6 Common Travel Scams You Should Know in Cuba

Coronavirus (COVID-19) and travel: The situation around the world is changing dramatically. Various governments have changed their travel warnings to restrict travel during this time. To understand how this may impact cover under your policy, please go to our FAQs and select your country of residence.

For the latest travel warnings and alerts around the world, read about lockdowns and border restrictions.

Fake cigars, fake cash and scammers are just some of the petty crime you may encounter while in Cuba. Find out how to avoid these scams before you go.

Cuban woman with a cigar Photo © iStock/Ratstuben

From relaxing beaches to fascinating historical architecture and exhilarating nightlife, the island of Cuba offers all the charm and beauty of the Caribbean without the crowds and commercialization. It's a destination that is sure to provide visitors with endless adventure and unforgettable experiences. But while the country itself is very safe for travelers, it's not uncommon for criminals to take advantage of unsuspecting tourists with various scams, swindles and cons.

Here are a few common scams to look out for when visiting Cuba.

1. Fake cuban cigars

Everyone's heard of Cuba's famous cigars, and the legitimate ones are arguably some of the best quality smokes in the world. Unfortunately, the high demand for these commodities among tourists has made opportunistic swindlers take notice.

These criminals will often approach foreigners on the street with an offer to sell Cuban cigars at a deep discount. Ever hear the old adage "if it seems too good to be true, it probably is"?

Most of the time, the cigars being peddled are either fake or stolen. One thing to take note of is that genuine Cuban cigars are only available in state shops, state hotels or at official cigar factories.

The real deal comes in a box containing a certificate and sporting a holographic seal. If you don't see either of these things, you're probably looking at a fake. Legitimate cigars can be pricey and cost anywhere from 5 CUC to upwards of 400 CUC, or more.

Phony cigars, on the other hand, typically sell for about 1 CUC, and are probably not even worth that since fake cigars are mostly composed of tobacco waste. If you want to buy a genuine Cuban cigar and save a little money in the process, try asking your hotel doorman. They can sometimes get you the real deal tax free, which will shave a bit off the price.

2. Restaurant scams in Cuba

Cuban cuisine is delicious, and there are certainly plenty of delectable eateries to choose from. But one thing to look out for during a pleasant night out is a little extra on your bill.

Restaurants will often present an "adjusted" tab that contains extra items you didn't order. They particularly like to try this scam when you've been drinking and are less likely to notice.

The best way to avoid this is to simply pay after each meal or round instead of running a bar tab. And, of course, always double check your bill before paying.

Some establishments will work with other locals, who pose as friendly folks welcoming tourists and inviting them inside to enjoy a drink or snack. The unsuspecting victim is then charged double or even triple the normal amount, the excess of which is split between the business and its "friendly" accomplices.

Again, always check your bill to avoid any unwanted surprises.

3. Being short changed in Cuba

Cuban currency (CUP or CUC) can be a bit confusing to visitors, and some of the locals have seen this as an opportunity to make a little cash the dishonest way.

When paying for anything, whether it be a taxi ride, a meal or merchandise from a store, be very careful that you receive all of your change back.

One of the most common scams pulled in Cuba against tourists is that of short-changing them and then pocketing the money.

Be sure you fully understand the difference in value between the two currencies as well, so you aren't given back the wrong type. If you are due CUC back and the merchant instead gives you CUP, you've just received change that is worth about 20 times less.

4. Counterfeit Cuban money and crooks

Exchanging money on the streets is a definite no-no. Locals will often tout better rates and faster exchange service if you exchange your currency with them. What you'll likely end up with, however, is counterfeit or outdated money which will be completely worthless to you.

Meanwhile the criminal will be long gone with your good money. Local thieves will also often approach tourists with an offer to exchange their currency on their behalf at a local bank, where they claim they will be able to get a better rate because they are Cuban and foreigners receive inflated rates.

Know that if you hand over your money to one of these swindlers, you'll probably never see it again.

5. Fake products in Cuba

While counterfeit cigars are probably the most popular "fake" item to sell in Cuba, criminals also offer other merchandise for sale on the street that is less than legitimate.

Bottled water, for instance, that is actually nothing more than local tap water, is often sold in touristy areas. It is usually easy to tell when a bottle has been tampered with, but not always.

Your best bet is to purchase water from stores instead. If you do happen to buy a bottle of water on the street and it tastes peculiar, throw it away immediately.

Rum is another item that is often fraudulently sold as genuine when in reality has been switched out for lesser quality product so be particularly careful where you purchase it and from whom.

6. Jineteros/jineteras in Cuba

These are local "career criminals" who basically make their living on the streets scamming tourists. They are particularly prevalent in the larger cities of Cuba since that's where they'll likely find more victims.

These con artists will offer to sell just about anything, from cigars to drugs to sex. One of their more lucrative scams is selling discounted tickets for tourist activities, which in the end are not valid.

By the time the victim discovers they've been duped, the thief is long gone with their money. Solicitation of this sort is not legal and given Cuba's high police presence, it's advised that you do not interact with jineteros at all. If they do approach you, politely but firmly refuse and walk away.

