For over 50 years Cuba was essentially off limits to Americans thanks to a 1962 trade embargo that made spending money on the island tantamount to treason. Despite being just 90 miles from Florida, it was easier for U.S. citizens to travel to Antarctica than Havana.
This all changed in 2014, when the Obama administration announced a reestablishment of diplomatic relations with Cuba. Soon, travel restrictions were loosened, and major airlines began offering direct flights from the U.S. And while the Trump administration has rolled back some of these changes (see below), Americans can now legally explore the people, places, and culture that make Cuba unique.
But this opportunity will not last forever. The influx of foreigners is rapidly transforming Cuba’s economic and social realities. Meanwhile, political uncertainties in the U.S. make it impossible to know if the borders will remain open.
With this in mind, I myself headed to Cuba. What I discovered was a country rich with laughter, oozing charm, and built on resiliency.
So fellow Americans, let me help you take advantage of the opportunity to travel to Cuba in 2019. I guarantee you won’t regret it.
How do I legally travel to Cuba as an American?
Despite what you may have heard, the Trump administration has not made it illegal for Americans to travel to Cuba. It's just a bit more complicated. Here's what you need to know.
Every traveler still needs to have a passport that’s valid for at least six months after the return date and a Tourist Card (Tarjeta del Turista) issued by the Cuban government. Thankfully, most airlines allow you to purchase your Tourist Card when you buy your ticket.
A Tourist Card is not quite the same as a Visa (even though the word 'Visa' is written on it!). Visas are only needed for visitors that come from 20 African, Asian, and Middle Eastern countries. If you're coming from North America, Europe, or South America you only need a Tourist Card, and not a Visa.
As was the case under Obama, it is illegal for anyone (including non-citizens) to travel directly from the United States to Cuba for touristic reasons. Furthermore, no U.S. passport holder is legally allowed to visit Cuba as a tourist, regardless of where they enter the country from (Miami to Mexico to Havana, for example, is illegal). As has been the case for some time, group people-to-people tours of Cuba are legal, but if you want to travel independently, your trip must fall within one of eleven categories. These are:
-Official business of the U.S. Government, foreign governments, and certain -intergovernmental organizations
-Professional research or meetings
-Public performances, clinics, workshops, athletic/other competitions and exhibitions
-Support for the Cuban people
-Activities of private foundations, research, or educational institutes
-Exportation, importation, or transmission of information or information material
-Certain authorized export transactions
Until recently, Americans were legally allowed to travel to Cuba independently under the 'Educational activities and exchanges' category. However, as of November 9, 2017, all educational travel must be done in conjunction with a specially-certified organization. Since the remaining categories are quite vague (perhaps intentionally so?), you shouldn’t find it too difficult to craft an exciting and legal itinerary. The only requirement is that you stick to your stated purpose and create a full-time schedule of your activities. The U.S. Government has up to 5 years after your trip to request such documentation—something the Trump administration emphasized in their November 2017 announcement. This same announcement also made it illegal for U.S. travelers to spend at any business that benefits the Cuban military's business arm, Grupo de Administración Empresarial (GAESA). This includes some hotels, restaurants, and other entities. Click here for a complete list of restricted businesses.
The penalty for illegally traveling to Cuba is $250,000 in fines and up to 10 years in prison, but don't let that deter you from visiting Cuba. If you follow the above guidelines, you will be OK. If it helps put you at ease, remember that it's the U.S. government not the Cuban that is concerned with enforcing this embargo.
*I’m not a lawyer, and I don’t play one on TV, so please consult the U.S. State Department website for the latest rules and regulations involving travel to Cuba. Here is a link to the November 2017 amendments.
How should I get to Cuba from the U.S.?
