Photo: Ernesto Verdecia.
What You Need to Know as Cuba Reopens to Tourists
22 / noviembre / 2021
On October 20, 2021, Cuba’s Ministry of Tourism (MINTUR) announced that the country was moving towards a “controlled and tiered [opening] of its borders, scheduled for November 15th.”
Amidst an economic crisis considered to be the worst one in the past thirty years and with almost 100% of the potential vaccinated population having been administered at least one dose of the vaccine, relaxing this health protocol couldn’t be put off.
The news was especially well-received by Cubans who haven’t been able to visit their relatives on the island, up until now. Even though the tendency seems to be a de-escalation, we continue to be living in pandemic times and entry into the country means certain extraordinary conditions. What do travelers wanting to enter Cuban territory need to know? What is the new health protocol that comes into effect on November 15th?
While borders will begin to completely reopen as of November 15th, measures have been relaxed before this. For example, an important change was the elimination of compulsory quarantine, since November 7th. Up until then, people entering Cuba had to stay in Cuban hotels for six days (paying for this out of their own pocket in foreign currency). Such is no longer necessary.
Cuban or foreign travelers will no longer have to take a PCR test when they arrive at the Cuban border, as of November 15th. Cuban health authorities will be able to take random samples as an additional control measure. Cuban travelers living in the country will still need to go to the GP’s office or health center to be monitored, within 48 hours of arrival.
According to MINTUR, all international travelers (Cuban or foreign) arriving in the country will have to present a health passport or international COVID-19 certificate with vaccines certified by the corresponding regulatory bodies in every country or region (FDA, EMA, MHRA, WHO). Most of these bodies accept the following vaccines: Pfizer, AstraZeneca, Janssen, Moderna and Sinofarm. The Cuban immunization schedule is also enough to enter the country. This means that if you have a card that proves you’ve been vaccinated with one of the Cuban vaccines, you can use it as an authorized certificate.
Travelers who haven’t been fully vaccinated or can’t present a health passport or COVID-19 vaccine certificate, must show a negative PCR test result, that must be taken no more than 72 hours before traveling. If the traveler is a Cuban living in the country and isn’t vaccinated, they must present a negative PCR test result, taken in the country of origin by a certified lab; and they must also take an antigen test on the seventh day upon arrival. If travelers display symptoms, they will be treated as a suspected case. This means that they will have to quarantine at home if conditions allow for this, where they must wait for the result of an antigen test.
Presenting a negative PCR test does not apply to children aged 12 and under, who don’t have to have had all the doses of the vaccine needed to enter the country.
Travelers can be asked to present both PCR tests and vaccine certificates upon arrival in Cuba or by airlines before boarding the plane in the departure country. This is why travelers must carry them with them at all times. Airlines will also ask travelers to fill out a Declaration of Health (which can be filled out upon arrival in Cuba), which will then be presented at immigration control points.
Health authorities will also make sure that masks are used at every port of entry (ports, airports, sea), and will send passengers showing symptoms of a contagious disease to health institutions in order to be examined.
Tourists will be kept under epidemiological surveillance at hotels during their stay in the country, with a boost in basic health teams. If visitors do not live in Cuba and are staying at a private rental home (which reopened on November 7th), they must inform the owners of any symptoms that may appear. Their hosts are responsible for getting in touch with Cuban health authorities.
Travelers not residing in Cuba who are staying in private homes, with family or friends, will need to go to the community health center if they begin to show any COVID-19-related symptoms.
Since November 7th, travelers have been able to travel across the country in hired transport. They no longer need to stay at hotels in the touristic cays. For Cuban residents, domestic transport measures have been relaxed with the sale of interprovincial tickets, since Monday October 25.
The de-escalation of controls to enter Cuba for travelers has been gradual, with some measures relaxing since November 7th. After the 15th, travelers will only need to present a vaccine certificate or, if they don’t have this, a negative PCR test and a sworn declaration of traveler’s health.