Frequently Asked Questions
Home | Cuba | Frequently Asked Questions
Frequently Asked Questions

To help you decide whether to join us or prepare for your departure, we've compiled the following questions. For complete details on our policies around reservations, cancellations, air arrangements, and more, please review our full Terms and Conditions

Documentation & Regulations

How is Grand Circle Foundation able to legally visit Cuba?

We are traveling under a "People-to-People" license (#CT-2014-310986-1) granted to Grand Circle Foundation by the U.S. Government Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC).

Our license provides authorization for "a full-time schedule of educational exchange activities … that will result in meaningful interaction between the travelers and individuals in Cuba".

Do I need a visa to travel to Cuba?

Yes. The cost of a visa for non-Cuban born U.S. citizen and U.S. resident participants is included in your program price.  After you reserve, we'll need you to send us two photocopies of your passport photo page in order to initiate the visa application process.

Unlike a typical visa that appears in your passport, the Cuban visa is more like a tourist card, which you will receive in Miami prior to your departure for Havana. Upon arrival in Havana, Cuban immigration officials will collect the first half of the card. The other half will be collected when you depart.

Do I need a passport to travel to Cuba?

Yes—and it must be valid for at least six months following your scheduled departure date to Cuba.

Should I worry about having a Cuban stamp in my passport?

No. In general, Cuban officials will not stamp the passports of U.S. citizens.

I was born in Cuba, but I'm an American citizen. Can I still join your program?

Yes. Please advise your Program Support agent when you reserve. There is a supplement, currently $200 per person, for a visa for Cuban-born participants.

However, if you have ever applied for a Cuban visa and your application was rejected, or if you have reason to believe your application will be rejected, we strongly recommend that you not join this program. If your visa is rejected—and there's a strong chance it will be—you'll be subject to all cancellation fees.

For more information regarding reservation policies, please read our Terms and Conditions.

Money Matters

Can I use credit or debit cards in Cuba?

No, so keep this in mind when you're preparing for your program. You'll need to bring enough cash to cover all expenses not included in your program price: $25-$35 for one dinner and $15 for each lunch not included; a $30 per person departure tax, and any shopping you plan to do in Cuba. You are only allowed to bring home items classified as Art (which includes handcrafts and handmade clothing), Music, or Books.

Typically, we recommend you bring $700-$1000 on Cuba: A Bridge Between Cultures.

Should I bring traveler's checks to Cuba?

No. We do not recommend using traveler's checks in Cuba. They will not be insured (which would be the primary reason for bringing them), and they are not widely accepted.

What is the currency in Cuba?

Currently, there are two official currencies in Cuba: the convertible peso (CUC), and the Cuban peso, better known as "pesos Cubanos," which is only used by locals and not necessary for you on our program. CUCs come in the following denominations: 1, 3, 5, 10, 20, 50, and 100.

What is the exchange rate from U.S. dollars to CUCs?

Technically, the CUC is equal to the U.S. dollar at a 1:1 ratio—but there is a 10%-12% surcharge for converting U.S. dollars to CUCs, as well as a retail commission. After these charges, you'll receive around .87 CUC for one dollar.

The 1.1 exchange rate is subject to change at any time. For the most up-to-date information (not including surcharge and retail commission), we encourage you to visit www.xe.com.

Can I obtain CUCs before I depart?

No, because Cuban currency is not part of the international currency exchange. Similarly, you'll want to exchange all leftover CUCs before departing Cuba, unless you plan to keep them as souvenirs.

How can I obtain CUCs in Cuba?

Money can be changed at banks or exchange booths known as Casas de Cambio (CADECA). You'll find CADECAs in airports and business/shopping districts. They are typically open between 8:30am and 6pm, though some are closed on Sunday. You can also change money at your hotels.

Do not exchange currency on the street under any circumstances. Not only is it illegal, but there are scams designed to take advantage of unsuspecting travelers. 

Can I use U.S. dollars to make purchases in Cuba?

No. You'll need to convert your U.S. dollars into CUCs. In some instances, however, it is appropriate to leave a U.S. dollar as a tip, particularly for restaurant servers or hotel housekeeping staff.

Is tipping expected in Cuba?

Cuba is a difficult place to make a living, and in general, tipping is expected but is by no means mandatory.

We include certain tips in your program price, but we recommend leaving a dollar or CUC per night in your hotel room for the housekeeping staff, and a dollar or CUC per meal at restaurants for your servers (at meals not included in your program price).

Musicians in bars and restaurants depend on your tips, so if their talents bring you enjoyment, we encourage you to give a little something.

Tips to your Cuban Trip Leader are not included in your program price. The following amounts are intended as guidelines only; whether you tip, and how much, is always at your discretion.

Cuban Trip Leader: U.S. $7-$10 per person, per day

Does Grand Circle Foundation include travel protection?

Due to Cuban government regulations, your charter airline tickets include the following:

  • A maximum of $20,000 to cover emergency medical costs incurred in Cuba
  • A maximum of $7500 evacuation insurance

Grand Circle Foundation does not offer additional travel protection that covers trip cancellation, trip interruption, and baggage. Therefore, we strongly recommend you purchase a full travel protection plan.