While a number of cruise lines offer trips to Cuba, the easiest (and cheapest) way to get there from the U.S. is to fly. Until recently, all flights were expensive charter services, but recently a number of American airlines started offering regular service to Cuba. As of January, 2019, the following flights went directly to Havana:
-Southwest Airlines from Tampa (1x daily), and Fort Lauderdale (2x daily)
-Delta Airlines from New York-JFK (1x daily), Atlanta (1x daily), and Miami (1x daily)
-American Airlines from Charlotte (1x daily), and Miami (varies)
-United Airlines from New York-Newark (1x daily)
-JetBlue Airlines from New York-JFK (1x daily), Orlando (1x daily), and Fort Lauderdale (2x daily)
Most international flights to Havana arrive in terminals 2 & 3 of José Martí International Airport. If you’re planning on meeting someone at the airport be sure you know beforehand where they will be as the two terminals are in separate buildings 2 km apart, and the cost of taking a cab between them is a flat fee of 10 CUC (the free shuttle bus is crowded and infrequent). Depending on your haggling skills, it should cost you anywhere from 25-30 CUC total to take a taxi from the airport to downtown Havana. There is no viable bus option.
When should I go to Cuba?
December to May is the best time to visit Cuba, as the weather is dry, sunny, and temperate. From June to November, the island is frequently hit with rain storms, and the humidity can be unbearable (think a trip to Florida sans air conditioning). Hurricane season runs from August to October, in case you’re into that kind of thing.
How long should I stay in Cuba?
Cuba is not a country you want to rush through. Taking it slow seems to be a way of life here. At the same time, the Cuban way of doing things can be somewhat overwhelming for Americans who are used to order and comfort. A 7 to 10 day trip is a safe length for first-timers, providing enough time to appreciate the country without over-fatiguing.
Where should I go in Cuba?
Traveling is not easy in Cuba, so I would suggest limiting yourself to just a few cities, even on a multi-week trip.
The best place to start is Havana. Not only are there a ton of direct flights, but the city is a Mecca for lovers of music, salsa, and twentieth-century history. With a wide-range of neighborhoods and activities, you can easily spend five days there without feeling a hint of boredom.
Next, I would head to Viñales, a quant village in western Cuba. Located in the heart of tobacco-growing country, Viñales provides a visitors with an up-close look at Cuban agriculture. Hike into the mountains, explore the extensive network of caves, take a horseback ride to a tobacco plantation, or visit the impressive Mural de la Prehistoria—all of it is great!
Finally, I would stop in Trinidad, a perfectly preserved colonial settlement on Cuba’s south-central coast. Built on the fortunes of nearby sugar cane plantations, Trinidad was left untouched for 150 years after the industry collapsed in the 1800s—much to the delight of modern visitors who are greeted with pastel-colored mansions, cobblestone streets, and elegant squares.
Other cities worth mentioning are Cienfuegos, Baracoa, Santa Clara, Santiago de Cuba, Holguin, and Varadero.
Where should I stay in Cuba?
To save money and get the most authentic Cuban experience, I strongly suggest staying in Casa Particulares, the private residences available for rent throughout the island. Not only are these less expensive than hotels (the cost of a single hotel room ranges from $50-300+ per night!), but they allow you to interact with Cubans in their own homes. Depending on the location and your haggling skills, a private room in a Casa Particular will cost anywhere from $15-35, which you can split with travel companions. Just ask around when you arrive in town and you’ll quickly get a feel for the price range. If you want to eat breakfast (recommended, as few places on the street offer food in the morning) or dinner at your Casa, an additional $3-5 per meal will be added to your bill.
Outside of your first night in Havana (which you can book on AirBnB.com or on other, speciality sites), there is no need to find your Casa Particular in advance. Tourist busses are almost always welcomed by homeowners eager to house you, and more and more Casas are opening every day. If you prefer finding a place on your own, all Casa Particulares hang a blue and white symbol outside.
Hotels in Cuba are expensive, outdated, and lacking in atmosphere. Yet the limited number of hotel rooms on the island means finding a room can be tough, so book early!
If you do elect to stay in a hotel while in Cuba, be sure to check that it's not on the list of businesses at which Americans are prohibited from spending money. You can find that list here.
How should I get around Cuba?
