This Advice was issued on Friday, 11 April 2008. We thought it would be interesting to post this since much of the advice would apply to travelers to Cuba from any country. Be sure to visit the original article for links to more information.
Crime in Cuba
We advise you to exercise caution and monitor developments that might affect your safety in Cuba because of the risk of criminal activity. 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. Travelers 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 and Varadero. Thefts from hotel and guest house accommodation occur.
Criminals posing as bogus tour agents or taxi drivers operate at the airport and in Havana. Travelers are advised to use established tour operators and registered taxis. You should not pack valuables in your checked luggage as thefts commonly occur during baggage handling at airports and while using taxis.
Car-related crime is increasing. A common ploy used by thieves is to slash car tires and then assist in repairs, while an accomplice steals from the vehicle.
Local Travel in Cuba
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, bicycles and carts that do not 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 for travel around Cuba as they are particularly dangerous.
Possession of photographic identification is required at all times in Cuba. Travelers 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.
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 and reverse charge calls are not possible.
Money and Valuables in Cuba
Before you go, organise a variety of ways of accessing your money overseas, such as credit cards, travelers’ cheques and cash. International money transfer agencies such as Western Union are not available in Cuba. (A local company can provide similar services, but at greater cost, and not on weekends.)
Check with your bank whether your ATM card will work in Cuba. Outside of the capital Havana, the availability of ATMs is limited. Cash advances may be obtained at banks, hotels or Cadeca exchange houses against a Visa or Mastercard only. Debit cards are not accepted anywhere in Cuba.
Credit cards and travelers cheques are generally only accepted at large hotels, and are not accepted at all if issued by US banks (this includes all American Express cards) or Australian banks affiliated with US banks.
Australian dollars cannot be exchanged in Cuba. The US dollar is no longer accepted as legal tender, and now attracts a large commission fee at exchange.
When receiving change after a transaction, be aware that the local currency (monedo nacional) is worth less than Cuban convertible pesos (CUC).
Make two photocopies of valuables such as your passport, tickets, visas and travelers’ cheques. Keep one copy with you in a separate place to the original and leave another copy with someone at home.
While traveling, don’t carry too much cash and remember that expensive watches, jewelery 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 Laws in Cuba
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.
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 during the entire period of the investigation.
Penalties for drug offenses are severe and include lengthy prison sentences served in local jails.
Engaging in black market activities in Cuba is illegal.
It is illegal to photograph military or police installations, harbors, 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.
Drinking and driving is against the law.
Some Australian criminal laws, such as those relating to money laundering, bribery of foreign public officials, terrorism and child sex tourism, apply to Australians overseas. Australians who commit these offenses 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 laws. These laws provide severe penalties of up to 17 years imprisonment for Australians who engage in sexual activity with children under 16 while outside of Australia.
Information for Dual Nationals in Cuba
Cuba does not recognize 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.
Our Travel Information for Dual Nationals brochure provides further information for dual nationals.
Entry and Exit Requirements in Cuba
You will need a visa to enter Cuba. Tourist cards can now be obtained through your travel agent or at the airport at the point of travel to Cuba. Visa and other entry and exit conditions (such as currency, customs and quarantine regulations) change regularly. Contact the nearest Consulate of Cuba for the most up to date information.
Departure tax equivalent of around $A35 (CUC25) is payable at the airport and must be paid in Convertible Pesos (CUC).
There are no direct flights from the USA to Cuba, however, if you are traveling 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 US Embassy or Consulate. See also our travel advice for the USA.
Australians transiting other Central American countries when traveling 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 traveler. Electrical items that draw heavily on electricity may be confiscated and returned on departure. The list of duty free personal items that travelers can take into Cuba is limited. You can obtain further information from the nearest Consulate of Cuba or from General Customs of the Republic of Cuba online at http://www.aduana.co.cu .
Health Issues in Cuba
We strongly recommend that you take out comprehensive travel insurance that will cover any overseas medical costs, 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.
Your doctor or travel clinic is the best source of information about preventive measures, immunizations (including booster doses of childhood vaccinations) and disease outbreaks overseas. The World Health Organization (WHO) provides information for travelers and our ‘Traveling Well’ brochure also provides useful tips for traveling 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 pharmaceuticals 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 HIV/AIDS, typhoid, hepatitis, meningitis, leptospirosis and rabies) are prevalent with more serious outbreaks occurring from time to time. We encourage you to discuss your vaccination requirements with your doctor before traveling. 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 diarrhea.
The World Organization for Animal Health (OIE) has confirmed cases of avian influenza in birds in a number of countries throughout the world. For a list of these countries, visit the OIE website. For information on our advice to Australians on how to reduce the risk of infection and on Australian Government precautions see our travel bulletin on avian influenza.
Where to Get Help in Cuba
Australia does not have an Embassy or Consulate in Cuba. You can obtain consular assistance from the nearest Australian Embassy which is in Mexico:
Ruben Dario 55
Colonia Polanco, CP
11560 Mexico D.F. Mexico
Telephone (52 55) 1101 2200
Facsimile (52 55) 1101 2201
By agreement between the Canadian and Australian governments, the local Canadian Embassy provides consular assistance to Australians in Cuba. This service does not include the issue of Australian passports. The address is:
Calle 30, No 518 between 5a y 7a
Miramar, Havana, Cuba
Telephone (537) 204 2516
Facsimile (537) 204 2044
If you are traveling 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 Center 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.