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How to fill out your Cuba Visa Card

image1Order your visa on our website cubavisaservices.com.  After you have submitted your order, and once processed, you will receive a FedEx tracking number from FedEx via email (check your spam if you don’t receive it). Please allow 7 business days for arrival or 2 business days if you selected the “next-day shipping” option. Note that we do not deliver to PO BOX addresses.

 

image2Enclosed within your Fedex envelope, you will find your visa along with instructions on how to fill it in. The visa is a blank 2-panel paper slip that you must fill-in with your information. Use a black pen and read all fields before filling it in to avoid making mistakes. Have your passport handy, as the form requires that you write-in your passport number. Any errors on the visa may result in the visa being null and a new one must be purchased.
image3Fill-in the visa with your Last Name, First Name, Birth Date (day, month, year), Passport number and Country of Citizenship. Please note that date format is Day, month, and year. All information should reflect exactly what is in your passport. The left side and the right side must be filled in with the same information.
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image6On the day of your flight, make sure to have your passport and visa in order to travel. All documentation will be verified at check-in. If you are not an American citizen/resident (green card + passport from citizen country) and require additional documentation, please verify what additional documents you will need upon return to the U.S. For example, as an International citizen residing in the U.S. under a student visa may require additional documentation to fly back into the U.S. The same may apply if you are a ESTA visa or multiple entry visa holder.
image7Upon arrival at Cuba, Cuban immigration officials will keep half of the visa. Keep the second half of the visa for departure from Cuba. Keep in mind Visa is valid for only 30 days and it is for one time use only.

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Make it a Cuban Turkey Day!

Thanksgiving Day is tomorrow and although it’s not celebrated in Cuba, it has become a tradition for many Cuban Americans in the US.

Cuban or not, chances are your plans include cooking a Thanksgiving meal and rather than doing the same thing you did last year why not add a little Cuban spice and flavor? With that in mind we’d like to share with you the Cuban turkey recipe. Hope you like it and if you try it let us know what you think.

Ingredients

3 heads of garlic, peeled
1 tablespoon of black pepper
1 tablespoon of ground cumin
1 tablespoon of dry oregano
2 tablespoon of salt (or to taste)
2 cups of fresh lime juice
1 cup of white wine
6 ounces of orange juice (concentrated)
1 turkey (15-16 pounds)
Crush the peeled garlic and place in a large bowl. Add salt, pepper and oregano to season. Add the lime juice, white wine and orange juice. Whisk until all ingredients are mixed.
Pierce the turkey breasts, legs and thighs with a sharp knife forming holes for the mix to enter. Pour the mixture over the entire turkey and into the holes. Stuff the crushed garlic heads inside the holes. Cover the turkey and refrigerate overnight to marinate.
Preheat oven to 325° F.
Roast turkey until the internal temperature of the thickest part of the turkey reaches 180° F, this should take about 5 hours. Baste the turkey every 30-40 minutes. Once the breast is golden, cover loosely with a piece of aluminum foil to prevent burning.
Serves 20
Total Preparation time 13 hours 40 minutes (preparation 40 minutes, cooking time 5 hours, marinate 8 hours)

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Alumni vs. Student- Who’s Better Off?

When I tell people what I do and where I work (Cuba Travel Services) their first response is “Wow, I didn’t think people from the US were allowed to go to Cuba!” Most people don’t even think it can be done, but like many questions the answer is often “it depends”. On what? Well, it depends on the purpose of your travel. Then of course a series of probing questions follow because it’s complicated and it really does depend.

So instead of telling you about all the categories and regulations which OFAC (Office of Foreign Asset Controls) operates under when it comes to traveling to Cuba, my goal today is to break it down and focus on only one form of travel- general vs. specific or students vs. alumni.

The main question is: Are you a student who’s getting school credits when you travel to Cuba? If the answer is yes then you wouldn’t need a license at all from OFAC because this falls under their General Category. If the answer is no and you are alumni and no credits will be granted then the association would have to travel under a specific license (often a people-to-people license) and this has to be granted by OFAC. The process takes 3-4 months and the sample itinerary provided to OFAC needs to be bullet proof, meaning that it has to clearly demonstrate that “meaningful interaction between the travelers and individuals in Cuba” will take place.