Getting around Havana is fairly straightforward. You can walk almost everywhere if you have the time. And taxi collectivos—the shared cars that loop around the city—offer a cheap alternative to private cabs and city buses. To hail one, simply stand on the side of a main road, arm extended, and tell stopping drivers where you’re going. If it’s on the way, they’ll motion for you to jump in. A ride should cost no more than $1.
Traveling between cities can be a bit more challenging. The domestic train system is a non-starter, renting a car is dangerous (if you get in an accident you may have to stay until the end of the trial), the domestic airline is the most accident-prone in the world, the tourist buses are crowded, and the taxi cabs are slow.
Yet, you’re going to have to learn to use this system if you want to get anywhere. Viazul arranges air-conditioned coach rides between most of Cuba’s main tourist cities. However, they are frequently sold out for days, and tickets cannot be bought online in advance, basically eliminating them as options for short layovers.
A more convenient—and slightly less expensive—option is to take a taxi collectivo. If your Casa host is unable to arrange a collectivo for you, there should be a number of drivers fighting over your business at the bus station. Ask a few people to gauge the price, and haggle your way to a number you’re comfortable with. You’ll almost certainly be riding in a vintage American car—colloquially known as a Yank Tank—sans seatbelt or air conditioning. Collectivos are a great way to meet fellow travelers and there’s something incredible about riding in a car that’s probably older than your parents.
How do I pay for things in Cuba?
There are two types of currency in Cuba—the Cuban peso (CUP) and the Cuban Convertible Peso (CUC), with 1 CUC ≈ 24 CUP, and 1 CUC ≈ 1 USD. CUC are for tourists, and CUP are for locals, although you will often get CUP in return when paying on the street. Be careful, however, as a tricky merchant may try and give you incorrect change. Always double check, and remember that CUC have pictures of monuments, whereas CUP have pictures of people.
If your bank has any connection to America (chances are that’s a ‘yes’), then your credit and debit cards will not work. As such, you’re going to have to bring all the money you need for the whole trip with you. Over 17 days, I spent under 800 CUC, and could have easily spent less.
Carrying that much cash may seem risky at first, but it doesn’t have to be. Theft is very rare in Cuba, and if you divide your cash among your possessions and travel mates, you will only end up caring a little bit at any given time. Still, use common sense and watch your wallet, purse, or money belt carefully.
You should exchange your currency into CUC at the airport. The exchange office is located to the left of terminal 3’s main entrance. It is better to bring Euros as they get a better rate than U.S. dollars. And be sure to covert your remaining CUC to Euros before you leave the country, as it’s impossible to do so abroad.
How can I stay connected in Cuba?
It is not easy to stay connected in Cuba. Your cell phone probably won’t get service (despite your provider telling you otherwise), and if you do it will be extremely expensive. If you absolutely must have a working phone, you can buy a sim card from Cubacel at the airport or purchase a special roaming phone in advance from a site like CellularAbroad.com.
Internet access is also hard to come by. Very few private residences in Cuba have the internet (although this is slowly changing), and so the best place to connect is in a luxury hotel lobby, an Internet cafe, or at a special designated WiFi location. The latter are easy to locate; just look for a big group of people staring at their phones (Here's a map). To use this WiFi, you have to buy a one-hour pre-paid card from ETECSA, which you can get either at one of their offices (1 CUC) or from a vendor on the street (3 CUC).
If you can, I strongly recommend avoiding the Internet completely while in Cuba. You’ll sleep better, feel less stress, and better focus on your trip. Since I spend so much time working online at home, I was worried about my ability to disconnect entirely for the 17 days I was in Cuba. Surprisingly, it was easy to avoid the Internet—save the one time that I logged on to see how it worked.
What should I pack for a trip to Cuba?
Normally I recommend packing as little as possible—the argument being that you can buy anything you need at your destination—but this isn’t the case in Cuba. Basic necessities like toothpaste or soap can be difficult to find. If there’s anything you cannot live without, bring it!
What should I drink in Cuba?
Thanks to fresh ingredients, skilled bartenders, and delicious rum, Cuba has some fantastic cocktails; you’d be a fool not to try them! Local favorites to look out for include the Mojito, Cuba Libre, Canchanchara, and Daiquiri. However, Cubans will tell you—as they give you a glass—that the only proper way to enjoy their rum is neat.
