Arriving In Cuba & Getting Money

by Female Abroad

All of this seemed like great information and tips until we got off the plane. An overnight flight had use from Vancouver, arriving into Mexico City at 7am before the mess at that airport got us into Havana at 1:40pm. A full 30 minutes earlier than expected (yay!).

But then came customs.

Imagine a large, damp room with 15 different line ups of border guards. Two were for VIPs, another for flight crew, another for government officials, one for families or the disabled, and five that were closed. Now add in all the passengers from three planes that had just landed. The fifteen lanes just became four and the people working them were not in any rush. Slowly as the minutes ticked on they did end up opening up another three lanes but they kept the same number of metal detectors open so there was a bottle neck now once you got through the passport check (they do the airport security just before you enter the country instead of before the passport check). Then once we got through the check and security there was another line to get out into the airport. We would learn sooner in our trip that Cuban's like to line up and if there is a line forming, even the elderly will join it was there must be something good if there is a line.

3:05pm. We landed at 1:40pm, our driver was to meet us at 2:30pm and we have a private guide meeting us at the air BnB at 3:30pm plus it's about a 30 minute drive to the Air BnB from the airport. This is going to be tight!

We got out of the holding area and finally into departures where our driver met us. He spoke no English and didn't even try to decode my broken Spanish until l said "No Peso" so he stopped. I looked around; the line up for the ABM in the departures area here was out the door and the driver said it would take more than an hour so that wasn't an option. I looked around and there was only stairs leaving to the arrivals area but since the driver was here and hubs didn't want to be left with three suit cases while I ran upstairs it wasn't an option. when the driver realized what we were trying to he said "Acadeca? I take, one in Havana". He knew he wasn't getting paid so that was fine for us as time was getting close.

When he did pull up to where we were meeting our Air BnB host, it turns out that it wasn't an acadeca but an ATM. I really didn't want to use one since I was told that you get better rates at an acadeca or a bank but with the time, both of those in the area were closed so ATM it would be and boy did that thing become our friend. After using it the first time, I was very puzzled. Why do people not want to use these? It charged me C$ 3 to take money out and the exchange rate was almost on par with the American dollar. I also tried an ATM in a bank and the exchange rate was the same. A few days late I exchanged some Euro's at an Acadeca in the Melia and the rate was 1.6 USD but they didn't charge me the C$ 3 so I saved a couple of bucks. Either way, the ATM was life saver.

One thing we learned really quick though is that CIBC will freeze your cards even after you call and alert them that you are travelling outside of the country and that you will be in Cuba. They won't apologize for it either and say that it is for your safety. Vancity on the other hand, no issues at all anywhere. Another reason why you should travel with at least two completely different cards!

Also, don't expect to be able to use your credit card or debit card any place other than the ATM's and the hotels. In Cuba, they want cash. Plus the internet is so rare that most companies don't have it so they can't charge you if they wanted it.