Arrival at Jose Marti International Airport in Havana can be stressful. To help you get through the airport I’ve put together this step by step guide to help you start your trip to Cuba off right.
*Please note the photos in the article, with the exception of a few, are stock photos. I was asked to not take photos while I was in line for passport control.
Arrival at Jose Marti International Airport in Havana
You will either depart your plane from a set of stairs and walk across the tarmac to enter the passport control hall or exit the plane via a jet bridge and walk through the airport to get to the passport hall.
Depending on which airline you fly into Cuba there are 2 terminals that are a few miles apart one is smaller and the other larger. The basic steps for entering Cuba and the order in which they occur are the same for both terminals. The differences are small, such as multiple steps being the same room or going through a door or entryway.
No matter which terminal you arrive in remember to:
Follow the signs or airport employees for where you are suppose to go.
And if you are confused do not hesitate to ask for help.
Go through passport control
When going through passport control you will need your passport that must be valid for at least 6 months from the time you enter the country and your Cuban visa filled out.
Depending on how many planes have arrived when yours did and how large your plane is your wait can be long or short. My advice is do not get in the line closest to the door you entered. Look around the hall for the shortest line, it is frequently the farthest away from the entry door.
If you see a line designated for children and people with disabilities get in the line closest to that one. Once the line is gone the passport control agents will welcome other people into that line.
When it is your turn at the desk give the passport control agent your passport and Cuban visa that you already filled out on the plane. They will look it over and take your photo.
Once you’ve been approved they will either open a door for your to enter or a small gate for you to go through and return your passport and visa.
DO NOT LOOSE YOUR VISA! YOU WILL NEED IT TO EXIT THE COUNTRY. If you loose it they will charge you for another one upon leaving.
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This part of the process is always a total cluster. Be patient and just go with the flow. As there are only a few security scanners and I’ve never seen them have all the machines open you will be here for a while.
When entering the security area join the line closest to you. People will cut in front of you and their friends and family members will join them in line, etc. Just go with it. There is no point in getting upset over a line.
I will say to stay alert for random openings of new lines. If one opens try to get to it as quickly as possible.
For the security screening you’ll need to remove everything from your pockets and put all your belongings on the belt.
Most of the time, after you walk through the metal detector you’ll have to be scanned with a wand as well.
Depending on where you do your security scan there might be options for where to go next. I have entered from 2 different areas and where I went was slightly different. Either look on the wall for your flight number (you’ll either go left or right) or just go with the flow as the security scan is in the same room as the health form and where you pick up your luggage.
The next step of arriving at HAV is dropping off your health form. You will have received this either when you purchased your visa or on the plane. Again, make sure this is filled out before you get off the plane so you don’t need to be messing with all your stuff and filling out forms in the middle of all the hustle and bustle.
The health form is a simple white piece of paper that asks you about your current health condition. Questions like, “Do you have a fever?”, and “Do you have a cough?”
All you have to do is drop it off at a table, usually with a women sitting at it that is dressed like a 1950s era nurse, and walk by.
Pick up checked bags
Picking up your checked luggage can either be a short of VERY long experience. It all depends on the day, how many flights have come in, how organized they are at removing the luggage from the flights, and probably other factors that I haven’t even thought about.
The first time I went to Cuba I had 1 checked bag and it was one of the first to come out. The second time I didn’t check a bag at all. If you’re packing light (which I highly recommend) you won’t need to check a bag and all you’ll have to do in walk through this area and on to customs.
If you check a bag be patient, you might be there for a while. And make sure to lock your luggage. For more information on this and other safety tips for Cuba, click here.
One you have your bag, make sure you have your customs form in hand and filled out. This form is blue and white. You will have received it either when you purchased your visa or on the plane. Have this filled out and ready to go before you depart the plane.
If you are bringing goods into the country you’ll need to get in line, and usually it’s a long one, with everyone else who has goods to declare. You’ll give them the form and usually ask you a few questions and you’ll be on your way. This line is long, be prepared to wait.
For most visitors you’ll have nothing to declare and will be looking for the sign that says “Nothing to Declare” and usually nonexistent line. You hand in your form and head to the exit.
Exit the Airport
The arrivals hall at Jose Marti International Airport is always chaotic. With people everywhere picking people up and everyone offering visitors taxis.
To avoid this I highly recommend hiring someone to come pick you up at the airport upon arrival. I like arriving knowing how much I need to pay (or have already paid in advance) instead of negotiating with someone when tired and just wanting to get to where I’m staying.
If you choose to per-arrange your taxi they’ll be waiting for you in the arrivals hall with a sign that has your name on it. After all the craziness of what you just went through it’s nice to not have to worry about paying a fair price of a taxi and getting to your hotel.
For those who want to get a taxi upon arrival you’ll need to get Cuban money before leaving the airport. Head to the currency exchange booth and exchange for Cuban Convertible Pesos (the currency that tourists use in Cuba). To find out more about currency in Cuba, check out my blog post about Cuban Money.
Most visitors will be staying in Havana upon arrival and it is approximately an hour away from the airport depending on where you’re staying, the time of day you arrive, and traffic.
Have more questions about arriving in Havana, Cuba? Let me know in the comments!
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