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The so-called “scams” in Cuba are invariably bush league when compared to many other destinations, especially in the developing world. You are (usually) looking at losing a few bucks and a bit of pride, that’s all. No big deal. Crime is mostly the same but there are always exceptions of course, so don't make the mistake of blindly jumping on the "Cuba Is So Safe" bandwagon to the point where you're being stupid. Sadly, due also to fast-growing tourism, it's not as safe as it used to be.
1. Violent Crime-
Still (almost) unheard of - against tourists, that is. There are few places that can boast the almost 100% success rate for solving violent crime that the Cuban police can. Justice is swift and efficient. Result: So long as you're not into under-age prostitution, drugs, etc. your chances of being a victim of violent crime are minuscule.
2. Snatch & Grab
Unfortunately this is becoming more common in tourist areas. Never stroll around with your purse/knapsack casually slung over your shoulder. Never carry a camera in your hand without strapping it to your wrist. Many times the Snatch & Grab thieves work in pairs with one riding a bicycle, thus offering both thieves a quick getaway.
If you’re being jostled in a tightly packed crowd in many places you could suffer pickpocket attempts.Your chances are still better than in a London or New York train, but it is possible.
If you are smart, pickpocketing is one of the very few crimes that is 100% preventable. A pickpocket can’t magically teleport something from you. A pickpocket has to physically get their hands on your belongings. Inside pockets, properly secured, and measures like money belts, etc. make pickpocketing almost impossible. Be prepared, and this very common crime becomes a non-issue.
Never leave your belongings unsecured. Sitting a purse down on a bench and looking away for a moment is asking for trouble. Minor crimes of opportunity are very common, so don’t give anyone the chance. Just remember that tourists are visible in a foreign environment and that the opportunists exist anywhere. Mind your own belongings without being paranoid about it.
5. Money Exchange
There are plenty of banks and ATM machines in La Habana, Varadero and many other tourist places in the country. You do not need to convert anything with strangers on the street. Price lists are everywhere and prominently displayed. You will be given a receipt, even if you do not ask for it. If you do not get the receipt, simply ask for it. If you exchange money with strangers, or even Cubans you get to know, you only have yourself to blame for any losses you could have prevented.
6. Counterfeit Money
Counterfeit Convertible Pesos are fairly uncommon, but they are out there. To familiarize yourself with how the money looks, and the security features, have a look here...
1.) Convertible Pesos, CUC: http://www.cubacurrency.com/cuban_con...
ii.) Cuban Pesos, CUP: http://www.cubacurrency.com/cuban_pes...
7. Credit Cards
Never let your credit card out of sight and always keep your carbon copies. You could have monster cash advances taken out on your credit card and processed through Spain. Check on your balances regularly - you want to be able to book a flight or buy souveniers without your credit card being maxed!
8. Restaurants and Bars
While it pays off to be careful, you will find that bars and restaurants nowadays run the registers and issue you with the receipt. You can and should check your bill before you pay it. You would do that in your own country, so why would you ignore the bill in a foreign country? If you are satisfied with it, do leave a few CUCs to your service girl or a guy. That way you are reinforcing the importance of being honest with their customers, as a reward follows their efforts to make you happy.
9. Fake Menus
Not as common as it used to be. It is quite unlikely that you will encounter a fake menu either in a private or a public restaurant. Even many of street vendors selling simple sandwiches or tamales will have a piece of cardboard with prices.
The metres work fine in almost every taxy, but drivers may not turn them on for a foreigner, perhaps seeing an opportunity for a non-metered ride and a few extra CUC's in their own pocket. Do insist and look for another driver who will turn it on, if necessary. If you call the taxi companies, insist on a taxi that has the taximetre working. They will assure you the taxi metres are working so do not take the stories from the driver. If he or she insists it's broken, tell them you will report them to the company and look for another taxi. If you do not care too much about that and you know how much it costs from your home base to your destination, you can negotiate the price with the driver, but remember that that is breaking the safe system already in place: the taximetres.A newer scam is the taxi 'official' outside Havana airport who ushers you towards an 'official' taxi. He will put your bags in the trunk for you Including your hand baggage, for 'safety and security'. He will insist or the taxi won't leave. After all, it's safer in a locked trunk isn't it? Not when the official , the driver and their other accomplice (usually a small child)is already hiding in the trunk/boot behind either a false partition or dark blanket. Whilst you are driven and speed and kept occupied (usually loud music does the trick) your most vulnerable possessions are being rifled through. The scammers know everyone comes to Cuba with cash, and this cash is likely to be in hand luggage. You arrive at your destination and your money is gone. What is clever about this is that the thief will normally not take all your money, and you will only notice a day or so later, when in your mind there a lot of places you could have lost this money, and a 'street kid in a trunk scenario' is one that you may never even consider, being so preposterous. It's happening regularly now and it's so slick even the most regular travellers are succumbing to it. Keep you valuables with you on the floor of the car, NOT IN THE TRUNK!