So that answers the question, as a student you are better off as long as you get school credit from your institution because there is no drawn out process. If you’re part of an alumni group; however, you now would have to travel under a license whether it’s granted to your own alumni association or another organization. I think of this license as an umbrella, you can’t travel to Cuba from the US without an umbrella (it doesn’t have to be your umbrella but you have to have one).

For more information please refer to OFAC’s COMPREHENSIVE GUIDELINES FOR LICENSE APPLICATIONS TO ENGAGE IN TRAVEL-RELATED TRANSACTIONS INVOLVING CUBA at http://www.treasury.gov/resource-center/sanctions/Programs/Documents/cuba.pdf

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My Favorite Things-In Cuba

When I was little I always enjoyed taking famous songs and adding my own lyrics. I would change them so that they would relate to what I was experiencing at the moment. My family always found it amusing so I figured you might too (although I am a bit out of practice!) If you plan on reading this blog I would recommend signing it instead, otherwise it won’t make much sense. Hope you like it!

My Favorite Things

Well lit cigars and cold served mojitos
Baseball games and Pete Escovedo
Cha cha cha dancing and shekere shells
These are a few of my favorite things

Rumba music at the Malecón
Clear water beaches and more Cuban rum
Bold colored murals and Spanish flair
These are a few of my favorite things

When the air’s cold
When the mood is dull
When I’m feeling sad
I simply remember my favorite things
And then I don’t feel so bad

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Moments Captured

Today I was reading about National Geographic’s Photography Exhibition, which is currently being held in Old Havana. For those of you who’ve been, it’s easy to understand why this would make sense as Cuba is to photographers what a candy store is to a child.

As I was thinking about and viewing the top 50 photographs rated by National Geographic I realized how lucky one must be to capture the perfect moment – one that compels action, creates emotion and it’s universally understood and felt. I’m not suggesting luck is all a person needs because talent is also a huge factor, but it’s not always up to the photographer to capture that magic that can only be captured in that very moment, in that very place, in that very specific instant.

For example, one of my favorite images is titled “Lion Profile” and it was submitted by photographer Boza Ivanovic. Although, lions are already a magnificent creature, the photograph really captures a very deep expression on the lion’s face. There’s almost something human about it and it’s the type of image that can make you cry because it’s so beautiful.

Tools today have tried to make everyone a photographer and the truth is that there are some pretty inspiring images that even my 10 year old cousins take. However, one must be very fortunate still to capture not an image but a moment. Although I envy those that can capture these moments, I am also thankful because they are able to share them with the world in the first place.

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Cuban Cigars

Have you ever wondered why Cuban cigars have the reputation of being the best cigars in the world? I did for a long time and then I went to the province of Pinar Del Rio in Cuba where tobacco fields are never ending and where cigar making is pure art. After my visit I gained respect and appreciation not only for the finished product, but for the process itself. From beginning to end or from seed to finished product there are approximately 220 different stages in the process. Expert cigar makers produce approximately 100 cigars a day and once finished samples are tested rigorously to evaluate the quality of the cigar based on range, compactability, sent, combustibility, etc. Once tested, they are dehumidified and after several weeks they are classified based on color and packaged in wooden boxes. But the life of the cigar doesn’t end there, for after this point it is up to the smoker to ensure that the cigar is cared for until the end. Cigars require proper humidity and temperature (16/20°C and a humidity of 65%) in order to be enjoyed to the maximum. So next time you smoke a cigar slow down and enjoy because you’re smoking a piece of art.

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Azucar!

Did you know that exactly 91 years ago today the “Queen of Salsa”, Celia Cruz was born in Havana, Cuba? Her voice, enthusiasm and passion for music continue to inspire millions around the world. Happy Birthday Celia, you will always be remembered!

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Meat Lovers Love Cuban Food

All meat lovers rejoice at the sight of a Cuban sandwich. Why? Because it has pretty much every type of meat you can imagine-boiled ham, turkey, roast pork and salami. In other words, you can’t go wrong. Ingredients such as pickles, tomatoes, onions, lettuce, bell peppers, mayo and mustard are also included but are mostly there to accessorize the meat.

