If you’re from South Africa, or one of many other countries, you CANNOT get a Visa for Cuba Tourist Card at the airport. Or on arrival in Cuba.
You MUST get the Visa Tourist Card at a Cuban Embassy. Without one you will not be permitted to board a flight.
After an enjoyable stay in Cancun we were taking an early flight to Havana in Cuba.
We had researched the internet about entry requirements for Cuba. It seemed to be straightforward and that one could get a Tourist Card from airport.
There is even a site for the Havana airport that states they are "available on arrival".
Don't believe everything you read on the internet. Often a Google search does not provide the correct or most up to date information.
As we arrived in the airport a Visa for Cuba Tourist Card representative approached us. I handed him our passports, mine from Ireland and my wife's from South Africa and he immediately handed the South African passport back to me. He then completed the Tourist Card information for the Ireland passport and on payment of USD20 gave it to me.
He explained that for a South African passport, you need to get the Visa Tourist Card from an Embassy.
Scheduled to fly in two hours’ time and with the Embassy in Cancun only opening at 9am we would miss the flight.
Approaching the AeroMexico representative and jumping a long check-in line he changed the flight to a later flight at no cost. First hurdle over!
The senior Tourist visa representative assured me that he knew a taxi driver who would get us through the whole process in time for the flight. I knew that this would be at a cost.
Our friend checked in as scheduled. He had made the accommodation reservation in Havana so I noted down the slightly confusing details.
As we sat in a chilly Cancun airport when we should be flying to Havana made me despise bureaucracy even more. All the different holiday visa requirements for different countries. A simple money making and employment generating scheme so why make it so varied and complicated?
Do countries not understand that visitors are a source of income? They add value to the economy. Generate cheap employment. Create wealth at a very low cost.
At the scheduled 8:30am the "taxi" driver arrived. Assuring us that all would go well and that the price for this service was USD100. Very expensive but not negotiable.
We arrived minutes before the 9am opening time and waited for the Embassy to open. There was no sign the only evidence that this was the Cuban embassy was the flag above the door. We rang the bell the door opened and we entered a very sparse waiting room. A half pane sliding window opened in the door. A face appeared and we were summoned to the hatch.
Requesting a visa we were told that they required a copy of the ticket to Cuba, a ticket out of Cuba and bank statements. These could be hard copies or email.
We had no hard copies but they were on my phone and laptop. So sending these by email should be no problem.
"Do you have wifi?" I enquired. "No" was the shattering reply. What to do now?
The "taxi" driver had the solution … we could use his phone as a hot spot. The official accepted my credit card as a bank statement so I sent copies of the flight tickets. Carol completed and handed in the application form.
The window shut and we waited. We required a form from the Embassy so the "taxi" driver could go and pay the visa fee at the bank and bring back the proof of payment.
The window slid open and a face appeared. As we didn't have a photograph Carol must sign in the photograph space! The window shut and a few minutes later opened with the required form.
The "taxi" driver left with the required fee of 345 Pesos to make the bank deposit. This was in fact slightly cheaper than the price paid in the airport!
The window shut. A few minutes later the window opened again and Carol summoned again to provide details of the dubious address in Havana. The pleasant lady official said she knew Havana but didn't know this place. We assured her that it was a guest house and that we'd been given these details by our friend who'd made all the bookings. Her doubt gave me an uncertain feeling.
The "taxi" driver returned with the receipt and handed it in. The window slid shut.
We waited. Time wasn't on our side. It was getting close to 10am and we had to be back at the airport by 11am to check in.
The window slid open and a smiling face asked Carol to collect her passport and check the details of the Visa for Cuba Tourist Card. This looks the same as a Visa for Cuba Tourist Card issued at the airport but it's issued by the Embassy with an official Embassy stamp.
Relief! The taxi driver set off at a rapid speed on the way back to the airport. Check-in went easily and after the mandatory customs inspection we were ready for our flight.
We arrived in Cuba knowing that getting onto the Internet was going to be difficult. On enquiring at the information desk we were told that there was an ETECSA shop outside the airport building. Here we could buy a card which would allow us to access the Internet inside the airport building.
Customer service didn’t appear to be a feature of business in Cuba. "No stock!" "You can get them in the city". By now we had enquired with various taxis whether they recognised the address and could take us there.
Again no luck! None of them could make sense of it.
One taxi driver had a solution for us. He would take us into town to a hotel where we could buy a card and access the Internet (link to Wifi in Cuba). He would wait for us and then take us to the address.
This all went smoothly. Within minutes of going on the internet with the name of the guest house I had their address.
Setting off to the address with the taxi we arrived after making a couple of enquiries on the way. Relieved that we found a solution and could meet up again.
On a mission to help others expand their horizons. Who knows where they can end? Passionate about learning and embracing the changing world. Adventurous and skeptical but optimistic!