Cuba is truly a lovely place to visit. But like any tourist destination, there will always be dishonest criminals who try to capitalize and scam, swindle or con their way to some extra cash. As long as you use your common sense and know what type of things to look out for, you'll be able to enjoy your trip without becoming a victim.

Get a travel insurance quote for Cuba

You can buy at home or while traveling, and claim online from anywhere in the world. With 150+ adventure activities covered and 24/7 emergency assistance.

Related articles

Travel Insurance

Simple and flexible travel insurance

You can buy at home or while traveling, and claim online from anywhere in the world. With 150+ adventure activities covered and 24/7 emergency assistance.

Get a quote


  • beth said

    also if they short change you just say "and you can keep the change" and then they'll know your not stupid and not do it again. worked for me xx

  • Craig said

    Never trust people with gold teeth in Cuba. Live by this mantra and you will avoid scams. Trust me, in a country where the average monthly income is $15, people with gold teeth are almost always the criminals and scammers.

    Avoid being talked into "joining" locals at a restaurant they recommend. A couple Cubans tried this with me and a friend and we were brought into an empty dining room which didn't feel right. I immediately told my friend that we need to leave and she agreed. We didn't get scammed that night.

  • Worldtraveler said

    I second the gold teeth comment. My friend was scammed by Lazaro Alberto Hernat and yep, he had a gold tooth

  • pam said

    I loved Cuba, was there last week. Such a beautiful country, the people are very nice. At night though if you go to the club, bar, dancing discotec make sure you go with a group of 3 at least, and one of you dont get completely wasted because the locals will try to seduce you probably to scam money from you or sell you sex. Also, if a local girl or local guy at the club approaches you and starts dancing with you, just think they are working for money, by the end of the night they will ask you to pay them because they danced with you. So, just have that in mind. It happened to us, we were three girls, and these three guys were dancing and having a good time with us, by the end of the night their lady friend came up to us and told us we had to pay them. We were like why? she said because they hanged out with us, thankfully we had a Cuban guy friend with us, and he took care of us, by telling the girl to leave us alone. We didn't pay them one cent (CUC)

  • Scammed said

    I was scammed too by Lazaro Alberto Hernat with the gold tooth. Wish I had read this before

  • Adam said

    A scam that seems to be becoming more common is the tobacco farms in Vinales peddling peso cigars, undrinkable coffee and cheap rum at massively inflated prices, pretending they're much higher quality than they actually are. The samples given out are entirely different from the products they are selling.

    Look out for the kind of fake spiel used in this video, warning signs to look out for are 'nicotine free / low-nicotine cigars' (not possible), 'organic cigars' (they're all organic) and making a big deal of removing the centre vein from the tobacco leaf (again, this is done


    Don't buy cigars from a farm unless you see them hand-rolled and placed in a container, don't buy the coffee unless it's in bean form (even high quality ground coffee will deteriorate rapidly if it's not stored properly), and save your money for a nice bottle of Havana Club or Santiago from a approved store.

  • David from travelscams.org said

    Thanks for sharing! The fake cigars and confusing currencies used are indeed very real. If we may share more from the community at https://travelscams.org/north-america/cuba/ also watch out for the "festival scam".

    This is where someone claims of a festival, be it a cigar festival, salsa festival or whatever with the promise of discounted prices. You will eventually be brought to a shop or bar and made to buy products that may not even be real at inflated prices.

  • Pavlo said

    Some years ago now I was caught by a few different scams in Havana.

    1. I had been in Havana just a few days, I was "befriended" by a local guy while checking out the Capitolio in Centro Habana. He seemed friendly, interested and genuine. He suggested we go for a drink at a bar (I think it was El Floridita). Somehow he scammed me to pay for drinks for him and another friend at the bar. As soon as I saw it was a scam I said something to him and the bar tender. A couple of security guys obviously in on the scam lurked about threateningly in case I didn't pay. It was about $20 USD or so. Putting it down to experience and not wanting to mess with the 'security' guys I paid and left.

    What really got me was that he thought it was necessary to actually scam me. If we had formed a genuine friendship I would have gladly paid for a few rounds of drinks, especially if he had explained his situation. What a bunch of a-holes!

    2. Another scam was being friendly with a seller at a local market. He was super friendly and seemed genuine too. Before I left, he asked if he could borrow $10 and he'd pay me back next time I visited. giving him the benefit of the doubt, I trusted him. When I saw him a few days and asked for the $10 later he acted like he didn't know me. Again, had he been a genuine I'd gladly help out a friend in a poor financial situation.

    Fool me once, fool me twice. Not a third time.

    Almost needless to say, I didn't trust too many Cubans after that!

    So... be wary of over-friendly Cuban locals playing confidence tricks!

  • J said

    I knew a Cuban family for years in Cuba and supported them for years! The minute I had stopped supporting them to save for retirement , they stopped talking to me.!

Add a Comment