Cuba Requires Tourists to Have Medical Insurance

Canadian, UK & EU Plans Are Okay; Not So for US

Effective May 1, all tourists to Cuba must have travel medical insurance coverage for entry. The new rules accept all existing international insurance. Bare-bones Cuban policies will be available at entry ports for the uninsured. US insurance remains embargoed.

In releasing details of its new medical insurance requirements for foreign visitors, the Government of Cuba has announced that travellers from Canada or Europe arriving on the island on or after May 1, 2010, will be required to show, on demand, a travel insurance policy, insurance certificate, or travel assistance card valid for the time span they stay in Cuba.

A copy of the requirements was released by the Cuban Embassy in Canada.

According to the official government announcement, the policy may be issued by a travel insurance company in the traveller’s home country—or, if they do not have such insurance, they will be required to buy it from Cuban insurance companies at Cuban airports, ports, or marinas.

According to a sample policy provided by the Cuban company Asistur, a medical or accident benefit of up to CUC 7,000 (Cuban Convertible Pesos), 5,000 for illness or death repatriation, 25,000 for civil liability, 6,000 for accidental death or permanent disability, and 400 for material loss or robbery would cost CUC 2.50 per day.

This is far below the benefit levels provided by most international travel insurers, whose benefits exceed over $1 million for medical emergencies and repatriation. An air ambulance repatriation from Cuba to Canada or Europe can cost well over $60,000.

(Note: CUCs are exchangeable only within the country and are kept roughly equal to the value of the US dollar. CUCs are used primarily by foreigners in Cuban stores, hotels, taxis, and restaurants that previously accepted payments in US dollars.)

The government announcement notes further that residents of the US travelling to Cuba will have to buy their insurance policies in their home country through agencies associated with the Havantur-Celimar Company, as “US insurance companies do not provide coverage in the Cuban national territory.”

The requirement will apply to all tourists and other visitors, Cubans living abroad visiting family or friends, and foreigners temporarily living in Cuba. It will only exempt diplomats and representatives of accredited international organizations.

The government announcement noted that over 80 per cent of visitors to Cuba have insurance coverage issued by companies in their home countries. It noted also that in case of any medical emergency, “the Cuban health system guarantees the necessary medical care through a network of policlinics and hospitals, covering every corner of the island. Primary health care is provided in most hotel facilities.”

Given the low benefit levels, the locally issued insurance plans clearly are inadequate for any major medical emergency or evacuation to a hospital on the US mainland, in Canada, or in Europe. Neither is the assistance capability of the Cuban insurers geared to dealing with foreign government insurance plans or acquisition of hospital beds in foreign countries for patients requiring repatriation. It is primarily designed to handle medical situations on the island, either in domestic hospitals or clinics.

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