Relying on the Cuba visa information you find with a Google search will probably result in a frustrating and costly mistake.
While we were travelling around the world we decided that a visit to Cuba might be a worthwhile trip. Getting there from the US didn't seem to be 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. Who meaninglessly feed articles that are years out of date on to the top of the search results.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 are 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 the forms.
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 came across and explained that they could not complete the requirements for South African passport holders and that this could only be done at the Cuban Embassy.
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 advised me that he had a “friend” who would collect us at 08:30, take us to the Cuban Embassy, pay the required fee and get us back to the airport in time for the flight. I knew that the "friend" would come at a cost!
I then went to change our flight booking and fortunately the airline was accommodating and without charge booked us on the midday flight.
The Cuban Embassy
The “friend” arrived on time and took us through to the embassy. What followed was a couple of hours of stress and anticipation as we trudged through the required bureaucratic visa application process.
They required the normal documentation. Bank statements, proof of accommodation and copies of a return ticket, none of which I had hard copies available! Requesting to use the internet I was told "there is no internet 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!
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!
We mistakenly thought that the Cuban and South African regimes were great buddies from the time of the liberation struggle. In recent years South Africa has provided employment for Cuban doctors and engineers. Unfortunately the relationship does not extend to visas!
If you have a South African passport and intend visiting Cuba you must get your visa at the Embassy.
It would seem to be a simple task for the South African government to conclude bilateral visa arrangements with countries like Cuba and Colombia (another country where getting a visa for a South African passport is a mission) and save all these unnecessary expenses and problems?