The coffee is also excellent in Cuba. The most popular coffee drink is the café cubano, which is espresso mixed with sugar. Delicious!
Cuban beer is less spectacular. The best of a mediocre bunch is Cristal, a light lager. Skip the heavier Bucanero.
While Cubans pride themselves on public health policy, tap water can still be dangerous in Cuba. Always drink bottled water. A 1.5 L bottle should cost around 1.5 CUC, depending on location. Quality bars and restaurants should use bottled or purified water to create their ice cubes for cocktails but there are no guarantees.
What should I eat in Cuba?
Before I came to Cuba, everyone told me how dreadful the food was. That nothing had flavor and everything was the same. Thankfully, this was only partially true.
I quite enjoyed the food I ate in Cuba. It’s true that there isn’t a ton of ingrediental variety—almost every dish is some combination of rice, beans, and grilled meat—but there are a number of ways to prepare such items. Local favorites include Rope Vieja, Vaca Frita, Platanos Maduros, and Moros y Cristianos. None of these dishes are heavily spiced, but good ingredients allow you to avoid this. And if you have to have that extra kick, you can always bring a bottle of Tabasco or Sriracha.
All restaurants—even the best ones—have limited menus, meaning that about half the items listed will not be available on any given day due to shortages. So don’t get your hopes set on one particular dish before you order!
Once again, Americans should double check to ensure that they are not eating at one of the U.S. Governments' restricted locales, the list of which can be found here.
Also, there’s not a ton of non-Cuban food on the island, but street vendors throughout the country sell pizza that tastes OK. If you frequently have cravings for ethnic food at home, bring something with which to hold yourself over. And since food isn’t always readily available, pack a few stackable items (I brought Clif Bars because they’re easy to pack and nutritious).
How do I stay safe in Cuba?
Cuba is not dangerous. Whether out of a fear of governmental retaliation or general kindness, muggings and other violent crimes against tourists are basically unheard of. Theft does occur, however, so keep a careful watch on your personal possessions, especially in busy areas.
Outside of regular cat-calling, Cuban men will respect women’s space, especially if they are told that you have a boyfriend, husband, or fiancé. Sometimes that request to dance to the next salsa song is just a friendly gesture from an ever-hospitable nation.
The biggest threat to your safety in Cuba is contaminated food and drink. As I mentioned before, buy bottled water to drink and brush your teeth with. Watch out for sketchy-looking street food and only eat fruits and vegetables that you can peel. If you have a particularly sensitive stomach, start a probiotic regimen before you leave home and bring anti-diarrhea medication.
What should I bring home to the U.S. from Cuba?
Cuban-made items are still banned in the U.S., so stock up on the essentials like rum and cigars. For the cheapest prices on tobacco, buy directly from the plantations or at the duty free shops at the airport.
Havana Club is the most popular brand of rum in Cuba, although all the locals I spoke to said Santiago de Cuba is a better rum at a lower price!
There are also lots of talented artists and woodworkers in Cuba that offer their pieces at a reasonable price. If you have the luggage space, take advantage of this.
Most importantly, bring back memories. Share the stories of the people you met and the things you saw. You can play an important role in molding the stateside narrative regarding the Cuban people. Take advantage of this power.
Any more advice for a first-time traveler to Cuba?
For a start, try to leave your assumptions about the Cuban people and their government—good or bad—at home. Despite a lack of material goods, the majority of Cubans live lives that are as happy—if not more so—than ours. Objects don’t equal bliss.
Likewise, we hear a lot about the Castro regime in the U.S., and most of it is very bad. I’m not here to defend the actions of Fidel and Raúl, but I think it’s important to draw your own conclusions based upon what you see. Notice the things that work and those that don’t.
Do be careful what you say, however. I haven’t heard of any Americans being punished for speaking critically of the regime, but I wouldn’t test your luck. Plus, it’s rather rude to openly criticize another country while traveling. I don’t think very many Americans would appreciate a foreigner coming to the U.S. and lambasting the Trump administration (OK, some might actually join in). Cubans may face harsh consequences for speaking ill of their government, so be careful what you ask them something, and respect their conversational limits.
