How to Visit Cuba Without Paying into the Government

By Vicente Antonio de Castro

Havana, Cuba. Foto:

HAVANA TIMES – During the rapprochement process under US president Barack Obama and Cuban president Raul Castro, I worked with many groups of US visitors. I would speak to them while walking through Havana, for a modest price for them and for a fortune for me, but I would have given the explanations to anyone who was interested in the subject for free if I’m going to be perfectly honest.

That’s how I discovered that these visitors were under the impression that if they planned their trip using the most private services they could, they would be killing two birds with one stone: discovering the island and not financing its tyrannical government. WRONG.

I understand that it might be hard for them (they don’t live under a totalitarian dictatorship) to understand just how much citizens are an extension of the State, the individual as part of this huge entity, mass or people, the only thing the Government is interested in.

That’s why I understand that when they pay a Cuban in cash, they think that their money is feeding the productive chain that this entrepreneur has created, who works with entrepreneurs who are also independent of the Government, who get their merchandise independently, by producing or importing it.

All of this is false. Except for a bit of foreign currency that is exchanged on the black market, the rest of it ends up in the totalitarian Cuban State’s coffers, so my dear US tourist, I’m sorry to inform you but yes, your money, among other things, pays into our dictatorship.

The first thing you should know is that private enterprise doesn’t exist here. We have people with licenses for specific activities, mostly in the service sector: restaurants, cafes, accommodation and transport. These people are just simple middlemen between you, your US money and the Cuban State, the only supplier that is authorized to import goods.

But don’t lose heart, your concern is very admirable, even more so when you from the United States are the only tourists who contemplate this dilemma as a group. There is a way to enjoy and get to know Cuba without filling the local elite’s pockets.

The solution that comes to my mind might seem naive, but what does that matter? Try it out and see what happens.

Regular holiday package deals to Cuba include accommodation at a Casa Particular (private rental), so as to flee from military-controlled Cuban hotels. A day trip to Vinales or maybe a one-night stay. Another trip to Trinidad which goes via Varadero a lot of the time, will include a two-night stay. The three or four nights you spend in Havana, you spend them going to privately-owned restaurants or cafes and to travel across the city, with a guide probably.

This package deal which you can organize from your departure point, could be paid for in THING/S, not money. Just calculate how much the package deal will cost you and ask the person who you’re dealing with in Cuba, what they would like, or directly offer the things you choose to bring.

It will be a great business opportunity for Cubans; merchandise you buy for 1000 USD could easily be sold here for 2000 USD, precisely because of ridiculous prices and never-ending shortages in the State’s retail monopoly.

This option implies some inconvenience, but you can take preparing for your journey as part of your truly Cuban experience, plus, whoever does this can be proud of getting to know the last remnant of the Cold War, without contributing a single cent to our chiefs’ family coffers!

Two suggestions for mindful tourists:

  • Make a clear agreed upon list of the objects you are going to bring your counterpart in Cuba so as to avoid any misunderstandings.
  • Take a look at, you will find a list of the things and the quantities you can bring in as personal goods, which you don’t have to pay duty on when you enter Cuba.

Let me give you an example:

If you are going to buy a package deal for a week-stay in Cuba which is worth 1200 USD, you could bring 1 Smartphone, 1 decent tablet, 1 mid-range laptop, 1 pair of Raybans, 1 digital camera and 100 Viagra pills.

Always bring some cash for small expenses, be conscious sure but please do have common sense.

Have a good trip!

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28 thoughts on “How to Visit Cuba Without Paying into the Government

  • Blame the blockade the american oppression still up to now. The reality is that the whole world is in the shit because of the American oppression in the world. How many war has USA started and life destroyed when the Cuban save life around the world. Stop feeding the desease and support the savers of life Cuba. Maji siempre26

  • Thank you
    For talking sense. Cuba is the best. The little people of america were, are and still scared to see a little country has made even though the obstacles. Cuba has given hoped to million around the world. That’s the image the ignorant american and gusanos Cuba nova medica no can’t stomach. Thank you Cuba and thanks to you Mayda

  • I don’t think the writer was saying that tourists bringing physical items will change the whole economy. I believe that point is if you as a person do not want your money to end up in the government’s coffers then bring more goods than cash.

