Adam Norris ‘17
So begins a multi-post blog on the Global Immersion Program (GIP) trip to Cuba. For some background, Professor Kogut’s GIP Cuba course consisted of six 90-minute classroom sessions filled with guest speakers, relevant readings, and student presentations aimed at answering the question: Is Cuba the next transformation economy? After examining nations who have previously gone through similar transitions and evaluating Cuban business and political progress in the post-revolution era, the course culminates in a week-long trip to the Caribbean Island in an attempt to answer this question. By visiting Cuba, we will better understand what the future will look like, and what influence and opportunities foreign investors might have.
As a self-proclaimed travel junkie, I have never been so unsure what to expect from visiting a different country. Sure, there will be amazing food, a rich and vibrant culture, and vintage cars from the mid-20th century, but what else will I encounter? I have been told that there will be limited internet (if any), no cell phones, no use of credit cards, a 10% fee when exchanging USD to Cuban Convertible Pesos (CUC)…but how will we be welcomed by Cuban professionals and government officials after over 50 years of travel sanctions? How will our ability to experience Cuba be molded by a country whose government is deeply involved in everything from real estate to healthcare to tourism?
While I don’t know the answers to these questions yet, I can’t begin to tell you how excited I am to find out; how excited I am to enjoy Cuban food and cigars, to interact with the locals, to learn from business owners, to immerse myself in this time capsule of a place before its transformation occurs.
And before I signoff, I wanted to pass along a few travel tips for anyone out there who’s looking to go to Cuba in the near future. This is what I know from research so far, but I look forward to passing along ‘pro’ tips from the island.
- Visa: While CBS helped me get an Educational Visa, you’ll need to get one of the 12 approved categories for Visa before you go (and a supporting itinerary). Full list here.
- Hotel: Had CBS not booked the Hotel Melia Cohiba for this trip, I would have used Airbnb or Four Points By Sheraton Havana to book a vacation rental.
- Money: Stick with CUCs over the Cuba Pesos (CUP) because CUPs have government controlled prices and are not intended for tourists (not to mention CUCs are 25x more valuable than CUPs). In case you get confused. CUCs have monuments on them, while Cuban Pesos feature the faces of local heroes (or check the links I provided above. Also, your best bet at exchanging money is at the airport, so to avoid the 10% tax on converting USD to CUC, bring Canadian dollars, British pounds, or Euros. Additionally, as noted above, credit cards probably won’t work yet so bring enough cash to cover your entire trip. Finally, there is a 25 CUC exit fee to leave Cuba, so don’t forget to store this money in your passport to ensure you don’t miss your departing flight.
- Internet and Cell Phones: You should be able to buy internet cards from your hotel’s reception desk, but understand that the speed will be slow (good luck streaming video) and the front desk may be closed or out of these cards when you need them (unless you stay at Hotel Melia Cohib, which offers free internet). While other providers may have plan options, AT&T did not for me, so I’m planning to be mostly incommunicado during my trip.
- Souvenirs: Previously, you could only bring back $400 worth of souvenirs, of which $100 could be Cuban cigars, rum, or other alcohol. However, as of October 2016, those limits have been lifted, so just don’t bring back enough to seem like you’re planning to sell them when you return.
- Health: Upon arrival at the Havana airport, you may be asked to show proof of insurance, so don’t forget your insurance card (even though it probably won’t cover any care you’d need in Cuba). If you do forget, you can buy a policy through the airport for a few CUCs per day. Once through customs, Cuba is fairly safe in terms of food, but I would recommend avoiding tap water and being careful when trying new foods. To be safe, check the CDC website.
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