Adventures to have and places to see

Tips & Gifts

Tips

Here in Canada tipping for service is part of our culture. Tipping in Cuba is not a common practice except for at resorts. Since this is something we do here, we feel obliged to tip in other countries. It feels strange not tipping. You need to realize that you are in a different culture in Cuba and learn what the expectations are there.

It certainly isn’t wrong to tip in Cuba, but it also isn’t rude if you don’t tip. What is wrong is if you feel guilty by not tipping or even worse feeling like you didn’t tip enough. I know I have certainly felt that way on occasion. In hindsight though- this was all in my mind. My server didn’t treat me differently because I didn’t tip. You might feel you got better service because you tipped, but it might actually be because you treated your server better. You might have smiled at them, showed some appreciation for being served, or had a small conversation. Being friendly and having respect for your server goes a long way to getting better service.

I remember during our first trip to Cuba, the resort had an issue where their in-house money exchange had no money. I am not sure what the issue was, but for two days we couldn’t exchange to CUC (in Jan 2021 the CUC is no more, USD is now the standard). The panic we and other guests went through was bizarre. Here we were ‘rich’ Canadians, being served by staff and were not able to tip. There was a huge line-up at the lobby waiting for the money to come in. A lot of that was so we could tip! Geez, what a waste of time that was and for no real reason at all.

Remember that you have paid a considerable amount of money for your vacation. You have paid for an all-inclusive resort where there should be no need to have cash at hand at all. Keep this in mind when you are tipping. You have paid for this service. The staff have chosen to work at the resort, and this is likely one of the better jobs they could have in the tourist field they have chosen. Yes, they work long shifts and work very hard, but that is a career they have chosen. A minimum forty-hour week is what is expected of workers in Cuba. You might find you work the same long hours here at home and just don’t realize it. Of course, our pay rates are very different, but our cultures are also very different.

Suggestions for tipping:

Now that the CUC is gone, we tip in $USD. Drinks, $1 or $2 now and then if you get good service. To me, good service is if the server comes to your table, takes your order and returns with it. If I have to go to the bar to get drinks, I tend to tip a lot less often. I only tip at the bar when they are really busy and trying their best to get through the lineup of customers- or have been really friendly.

Buffet, I have learned that you want to get to know the servers at the buffet and try to get the same person every time. You will find your coffee gets refilled more often, and your wine glass is seldom empty if you get a good repour with the servers. For breakfast/lunch, we usually tip $1 or $2, diner $2 to $5. If you got bad service, don’t leave a tip.

aLa Cartes are usually $5 but it really depends on the service. We have been to a few of these where we didn’t leave a tip.

Lobby Musicians, we firmly believe these folks benefit directly from tips! We always tip $1 or $2 if we enjoyed the show.

Room Cleaner, we leave a $1 tip on our pillow every morning with a note written in Spanish thanking them for the service and water every day. If you didn’t get water or the room wasn’t cleaned don’t leave a tip. Google translate is a great way to help you leave a note or you can do that at home before you go on vacation.

We budget about $10 to $15 a day for tips, which is probably higher than it needs to be but it makes us feel good. For a seven-day day trip, $100 in tips is a pretty low cost to me. Here in Canada, it would be many times higher than that. You probably paid a couple of thousand dollars for the trip, so this works out to only 1% of your cost!

Remember, it’s really all about good service! Think of your tip as more of a gift for someone rather than an expectation.

Gifts

As you read more reviews about Cuba, you will undoubtedly come across the topic of tipping and giving gifts. This is a hard one to figure out. One thing we have learned is that Cuban’s are proud and dignified people. Most have suffered hardships over the years that few of us can understand. Despite that, I believe an intrinsic part of that culture is to be a good person and work together as much as possible.

We have visited other southern countries, where poverty is rampant. It is awful to see people so impoverished. Begging is commonplace, in particular swarms of children asking for items when you get off a tour bus. You won’t find this in Cuba. I have encountered much more outright begging here in Canada than I have in Cuba.

You will find people in Cuba asking for items like your shoes or clothing. They aren’t begging, they are asking. I have had many conversations with citizens who explain that clothing and items we find commonplace here in Canada are difficult if not impossible to obtain in Cuba. Embargos have been placed against this country that makes trading very difficult. Items like shoes are not easily obtainable. Don’t be surprised if you find a person asking if they can have your shoes or clothes before you head back home. They will also ask for soap and amenities from your resort.

Our advice for gifts is that if you want to bring something to give away, make sure it is useful. Bring an extra set of shoes that you no longer want. Bring children’s shoes that are small and easy to pack. Bring some articles of clothing that are in good shape but you don’t wear them. Consider some older pairs of eyeglasses that you can’t wear anymore. If you have several phone chargers at home, consider leaving one behind.

Don’t bring junk from your local Discount Store. Bring stuff that people can actually use. I think what people in Cuba really need is affordable food and the ability to purchase basic necessities. The country needs the ability to import and export goods. We as Tourists can’t provide those things, but we can help people out with some shoes, clothing and offer some sort of financial help through tips.

Try not to get too obsessed with giving gifts as it will ultimately wreck your vacation because you will feel guilty. Remember you are on vacation, and you have paid for that vacation.

Who to give gifts to? As you interact with people on your trip you will start to develop friendships. Give you gifts to those folks. Ask them if they know anyone who could use the items you want to give away. Ask them if it is OK if you give them those items to distribute. Be humble and make sure you offer it as a gift and expect nothing in return except the pleasure of hoping you helped someone out.

Cuba Day

You should make a point of attending Cuba Day at your resort if it offers one. Usually, this is an afternoon show with a pig roast. They are fun to attend. From what we have seen, the staff really seems to enjoy these days at the resort. Make sure you attend and enjoy a coconut drink and some pork on a bun. If you like to dance they will be happy to have you participate!

Internet and Phones

If you want to use your phone for calling or texting, be sure to pre-purchase a plan from your mobile provider that works in Cuba. Most people just use WiFi and purchase wireless time at the resort.

One piece of advice is to make sure you have a password or PIN on your phone and/or Tablet. You do not want to lose your device and have it wide open for someone to read your emails and access all the information on your phone. Make sure you have a screen lock so this cannot happen.

As a Tourist, you will use the Internet provided at your resort via WiFi. You purchase a card at the resort with a special login number on it that gives you 1 hour of time on the WiFi. Some resorts have a different system where you can buy blocks of time. In either case, the cost is 1 CUC per hour. You can make one hour of internet stretch out for a long time if you remember to turn WiFI off when you aren’t using it.

To save time leave your wireless connection off when not using it. When you want to check your email/messages turn it on and give you phone a couple of minutes to download, and then turn WiFi off. You can then compose your email messages off-line, and then reconnect to WiFi for a minute or two. Once your messages are sent you can turn it off again. Doing it this way you can also share your wireless card with another person. Just remember you can’t both be online at the same time.

Depending on how many people are at the resort, you may find it difficult to get connected. Just keep trying. It’s annoying that people leave that WiFi connection on all the time, which hampers the ability for others to get a connection.

Some resorts have computers you can log into to check your mail. Being an IT person, I’m not a big fan of that idea and use my phone or tablet instead. That’s just my opinion though.

Cell phones are very popular in Cuba! You may be a little surprised to see how many Cubans have them. As of December 6, 2018, citizens are allowed to use mobile Internet which has really opened up the world for Cubans!