10 do’s and don’ts for Americans in Cuba

Americans in Cuba

Yes… I know this page is full of prejudice :-)… It’s fun to write with a bias for a change!

Until 3 or 4 years ago I was very impressed with the Americans I met in Cuba. They were civilized, spoke some Spanish (or even very good), adapted to local culture and customs and were well prepared to the specificities of Cuba. That slowly changed so I decided to write this post for all Americans that want to visit the ‘working man’s paradise’.

Apart for people that yell ‘Muerica!!!’ that should not go to Cuba or anywhere else in the world, here are 10 do’s and don’ts for Americans in Cuba:

1 Do learn some Spanish.

Very few Cubans speak English well enough to communicate even about the basic things. Without communication, Cuba is a lot less interesting. Fortunately, you know a lot more Spanish than you know… I’ll show you in the book how much! Don’t expect everybody to speak English, they don’t… So don’t expect them to and do not get angry if they can’t tell you where the nearest ATM is (It’s in Key West)…

2 Don’t over tip.

Americans are great at tipping but over tipping makes people feel inferior. Imagine you earn 10.000 dollars a month (just as an example) and somebody tips you 1800 dollar for 10 minutes of your time. Does not feel right does it… It immediately changes your relationship with your customer. You like the money he just gave you but do you like him? Is a normal relationship with this guy still possible? Stick to 5-10%, even if the bill is just 10 dollars.

3 Get your money straight

Do learn the difference between CUC (also called the dollar or Peso) and Moneda Nacional (also called the Peso) and use both currencies. A lot of interesting things are sold in Moneda Nacional and tourist crap is always sold in CUC. Money is a hassle in Cuba so learn the tricks. This will not only save you a lot of money but also opens the door to a whole new Cuba for you.

ATMs do exist… they don’t work for you… No restaurant accepts credit cards… Please do get your money straight! (The nearest ATM in Havana is in Key West…)

Peso Cuba
Moneda Nacional MN
3 CUC peso
this is a CUC Peso

4 Don’t be loud.

I’ve already seen some Americans venture into Cuba being way too loud… You’re a guest; blend in to enhance the Cuba experience. Wear long pants if you are a man over 30. Some Americans think that their conversation is so interesting the whole restaurant needs to hear it… It’s not… Blend in, please!

5 Do realize you are always wrong.

The Cuban reference frame just does not fit your’s… So your assessment of a situation is wrong… Nothing is what it seems to western eyes. See being wrong as a game or it might destroy your ego… Especially Americans are very misinformed about Cuba. Propaganda exists on both sides of Florida straights and you’ve been told a lot of lies.

6 Talking about lies. Don’t believe too much

Don’t believe what the Cubans tell you…This is an easy one. 50% of what Cubans tell tourists I can prove to be a lie… the other half I’m just not able to prove it! Cubans tell you what they believe will help them to get into your pockets. The truth is a very vague concept in Cuba.

7 Do pack everything you need.

Wallmart does not exist in Cuba and finding simple things like deodorant or sunscreen can take a day (or more). Most modern consumption items are just not available. Take some hot salsa because the food in Cuba tends to be a bit ‘flat’.

8 Don’t stay in an all-inclusive…

Go travel and discover the country. Anyway, if you are de all-inclusive resort kind of tourist, our book is of very limited use for you. Get out there… Subtract one or even two stars from your resort to get to western levels. So if you stay in a resort…: Don’t complain.

9 Do feel safe.

Cuba is a very safe country! Crime rates are incredibly low. As long as you don’t venture out into dark neighborhoods at 3 at night with a big bundle of money and an iPhone in your pocket you’ll be fine!

10 Don’t go looking for a MacDonnald’s, Starbuck’s or ATM

There is only one on the Island and that’s in Guantanamo Bay… Guessing you don’t want to eat there! ATMs do exist but will not work for you. Blame Potus who raised the fines handed out to banks doing business in Cuba. The nearest ATM from Havana for a US citizen is in Key West.

11 Lower your expectations about everything.

Do's and don'ts for Americans in Cuba
Ask for a receipt!

Or even better, put them on hold. Service is substandard by any standard. Food is regular at best. Airco’s make noise but no cool air. Cars break down. Waitresses are not smiling and coffee is cold. Etc Etc…

Do ask for a receipt… they want you to! Translations are enigmatic.