Perhaps the most important thing to have when traveling to Cuba for the first time is an open mind. Things will be different. Many of the creature comforts you have at home—such as hot water, air conditioning, or the Internet—will be lacking. But you’ll be surprised at how quickly you can forget about these things when you embrace the Cuban way of living. Instead of surfing the web, dance the night away and sip mojitos!
Visiting Cuba is like stepping into a 1950s time warp that’s been somehow infected by the year 2005. The buildings, cars, and music remind Americans of the Cuban Missile Crisis or the Godfather, Part II, but all around you there are hints that things are changing. The people have cellphones—albeit a few generations older than yours—and plasma TVs. Forward-thinking youths use flash drives to spread the latest TV shows and uncensored world news throughout the country. Reforms are allegedly occurring in the government. When Raúl Castro stepped down on April 19, 2018, for the first in over 50 years a non-Castro brother was in charge. Whether or not Miguel Díaz-Canel, Cuba's new President, brings about these reforms is yet to be seen. Foreign visitors are coming in increasingly large numbers, bringing a boost to the economy and providing locals with a direct contact with the outside world.
Cuba will, undoubtedly, change. Perhaps it will be gradual, taking place over a couple of decades. Or perhaps it will be swift. Perhaps it will take place sometime in 2019.
We don’t yet know the exact timeframe, but we can see change on the horizon. This may be the only opportunity for Americans to visit the Cuba that we’ve grown up fantasizing about—the one with old cars, stinky cigars, and seductive salsa instructors. Do yourself a favor, and visit this year. Cuba may literally only be 100 miles from Florida, but they feel worlds apart.
To better understand what to expect when you get to Cuba, check out my articles Daily Life in Cuba: A Photographic Essay and 9 Myths About Cuba (And Why They Are Wrong).
Have you been to Cuba recently? Are you planning on going in 2019? Let me know what your experiences and/or expectations are in the comments below!
Thank you for your post. It was an enjoyable read, and it included helpful tips. I hope to travel to Cuba one day!
Thanks for the kind words–they mean a lot! I hope you are able to travel to Cuba as well some day. Let me know if you have any more questions. -Andrew
I just spent 10 days in Havana and it was AMAZING! I totally fell in love with the country and am trying to figure out how I can get back there and explore more of it. Really nice article that lines up pretty well with my experience. 🙂
Hey, Juli–I’m glad to hear that you enjoyed your time in Havana! Like you, I too cannot wait to get back. What was the most memorable experience you had there?
did you end up buying travel insurance? i am leaving in 01/8/18.
Did you buy insurance? I am going in at the end of this month.
Did you go independently from the US?
Wonderful blog. I just returned from this amazing place and wish I had read your article first.
Hey, GB! Thanks so much for the kind words. It sounds like you’ll just have to take a return trip to Cuba then! 🙂
Hi, with the new travel restrictions, would I still be able to do a solo trip under support for the cuban people or is that the same as people to people? I’m a bit confused as I know people to people category falls under the education part but have also heard people reference the support for the cuban people as “people to people”. Thanks!
Hey, Catherine–great question. According to the FAQs for the law, which you can find here–https://www.treasury.gov/resource-center/sanctions/Programs/Documents/cuba_faqs_new.pdf–‘people to people’ travel consists of “educational exchange activities intended to enhance contact with the Cuban people, support civil society in Cuba, or promote the Cuban people’s independence from Cuban authorities”, whereas ‘support for the Cuban people’ travel consists of “independent activity intended to strengthen civil society in Cuba.” As you can see, there’s not much difference between the two, at least in the way they’ve defined them. If you’re working with another organization such as a non-profit, I don’t think you will have a problem. Also, if you booked your trip prior to the announcement of the changes, then you are exempt from them. Otherwise, it does seem as though you may be taking a risk (major or minor, I cannot tell). Can you adjust your itinerary to fit another category just in case?
thanks for the speedy response, it was very helpful! Do you know how feasible it is to travel under humanitarian travel? Any example of activities? I’m a public health student so I’d definitely be interested in visiting a local community health center when/if I visit Cuba. Unfortunately, I plan on visiting in March and with the possibility of the new regulations being in affect by then, I want want to make sure I don’t get into any trouble as a solo traveler. Thanks!
