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Overseas Security Advisory Council
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Cuba 2020 Crime & Safety Report

This is an annual report produced in conjunction with the Regional Security Office at the U.S. Embassy in Havana. OSAC encourages travelers to use this report to gain baseline knowledge of security conditions in Cuba. For more in-depth information, review OSAC’s country-specific page for original OSAC reporting, consular messages, and contact information, some of which may be available only to private-sector representatives with an OSAC password.

Travel Advisory

The U.S. Department of State’s Travel Advisory Level for Cuba at the date of this report’s publication remains at Level 2: Exercise Increased Caution. Travelers should exercise increased caution in Cuba due to demonstrable and sometimes debilitating injuries to members of the U.S. diplomatic community resulting in the drawdown of embassy staff. Review OSAC’s report, Understanding the Consular Travel Advisory System.

In general, restricted internet, the government’s tight control of media, and its sensitivity to any news that reflects poorly on Cuba results in a continued lack of reliable information about Cuban atmospherics.   

Travel to Cuba for tourist activity remains prohibited by statute. The U.S. Department of Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) continues to issue general licenses for twelve (12) categories of travel to Cuba. Individuals who meet the regulatory conditions of the general license they seek to travel under do not need to apply for a specific license from OFAC to travel to Cuba. Please see 31 C.F.R. 515.560 and OFAC’s Frequently Asked Questions

There is a prohibition on direct financial transactions with certain entities in Cuba. The U.S. Department of State maintains a list of entities and sub-entities under the control of, or acting for or on behalf of, the Cuban military, intelligence, or security services or personnel with which direct financial transactions would disproportionately benefit such services or personnel at the expense of the Cuban people or private enterprise in Cuba. 

Overall Crime and Safety Situation

The security environment in Cuba is relatively stable, and characterized by a strong military and police presence. Unannounced and non-government sanctioned demonstrations/protests are infrequent but can incite violence and lead to arrests. 

The Government of Cuba places travel restrictions within Cuba on U.S. Government officials. The Government of Cuba typically prevents diplomatic officers from traveling outside of Havana without advanced notice and approval. These travel restrictions can delay the availability of consular services outside of Havana. Travelers should plan itineraries with the knowledge that the U.S. Government may have very limited ability to provide immediate emergency assistance. 

Crime Threats

The U.S. Department of State has assessed Havana as being a MEDIUM -threat location for crime directed at or affecting official U.S. government interests. The threat exhibits a potential threat to U.S. assets based on knowledge of an adversary's desire to compromise assets, and the possibility that the adversary could obtain the capability to carry out criminal behavior through a third party who has demonstrated such a capability. 

Obtaining official and reliable crime statistics from the Government of Cuba remains nearly impossible. The U.S. Embassy receives several reports per month of crimes against U.S. and other foreign nationals present in Cuba. Most reported offenses occur in areas foreigners frequent. The number of reported criminal incidents appears to increase proportionally with the increasing number of visitors to Cuba. These proportional increases also appear consistent with reporting from other diplomatic missions resident in Cuba. Anecdotally, crime directed towards visitors largely falls into petty crime areas such as pickpocketing, purse snatching, fraud schemes, and crimes of opportunity (e.g. theft from unoccupied/unsecured vehicles, hotel rooms, and casas particulares). Cubans generally perceive Western travelers, including U.S. nationals, to be more affluent than they are, making travelers lucrative and vulnerable targets for criminal activity. Review OSAC’s report, All That You Should Leave Behind.

There were reported incidents of violent crimes, to include sexual violence, involving and against U.S. nationals in 2019. These acts typically occurred away from visitor cluster zones and involved intimate partner violence or family members or caregivers.  

Areas of Concern

Hotels and casas particulares catering to Western travelers remain relatively safe. Visitor cluster zones such as accommodations, city centers, commercial outlets, bars, restaurants, points of interest, and airports are all potential areas of encounter for victims and offenders.  Review OSAC’s reports, Hotels: The Inns and Outs and Considerations for Hotel Security.

Cuba has an active and legal commercial sex trade. As of June 2019, the Government of Cuba continued to not fully meet the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking in persons and is not making significant efforts to do so. Despite the lack of significant efforts, the Government of Cuba took some steps to address trafficking, including prosecuting sex traffickers and one labor trafficker, and imprisoning sex tourists engaged in child sex trafficking. 