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My First Visit To Cuba

My arrival to the Havana Airport in Cuba was an experience I will never forget. I had both positive and negative thoughts running through my head. Not knowing what to expect when entering the country was nerve wrecking. As the plane landed all the passengers began to clap and cheer. The fact that all the passengers expressed their excitement and celebrated their arrival made me feel at ease immediately. I was able to sit back and really begin to enjoy the journey that I was about to experience.
Walking out of the airport was a bit emotional for me, because there was huge crowd of people standing outside waiting for what could be family and friends to arrive. Every single individual standing there had a smile from ear to ear. All their excitement came out of their pores. Some in tears as they hugged their loved ones and others were jumping with joy.
The drive from the airport to the hotel was unreal, it all began to sink in… I was in Cuba. The classic cars, historical statues, and detailed architecture said it all- I was experiencing Cuba.
As we approached the hotel I set my eyes on the Malecón, I had never seen anything like it and it took my breath away. The energy around it was just so peaceful and thrilling all at once. It was a magical place where couples in love gathered and publicly showed their affection, it was also a place for friends to meet and make plans for the night, and for talented musicians to play their musical instruments with classic tunes for tourists to hear.
Walking the streets of Old Havana was another highlight of my journey. We were able to visit a few Cuban artists and talk to them one on one about their inspirations and vision. Their studios are usually located within their homes and it’s common for them to receive visitors who often gather to watch them work and admire their latest pieces.
As I continued exploring, it became clear to me that Cubans often used their homes to start their own businesses. Some had restaurants and others little shops. As the day ended and dinner came around, it became clear that the most common trait that Cubans carry is friendliness. There was not one person that I passed by that didn’t smile, greet, or wish me a great day.
I cannot talk about my first experience without sharing the entertainment aspect of Cuba. In old Havana there were multiple individuals dancing without music, yet feeling every single move. Some sang and played rhythmic instruments to the beat of “son” in the middle of the day. The entertainment at night time by far was my favorite. I just have to say that that Cubans are excellent performers who simply transfer their happiness onto anyone that sees them.
There is so much expression and history that can be found around Havana. Pure passion, happiness, and celebration are expressed through their music, dance, art, and lifestyle. Overall, I fell in love and appreciate that “echando pa’lante” (carry on and never give up)attitude that Cubans have.

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Cuba Travel Tips

OFAC LICENSING/WHO CAN TRAVEL TO CUBA

There are two authorized licensed travel categories according to OFAC, General and Specific. Depending on the reason for the visit the traveler may need to seek a specific license from the U.S. government, or OFAC, before they travel to Cuba. Travelers whose trips fall under certain travel categories do not need to get approval before traveling. Usually, after signing an affidavit proving they fall under one of the 12 categories for travel from the U.S. to Cuba travelers are allowed to visit Cuba with a general license.

DOCUMENTS

When traveling with Cuba Travel Services you should find the following items inside your personalized ticket jacket:

Airline Ticket (3 copies: MIA-Cuba; Cuba-MIA; PAX receipt)- make sure to check on exact flight and check-in times.

Asistur Stamp– located on the back of the Charter Ticket. This medical insurance is included for all travelers from the US to Cuba for emergencies. Havanatur reps on the ground will assist if any medical services are needed while in Cuba.

Cuban Visa (when required)

Authorization Letter with copy of OFAC License or Travel Affidavit- may be asked for this upon returning by US immigration and customs officials.

Sanitary Statement for Travelers -this one is usually picked up.

Customs Declaration-this form is usually not collected from Americans, but best to fill it out.

CHARTER FLIGHT

Times: Charter flights are operated by Cuba Travel Services. Exact Departure Time will be available no more than 30 days prior to departure and will be printed on tickets. Flights and times may not be consistent throughout the season.

Airport Check-in:There will be a reserved check-in area at the airport with the airline company for CTS Charters. Please allow adequate time to check in all luggage. We recommend arriving 4 hours in advance as documents also need to be checked thoroughly.

