If you are planning to study in Cuba, then you have made an excellent decision! Cuba is rich in culture, with delicious food, warm locals and the Spanish-colonial architecture throughout the country will make you fall in love with its beautiful cities. But while studying in Cuba is a worthwhile experience, it is not as easy as it may seem. The country is still under communist rule, so it will take you some time to adjust to the culture and dealings of the country. But moving to any foreign country can be challenging; you will just have to confront the change head on. In this article, I have mentioned a few things that a student must know before arriving in Cuba.
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Travel Insurance is a Must
When you are planning to travel to Cuba as a student, make sure to purchase travel insurance in advance. Cuba is not one of those countries where you can travel to without it, so it’s non-negotiable. When you land in Cuba, you will have to go through customs and you cannot pass through that process without travel insurance. They won’t stop you from entering; instead, they will ask you to buy one on the spot, but that could be very expensive. So, to avoid any additional expenses, make sure to get travel insurance from a US company a few weeks before your departure.
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Your US Credit Cards Will Be of No Help to You in Cuba
This is a thing that every student must know! You cannot survive in Cuba by relying solely on your American debit or credit cards. While the situation has improved in recent years, and there are a few merchants who accept US cards, it is still highly unlikely that you will find an ATM. Consider arranging to have someone who can transfer money from the US to Cuba (such as your family or a friend) using money transfer services like Western Union. This is the best way to ensure that you’ll receive cash regularly, rather than bringing it all with you. Better to be safe than sorry.
Socializing Can Be Tricky
Socializing in Cuba is not quite as simple as students are used to in their homeland. You will probably meet people who do not necessarily want to be your friend but are hanging out with you just because to them, you appear as a rich foreigner.
While this happens a lot in Cuba, you will also find some nice people as well. It is always good to start your socializing with your fellow classmates in college. Since the majority of your time will be spent at the university, it’s a great idea to even make friends with students from your own field of study. You never know where that contact can lead to in the future.
Lastly, you might want to avoid gatherings where people encourage you to spend your money on expensive goods and/or restaurants. Actually, it’s a good rule of thumb to not flash your money about. Instead of always spending money, find lots of free things to do as well, like roaming around the city and attending events on campus.
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It might seem a little odd, but there will be times when you wont be able to find certain food products in Cuba. Thus, you may need to try new things and expand your pallet.
Also, when you go to a restaurant, you will hear that this is not available and that is not available. It might be a bit unsettling in the beginning, but once you start exploring the city, you will be able to find restaurants on a budget that always have good menu items and taste great too. The options are there; you just have to find them.
You can also go online and learn some simple Caribbean recipes on your own. Most of the people cook their own food in Cuba, so you will just fit right in with the locals.
There are Two Currencies in Cuba
It may come as a surprise to you, but Cuba has two different currencies. One is called National Peso and the other is called Convertible Peso. Both currencies have their own advantages. While with the National Peso, you get higher value, convertible Peso is the one that is used most widely.
The National Peso comes in handy when you are using public transportation or when you are looking to shop around for some fresh fruits and vegetables. Thus, do not let the term “peso” fool you. People will tell you before landing that Cuba only uses pesos, but what they forget to tell you is that it also has a couple of variations. Most study abroad programs have advisors available, so you can always ask them. Make sure to take advantage of the resources around you.
Trading Still Works in Cuba
If you want to have a grounded Cuban experience, then you should try trading at least once just for fun. Some shops in Cuba still have the option to pay for the product or trade for something else. You would not find a barter system like this anywhere else in the world.
This works especially well in souvenir shops. You can get something to remember Cuba and can give away something to them from your own hometown. They do not have a lot of things that you’ll normally find in the US or the UK, so they always accept barter deals. Plan ahead and make sure to pack a few items for trading purposes only. And have fun with it!
For example: Baseball caps, playing cards, etc.
Using Wi-Fi can be Frustrating
If you are accustomed to a fast-paced internet and strong Wi-Fi connectivity, then you are going to struggle in Cuba. The internet connections in Cuba are not as good as you will find back at home. One of the major reasons behind this is that more than 65% of the people in Cuba do not even use the internet so it’s not a necessity for most of the country. But as a student, you will always need a reliable internet connection so, to avoid any hurdles, consider getting an international phone plan. You can also get a portable Wi-Fi device (rent or buy one) as well, which will ensure that you can get a signal whenever you need it.
Carry Hand Sanitizer and Wipes with you at ALL Times
One rule of thumb that you must follow when in Cuba is that you must keep wipes, hand sanitizer, soap and sometimes even toilet paper with you all of the time. When you are in public places, you will usually not be able to find soap, toilet paper or wipes in the bathrooms, so always be prepared. And the surprising part is that you will find this even in government offices and restaurants. So, if you want to stay clean all of the time, you must carry these items with you.
It’s still worth it in the end!
Overall, Studying Abroad is always an amazing experience where you can learn a lot about yourself and the world around you. Allow yourself to learn more about the specific culture, in this case Cuban, history and even food! You will probably develop both professional and life skills that only travel opportunities like this can provide. Remember to enjoy the experience and hopefully you will return home with lifelong friendships and cherished memories.