Thank you for your kindness and interest in taking animal care supplies to Cuba. There is a lack of resources in Cuba that impacts both humans and animals. Many people care and want to help by taking gifts of supplies. Cubans appreciate this. It helps them take care of their animals and prevents the spread of disease. Regardless, Cuba's customs (known as Aduana) also has a job to do. They, like customs officers all over the world, inspect incoming baggage for items that are considered contraband by the government. These guidelines and tips are not meant to fly in the face of Customs. They are meant to guide travelers on best-practice packing and to help get much-needed animal care supply gifts to vets and NGOs in Cuba.
• Do not take in narcotics, vaccines, or controlled substances.
• Cuba is very concerned about the spread of animal-related diseases. For this reason, they do not allow cattle, pig, sheep, goat, or deer (ungulates) by-products or flavored items to enter Cuba for fear of diseases (like mad-cow disease).
• You can read more about what is allowed here: http://www.aduana.gob.cu/index.php/que-puedo-importar-3
• Avoid large quantities of the same item(s): Taking items in bulk may signify to Cuban Customs that your items are for re-sale. Items for re-sale would incur import taxes from the traveler and require paperwork. Cuban Customs are trying to prevent items from ending up on the black market.
• Mix everything in with personal belongings and scatter them in your suitcase so there is no definite shape when luggage is X-rayed. Items can be taken out of boxes, which can then be flat packed at the bottom. It is advisable to packgifts in towels or in-between clothes, with toiletries, and/or in make-up bags, etc. In the random case of inspection, the gifts will not be as obvious, and hopefully the traveler will not lose all items if Aduana decides to take them.
• Spread the supply gifts over multiple pieces of luggage. If one piece is searched, the others might not be. Do not put all your eggs in one basket.
• Avoid excessive baggage or otherwise drawing unwanted attention to yourself.
• Generally speaking, travelers do not declare their gifts on custom forms.
If Questioned by Cuban Customs (Aduana):
• Do not argue. Always be polite and smile frequently. They are only doing their jobs.
• Refer to the items as gifts for friends who have cats and/or dogs. Do NOT use the word donations. Another option is to say they are medical supplies for a clinic and leave it at that. It is probably best not to mention any Cuban vets by name. Cuba allows each traveler to bring in 10 kgs of medicines and medical supplies without paying taxes. Please note that no narcotics or vaccines are allowed.
• If any one person traveling in the group is searched, other members may choose to walk away to prevent the whole group from being searched.
If Items are confiscated:
In the extremely rare case of confiscation, do not argue. Please make sure you ask for an itemized receipt. In most cases, the intended recipient can get the items back if you have that receipt!
Differences in Customs when Traveling to Cuba via Cruise (versus Flying):
The experiences we have gathered so far indicate that gifts are usually not allowed in via cruise. According to the rationale of a former Cuban Customs/Aduana officer, cruise ships are subject to less scrutiny compared to flights, so for security purposes, Aduana tends to view items not for personal use with suspicion. If you do decide to take in items via cruise, please make sure you only have a small bag that will fit inside a backpack and mix everything in with your personal belongings as much as possible. Flea/tick preventives (pipettes) are a great option as they are small, light, and very much needed for the street animals.
Keep in mind, the vast majority of travelers do not have any problems taking donations into Cuba. Luggage checks are random and confiscation is rare. The tips and guidelines contained here are based on travelers’ experiences and are only meant as a reference.
Keep calm, smile, enjoy your time in Cuba--and thank you for helping the animals!