Transportation-Safety Situation

Travel by all forms of mobile conveyance in Cuba can present risks similar and dissimilar to those found in the U.S. Road accidents, many involving pedestrians and bicyclists, are Cuba’s leading cause of death. Cuba requires a driver’s license and adequate insurance to operate vehicles. Visitors should check with their travel provider or sponsor if they intend to operate a motor vehicle in Cuba.  

Road Safety and Conditions  

Cuban roads and highways are often dangerous due to lack of road maintenance and advanced deterioration. Potholes, the absence of lighting, and livestock/animals make driving at night particularly dangerous. Cuban drivers tend to place large sticks or rocks in the road to indicate a hazard or disabled vehicle ahead. It is often difficult to see these markers until one has nearly entered the hazard zone. Although traffic is relatively light, the aggregate of speed, old vehicles, motorcycles, horse-drawn carts, buses, and pedestrians can quickly create significant traffic hazards when they otherwise would not exist. 

Many vehicles on the road in Cuba do not obtain required or recommended safety inspections, service, or maintenance. Poor maintenance of vehicles―to include failure to replace burnt-out brake, tail, and headlights―can result in serious personal injury accidents or death for passengers and others on the road. Older vehicles also may not be equipped with standard vehicle safety packages expected of passenger conveyances.  

Police monitor road conditions, enforce traffic laws, and inspect vehicles at many intersections within urban and city centers. Generally, police will issue small fines to individuals they stop. Cuban law prescribes severe penalties for drivers involved in accidents. Regardless of fault, accidents involving significant injury or property damage can result in the detention of foreign drivers. 

Review OSAC’s reports, Road Safety Abroad, Driving Overseas: Best Practices, and Evasive Driving Techniques; and read the State Department’s webpage on driving and road safety abroad.

Aviation

In October 2019, the U.S. Department of Transportation suspended until further notice scheduled air service between the United States and Cuban international airports other than Havana’s Jose Marti International Airport (HAV).

The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has not assessed Cuba’s Civil Aviation Authority for compliance with International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) aviation safety standards. On a case-by-case basis, the U.S. Embassy will permit travel by U.S. government officials on Cuban air carriers, including the Cuban national airline Cubana de Aviación (CUBANA).  

In 2019, the ICAO rated Cuba’s overall safety capabilities and the status of its implementation of all safety-relevant ICAO Standards and Recommended Practices, associated procedures, guidance material, and best safety practices at 92.64%. ICAO rated the airworthiness of civil aircraft  at 87.5%; air navigation services at 99.4%; and accident and serious incident investigations at 88.46%.  

For more information, please review OSAC’s report, Security in Transit: Airplanes, Public Transport, and Overnights


 

Terrorism Threat

The U.S. Department of State has assessed Havana as being a LOW-threat location for terrorism directed at or affecting official U.S. government interests. A low threat exhibits little or no threat as a result of the absence of credible evidence of capability, intent, or history of actual or planned attacks against U.S. assets. 

On May 29, 2015, the Secretary of State removed Cuba from the U.S. State Sponsors of Terrorism list. 

Political, Economic, Religious, and Ethnic Violence

The U.S. Department of State has assessed Havana as being a LOW-threat location for political violence directed at or affecting official U.S. government. A low threat exhibits little or no threat as a result of the absence of credible evidence of capability, intent, or history of actual or planned attacks against U.S. assets. 

Government-organized actions against domestic civil society and opposition groups can turn violent. Visitors should always avoid demonstrations and follow guidance in Consular messaging. There have been sporadic citizen protests in the past. However, these generally have been short-lived and elicited a rapid government response to restore order. Review OSAC’s report, Surviving a Protest.

Post-specific Concerns

Targeting of U.S. Embassy Havana Employees

The Department of State’s Travel Advisory for Cuba details how, starting in late 2016, numerous U.S. government employees appeared to have been targeted in specific attacks. Many of those employees suffered injuries because of these attacks. Affected individuals exhibited a range of physical symptoms, including ear complaints and hearing loss, dizziness, headache, fatigue, cognitive issues, and difficulty sleeping. Attacks occurred in U.S. diplomatic residences (including a long-term apartment at the Atlantic), as well as in two Havana hotels: Hotel Nacional and Hotel Capri. 

