Cuba Travel Information
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Local time is GMT -5 (GMT-4 from the second Sunday in March to the last Sunday in October).
Most older hotels use 110-volt power, while newer hotels use 220 volts. A variety of outlets are in use, but the flat and round two-pin plugs are most common.
The official language is Spanish, but English is spoken in the main tourist spots.
Health insurance, with provision for emergency repatriation, is compulsory for visitors to Cuba. Those travellers without adequate health insurance will be obliged to purchase Cuban health insurance on arrival. No vaccinations are officially required, however visitors are advised to take precautions against typhoid if travelling to rural areas. Most of the more serious tropical diseases are rare in Cuba, but viral meningitis and dengue fever do occasionally break out, including in urban areas like Havana. Dengue fever is on the increase and the best prevention against it is mosquito repellent and suitable clothing to avoid being bitten. Hepatitis A is common. Rabies should only be a risk for those exposed to animal bites, but if you are planning to spend a lot of time outdoors a vaccination is recommended. Food in Cuba is generally considered safe. Bottled water is available and advised for the first few weeks, although mains water is chlorinated. Cuban medical facilities are mediocre and many medicines are unavailable, so those requiring regular prescription drugs should bring them, along with a copy of the prescription and a doctor's letter to facilitate entry through customs.
Tipping in convertible pesos is very welcomed as salaries in the service industry are small. A 10% tip is appreciated in restaurants and by taxi drivers. Small amounts are appreciated by all service staff.
Cuba is considered free from any threat of global terrorism, but has an increasing crime rate. Visitors are warned that theft from baggage during handling is common, and valuables should not be packed in suitcases. Be wary of pickpockets and bag snatchers at major tourist sites and on buses and trains. Crime is on the increase and visitors should be particularly careful after dark in Havana; there have been multiple incidents in Centro Habana late at night when foreign nationals were stabbed or robbed. Visitors are advised to take taxis after dark rather than walk. Beware of thefts from rooms in private homes. Tropical storms and hurricanes usually occur between June and November; although good warning is given, electricity, water and communications can be disrupted for weeks. Fidel Castro, Cuban leader since 1959, has handed the reigns over to his brother, Raul, following surgery and a long period of rest. Although the political situation is calm at present, political gatherings should be avoided.
Visitors should address Cuban men as 'señor' and women as 'señora'. While many Cubans will engage in political discussion and debate, it is not advised to criticise the government too vocally, and one should be respectful of revolutionary figures such as Fidel Castro and Ernesto 'Che' Guevara.
Cubans tend to be warm and hospitable, and business is conducted more informally than in many other countries. Establishing a good relationship is vital to successful business and some time may be given over to small talk. Due to relative isolation from the global economy, business in Cuba tends to take some time and effort, and one is often hemmed in by the country's communist practices. Punctuality is always important, but don't expect meetings to begin on time or deals to be struck quickly. The dress code tends to be more casual than elsewhere but businessmen still usually wear traditional shirts and the dress code for women is sophisticated. Business hours are usually 8.30am to 12.30pm and 1.30pm to 4.30pm Monday to Friday. Some businesses are open every second Saturday.
The international access code for Cuba is +53. The outgoing code is 119 followed by the relevant country code (e.g. 11944 for the United Kingdom). The city code for Havana is (0)7. Cellular phone companies have roaming agreements with many international cell phone companies, but not the United States. A GSM network covers most main towns, and cell phones are available for rent. Public telephones are widely available for domestic as well as international calls, but international calls are expensive. Pre-paid phone cards are available. Internet cafes are located in the main towns and cities.
Travellers to Cuba over 18 years do not need to pay customs duty on 200 cigarettes or 50 cigars or 250g of tobacco; 3 bottles of alcoholic beverages; gifts to the value of US$50; and up to 10kg of medicine. Seeds, fresh animal or vegetable products, narcotics and psychotropic substances; explosives, firearms and ammunition; pornographic material; publications directed against public order and morality and household electrical appliances are all prohibited. Strict regulations govern the import or export of philatelic collections; precious stones and metals; artistic, historical or cultural artefacts; and books printed prior to 1940.
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