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By No owner — last modified Jun 05, 2017 07:42 PM

 Cuba - Formalities

Clearance

Pre-Arrival

For the latest details of the paperwork required by a US vessel to enter Cuba, see comments at the bottom of the page. Apply at least 4 weeks prior to your intended departure date.

As soon as Cuban territorial waters are entered 12 miles off the Cuban coast a yacht must contact the port authorities or coastguard (Guarda Frontera) on VHF Channel 16 or 77 or HF 2128KHz. As most officials use hand held radios, you may not be able to do this until closer inshore. If you do not get a reply, just dock at the Customs wharf.

Be sure to fly the 'Q' flag (on the sta'bd side!) until you have be cleared.

Don't worry if you don't get an answer. If you have AIS on board it is likely the authorities will already be tracking you and will try to contact you via VHF and organise for officials to be there for your arrival.

Cuba has only eight ports of entry and your landfall must be at one of these designated ports. Under no circumstances should you arrive and anchor in a bay.

The various authorities operate as follows:-
HF(SSB) 2760KHz Red Costera Nacional (coastguard net)
2790KHz Red Turistica (tourist net)
VHF Channel 68 port authorities
Channel 19 tourist services.

In most ports the harbour master will answer in English. The following details should be communicated: name of yacht, flag, port of registry, last port of call, intended port of arrival in Cuba with approximate ETA, type of yacht and number of people on board. The captain will then be given instructions to proceed.

Channel 16 is also monitored by the marinas, however getting hold of someone at a marina can be difficult.

Arrival

Clearance can only be obtained at ports which have a marina. The main port of entry for yachts is Hemingway Marina immediately to the west of Havana. All ports with marinas have tourist facilities and are used to clearing in yachts. The commercial port of Havana should not be entered as it has no provision for clearing yachts.

See Documents for the paperwork required for clearing-in.

Note: An exit zarpe from your last port is not necessarily required. Neither the USA or The Bahamas normally issue one.

Once moored in port, wait for the officials to arrive and no one must go ashore until clearance is completed. You may be asked to anchor out for clearance. How many officials come on board will depend on the port, anywhere between 2 and 12 and possibly a sniffer dog as well.

Clearance must first be obtained from Quarantine health officials, after which are the visits by Immigration, Customs, Agriculture department officials and Guarda Frontera (Coast Guard). These officials are based in the marina and clearance is usually completed promptly (2-3 hours), unless you have firearms aboard.

Officials are usually good natured and whilst there is substantial paperwork to complete it all adds up to the excitement of visiting this country, which for so long has been off limits. Sometimes a small gift (such as a coke or pen) or a tip is requested. You are not obliged to tip, and in many ports a handout is frowned upon by the ranking official.

Cruising

Once initial clearance is completed, a coastwise cruising permit (despacho de navegacion - costera) can be obtained from the Coast Guard (Guarda Frontera) on departure. Be sure to advise the harbour master that you intend to cruise Cuba so the Guarda can be prepared. No pre-planned list of ports is required, but the Guarda must be advised of your next stop.

This permit currently allows you to cruise the waters of Cuba, it does not allow you to go ashore, except at a designated marina.

If any of the ports of entry mentioned above are entered, one has to go through the clearance procedure again. When cruising along the coast, one must report to the Guarda Frontera office in every port. All papers are usually inspected and the cruising permit is kept until departure.

Officially yachts may only visit harbours and anchorages where there are marinas - except for the offshore cays.  No other anchorage or harbour may be visited and if it is, the captain and crew may not go ashore.

Departure

Twenty-four hours' notice of departure should be given, if possible, even if sailing to another port in Cuba.

Before departure one must clear out with the Guarda Frontera at an official port of entry/exit. They will retain the despacho and issue a new exit despacho (clearance certificate) along with the cruising permit. One must also clear out with customs and immigration.

Foreign yachts (i.e. non-US boats) might find it advisable to leave Cuba for another country, such as the Bahamas, and make entry into the United States from there, as cruisers continue to report being denied a cruising permit for the US when trying to clear into Florida, having come directly from Cuba. Although, with the current, more friendly attitude, at Key West, this may no longer be a problem.

