How to rent a car in Cuba (or, there will be paperwork)

I’m arranging a rental for my pending visit to Cuba. I hope the booking – and the car – will move along as smoothly as last year.
The process involves several steps but is pretty straightforward. I go to the Vacionar website (Cuba has a number of rental agencies, but I think they are all the same state organization) and put in my desired dates. For a car in what Cuba calls the intermediate category – but which North Americans would consider compact – it’s a minimum three-day rental for $255 U.S.
Then I log into the account I’ve opened at the site and submit my booking. After I receive an e-mail confirmation I return to the site, click various boxes and end up at the website of a French travel company that works with Vacacionar. There, I pay by credit card the sum of 200 Euros ($10 too much by my calculation, but exchange rate fluctuations could be a factor ... maybe) and am directed back yet again to Vacacionar, where I print off various vouchers and receipts.
Strangely, I’m now asked to fill out a credit card authorization form and fax it (or e-mail a scanned copy) to the agency’s head office in Havana. This is supposed to verify the card, though I don’t see how.
In Cuba, I’ll present my paperwork, driver’s licence and passport to an agency clerk who will fill out still more forms and then bill me for insurance (mandatory, even though I have a rental rider on my Canadian policy) and a full tank of gas. They make money on the fuel, of course, because gas stations can be far apart and travellers are advised to keep their tank topped off, so it’s hard to bring back a near-empty car.
When I get my car, I’ll make sure the clerk accompanies me on a walk-around inspection in which we will note every ding and scratch, just so there are no misunderstandings – or attempted extra charges – when I bring it back. Maybe I’ll let him see me taking some photos of the car. Depends on how it goes.
Last year I was given a white Hyundai Accent sedan with automatic transmission. It was in perfect shape, with just 8,000 kilometres on the odometer. Though rental cars can supposedly be hard to find during the peak tourist season, this one sat outside the agency office for three days before my rental began.
Maybe I’ll get that same car this year. Maybe it’s already parked outside the office, waiting for me.

(See followup entry.)


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