On February 14, 2018, the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) published an article written by independent medical personnel involved in the evaluation and treatment of these injuries. If you believe you have suffered any of these symptoms following stays in Cuba, consult with a medical professional. 

In response to the injuries of diplomatic personnel, the Department of State reduced the U.S. diplomatic officer staff of the U.S. Embassy by approximately two-thirds. The reduction has affected embassy operations, especially visa processing. 

Environmental Hazards 

Cuba is prone to many environmental and weather conditions that affect islands and coastal communities. The island is most prone to hurricanes during hurricane season, which runs from June 1 to November 30. In addition to the threat of hurricanes, heavy summer rainstorms and poor drainage can cause flash flooding in many areas. The U.S. National Hurricane Center commences Caribbean tropical weather outlook reporting annually on June 1 (or as necessary) and offers extensive guidance on hurricane safety.  

Cuba is located near the major Septentrional-Oriente fault zone, but there are 12 other active faults in Cuba. Most seismic activity goes unnoticed, but the potential for larger earthquakes certainly exists, especially in eastern Cuba. Tsunamis generated by regional and distant earthquakes can affect all ocean coasts. Tsunamis caused by volcanic activity and underwater landslides may affect the region. Cuba’s Centro Nacional de Investigaciones Sismológicas reports extensive experience in the evaluation of the local and regional seismic threat. The U.S. Geological Survey offers extensive guidance on earthquake preparedness. The U.S. National Weather service offer extensive guidance on tsunami safety.  

The Government of Cuba’s civil defense system may imposes mandatory evacuation orders to potentially affected areas. A lack of resources and aging infrastructure could limit the ability of the Government of Cuba to provide large-scale disaster response. 

Cuba regularly experiences ordered power outages reportedly to save fuel due to ongoing supply issues. 

For more information, review OSAC products, Personal Readiness and Emergency Preparedness (PREP) Guide and The Importance of Being Prepared

Telecommunications Infrastructure

Your U.S. mobile phone will work in Cuba if your mobile phone is capable of roaming in Cuba and your mobile service provider has an international roaming agreement with ETECSA, Cuba's state-owned telecommunications provider. AT&T, Sprint, Verizon, and T-Mobile currently have roaming agreements with ETECSA. Another way you can use your U.S. mobile phone in Cuba is to purchase a local SIM card, which essentially turns your personal mobile phone into a local phone for voice and data. For more information about cell phone use, review the U.S. Federal Communications Commission product, Telecommunications FAQs for Travelers to Cuba.  

The Cuban Government has opened several hundred Wi-Fi hotspots around the island, and launched a new residential internet pilot in Havana and other provinces. As of 2018, 3G/4G mobile service is available, although limited. 

Personal Identity Concerns

There are no legal restrictions on same-sex sexual relations or the organization of LGBT events in Cuba, but same-sex marriage is not legally recognized. Review the State Department’s webpage on security for LGBTI+ travelers.

Individuals with mobility issues are likely to find accessibility difficult. Few facilities or services are available, and information is limited. Most roads and sidewalks are in poor repair. Review the State Department’s webpage on security for travelers with disabilities.

Review OSAC’s report, Freedom to Practice, and the State Department’s webpages on security for faith-based travelers and female travelers.

Economic Concerns

The Cuban economy remains largely cash based. In general, businesses in Cuba do not accept credit/debit cards issued by U.S. financial institutions. ATMs have become more prevalent in Cuba, but only travelers with credit/debit cards issued by European or Asian financial institutions will be able to access those services. The U.S. Embassy in Havana has no ability to provide cash. 

While state-run media do not report intellectual property crimes, reporting indicates a significant market for the sale of gray and black items in Cuba. 

