Passing Cuban customs
Your first introduction to Cuba is the long waiting line at customs. A whole battery of austere looking custom officials checks every passenger thoroughly. Until he or she is satisfied the gray door to Cuba remains locked. You have to take your glasses off, put them back on and take them off again whilst your passport picture is being studied carefully. Take your glasses off again and take a step back to have your picture taken and get ready for the interview. This can be an entertaining process or it might get on your nerves. This is your first indication about your future opinion about Cuba.
My advice: See the funny side of it all.
Click here for the Cuba Aduana official site in English (if it opens). Here your fun should start: You can bring one video camera and one photo camera, both with two rolls of film. And this is the new website! When did you last use a roll of film?
The customs officer might ask you: ’Hotel in Cuba?’ Since there was an unwritten law that states that you should stay in a state run hotel for at least 1 to 3 nights (opinions on unwritten laws might vary). The following are all correct answers: Dauville, Parque Central, Presidentes, Melia Cohiba or Inglaterra, since they are all hotels in Cuba and that was the question wasn’t it? This law was abolished in 2011 but not all customs clercks got that info.
Customs in Cuba don’t forget anything!
Returning visitors are asked how often they were in Cuba before. Please give the correct answer, they have your whole file on the screen and being one trip off might not speed up the process… In Cuba customs are very meticulous…
After the customs officer is satisfied with your answers, checks your passport once again and is convinced that your health insurance is valid the door gets unlocked with a sharp ‘click’. You are free to enter the country… Almost that is.
100 % luggage scans
Your hand luggage is scanned, all of it…
Your suitcases are getting the same treatment behind the scenes. You are not allowed to import Toasters, waffle irons and all other electricity intensive appliances due to Cuba’s frail energy net. The same restrictions apply to GPS (don’t worry your Smartphone is no problem), more than one laptop or satellite equipment. If you were planning to take any kind of drugs with you… don’t. The same goes for porn (and yes, a Playboy is considered porn. Cubans don’t care for the interviews, they don’t read English).
Tip for frequent visitors
If there is anything suspicious in your luggage, customs makes a mark on your label. Save the ‘clean’ label from your last trip, go to the toilet (no cameras there) and change the labels. As you know the customs officers look at the labels and now you have a clean bill of health on your suitcase.
If I were you I would leave your weapons and bulletproof vest at home too. The general rule here is that importing strange goods, can lead to strange questions by customs, which in turn generate strange effects which might not be pleasant and in extreme cases even could lead to an alternative holiday accommodations called ‘jail’. And believe us, you will not like the buffet there. So be nice to the Cuba customs!
Prescription medecine is no problem. As a rule of thumb: Normal tourist luggage is never a problem.
The skirts of the female custom officers are short… very short… They are not designed that way, they have them shortned by a tailor!
No Trade passes Cuban Customs
Everything that could be considered as ‘trading goods’ is forbidden and you risk confiscation or a hefty fine. Customs are very flexible with tourists, but do not go looking for the limits of this flexibility. I never take more than 5 mobile phones, carefully distributed over my pocket, hand luggage and suitcases. As soon as you’ve got more than 40 pieces of something it is considered commercial. And you do not want to be a considered a merchant! Even if you don’t plan to sell anything but just want to give stuff away to poor Cubans… In that case read this: Think before you gift.
We even give you the mailadress (and the how to) of Havana VIP reception. They speed you through customs in no time!
Last update July 2019