    There is a saying in Cuba….
    El barco de China aún no ha llegado. the ship from China has not arrived yet.

    A Cuban may have a great deal of cash, but if items have not arrived yet, that cash does them little good. This is why if you look at numerous sites about tipping in Cuba they will tell you to bring goods (medicine, clothing, school supplies) as they are tangible and of immediate use.

  • As much as I love both Cuba and the U.S. I would agree, the U.S. has its own versions of oppression. The immediate difference that comes to mind is that in the U.S. a person could potentially become wealthy.

    The U.S. wants to say how “free” it is but when a woman can’t walk down the street at night without fear, that is its own oppression. When the U.S. says you can travel but you CANNOT travel to Cuba and other countries of their say-so, that is oppression (it’s my body I’ll travel where I like)

    Indeed Cuba is heavy-handed on some things but isn’t every country?

  • I and my friends have been doing this for years.. bringing what a family needs .. but giving it to them free… making sure the needy get what they do need . The odd time i may ask “barter” for a souvenir trinket to give the vendors what they desperately want, sandals , pants, socks, etc.. so they don’t feel it’s charity and i get a souvenir for my family /friends/ kids… they have some neat things.. or i get some honey from a family or fruit or a small meal.

  • Does anyone know where i can find black market boxes of cigars..Should i buy them at a factory? Is there a discount if i buy more than 1 box of cigars..If anybody has any recommendations where i should buy them? Please let me know.I cant wait to viset your country..Will be in havana soon
    Thanks jeff

  • This is free country,and if your are unhappy go back to Cuba. Life is too short. Let me know when you get there

  • Why don’t you go back to Cuba if life in the US is much worse? Nobody is holding you back.

  • Why don’t you go back and live in Cuba?

  • This article is hilarious.
    If someone spends $1000 in the USA on goods to take to Cuba, then surely the sales tax in the USA will go toward paying for the crazy and dangerous policies of the Liar-in -Chief who lives in The White House ??
    Sounds to me like the author of this article is advocating a no win situation.

  • NEWBY HERE, bear with me please. Is it possible to sail my boat to Cuba legally , bring my two wheel scooter (gas powered) and drive around island? or is it possible to rent a motorcycle to use? and if so is camping allowed, or is there b&b available in the countryside away from the populated areas. I want to travel into the country side and mountain area of the island, no tourist stuff.

  • Carlos. Please send me a message via Facebook messenger. I just shared your article with my Cuba Land and Sea group.

    Addison Chan

  • Bravo! Exactamente!

  • Thank You! I can’t stand when Cubans that have left the Country can only find negative things to say! I would give anything to turn back time and go home to my beautiful Cuba. My parents came to US I wasa baby. Both they and I have given years to this country and have nothing to show for it! No matter what there are a lot of positive things the Cuban government did and do for the people and the Country. Education and Medicine being one of the best in the world, that is one indication it can’t be all bad. Go to Cuba see for yourself and stop listening to these people that bad mouth the Cuban government. This country and it’s government, is far from being perfect! There are people that have had no education, starving, homeless, jobless, sick and can afford health insurance! This country is being made a complete joke because of the Totalitarian Idiot of President right now. He has finally shown what this country is really about. The US has killed, enslaved and oppressed it’s natives for years now. Those wonderful founding fathers of the great USA! I don’t want to bad mouth this country to make mine seem prefect, because there is not such thing in this world. So to all my Cuban compatriots pleaae give your opinion, but stop talking shit! There are good things and bad things in Cuba, just like any other country in the rest of the world. I tell all of you once again, I would give anything to turn back time. To get the education in Cuba, that I never received in this country. Simply just to be home!

  • As a Yuma who has traveled to Cuba since the late 1990’s I find this article an interesting point of view. Blackmarket is rampant and uncontrollable. It is truly the underbelly economy of the island. The article reveals how the Blackmarket can work for Cubans not Yumas the exchange of goods in Cuba, is never fairly balanced I for both parties especially if it involves a foreigner.

