Area Codes -- Area codes around the country range from one to two digits. See "Staying Connected," p. ###, for dialing instructions within area codes, from one area code to another, and from Havana to another area code.
Business Hours -- There are no hard-and-fast rules, but most businesses and banks are open Monday through Friday from 9am to 5pm. Some businesses and banks close for an hour for lunch. Shops and department stores, especially those that cater to tourists, tend to have slightly more extended hours, and are usually open on Saturday and Sunday.
Drinking Laws -- Cuba has no firm or clear liquor laws. Beer, wine, and liquor are served at most restaurants and are available at most gift shops and hard-currency stores. Drinking and driving is against the law.
Electricity -- You will find a mix of electrical currents and plug types used in Cuba. Around 90% of the hotels and casas particulares use a 110-volt current with standard U.S.-style two- or three-prong outlets. However, some outlets are rated 220 volts, particularly in hotels that cater to European clientele. These are usually marked and sometimes accept only two-prong round plugs. For all intents and purposes, you should have personal appliances rated for 110-volt current, with U.S.-style prongs, or the appropriate converters. It is also essential to carry a three-to-two-prong adapter for any appliance you have that has a three-prong plug.
Embassies & Consulates -- All major consulates and embassies are in Havana. Canada also has other locations.
The embassy of Canada is at Calle 30 no. 518, at the corner of Avenida 7, Miramar (tel. 7/204-2516; fax 7/204-2044; http://havana.gc.ca). The Consulate of Canada is at Hotel Atlántico, Suite 1, Guardalavaca (tel. 24/430-320; fax 24/430-321; email@example.com); and at Calle 13, corner of Avenida 1 and Camino del Mar, Varadero (tel. 45/61-2078; fax 45/66-7395; firstname.lastname@example.org).
The embassy of the United Kingdom is at Calle 34 no. 702, between Avenida 7 and 17, Miramar (tel. 7/214-2200; fax 7/214-2268; http://ukincuba.fco.gov.uk).
Though neither an embassy nor a consulate, the United States Interests Section, Calle Calzada between Calles L and M, Vedado (tel. 7/833-3551; http://havana.usint.gov/), is the official U.S. government representation on the island. There is no Australian embassy in Cuba. The Canadian embassy will officially assist.
Emergencies -- In most cases, you will want to dial tel. 106 for any emergency. This is the number for the police. Alternately, you can dial tel. 104 for an ambulance and tel. 105 for the fire department. At none of these numbers can you assume you will find an English-speaking person. For legal emergencies, contact your diplomatic representation. All U.S. citizens can find assistance at the U.S. Interests Section, with no questions asked about licenses.
Etiquette & Customs -- Cubans are friendly, open, and physically expressive people. They strike up conversations easily and seldom use the formal terms of address in Spanish. However, be aware that as a foreigner, many Cubans who start a conversation with you in the street are hoping in some way to get some economic gain out of the relationship. Jineterismo, or jockeying, is a way of life in Cuba. This may involve anything from offers to take you to a specific restaurant or hotel (for a commission) to direct appeals for money or goods.
Dress is generally very informal, in large part due to the tough economic times faced by the broad population. Suits are sometimes worn in business and governmental meetings, although a simple, light, short-sleeved cotton shirt with a tie, or a guayabera, is more common. The guayabera is a loose-fitting shirt with two or four outer pockets on the front and usually a few vertical bands of pleats or embroidery. The guayabera is worn untucked, and is quite acceptable at even the most formal of occasions.
Perhaps the greatest etiquette concern is about what you say. Open criticism of the government or of Fidel or Raúl Castro is a major taboo. Don't do it -- especially in open public places. The police, community revolutionary brigades, and reprisals for vocal dissent are an ongoing legacy of Cuba's political reality. One effect of this is that while Cubans you meet will often be very open and expressive with you, they tend to immediately clam up the minute another Cuban unknown to them enters the equation.
Gasoline (Petrol) -- Gas costs about CUC$1.10 per liter (or about CUC$4.16 per gallon).
Holidays -- Cuba has a very limited number of official holidays, and aside from Christmas Day, no religious holidays are recognized by the state. The official holidays are January 1 (Liberation Day), May 1 (May Day, or Labor Day), July 26 (Revolution Day), October 10 (anniversary of the beginning of the 1868 War of Independence), and December 25 (Christmas Day). However, the state has such total control that it's not uncommon for mass rallies or entire national mobilizations to be called as it sees fit. Other important dates that sometimes bring Cuba to a de facto state of national holiday include: January 28 (Birth of José Martí), February 24 (anniversary of the beginning of the 1895 War of Independence), March 8 (International Women's Day), April 19 (anniversary of Bay of Pigs victory), July 30 (Day of the Martyrs of the Revolution), October 8 (anniversary of the death of Che Guevara), October 28 (anniversary of the death of Camilo Cienfuegos), and December 7 (anniversary of the death of Antonio Maceo).
Insurance -- In May 2010, Cuba implemented new insurance rules: All visitors and non-Cuban residents must hold a medical insurance policy. Failure to carry the correct documents could result in the visitor having to purchase mandatory coverage at the airport through Asistur. Visitors from the U.S. should take out their insurance policy from Cuban insurance companies that are affiliated with Havantur-Celimar Company. (American insurance companies do not provide coverage in Cuba.) For more information, contact the Cuban Ministry of Foreign Affairs (www.cubaminrex.cu/english/LookCuba/Articles/Others/2010/06-04.html). That said, it seems that visitors are not always asked to present proof of insurance documentation on entry. Still, to be safe, you should take out an insurance policy before you arrive in Cuba. If you do need to purchase insurance at the airport, contact Asistur (tel. 7/866-4499; www.asistur.cu).
