Cuba Decrees All Foreign Visitors Must Buy “Approved” Travel Medical Insurance

The Cuban government has decreed that after May 1, 2010, all visitors to the country will be required to buy travel insurance from approved foreign companies or Cuban vendors at its ports of entry. No insurance? No entry.

The measure, seen as a way of raising much-needed cash from foreign sources, will apply to all tourists and other visitors, including Cubans from abroad visiting family of friends and foreigners temporarily living in Cuba. Only diplomats and representatives of accredited international organizations will be exempt.

To date, no information is available about the costs of this insurance or the extent of its coverage, but visitors—particularly tourists—must be warned NOT to drop their own travel insurance, or consider the Cuban-mandated variety a substitute for it, until we know a lot more about what it covers. Cheap travel insurance can sometimes be worse than no travel insurance because it may delude you into thinking you’re covered when you’re not.

Because tourism is so critical to Cuba’s economy (almost 2.5 million tourists visit the island-nation annually) the government is likely to keep the premiums cheap so as not to detract visitors. But we can safely assume that any such insurance will be of a bare-bones variety, covering only emergency services provided by local hospitals, clinics, or doctors, and not for air ambulance repatriation to hospitals back home, travel to the site by family members, transfers to specialty centres off the island, or other benefits normally encompassed by non-medical travel insurance (e.g., missed connections, cancellations or interruptions due to weather, lost baggage, etc.).

Cuba is reputed to have good medical services and routinely exports well-trained physicians to other developing nations. But Cuban health care and Cuban hospitals are also different from what you are used to, and you may well prefer to be brought home and cared for in your own environment, with your own physicians, and your family nearby in case a serious medical emergency arises.

We’re trying to find out more about the companies that will be authorized to sell this insurance, how it can be purchased at Cuban ports of entry, what it is likely to cover, what it will cost, and how it may affect your normal travel insurance coverage if and when you plan a trip to Cuba. Stay tuned.

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