    If I was going to bring all the suggested things to Cuba in the article, screw exchanging it for services, I’ll sell it for profit myself on the island then buy services in cash.

  • What a stupid idea!!!
    Ever tried to bring more than your personal belongings into Cuba?
    The first 50 CUC of gifts you can bring for free. Than you pay a 100% tax on everything you bring in as a gift -yes, ofcourse tax is paid to the government of Cuba !! And if you bring more gifts: from 500 CUC to a 1000 CUC you pay 200% tax.
    And there is a limit on the amount of the same items you can bring into the country (becausse the government doen’t want independent trade)
    Especially for electronic goods. There’s even a list with the tax being raised by customs on them (have a search at the Cuban customs internet page for it, it’s enlightening – you might end up paying more tax for stuff than you paid for in your home country)
    Ofcourse I bring in goods for friends , hidden in my personal belongings, that I give as GIFTS to friends. I always have one eye open during my stays in Cuba and I bring them stuff they need and that’s hard to get. (And I seem to be doing a good job judging by the remarks my Cuban friends make about my gifts -stuff they need and have been looking for for ages but were unable to find -) But I don’t mention them on the custom entry card you have to fill in to avoid being searched by customs.
    Bringing in a lot of electronic devices might turn out to be a very expensive trip / stay if you get caught.
    And Viagra pills?? Come on!! (I know they sell for 5-10 CUC a pill, but if I help the Cubans I prefer to do it in a meaningful way, not to have “luxury” sex) There’s real medicines the Cubans need, for real illnesses. (For example: Brought a blood pressure device for friends suffering from high blood pressure, bring pills to help friends with diabetes every time, even something like paracetamol is helpfull and needed)

  • My friend, I’m.happy that you also work hard for you family, but just read the content of the article. The guy is focus in “How don’t provide money to the government” for tourist. The brilliant idea is bringing gods.. Come on. Of course that I accepted in the past some gods for money and I pay a lot less than the real price. I always say to the person if you want to exchange, I’ll taxable your asset low low low. If you don’t like it, then pay. If you want grow your business, you need make sales, I’m not saying that selling a laptop that I probably get it for 180 USD I sell in 300 CUC Is not bad.. Is just I need the money fast , I can’t spend time looking for a buyer that most time they pay in 3 or 4 month. That way never will help to grow private sector. We need foreign currency to do our thing..of course that the country will grow also, the government always will receive the benefits. Is no way that some country receive more than 4 million tourist and the government doesn’t perceive the benefits…Even me working as private business man, I help the government because I’m doing something that’s attractive for tourist, and tourist bring money…money to pay restaurant, taxi, rooms, tours, girls or men, food and is very Ignorant pretending that the government will not get a piece of the money that a tourist bring.
    I always say, proposal like this, always born in US pretending kill the government of Cuba.. results after 59 years… Castro’s family rich, anticastro people in US rich.. most people in Cuba poor…

  • Carlos, not everyone has to have the same opinon. I have a business too and normally receive payment in cash, but if someone offered me an in-kind payment of something I could easily sell for much more than the payment amount, I would grab at the chance. But that’s me, not you, and that’s OK. I don’t think you are reading the post well. It talks about an agreement between the service provider like you and the visitor. If there is no agreement the transaction is the same as always in cash. The quality of service provided by me in my company is probably equal to yours, that’s not the issue. I hope you can understand what a voluntary agreement means and what an imposition means. If you don’t, this conversation has reached a dead end.

  • Mister We are not in the era of exchange gods, if I give a service you need to pay for it. I live in Cuba and I have my business, (is hard but not impossible) im not an electronic seller, I know about hospitality, I rent rooms, I no need sel laptop and tablets, that is job for other. You want an BNB? Perfect you pay 30 USD per night and that’s it. Don’t come to me with a tablet to change service because I will not accept it. I received more than 200 tourist per year, I I’m doing well with cash, my community grow with me, because I pay gardening, housekeeping, maintenance, taxi, delivery, so many peoples work in a network with me, our families is good and happy because we work hard for give nice service. How suppose to grow the private sector in Cuba?? Making sales, providing nice service with high standards, create products to give the best experience to the the future we will take all the market, because we are doing well, and everyone pay by CASH my friend.
    So please don’t give opinion about something that you don’t know how work..don’t decided for us..let the business people in Cuba do our thing in the way that we know..we are doing well and we are growing.