12 Do Bring Cash

Credit Cards a nowhere to be accepted and ATMs just laugh at you. Don’t blame the Cubans, it’s the embargo!

13 Don’t give racism a second thought.

14 Do prepare yourself.

Read some books (dump the Lonely Planet, they spent 15 days in Cuba and listened to what the Cubans told them (50% is dead wrong)) and realize that Cuba is a totally different cup of tea. A good start would be this site and our book… Please read it and ask your money back if you don’t like it! It will enhance your comprehension of a very weird country and improve your stay in ‘The working man’s Paradise’!

15 Don’t even access your PayPal account.

Just don’t. They will see you’re in Cuba and block your account for a few months at best. Just leave your PayPal account alone! So Do Not order our book while in Cuba plz. While we’re PayPal bashing: Please don’t put the word ‘CUBA’ in the comment section when ordering our book… Por Favor!

On the ‘get the book‘ page we’ll give you a tip that will save you about two hours in Cuba. Just circumvent procedures in a legal way!

These do’s and don’ts will not enable you to encounter situations like this

Bonus: Don’t avoid the jineteros but know how to handle them!

 

 

  • J Savoie

    I have to comment on this: “3 Do learn the difference between CUC (also called the dollar or Peso)
    and Moneda Nacional (also called the Peso) and use both currencies…” I am not sure when this comment was made but it is illegal and near impossible for tourist to get Moneda Nactional… so I am not sure how you ca use both currencies…

  • Well… you are mis informed. You can get Moneda Nacional at any Cadeca (exept airport and hotels) and spent it legally anywhere. Lot’s of shops even have double pricing now.

  • J Savoie

    Okay thank you for clarification in the ‘illegal’ aspect , however, maybe some clarification is needed here. And please correct me again if I am wrong. Yes you can spend the Moneda National on the street ie: buying stuff from a Vendor etc.,.. however, you cannot ‘buy’ much else with it. You will not be able to go to a restaurant and buy lunch with it, or go to a bar and buy drinks with it or use it for excursions or pay for the ‘hop on hop off ‘ bus service. I think it is misleading to say that you can spend it anywhere when really you are very limited. AND what happens when you leave the country with and Cuban money?

  • All Cuban money (CUC and MN) is worthless outside of Cuba…
    There are bars that sell in MN and also restaurants. Most gas stations sell everything in both currencies.
    You are right about the ‘hop on hop off’ bus and the tourist excursions though!

    You might wanna read the book :-)…

  • J Savoie

    I was just going to say that your book probably explains this..lol

  • Hahaha… yep, that’s why I wrote it.
    Most people just don’t have a clue about Cuba. Which is a shame because it is such a great country!

  • J Savoie

    yes.. especially Americans as they have been told so many lies. And as you can see from me.. someone who has been to Cuba many times is told incorrect information while there. It is my favorite place . Cheers!

  • Lauren

    Awesome tips to keep in mind if I ever get to take a trip to Cuba! I don’t think it’s open for American tourists quite yet however

  • Yes it is Lauren, but it’s complicated :-)…

  • Eduardo

    …have traveled to Cuba 3Xs. The first was in 1989; the second and third: ’15 and ’17. …did lots of reading before I went. In 2015 took a P-to-P and had a superb time. …even explored on my own in spite of my being on a P-to-P. …liked your salient advice and noted about dress. I as an older man wore long pants; others in my small, intimate group looked liked hell in terms of their attire. A few looked as if they had emerged from the ’60s in how they dressed; they looked like hell and yearned to be reliving during that time. Glad I know how to travel as well as dress. …was back in 2017 but had to return due to a medical issue but hope to return in 2018 on a P-to-P with a desire to spend independent time prior or after. My tour company stated it can be done in spite of that prick’s dictum of June 16, 2018; I’ll hold my breath and wait and see.

    Thanks for what you printed here. Hope other Americans who plan to go to this largest of island nations in the Caribbean will read.

  • Eduardo

    Apparently, you give tours from another vantage point. Do you do the actual guiding, or natives? What’s the contact info. if I desire to get in touch with you for possible, selective guiding?

  • Feel free to explore my blog :-)… It has all the answers and more… http://www.bestcubatravelguide.com