As a service to you, we have found a plan that does cover Cuba through a company called Allianz (formerly Access America). We recommend the Classic plan, which you can view on their website. Enter code F029941 at the upper right corner of your screen.

General Practicalities

What are the accommodations like?

You can expect clean, comfortable hotel rooms with private baths and standard amenities. But please bear in mind that Cuban standards are different than what you'd enjoy in the States or Europe, and in some places accommodations are scarce so our choices are limited. 

Cuba has a struggling economy, so hotels do not undergo the constant renovations that occur at American or European counterparts.  For example, at the "grand dame" of Havana, the Hotel Nacional, you may find that the guest rooms, while comfortable, are somewhat less grand than the historic public areas. 

In general it helps to keep things in perspective: this a rare chance to experience Cuba and the potential leaky faucet, worn carpet, or busy lobby is a small tradeoff for the excellent location, authentic atmosphere, and rich experience you will get in return. Confirmation of your specific lodgings (with hotel contact information) will be sent to you with your final documents package, about 14 days prior to your departure.

What's the weather like?

The weather in Cuba is semi-subtropical. Temperatures are generally warm year-round, but trade winds often temper the heat. The wet season, which accounts for nearly two-thirds of the country's rainfall, runs approximately from May-October, and the dry season from November-April.

Will I have internet access in Cuba?

Yes, but don't rely on it. The connection speed in Cuba will be slower than what you're accustomed to—and in rural areas, the internet may not be available at all.

Most hotels do have either an internet café or business center where you can access the internet for a fee. Expect to pay $10-$15 per hour.

Do I need an electrical adapter or converter?

We recommend you bring both. The most common voltage in Cuba is 110V, which is what we use in the U.S.—though some hotels are now using 220V. To prevent damage to your appliances, you should bring a 110/220 voltage converter.

Cuba also uses several different outlet types, some of which can accommodate standard U.S. two- or three-pronged plugs, but some of which cannot. Therefore, we recommend you bring a universal adapter that includes all plug options.

Can I use a cell phone in Cuba?

No, foreign cell phones do not work in Cuba. Phone cards come in denominations ranging from $10-$20, and will cost you an average of around $2.40 per minute. You can use these phone cards at blue Etecsa phone boxes, which can be found throughout the country. You can also make calls from your hotel room for around $2.50 per minute.

To call the U.S. from Cuba, dial 1, followed by the area code and number. If you are unable to connect, dial 119-1, followed by the area code and number.

What kinds of souvenirs can I bring home from Cuba?

Technically, you may only bring home items categorized as Art (which includes handcrafts and handmade clothing), Music, or Books, and you will need a tax receipt and stamp for original works of art or antiques that are valued above $50.

Small souvenirs such as t-shirts, magnets, and other "touristy" items could create an issue in U.S. Customs.

Can I bring Cuban cigars or rum home?

Absolutely not. Bringing Cuban rum and/or cigars into the U.S. is strictly prohibited, and this regulation is strongly enforced. If you do attempt to bring these items into the U.S. and are caught in possession at Customs, at the very least, you will be detained. And regardless of how severe or lenient the penalties may be, anytime thereafter that you fly or pass through U.S. Customs/TSA security, your records will have been flagged and you will come under much greater scrutiny.

What is the minimum age for participants on this program?

This is an educational program that would not be enjoyable for very young travelers. Therefore, participants must be at least 15 years old.

Cultural Concerns

How do Cubans feel about American travelers?

We think you'll find Cubans to be warm, friendly, and extremely welcoming of Americans—which is important, because interacting with them is the main purpose of our People-to-People program.

As we get to know the Cuban culture, we'll encourage you to keep an open mind—because by sharing in Cuba's pervasive sense of spontaneity, we open ourselves up to experiences that are not only unplanned, but also unforgettable.

Cubans are extremely open to discussing the realities of their country—both the good and the bad—as long as you're open to doing the same. So we encourage you to share your viewpoints and ideas. If you sense that someone is reluctant to discuss a certain topic, however, don't press the issue, and avoid making statements that are obviously inflammatory—just as you would anywhere else.

What's the food like in Cuba?

Cuban cuisine is largely limited by the lack of resources available. Fresh vegetables, herbs, and spices cannot be easily distributed or stored in Cuba, and are therefore difficult to come by. As a result, the primary staples of Cuban cuisine are rice, beans, chicken, pork, plantains, and root vegetables.

If you have special dietary requests, please advise your Foundation representative during your program and we will do everything possible to accommodate you—but due to a general lack of available ingredients, there can be no guarantees.

Is Cuba safe?

Cuba is considered safer than many of its Caribbean and Latin neighbors, but certain common sense precautions should be taken. You should never lose sight of your luggage unless you give it to a hotel porter or your bus driver. We strongly recommended that you use your hotel safe to store valuables. We also recommend bringing a money belt or a small neck pouch for your cash. When not using your camera, always keep it in your pocket, in a case attached to your belt, or hanging on a strap around your neck.

Pick pocketing and purse snatching happen from time, and walking at night, especially in unknown areas, is discouraged. But while precautions should still be taken (as they should anywhere), crime is not prevalent. The police are very helpful and thorough when investigating the infrequent cases of theft that do occur.

Back to Cuba: A Bridge Between Cultures >>
Back to "Learn More" >>