UPDATE for July 2017: President Trump made an announcement rolling back some of the Obama Era policies that eased restrictions on travel. The US Treasury Office of Foreign Assets Control has released this document to explain how the new announcement will effect travelers to Cuba from the USA.

See USA Clearance for further details.

Last updated July 2017.

Immigration

Passports must be valid for 6 months beyond your planned stay.

Most nationals are issued with a Tourist Card/Visa on arrival which will be issued by immigration as part of the clearing in process. Under the streamlined clearing in procedures simply give your passport/s to the Guarda Officer who boards the boat and they will take care of the rest.

The initial visa is valid for 30 days and may be extended twice for a further 30 days each time (so a total of 90 days). The cost of the visa is $25 CUC as are the subsequent renewals. It is important to note that the cost of the visa is added to the marina bill, so no money should ever change hands. This is a standardized procedure everywhere in Cuba. If you are asked for cash, be sure to ask for an itemised signed receipt.

Canadians however will be issued with a Tourist Card for three months, renewable for three additional months.

Extensions can be arranged at the Cuban immigration offices, with a stamp that must be purchased at an international bank before going to the immigration office. This process is speeded up if some six copies of the crew list are prepared with all crew passport details. Cruising forums comment that Key Largo is a good place to get your visa extended via the marina. Cienfuegos is reported to be difficult.

For longer stays it is advisable to arrive with a visa obtained in advance. Alternatively you must depart Cuba for another country and then return, starting the Immigration clock once more.

Note - Passport Stamps
Some Latin American countries will not admit someone with a passport stamped in Cuba, but if asked, Cuban officials will not stamp passports.

Whilst officials at the airport sometimes stamp passports, the majority tend only to stamp the tourist card, which is inserted into your passport, and not the actual passport itself. The tourist card is removed when you leave the country, so in this case there is never any evidence in your passport that you have been to Cuba.

For the time being it may be advisable for US citizens not to have their passport stamped in Cuba. The Cuban Interests Section and the Swiss embassy in Washington DC deal with visa applications.

If heading to the US after Cuba, foreign nationals can get a visa to enter the US at the American Interests Section in Havana before leaving there.

To see the restrictions affecting American citizens, see the Restrictions section.

Crew joining/departing the boat in Cuba

Crew Joining
We are waiting for confirmation one one-way tickets and documents arriving crew should carry.

New crew flying into the country will need to get "enrolled" onto the boat via the authorities at the marina (approx. cost US$10).

Crew Departing
When you check into Cuba, inform the authorities at the marina that a crew member will be leaving the boat. They will need to be "disenrolled" from the boat (approx. cost US$10).

Last updated September 2016.

Customs

Length of Stay

As of November 21, 2013, visiting yachts can now stay up to 5 years in Cuba (previously the limit was 365 days), and even longer with the marina's approval. The boat, regardless where it is flagged, is permitted to stay in Cuba while the owners return home as long as the marina fees are paid in advance.

The import tax on the value of the boat is no longer charged.

Firearms

If a yacht is staying a long time in one of the marinas, firearms will be impounded by the Coast Guard (Guarda Frontera). If the yacht is cruising along the coast, firearms must be declared every time the boat checks in at a new port and may be confiscated until departure or alternatively sealed on board, placed under the responsibility of the captain. The seals and arms will be inspected when clearing out.

Other Items

Other items such as portable GPS, radios, flares and telephones may be sealed onboard by Customs until departure.

All plant, animal and meat products that are not canned must be declared to the health authorities on arrival. Fresh meat products may not be imported (however hard-frozen is probably ok). Reasonable quantities of canned meat, eggs, dairy or vegetable produce can be imported for the crew's own consumption, but be prepared for any fresh food to be destroyed.

Due to the increasing use of Cuba as a staging post for drugs, a sniffer dog may be used to search the boat on arrival.

Last updated February 2017.