11. Customs Duty Coming Into Cuba
Cuban Customs Regulations are quite simple and straightforward. If you’re trying to bring in something out of the ordinary (especially electronics) familiarize yourself with the regulations. Two, or more, laptops or mobile phones may be a costly decision. You may be charged a penalty for excess of electronic equipment.
12. Overweight Baggage Charges Exiting Cuba
When you’re leaving home always check the exact weight of your checked luggage at the airport. Cuban check-in officerscan try to tell you you’re overweight on your return leg, but if you know the weight, it's less likely to happen. Canadians in particular seem to be singled out for this scam. It won't happen in La Habana, but it may happen in regional airports.
Many people use the small, digital luggage scales that are available in travel shops. Sounds like a good idea for some travellers.
(Weights used to be taped to the back side of the scales at Varadero. If a tourist noticed and made a complaint the officers would express their horror at the deception, claiming the “other shift did it.” It no longer happens, but it doesn't hurt to look at the scale when your luggage is on it.)
13. Airport Exit Scams
These sorts of situations should be long-gone. Especially in La Habana, you are directed to the window that is clearly marked as Departure Tax Office, and you will be required to pay in cash. Have the correct amount ready for your own peace of mind.
Obviously it is ill advised to hand over in one lump sum what amounts to several months wages for many Cubans - the Departure Taxes should be paid separately for each person, if you are travelling in a group. If travelling in a family, again pay the exact sum to avoid misunderstandings, or count the money to the person behind the window, to show you are aware of the amount handed over and expect the change.
The cigars you bought from your best friend bartender/guide/cleaning lady/taxi driver who has a father/brother/uncle working at the cigar factory are counterfeit. They were not taken from the factory, they are counterfeit. No matter how well you know your fren, they are counterfeit.
- that's not to say they’re bad cigars.
- that's not to say they weren’t a great deal.
- that's not to say you won’t enjoy a good smoke.
But quite simply, they are 100% fake. Accept this, get over it, and enjoy them!
There are plenty of state shops that sell original Cuban cigars and for a domestic Cuban price as well. Cuban domestic shops are not always easily identifiable. But there are also lots of clearly marked shops that are licenced to sell cigars to foreigners - they must give you the certificate of authenticity with your bill, for the customs.
Do not buy cigars that you wish to take out of Cuba from private persons, or private shops. Cuba is very well and efficiently organised country, the rule of law is strictly enforced and you should know the rules that apply to you as a tourist just as you would know the rules in your own country. Cigars are product with protected origin, just as Italian cheeses or French wines are, so follow the law. Fines are hefty.
15. Roadside puncture
Do not accept help with a roadside puncture if you can avoid it: A couple or family may await your passing car to create a puncture. VERY soon they will arrive to offer assistance. Perseverance and friendliness win the day. Even if they cannot steal the luggage, now safely locked inside the car, one member can puncture the spare tyre while you are distracted so that now the only course of action is to accept a lift with both tyres to a garage for an inflated repair or replacement bill. One such family: 2 men, 3 women and a child operate 4km north of Moron (yes Moron !) which is on the tourist route from Cayo Coco back to Havana. Another recently reported site was close to Santa Clara. Sit in the locked car and sound the horn till they go away. Take their vehicle registration number. Photographing the family and their car for widespread publicity with the photos could be helpful. On the road between Bay of Pigs and Trinidad, a young man at an intersection asks for a lift and places a nail under the rear driver's side tire as he gets in. When the tire goes flat within a couple kilometers, he offers kindly to put on the spare tire, and then refers you to a local garage where the original tire can be fixed. He then offers to negotiate the price of fixing the flat. The resulting price is astronomical but it's too late by the time you find out.
There’s lots of other things, but really, they’re not important. Compared to many of its Caribbean and Central/South American neighbours (let along Asia and the Indian Subcontinent - watch out!) Cuba is no way/shape/form a corrupt destination and as mentioned at the beginning of this post the scams that a normal tourist will face are usually bush league and almost... naively innocent.
It all boils down to one simple thing... Cuba is NOT a difficult destination (as a matter of fact, it's incredibly easy to travel there) but like anywhere in world - especially in a developing country - you always have to use COMMON SENSE and DO YOUR RESEARCH.