Luggage: With the charter flight to Cuba (on the outbound only), each checked luggage will be charged at $20 per bag. In addition, each passenger is allowed up to 44 lbs of luggage (includes checked bag and larger carry-on). Anything over 44 lbs, will be charged at $2 per pound. A small carry-on, like a purse or small backpack, will not be weighed. Any larger carry-on may be weighed and added into the 44-lb allowance per person. Payment at the airport is CASH ONLY. On the return flight, there is no charge for luggage, as long as it stays under 50 lbs per person. In Cuba, the carry-on is exempt from the weight limitations. Please refer to our website for the most up to date luggage policy, as this is subject to change without notice: Baggage Policy

Seating Assignments: On your charter flight there is no pre-assigned seating. This will be assigned at the check-in counter at the airport. Please note that all attempts will be made to seat passengers together when possible.

HOW MUCH MONEY SHOULS I BRING AND APPROXIMATELY HOW MUCH DO THINGS COST?

CASH

You are allowed to bring up to $5,000 dollars. It is recommended to exchange to the CUC (local currency Cuban convertible pesos) in small increments at a time.

Though recent regulation changes within the US will facilitate banking between the two countries, it will take Cuba some time to implement the proper technology and procedures to be able to accept our American credit cards locally. Larger hotels may be among the first to start accepting American credit cards. It is still advisable to bring cash for your purchases. ATM machines are also not readily available throughout cities and only located at banks and some larger hotels.

In Cuba, tipping is a way of life. Local salaries are extremely low and do not suffice to buy everyday items. Tourism touches the lives of many Cubans and they truly depend on small donations and tips to feed their families. Though it may be a small amount to us, anything you offer these individuals that work hard to make a difference in your experience while there is greatly appreciated. If you leave a tip, leave it in CUC. Note: When outside of a resort or hotel when you’re traveling independently it’s always handy to have a few Cuban Pesos on you. You get about 24 of them for 1 Convertible Peso.

Cuba is like most other foreign destinations, you bring a major foreign currency and exchange it into the local currency to make purchases while you’re there. Cuban currency is NOT traded internationally, so you cannot buy it in advance. You buy it when you arrive in Cuba. (This is subject to change)

MEALS

Range between 15 and 30 CUC per person, including one or two drinks

Breakfast buffets are typically included at hotels

Bottle of water- 1.00-1.50 depending on the size

Can of soft drink: 0.50-1.00 mostly in the street at a restaurant 1.00-2.50

Can or bottle of beer: 1.50 National 2.50 imported up to 4.00 at best hotels

Cocktail: 3.00- 8.00

Fruit is available from street vendors at a low price

Cigars: 0.60-1.50 nationals 2.50-3.00 imported (as much as $10.00/cigar)

Average daily spending: 100.00 dollars

Street food like sandwiches and pizza, though hard to find, fresh fruit drinks and other small purchases are all incredibly cheap. Once you get a feel for Cuba – if you speak a little Spanish it will be even better – there are peso bars and restaurants that can be quite interesting. Movies are cheap too.

ENTERTAINMENT

If you are going out at night 50.00-150.00 per couple (include entrance fee to any dance place one bottle of rum and four cokes).

OPTIONS FOR TRANSPORTATION

Common transportation in Cuba: horse carriage, taxi, car rental and bicycle-taxi. Public transportation is not recommended and taxis are a very safe and reliable way to get around most cities/areas in Cuba.

Taxi Fees:

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Taxis can also be hired for long distance such as Havana to Pinar del Río and etc. Prices should be agreed upon in advance with the driver.

WHAT IS THE WEATHER LIKE?

The rainy season in Cuba typically runs from May to November and the dry season is between December and April. Keep in mind that it may rain at any time, so it is wise to always have rain gear when traveling to Cuba. The temperatures in Cuba can range from the 60’s in the winter (though not very common) to the 90’s in the summer months. Wear comfortable, cool clothing. It is common to have AC in restaurants, hotels, and other indoor facilities. Keep in mind that not all places have AC in Cuba.