Hey, Catherine. Happy to have helped. 🙂
So I looked into it a bit more and it seems somewhat tricky to schedule a humanitarian-centric trip as a solo traveler. Because the internet is so bad in Cuba, the Cuban-based organizations with which you’d probably want to work with there have essentially no internet presence. Instead, it seems as though you have to work through third-party orgs, who charge you around $2000-$3000 to connect you with Cuban volunteer opportunities (and provide you with lodging). This is a tax-deductible fee. If you joined one of these groups, it appears you’d be–among other things–teaching English, helping in community gardens, landscaping parks, repainting buildings, and assisting the elderly. And of course there’s an aspect of cultural exchange as well.
If you’re looking to be a bit more independent–and save some money–perhaps you could figure out which orgs these third-parties are assisting (either by asking them or doing some internet sleuthing) and try and reach out to them yourself. Alternatively, your University (or another academic who specializes in Cuba) might be able to directly connect you with a more-economical volunteer opportunity. I hope this helps!
Hi there! I’m traveling solo to Havana on a short cruise trip in March. I am choosing to use “ Suport Cuban People” exemption and will satisfy this by doing a spanish: English language exchange with local Cuban and spending time seeing all the wonderful places. Also will try to set up Salsa lessons . I’m an attorney and have no fear that this won’t satisfy legal requirements. Write up brief itinerary and keep just in case but doubt anyone EVER will be interested in seeing it. I DID NOF want to do the group things with cruise guests under P2P exemption. This is more personal!!
Thanks for the detailed reply, Maria! Sounds like you have a great trip planned! I think you’re spot-on about the difference between group and individual/solo travel in Cuba.
Hi, I’m traveling to Cuba next month. Any suggestions on the best way to get around? I will be there for three short days…thanks
Hey, Liz! The best way to get around Cuba in my opinion is with a taxi colectivo or a private taxi. However, it will be difficult to do much traveling around the island if you’re only there for three days. Where are you going to be based in and where were you hoping to go to?
Cuba is amazing! Everyone had me freaked out before going, but nothing was going to stop me. And all the bad things that people told me were totally wrong. I never felt unsafe. Havana is the cleanest city I have been to in any country. Sure some of the buildings are falling apart, but the government has a big restoration project going on to return them to their former glory. But there was not one piece of garbage on the ground! I looked hard. Barely even cigarette or cigar butts. Everyone was so nice. I was alone most of the time and never felt uncomfortable. I just got back yesterday and booked last minute as I saw a big price drop and I had zero issues. I booked a tour with fertours2cuba.com and it was the greatest day ever. My tour guide was so knowledgeable and passionate about Cuba. I spoke with other travelers who had taken other tours and I definitely got the best one. I learned so much. I was never bored for one minute the whole time I was there. I had that “5 year old on Christmas morning” when they first see all the presents feeling the whole time I was there. I have not one bad thing to say about my experience other than it was too short. I’m already planning my next vacation in April. Hopefully as long as a certain orange demon doesn’t mess it up. If someone tries to tell you something about Cuba and they have never been, just block out their words. You truly have no idea how wonderful the country and people are until you experience it yourself. I knew a lot of the bad things I heard were probably not true, but I had no idea exactly how much I would fall in love with it. I’ve travelled to many countries all over the world and Cuba is something special. I truly felt heartbroken when it was time to return. When I think about my time there is gives me those puppy love butterflies. Everybody go now! If you have been wanting to go but put it off for whatever reason, get out your cards and book it. You will not regret it. I could go on forever.
Hey, Ashley. Thanks for sharing your story! It’s clear we share the same enthusiasm for Cuba and its people. And as you said, you cannot understand how magical it is until you visit. Have you decided where you will go next April?