For information on traveler's insurance, trip cancelation insurance, and medical insurance while traveling, please visit www.frommers.com/tips.
Language -- Spanish is the official language of Cuba. English is spoken at most tourist hotels and some restaurants and attractions. Outside of the tourist orbit, English is not widely spoken, and some rudimentary Spanish will go a long way.
Indigenous and African languages have had a profound and lasting influence, and you will find many words -- like cigar, barbacoa, and conga -- tracing their origin to indigenous and African sources used widely across the island. Various African dialects are still widely used in the songs and ceremonies of Santeria and other syncretic religions, although almost no one speaks them conversationally. In a legacy from the Soviet days, some Cubans speak Russian.
Legal Aid -- If you get into legal trouble, immediately request to be put in touch with your embassy. All embassies have round-the-clock emergency numbers. Asistur (www.asistur.cu) may also be able to help. Its emergency numbers are tel. 7/866-8527, tel. 7/866-8339, and tel. 7/866-8920.
Mail -- A post office is called a correo in Spanish. You can get stamps at post offices, gift shops, and the front desk in most hotels. The Cuban postal system is extremely slow and untrustworthy. You can count on every parcel and piece of mail being opened and inspected. The cost of a postcard or letter to the U.S. or Canada is CUC$.75, and it takes about 3 weeks for delivery. A postcard and letter to Europe costs CUC$.70. A package of up to 1 kilogram (2.2 lb.) will cost CUC$10 to CUC$20 to ship, depending upon your destination country, but can only be dealt with at principal post offices.
However, it is best to send anything of any value via an established international courier service. DHL, Calle 26 and Avenida 1, Miramar, Havana (tel. 7/204-1876; www.dhl.com), provides broad coverage to most of Cuba. Beware: Despite what you may be told, packages sent overnight to U.S. addresses tend to take 3 to 4 days to reach their destination.
Maps -- Most car-rental agencies and many hotels will give you a copy of very basic nationwide and Havana road maps. The Cuban Geographic and Cartographic Institute publishes a couple of much more detailed maps; most tourist gift shops and Infotur kiosks carry these maps. If you're buying a map before your trip, try to get the International Travel Map: Cuba (ITMB Publishing; www.itmb.com). You'll also find good maps online at www.cubaroutes.com. Anyone doing any serious driving should purchase the indispensable Guia de Carreteras available irregularly in Havana. Published by Limusa, it can be bought at El Navegante, Calle Mercaderes 115 between Obispo and Obrapía, La Habana Vieja.
Police -- Nationwide, you can dial tel. 106 for police, although you shouldn't expect to find an English-speaking person on the other end of the line. In general, the police are quite helpful and not to be feared. Bribery is not an issue. In the event of robbery, the police are your best bet, but for physical emergencies or other threats of serious danger, you are probably best off contacting your embassy.
Smoking -- Although Fidel gave up smoking years ago, Cuba remains a major producer of tobacco and tobacco products. Many Cubans smoke. Cuba introduced a nonsmoking ban in enclosed public places in February 2005, but it is not really enforced. Most restaurants have nonsmoking areas.
Taxes -- There are no direct or specific taxes on goods or services in Cuba. However, some tourist restaurants and paladares have begun adding a 10% service charge onto their bills. However, this charge goes directly to the state restaurant and not the waiter, so you will need to leave a cash tip too. There is a CUC$25 departure tax that must be paid in cash upon leaving the country.
Time -- Havana is 5 hours behind Greenwich Mean Time, or on a par with Eastern Standard Time in the United States and Canada. Daylight saving time is observed by setting clocks ahead 1 hour from one Sunday in March to one Sunday in October.
Tipping -- Most Cuban workers earn incredibly low salaries in dollar terms -- around CUC$10 to CUC$15 a month -- so tips are an extremely important and coveted source of supplemental income. With the rise in tourism, all sorts of workers now expect and work for tips, including taxi drivers, porters, waiters, guides, and restaurant musicians. Taxi drivers in particular are loath to give any small change on a fare. So if the meter reads CUC$4.30, you are expected to pay CUC$4.50, although you are certainly within your rights to ask for CUC$.20 or so. Taxi drivers, especially in Havana, tend to overcharge tourists. Porters should be tipped between CUC$.50 and CUC$1 per bag. Some state restaurants include a 10% service charge, although you should tip the waiter an additional 5% to 10% depending upon the quality of service, or even more (as this is how they actually survive, since they will not see any of that 10% service charge). If you stay in a resort, you should definitely tip the maid around CUC$1 a day, and also tip the waiters who serve you every day in the all-inclusive resorts, as they are on miserable salaries.
Toilets -- Public restrooms are hard to come by. You must usually count on the generosity of some hotel or restaurant, or duck into a museum or other attraction. Although it's rare that a tourist would be denied the use of the facilities, you should always ask first. In broad terms, the sanitary condition of public restrooms in Cuba is much higher than those found throughout the developing world, although at many establishments, toilet seats are sometimes missing. Always bring toilet paper with you wherever you go.
Many restrooms have an attendant, who is sometimes responsible for dispensing toilet paper. Upon exiting, you are expected to either leave a tip, or pay a specified fee. If the restrooms are not clean and you do not take the toilet paper, do not feel obliged to tip. Otherwise, leave up to CUC$.25
Water -- Water is generally safe to drink throughout the country. However, since many travelers have tender digestive tracts, I recommend playing it safe and sticking to bottled water, sold as agua mineral sin or con gas and made by Ciego Montero. However, bottled water can be expensive, so if you have a strong stomach, you should ask for agua hervida (boiled water), always kept in fridges in casas particulares.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.