Bring insect repellent as the tropical weather also means a lot of mosquitos at dusk and dawn.

WHAT SHOULD I WEAR

We suggest you pack comfortable casual clothing such as shorts and tee shirts in natural breathable fabrics. You may have long distance walks, therefore comfortable walking shoes are recommended. Dress attire for fine dining is similar to the US, formal clothing is not necessary, however we suggest you dress accordingly. Cathedrals, churches, and religious sites require conservative dress.

WHAT SHOULD I BRING?

Bug Spray
Sunscreen and Sun Hats
Comfortable Clothing, Walking Shoes (casual attire)
Medications and OTC drugs, band aids, etc.
CASH (CC and ATM machines are not yet readily available)
Small gifts for kids and locals, depending on itinerary (for example, school supplies, small toys, candies, art supplies, band aids, OTC drugs
Sunglasses
Hand sanitizer
Wash Cloths (not provided at most hotels)
Tissue Paper (good to have your own at public restrooms)
WHAT IS THE TIME ZONE?

Cuban Standard Time is UTC/GMT –5

WHAT ARE THE TRADITIONAL FOODS AND SPECIALTIES

Cuban food has some Spanish and Caribbean influence. Along with Spain, other culinary influences include Africa, from the Africans that were brought to Cuba as slaves, and French, from the French colonist that came to Cuba from Haiti. Another important factor is that Cuba is an island, making seafood something that greatly influences Cuban cuisine. Cuba also has a tropical climate and tropical climate produces a long variety of tropical fruits such as banana, pineapple, guava, watermelon, and mango.

A typical meal typically consists of rice and black beans cooked together or apart. When cooked together the recipe is called “Moros y Cristianos”. Rice and red beans are called “Congri”. If cooked separate it is called “Arroz con frijoles”.

This would be accompanied by one of these options: roasted pork, ropa vieja (shredded beef) simmered in tomato-based sauce. Another option it is picadillo (ground beef) or vaca frita.

These options can be accompanied with plantains, fried potatoes, vegetables, or the famous yucca con mojo. Mojo will be made with oil, garlic, onion, and spices such as oregano and bitter orange or lime juice.

Another Cuban specialty will be arroz con pollo (yellow rice with chicken)

Cuban sandwich is a popular lunch prepared with Cuban bread and contains sliced roast pork, cheese, dill pickles, yellow mustard, tomatoes and lettuce, though can be hard to find in Cuba at times.

Typical desserts in Cuba: The famous arroz con leche, rice mixed with milk and ground cinnamon on top, Flan, Natilla, and Guava marmalade. Almost every meal ends with a famous Cuban coffee. Local drinks include Mojitos, Daiquiris, Rum drinks, Pina colada and many other rum based drinks. Local beer is also very refreshing.

MAY I PURCHASE ITEMS IN CUBA AND BRING THEM BACK WITH ME TO THE US?

You may acquire in Cuba and import as accompanied baggage into the United States merchandise with a value not to exceed $ 400 per person, provided that no more than $100 of the merchandise consists of alcohol or tobacco products and the merchandise is imported for personal use only.

Verizon service does work in Cuba now, but you must activate your international plan prior to departure. Other carriers may soon be available.

WHAT ITEMS ARE TYPICALLY AVAILABLE FOR PURCHASE?

Cuban rum: The famous Havana club or Santiago.
Cuban Cigars: Cohiba, Romeo y Julieta, Montecristo and more. Note: amount should not be great than $100 USD in combination of alcohol and tobacco.
Cuban music.
Hand-made arts and crafts.
WHAT ARE THE CULTURAL AND HISTORIC PLACES TO VISIT IN CUBA?

The best locations are Havana, Trinidad, Vinales, Santiago de Cuba, Pinar del Rio, Santa Clara, and Cienfuegos.

For nature or eco tours, we suggest Baracoa, Vinales, Topes de Collante (Escambray), Granma, Sierra Maestra Mountains, and Soroa.

If would like to visit beaches: Varadero, Jardines del Rey, Cayo Coco, Cayo Guillermo, Guardalavaca and Cayo Santa Maria