Is Cuba safe? Yes, it is actually one of the safest countries in the world when measuring crime figures however living in Cuba is not easy. Some Cuban men and women make up their communist level pay with Cuba scams, which is frustrating when you’ve saved hard to take a trip of a lifetime. After quite literally spending three weeks, we’ve compiled a list of the 10 scams to avoid in Cuba. Follow these tips to help you keep some of that the CUC in your pockets while having a great time but also giving the lovely Cuban people a fair price for their services.
1.When did you arrive, sir?
If you answer “today” expect the response to be along the lines of… What a great day to arrive, it’s the national day of – whatever black market goods / service he is selling – at an over inflated price, of course! We’ve not heard of any Cuban airport scams but it does seem to be quite a popular search on Google. Have you experienced any?
Spanish speakers will get my word play here. We’ve met two clever guys who fell for this one as well as having it tried on us! A jinetero (hustler) will plea with you to buy his baby some milk (leche.) When you arrive in the supermarket the milk will be prepackaged in a bag ready to go and you’ll be charged $20-30! Once you leave the shop, the milk is returned and shopkeeper and the tag team hustlers split their loot! Don’t cry over spilled milk – apologise and move on. This seems to be more popular in Havana than other Cuba destinations.
3. “Lo siento, no cambio”
Traders never seem to have change! This is just a ploy so you have to buy more stuff. We fell for this with the cocktail man in Trinidad (not just one of the Havana Cuba scams). Learn from our mistake and keep your Cuban money close, tell them you’re going elsewhere for change and they miraculously find some!
4. $6 Coffee – What a Stir
Some shops sell overpriced coffee, please don’t be surprised when a local ‘kindly’ offers to buy it for you in local currency (CUP) at a fraction of the cost in exchange for a dollar. Another scam! Coffee is about 50 cents – $1. If you are particularly gullible this scam will be extended. Your new friend will now wander through the streets with you sharing friendly local knowledge. Do expect a bill for a private tour at the end. This happened to a mature couple we met. Unsure about Cuban money? Read our Cuban Currency Guide.
Everyone seems to sell cheap fake cigars! Don’t buy them, the sealed box normally contains banana leaves. Only buy from plantations or shops, fakes and no duty paid will be confiscated at customs. There is even a great difference in price between authentic Cuban cigars. If you are budgeting, finest Cuban cigars were cheaper (three times!) in the official shop in Viñales than the official shop in Havana.
On average, Cuban government wages are $28 per month, some would say this wage is relative to local prices, others would say it’s not. To bump up wages, many Cubans rent out second houses or extra rooms. Guide books and websites recommend you budget $10-30 per night. We quickly found that the rooms going for $30 were the same as rooms at $10. We never paid more than $10 each (plus breakfast) after the first casa. Everything you need to know about casas particulares here).
7. Bad Bus’ness
Casa owners are reluctant to share bus times and hide the truth about the frequency of buses to entice you into another nights stay with them. If there really are no buses they will hook you up with a taxi collectivo (share taxi)…eventually. Print out all of the timetables you need from the Viazul website before you go. Even the station staff are at it. We asked the times of the buses at Trinidad for Havana and the security guard hooked us up with his friend for the same price!
8. Fawning You Off
Restaurants have everything, including deer! Well, until you get there! PRs will promise you the world to get you into their place, once there the extensive menu and inclusive drinks suddenly becomes fish, pork and rice. Remember that some Cubans only live off rations. We suffered from this scam in Caleton (Bay of Pigs).
9. Sisters are Doing it for Themselves
If the police approach your date – run! We met a young Irish high school teacher who set up a date with a waitress of the same age. He became concerned when the cops were showing her as much interest as he was! The police do try to have your back so will question known pros if they are seen with gringos. There are countless Cuban marriage scams (scamsters being both male and female) online!
10. Shop Shut!
This scam is not unique to Cuba but we did experience a good attempt to get us into a bar and away from The Revolution Museum. An older couple told us that it was their anniversary! Congratulations, we rejoiced. After a bit of chat they asked where we were going… Alas the museum is closed today but you should check out this bar! We said our goodbyes and turned a corner to an open museum. They get commission when you step through the bar door.
Now we are not saying Havana is ‘scam city’ but like many developing countries (especially this one which has suffered from embargos), there are people who try! This post has proved quite popular (and controversial!) Read the comments below for more scams in Cuba, and the rest of the world…. If you have any to add, please comment below.
Incoming – we have a new one from a reader (don’t forget to check the comments below for additions, and tell us if you experience any!): overcharged internet cards. Don’t been fooled, read our post on how to get WiFi in Cuba!
Going to Cuba?
Hover over & pin to your Cuba Pinterest board!
Cuba Travel Further Reading
- Your Go To Cuba Travel Guide
- Cuban Currency
- WiFi and Internet in Cuba
- Travel Budget for 3 Weeks in Cuba
- Are Havana Tours Worth It?
- Tricky Trinidad – Salsa and Cycling
- Diving in The Bay of Pigs
- Viñales – Mogotes, Caves and Tobacco
What scams from abroad can you empower us with?