Privacy Concerns

Foreign intelligence entities, which may include foreign governments, corporations, and their proxies, actively target information, assets, and technologies vital to U.S. national security and global competitiveness. Increasingly, U.S. companies are in the crosshairs of these foreign intelligence entities, which are breaching private computer networks, pilfering business secrets and innovation, and carrying out other illicit activities. Maintain no expectation of privacy in internet cafes, hotels, offices, or public places. Authorities regularly monitor hotel business centers and phone networks and search hotel rooms. Authorities can intercept all information sent electronically – by text, texting applications, social media, fax machine, personal digital assistant (PDA), computer, or telephone. Wireless devices are especially vulnerable. Review OSAC’s reports, Cybersecurity Basics, Best Practices for Maximizing Security on Public Wi-Fi, Traveling with Mobile Devices: Trends & Best Practices, and Satellite Phones: Critical or Contraband?, and see the U.S. National Counterintelligence and Security Center report on Traveling Overseas with Mobile Phones, Laptops, PDAs, and Other Electronic Devices.  

The Cuban government closely monitors activities, including contact with Cuban citizens. Private activity of a benign nature could be used to blackmail or compromise individuals. 

Drug-related Crimes

Although Cuba’s location is ideal for the transshipment of drugs, the heavy police and military presence deters such use. The government is strict in its enforcement of laws against the illegal use, sale, and smuggling of narcotics with strong punishment for traffickers. 

Law Enforcement 

The Government of Cuba relies on a robust internal and external security apparatus to maintain law and order. Most police and law enforcement officers conducting official business wear uniforms. Some investigators or officials may be in plainclothes, but all law enforcement personnel carry identification. The overall police response to crimes involving foreigners is not adequate. Victims of crime may find unusually long wait times for a police response. Nevertheless, police will accept reports of crime, but victims should also immediately report their circumstance to American Citizen Services at the U.S. Embassy. Since 2016, Cuban authorities have been willing to assist and collaborate with U.S. criminal prosecutions. 

Contact emergency services within Cuba by dialing 106 for Police and 105 for Fire. Download the State Department’s Crime Victims Assistance brochure.

If police apprehend you, be cooperative with orders. Advise the police of your nationality and show them your passport or a copy. Under the Vienna Convention, those arrested overseas have the option to request that the police, prison officials, or other authorities alert the nearest U.S. embassy of your arrest and to have communications from you forwarded to the nearest U.S. embassy. In practice, the Cuban government frequently fails to notify the U.S. Embassy when arresting or detaining U.S. citizens, and/or delays U.S. consular access to U.S. persons. Ask friends or family to notify the U.S. Embassy immediately on your behalf should government authorities detain you. U.S. nationals needing assistance should contact the U.S. Embassy at +53-7-839-4100 or +53-5-280-5713 after business hours. 

Medical Emergencies

In practice, medical care in Cuba is below U.S. standards. Most hospitals and clinics lack essential equipment and personnel for proper triage, diagnosis, or treatment. The availability of over-the-counter and prescription medicines can vary widely, but usually toward unavailability. Travelers to Cuba should bring with them any prescribed medicines in their original containers and in amounts commensurate with personal use. Ambulances operate in many cities, but response times vary. Not all ambulances feature trained medical personnel. 

Find contact information for available medical services and available air ambulance services on the Embassy’s Medical Assistance page.

The U.S. Department of State strongly recommends purchasing international health insurance before traveling internationally. Review the State Department’s webpage on insurance overseas.

Country-specific Vaccination and Health Guidance 

Dengue, chikungunya, and cholera are increasingly common in Cuba. Cases are presumed to be underreported. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) no longer has an active Zika Alert for Cuba. Measles is in many countries and outbreaks of the disease are occurring around the world. Before you travel internationally, regardless of where you are going, make sure you protect yourself fully against measles. The CDC offers additional information on traveler health for Cuba. Review OSAC’s reports, The Healthy Way, Traveling with Medication, I’m Drinking What in My Water?, Shaken: The Don’ts of Alcohol Abroad, Health 101: How to Prepare for Travel, and Fire Safety Abroad

OSAC Country Council Information 

At present, there is no active country council in Cuba. Interested private-sector security managers should contact OSAC’s Latin America team with any questions or desire to establish a county council. 

U.S. Embassy Contact Information 

The U.S. Embassy is located in Vedado, Havana at Calzada between L and M Streets.  

Hours: Mon-Thurs, 0800-1630; Fri, 0800-1530 

Main Switchboard: +53-7-839-4100 

For emergency assistance after hours and on weekends, call +53-5-213-2603 and request to speak with the duty officer. 

Website: https://cu.usembassy.gov/

Helpful Information

Before you travel, consider the following resources:


 

 

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