This is an excerpt from my journal on visiting Cuba while working on a yacht. Here are a few paragraphs about their Guarda Frontera.
It was nothing I expected and more. Island time and strict at the same time. As we entered the channel at Marina Hemingway, we were waved over to dock at the customs dock.
The officials were among the most professional and friendliest that we have ever encountered. I was amazed and impressed with the welcome. They saw us coming and waved us to the customs dock. They assisted with mooring lines. Once we were secured, an official stepped out of the office with excellent posture wearing a clean white pressed shirt with shoulder boards bearing his rank. He walked smartly to the rail asked in spanish, “El Capitan?"
"Si Senor. Yo soy Darien," I replied. "Y eso es mi tripulation......"
The tall dark man stood upright, still, looked me in the eye, and paused. He then extended his right hand and said with his best English and a heavy acent, "Welcome to Cuba”.
These were the first words from his mouth. He was not lackadaisical in carrying out his duties. Throughout the clearing in procedures and process, he was friendlier than some officials have been when welcoming me back to my own country. He and the other Cuban officials removed their shoes and asked before boarding the vessel.
It should be noted that the officials speak limited English. I highly recommend speaking and understanding Spanish if visiting Cuba. On the other hand, I wouldn’t let limited Spanish deter your decision to visit. They speak multiple languages, but their vocabulary is mostly limited to carrying out their duties. Most will not have the ability to carry on a fluent conversation in any language other than in Spanish. They will be able to answer most of your customs questions, but it is not likely that they will be able to elaborate. Nor will they be able to give much advice if the subject is outside of their profession. We found it extremely helpful to speak Spanish to the officials. It seemed to make them more comfortable, and it seemed to gain their respect.
With normal documentation in order, there should be no problem clearing customs, “Aduana”. We always carry printed copies of crew manifests that include all necessary information of everyone onboard. Include all information from your passports, merchant marine license numbers, an address, contact info, etc. The heading should include the vessel’s information. Cuba only kept one copy, but some countries have asked for as many as eight copies. Make copies of your USCG COD. Show your original and give them a copy. Cuba only asked for one copy of the COD as well.
A doctor will take everyone’s temp with a forehead scanner. That’s as personal as it gets. All officials were professional and polite. I always recommend assisting them as they do their job as appropriate.
Weapons and prescription medication:
Do not carry any weapons to Cuba. Declare any items as requested. If it is contraband in Cuba, it is best to leave it at home or throw it over the side on your way. It simply isn’t worth it. They will confiscate most contraband items, and they may deny you entry. On the other hand, the officials are understanding and will give you directions on any laws that you wouldn’t see as obvious. If you have narcotics, it should be a small quantity and accompanied by a prescription. I would suggest some sort of medical record referring to why you have narcotics. Cuba has a few strict laws. Most laws, persons are expected to follow, while other laws, well, maybe they are not. Be sure you get it right if you want to guess at which laws to follow in a foreign country. Their system of justice may not be worth the gamble.
We carry prescription meds that were prescribed specifically due to the lack of availability in the areas we travel. These include various antibiotics, prescription motion sickness meds, and such. We even carry suture kits, staple kits, and Dermabond skin glue. Declare these items, and there should be no problems. As a general rule, take what you think you legitimately need. The worse case is confiscation unless you are smuggling something contraband.
Our visit was extremely brief. We were working, and could afford the time we wanted. We intend to return soon and spend a little more time. My thirty plus years of maritime travel has carried me all over the world and allowed visits to countless exotic islands nations and locations. I hope to continue this trend, but one of my most facinating visits was in my own back yard/ocean; Cuba.
We hope you have the oportunity soon to enjoy it as much as we did.
PS: "You can fight the sea, but not the dream"