  • But who are you?? You believe that bring in to Cuba products will help the people?? Business grow making sales. Is a network, I sell rooms and other services to tourist, that money help my entire family, I request services from other local that I pay for do jobs for me, with that money they support their families, and is a chain.. People trying to survive but with money. I no need a boxer, T-shirt, or phone.. You come to Cuba? you pay.. medicine? Who are you to dictate what Cubans need?? Where you live? What you do for survive?? Write shit like this?? Telling the US visitor to don’t bring cash just tablet, phones, and Viagra? How we gonna survive the people who fight everyday here to try to eat or have decent life..I want to say thank you to all tourist who come to Cuba and help us to survive. I exist, for them..not for Castro’s family, and Idiots from US that say fight for us and only want to send gods, like 1000 years ago.. Promote our country, because Cubans need tourist to keep in US drink Coors Light ..I stay here fighting for give my family better future and my community. Castro’s will die, his family maybe will run out the country, Trump will keep talking sh..t, but I’ll stay in the same place for my family and friends.

  • Two points, one, the author does not impose, he suggests an agreement between the person coming and the owner of the service provided involving items brought legally into the country.
    The other is that if the provider of the service prefers instead of cash a cellphone and a laptop that they can then sell in Cuba for a larger amount what’s wrong with that? Who are the winners and are their losers?

  • Dear Zyzyx, I am very sorry for your sad life in the oppressive US,
    please, do not follow suffering, come to Cuba, or even better,
    Nicaragua or Venezuela, and if you live in Florida, please go to Miami
    and say to the 2 million Cubans there that they are stupid.

  • Hey Carlos, 10 thousands phones won´t saturate Cubans market. But
    think bigger, think 1 million, that million won’t be in one or two
    producer’s hand that can speculate, will be distributed in millions of

    I don´t tell you to pay your casa particular maintenance with things,
    use the Cuban money, Cuban money that you will receive after you sell
    in the internal market what your American customer gave you in payment
    for lodging with you, by the way, you can duplicate profits doing

    By the way, maybe you don´t need Viagra, but many Cubans do, some of
    them pay 5 USD per pill or more.

  • I love you comment…
    This article is the more stupid I ever read.
    The Cubans in Miami want to take away the Cuban government, but they want to do it very easily, drinking Coca Cola and sleep in air conditioning. Very funny, is not it?

  • if 10 thousands of Americans want to travel to Cuba will bring 10 k phones, tablet, laptop, 1 million Viagra pills, so the market in Cuba will be saturated of these products and the price will go down…WTF…I work in Cuba in one Casa Particular..this is not the era of “you give salt and I’ll give sugar” you pay by cash because I need to pay maintenance, gardening, housekeeper, buy gods, so I NK need a tablet or phone in order to seek it in Cuba..why I need to complicate so much my life..If you come to Cuba…bring cash and you will have excellent experience… Forgot our government..both sides said they fight for the Cuban people..but the only I can see is both government have a nice life…. millions off US was spending to remove Castro’s..but what?? Castro’s family rich, people in Miami rich.. people of Cuba poor…Do my friend don’t write this because we don’t need tablets and phones, and also we don´t need Viagra..we need money to make our business grow.

  • hahahahaha….

  • Interesting article. Nonetheless, there is no getting around paying the Castros for the visa (tourist card) to enter the country and ultimately paying the airport tax on the way out.

  • The US is not what you think it is. I was born in Cuba and now live in California, and have lived in Michigan. I also have family in Florida and other states. The US is nuch more oppressive than Cuba, and your life, job, health and mental health are much more at risk here in many ways. The fact that you can even write what you did without being punished or attacked proves that you have more freedom than we do. It sounds like you are just towing the US propaganda line for your own profit or at the very least just ignorant of the truth. Like a man from Cuba who now lives in Florida told me, “I would give up everything I have in the US for one sweet potato in Cuba.”

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