If you're visiting Cuba on a tour, a cruise, or on an independent trip, you may want to rent a car. Here's what you should consider.
Essential Tips for Renting a Car in Cuba
You may not really need a rental car. There are several means of getting around in Cuba and rental cars are just one option. Roads and driver practices vary between the two countries, and roadways in Cuba are statistically far more dangerous than in the United States. Like Mexico, Cuba is also one of the "cause an injury accident, stay in jail" nations and the U.S. Department of State offers some valid discouragement on driving in Cuba.
Road Conditions and Safety: Road accidents, many involving pedestrians and bicyclists, are now Cuba’s leading cause of death. Cuban authorities may prohibit drivers from leaving the country until claims associated with an accident are settled. Drivers found responsible for accidents resulting in serious injury or death may receive long prison sentences. U.S. citizen drivers are often found at fault for accidents they are involved in.
Drive with extreme care. Major streets are generally well-maintained, but secondary streets are not. Avoid driving at night as many roads are unlit. Emergency lights or signals are rare making it virtually impossible to detect hazards after dark. Street signage is insufficient and confusing. Many Cuban cars are old, in poor condition, and lack reliable safety equipment.
The principal Cuban east-west highway is in good condition but extends only part of the way from Havana to the eastern end of the island. Hazards—including unfenced livestock and farm vehicles—are common.
You should book through an agent. Unfortunately, AutoSlash can't help you book a rental car in Cuba. Save yourself a massive headache and book through a service with English-speaking agents and an on-the-ground presence, such as Cuba Travel Network, which will reserve your car with one of the state-run agencies and troubleshoot in the case your paperwork gets misplaced or you run into trouble on the road.
You are required to carry an International Driving Permit.. It's inexpensive and easy to get an International Driving Permit, but you need to apply before you leave on your trip.
It's smart to inspect the car before you drive away. When you pick up your car, be sure to document all imperfections with your phone's camera and have the rental agent take note, or you run a substantial risk of being charged for them when you return the car. You will also be charged for any new nicks caused by flying stones on some of Cuba's poorer roads.
You'll need a paper map. There is no Wi-Fi infrastructure in Cuba, so GPS service is not reliable. You're taking a risk if you try navigating without GPS or a map.
You'll stand out as a tourist. You'll get a rental car with a visible "T" on the license plate, designating you as a tourist. That can make your car an easy mark. Be careful of where you park, and try to stick to well-lit lots with attendants. Cuba is a safe country but it has a lot of poverty, so car theft is common.