuba. Dual nationals may need to seek permission to enter Cuba, and should contact the Cuban Embassy in Canberra prior to travelling.

Our Dual nationals page provides further information for dual nationals.

Health

We strongly recommend that you take out comprehensive travel insurance that will cover any overseas medical costs, including medical evacuation, before you depart. Confirm that your insurance covers you for the whole time you'll be away and check what circumstances and activities are not included in your policy. Remember, regardless of how healthy and fit you are, if you can't afford travel insurance, you can't afford to travel. The Australian Government will not pay for a traveller's medical expenses overseas or medical evacuation costs. Proof of travel insurance is required to enter Cuba.

Your doctor or travel clinic is the best source of information about preventive measures, immunisations (including booster doses of childhood vaccinations) and disease outbreaks overseas. The World Health Organization (WHO) provides information for travellers and our Health page also provides useful tips for travelling with medicines and staying healthy while overseas.

The standard of public medical facilities is basic in the capital Havana, and very limited in smaller towns and rural areas. Private medical facilities are available and well equipped, however the Cira Garcia Hospital is the only hospital available to tourists in Havana. International Servimed clinics can provide emergency medical care in the major tourist areas. Many pharmaceutical products are in short supply or unavailable.

Doctors and hospitals require cash payment prior to providing treatment. Serious medical emergencies may require evacuation, at considerable cost, to the United States where the cost of medical treatment is very high.

Outbreaks of the mosquito-borne illness dengue fever are common in Cuba, particularly during the wet season (April to November). We recommend you take measures to avoid mosquito bites, including using insect repellent at all times.

Water-borne, food-borne and other infectious diseases (including typhoid, hepatitis, meningitis, leptospirosis, viral meningitis, conjunctivitis and rabies) are prevalent with more serious outbreaks occurring from time to time. Outbreaks of cholera have occurred in the past, including in Havana. We advise you to boil all drinking water or drink bottled water, and avoid ice cubes and raw and undercooked food. Seek medical advice if you have a fever or are suffering from diarrhoea.

Where to get help

Australia does not have an Embassy or Consulate in Cuba. You can obtain consular assistance from the nearest Australian Embassy which is in Mexico:

Australian Embassy
Ruben Dario 55, Polanco
Colonia Bosques de Chapultepec, CP
11580 Mexico D.F. Mexico
Telephone: (52 55) 1101 2200
Facsimile: (52 55) 1101 2201
E-mail: consularpassports.mexico@dfat.gov.au

By agreement between the Canadian and Australian governments, the local Canadian Embassy provides consular assistance to Australians in Cuba. You should register your presence with the Canadian Government. This service does not include the issue of Australian passports. The address is:

Canadian Embassy
Calle 30, No 518 between 5a y 7a
Miramar, Havana, Cuba
Telephone: (537) 204 2516
Facsimile: (537) 204 2044
Website: http://www.canadainternational.gc.ca/cuba/

If you are travelling to Cuba, whatever the reason and however long you'll be there, we encourage you to register with the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade. You can register online or in person at any Australian Embassy, High Commission or Consulate. The information you provide will help us to contact you in an emergency -whether it is a natural disaster, civil disturbance or a family issue.

In a consular emergency, if you are unable to contact the above embassies you can contact the 24-hour Consular Emergency Centre on +61 2 6261 3305 or 1300 555 135 within Australia.

In Australia, the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade in Canberra may be contacted on (02) 6261 3305.

Additional information

Natural disasters, severe weather and climate

The hurricane season is June to November when landslides, mudslides and flooding occur. This may cause disruptions to transportation, utilities, emergency and medical care, as well as food, fuel, and water supplies. Monitor local media reports and follow the instructions of local emergency officials.

The direction and strength of hurricanes can change with little warning. You can check the latest hurricane information at the National Hurricane Center website.

In the event of an approaching hurricane, you should follow the instructions of local authorities. Flights in and out of affected areas could be delayed or suspended. Available flights may fill quickly. You should contact your airline for the latest flight information. The hurricane could also affect access to sea ports in the region. In some areas, adequate shelter from a severe hurricane may not be available to all who choose to or remain in Cuba. You should familiarise yourself with your hotel or cruise ship evacuation plans. Carry your travel documents at all times (i.e. passport, photo identification etc.) or secure them in a safe, waterproof location. We also suggest that you contact friends and family in Australia with updates about your welfare and whereabouts. For further information, see our Severe Weather page.

Cuba is located in an active earthquake zone.

All oceanic regions of the world can experience tsunamis. See the Tsunami Awareness brochure for more information on tsunamis.

Information on natural disasters can be obtained from the Humanitarian Early Warning Service. If a natural disaster occurs, follow the advice of local authorities.

For parents

For general information and tips on travelling with children see our Travelling with children page.



While every care has been taken in preparing this information, neither the Australian Government nor its agents or employees, including any member of Australia's diplomatic and consular staff abroad, can accept liability for any injury, loss or damage arising in respect of any statement contained herein.

Maps are presented for information only. The department accepts no responsibility for errors or omission of any geographic feature. Nomenclature and territorial boundaries may not necessarily reflect Australian Government policy.