Relying on Google for updated Cuba visa information is a bad decision and will probably result in a frustrating and costly mistake.
It is not a simple; 'Get it at the airport' like for citizens of most other countries as you'll see from our story.
Lesson learned: Don't rely on Google for information on visas or consulate contact details - much of it is irrelevant or out of date!
While we were travelling around the world we decided that a visit to Cuba might be an interesting trip. Getting there from the US wasn't an option so we decided to go from Mexico.
This is an account of our stressful and expensive visa hassle we had travelling with a South African passport to Cuba. The problem compounded by the very poor search results produced by Google. Whose meaninglessly feed articles that are years out of date but somehow remain on the top of the search results.
I spent ages investigating the way to get a visa for Cuba. Our plan was to fly from Cancun in Mexico to Havana in Cuba.
All the time I wasted on Google searches didn’t prepare us for what we were to face.
Arriving at Cancun airport we were greeted, as expected, by the Cuban Tourist Card (visa) representatives who were milling about near the check in desk. Perfect, I thought, as I handed my Irish and my wife’s South African passport to one of them to complete our formality.
I was shocked when he immediately handed the South African passport back to me and asked “Do you have another one?” When I replied “No” he called across in Spanish to his supervisor. He then came across and explained that the airport representatives could not complete the requirements for South African passport holders and that this could only be done at the Cuban Consulate.
It was 05:30 in the morning, we were due to fly out at 08:00 and the Cuban Embassy only opened at 09:00!
The Tourist Card supervisor then told me that he would contact a 'friend' (fixer) who would; 'Make a plan!' He would collect us at 08:30, take us to the Cuban Consulate, pay the required visa fee and get us back to the airport in time for the flight.
I immediately knew that the 'friend's plan' would come at a cost!
I went to change our flight booking and fortunately the airline was accommodating and without charge booked us on the midday flight.
The Cuban Embassy
After many cups of coffee and a touch of anxiousness the 'friend' arrived on time and took us through to the Consulate. What followed was a couple of hours of stress and anticipation as we trudged through the required bureaucratic visa application process.
Initially they required the normal documentation; bank statements, proof of accommodation and copy of a return ticket - none of which I had hard copies available! On requesting to use the internet I was told; "There is no internet connection here". Fortunately the 'friend' provided a hotspot and I was able to supply enough documentation for the application. The proof of funds was simply provided with a photocopy of my credit card! There was also a hassle with the address we had been given in Havana but this was overlooked when I frustratingly said; 'We'll definitely be staying somewhere!'
The mission was successful and as promised we were back in time for the flight.
The net result of the combination of a South African passport and an inefficient Google search … a missed flight, extra cost (including USD100 to a fixer 'friend' and disrupted travel plans!