6 Things you need to know before renting a car in Cuba

There are not many major car rental companies in Cuba. From what we gathered in our pre-trip research and during our visit in Cuba, only two rental cars company stood out for us: Rex Car Rental and Havanaautos. We also saw signs and offices for a car rental company call “Cubacar” but judging from all the signs and offices we saw, this one seemed to be the same as Havanaautos. You might come across other smaller local car rental companies as you stroll around in Cuba, but Rex Car Rental and Havanaautos will give you the most flexibility and options in our opinion. These two car rental companies have offices at major airports and cities giving renters the flexibility of picking up and dropping off the rental car at different places. The other big benefit of renting from these two companies is that you can reserve a car for your trip ahead of time through their websites.

As far as car options to choose from, there are modern European and Chinese models with air conditioned and automatic transmission. So no need to panic as you won’t have to drive a 1960’s Ford under a hot and humid 90’s degrees weather. And you can also hold off on those manual car transmission lessons.

For our trip to Cuba, we ended up renting from Rex Car Rentar for few reasons. One, since we weren’t sure on what type of transportation would suit us the best, we decided to not reserve in advance (through their website) and just go with the flow as they say. Two, Rex was one of the closest car rental places around our AirBnB. Three, Rex has many rental offices around Cuba (including at major airports) so having the option of picking up and dropping off the rental cars at different locations was definitely a plus. And four, since we waited the last minute to rent the cars, Rex was the only one with available cars (and even that was a challenge). We tried asking at a rental office for Havanaautos-Cubacar but were told (with an annoyed tone) that there were no rentals available anywhere for such a last minute reservation…this totally ruined our mood to keep searching so we just went back to Rex.

Reason for renting cars vs. hiring a taxi or taking the Viazul bus (the Cuban equivalent for Peter Pan buses in the US)? We were a big group (14 people) so moving from place to place was often a challenge. We also wanted to explore other towns outside of Havana and have the flexibility of stopping and going at our own pace. Our experience renting a car in Cuba was definitely not a walk in the park, but overall we don’t regret the choice of doing so.

What to expect when renting a car in Cuba? We can only speak from our experience with Rex but we think it would be safe to assume things would be similar at Havanaautos-Cubacar. The prices we mentioned here are the ones we were quoted during our trip which was in February 2017.

  1. Rental prices are not cheap, expect to pay roughly USD $200-$300 per day CASH depending on the model of the car you choose.
  2. They will most likely charge you a fuel fee upfront (about USD $100) which means you are not expected to bring the tank full when you return the car.
  3. Prices will be quoted in CUC (currency in Cuba) and a security deposit will be required for the rental. Our security deposit was $250 per rental car.
  4. Not every rental includes unlimited mileage so make sure you ask about this with the rental office or read through the rental terms if booking online. Originally we wanted to rent the cars for two days but two days rental had a limit on mileage which wouldn’t have been enough to cover the distance of our road trip. We ended up renting the cars for 3 days since 3 or more rental days included unlimited mileage.
  5. There might be additional fees if you are dropping off/returning the car at the airport, in a different town and/or in a town where the company does not have a rental office. We were lucky enough not to incur any of these additional fees. So make sure you asked about this ahead of time.
  6. Paying with a credit card will be limited, especially if your credit card is issued by a US bank in which case you are out of luck since it’s not accepted anywhere in Cuba thanks to the embargo. Our plan was to pay the security deposit with a credit card (issued by a Spanish bank) and pay the remaining cost in cash. However, Rex told us that they didn’t have a system in place to accept a credit card payment for the security deposit because a credit return for the deposit was not possible (in other words, they didn’t have a credit card machine onsite). So at the last minute, we had to scrambled for every dime and come up with a $500 CUC deposit for the two cars… that was a tough one.

We didn’t know what to expect of this experience, especially since we had a few obstacles and set-backs getting the rental cars. But all in all we really enjoyed being able to explore the different towns, going from one site to another at our own pace. Since we were such a big group, we decided to rent two mini vans, and we must admit the mini vans were pretty sweet rides. The vans were in mint condition, had all the modern essential gadgets and we had zero car trouble during our entire trip.

We started our road trip departing from Havana and went to explore Cienfuegos, Trinidad and Varadero. We finalized our road trip in Havana where it all started and returned the vans at Jose Marti International Airport. Some final pointers if you are considering renting a car in Cuba: transportation is quite accessible within Havana so we wouldn’t recommend renting a car while there; if possible, try to reserve your rental car ahead of time and preferably online, this will save you time (since you won’t have to be running around searching for a rental car like us) and, since you might be able to pay in advance online this will save you the need to bring a ton load of cash to pay for the rental. Lastly, the security deposit will be returned to you when you return the rental car so planned ahead on what to do with that money since it will most likely be returned to you in CUC. For us, since we paid everything in cash, we were returned $500 CUC when we dropped off the vans at the airport. We ended up exchanging some of it back to USD at the airport currency exchange counter (there will be a transaction fee for this) and some of it we spent at the airport’s duty free shop (we couldn’t pass on the “Havana Club” the official Cuban rum, especially with those prices).

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