Health

In a medical emergency you will be likely taken to a tourist-only hospital which are reported to be good. Cuban doctors are highly regarded and are often some of the best trained in the entire Caribbean. (There's a joke among some cruisers that say, "If you get sick in the Caribbean, hope the doctor is Cuban.")

Prescription drugs are not available in Cuba so be sure to have sufficient in supply. Herbal tinctures and remedies are commonly used and are inexpensive.

ZIKA VIRUS ALERT: (September 2016) There have been recent safety alerts from the US State Department, UK Foreign Office, and Center for Disease Control (CDC) regarding travel to parts of Central and South America, Africa, southern Asia, the Caribbean, and the South Pacific islands. Cuba is an area of interest with multiple reported cases and active virus transmission. There is growing concern about the rapid spread of the ZIKA Virus and the impact of the virus on pregnant women and babies. ZIKA is transmitted by mosquitos in tropical and sub-tropical climates, and there is currently no cure or vaccine. This situation is evolving rapidly, so please refer to the CDC’s dedicated website if you are intending to cruise in one of the effected areas.

Documents

Documents required on entry are:- Clearance from your last port, ships papers, crew list showing full name, date of birth, passport number, date of issue, position on board.

A cruising permit - required if planning on visiting subsequent ports after the port of entry - can be obtained from the Coast Guard prior to departure.

Cuba does not ask for an insurance certificate. If you are concerned about boat loss/damage etc, that is a different issue and you will have to make sure that your company can process claims in Cuba. US companies are now allowed to write vessel insurance for Cuba.

Fees

Clearance and cruising permit charges have been regulated to $55CuC per boat, to be paid when clearing in.

The Tourist Card costs have increased from $25 CuC per person - to $75 CuC. Extensions cost $25.

25 CuC per person departure tax.

There are no overtime fees.

Last updated April 2016.

Restrictions

U.S Yachts

There have been rapid, albeit, somewhat confusing and contradictory developments recently between the Cuban and US government. To answer some frequently asked questions, the US Department of Treasury has put together this Fact Sheet.

For U.S captains interested in taking their boats to Cuba with an OK from the U.S. Government, the place to start is here: https://www.bis.doc.gov/index.php/licensing/simplified-network-application-process-redesign-snap-r

That URL will lead you to the Department of Commerce’s SNAP-R (Simplified Network Application Program-Redesign), a simplified process for getting the paperwork you need for permission to go to Cuba. There are a lot of wickets to navigate, but applications are typically approved or turned down 3-4 weeks after a SNAP-R form is submitted to Commerce. This apparently replaces the old requirements for getting a license to visit Cuba, something that took months.

However, except for certain categories, most US citizens still need a OFAC license to visit Cuba. See www.treasury.gov/resource-center/sanctions/Programs/pages/cuba.aspx for more information.

US Insurance companies are now allowed to write vessel insurance for Cuba. It is forbidden to land at unauthorised places along the coast and also to take any other person on board the yacht apart from those on the crew list.

Fishing

Cruising boats are not allowed to fish in Cuban waters. Scuba diving can only be done through the Tourist Office with an official instructor. Spearfishing is prohibited and no marine life, flora, fauna or any other object may be taken from the sea.

Other Restrictions

No archaeological objects should be removed, defaced or exported.

Cuban cizitizens are prohibited from visiting foreign flagged yachts and in some marinas even foreign crews are not allowed to go on board other yachts.

Transient vessels are only permitted to stay at "International Marinas". In general the various cayos are exempt from this ruling.

Last updated October 2016.

Wider Caribbean's Marine Protected Areas (CaMPAM)
A useful database of MPAs in the Gulf of Mexico and Caribbean region. All Marine Parks are MPAs, and therefore if wanting to find out about any marine parks in the islands you are visiting, details and location can be sourced via this website.

Pets

Animals must have a recent health certificate and anti-rabies vaccinations. Animals may be inspected by the health authority (Filosanitario) and healthy ones will be allowed to land.

In larger centers pet food has started to appear but it is still very hard to get, so be sure to bring your own supply. You should also be aware that Cuba is full of strays that are often in very poor health, so keep that in mind when you go out with your pet.

Last updated October 2016.

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