Hi Ashley, your post brought me comfort as I will be traveling there by myself last minute. Did you prearrange your accommodations? What tour did you do? Were you in Havana the whole time? Any recommendations?
want to reccomend this website for to rent casa particular in Cuba, please see it!!!
Hi Andrew, thank you for all this information. I bought my flight before June 17 and had my sister traveling with me, but she has bailed out on me. Do you feel it’s safe for a female traveler? Did you have any issues going through customs when coming back to US? I’m so excited about going, yet I feel fear. I don’t want to miss out on this opportunity though.
Hey, Alma. Great questions. I recently spoke to a solo female traveler who went to Cuba in August and she had no problems whatsoever at customs nor on the trip. Likewise, none of the women I met or traveled with while in Cuba had any issues whatsoever, when alone or with others. Yes, men would ask if they wanted to dance, but if they said ‘no’–or were only interested in dancing–they respected this decision. Whether this was due to a greater cultural respect for women or a fear of the consequences of running afoul with the government, I’m not sure. Having said that, I’m sure Ashley could speak more to what it is like to travel there as a female. I hope this helps!
Thank you Andrew ! I really enjoyed reading about traveling to Cuba.
Thank you, Robin. I hope you’ll be able to make the trip there sometime!
Thank you for the post. I am considering traveling to Cuba for the first time, since I have family there. My only concern is that I am a Cuban myslef (born there) and a naturalized US citizen, so I have a US passport that shows Cuba as country of birth. My parents escaped and defected in 1979, and haven’t been back since. Do I have reason to worry the government will know who I am and make things difficult? Do you know if the Cuban government looks at returning Cubans from the U.S. with disdain?
Hey, Juan! Sorry for the delay in getting back to you–I’ve been traveling myself for the past few weeks.
That’s a great question. According to this article–https://www.cbsnews.com/news/cuba-to-ease-travel-restrictions-on-exiles-wanting-to-visit/–as of January 1, 2018 the Cuban government will start allowing people who have defected from the island to return using recreational vessels docking at either the Hemingway Marina in Havana or the Gaviota Marina in Varadero. It doesn’t say anything about allowing air travel to Cuba.
Considering the potential seriousness of your question, however, I’d recommend contacting a immigration lawyer just to be safe.
I hope this helps!
Hi Juan! I think I can help you here. I am a Cuban born US resident. I left with a political asylum visa and have been going back since 2010. I actually just came back 2 days ago. I travel twice or three times a year.
Since you left Cuba after 1971 (like me), you will need your Cuban passport.
Per https://cu.usembassy.gov/u-s-citizen-services/dual-nationality/ “The Government of Cuba treats U.S. citizens born in Cuba as Cuban citizens and may subject them to a range of restrictions and obligations. The Cuban government requires U.S.-Cuban dual citizens who departed Cuba on or after January 1, 1971 to enter and depart Cuba using a Cuban passport. Using a Cuban passport for this purpose does not jeopardize one’s U.S. citizenship; however, such persons must use their U.S. passports to enter and depart the United States. Cuban-Americans who departed Cuba before January 1, 1971 may travel to Cuba on their U.S. passport but must apply for an HE-11 visa from the Cuban Embassy. Cuban authorities do not always notify the U.S. Embassy of the arrest of dual nationals and may deny U.S. consular officers access to them.”
Only the people who left before 1971 can use their US passports.
The Cuban government is not going to care about the circumstances under which you left and they won’t make things difficult for you because of it. A while ago they did look at us with some disdain when we go through the airport but that has changed over the year with the change in relationships. . The officials are very serious but that’s just the nature, not necessarily because of who you are or where you come from.
Thanks so much for your insightful response, Ana!
Hey Andrew, your post is amazing and greatly informative!
I am currently planning to travel to Cuba at the end of December for 12 days (leaving December 18th) and had a few questions regarding entry into Cuba and re-entry back into the states.
My flights from the west coast (US) are as follows:
SFO -> LA -> Havana
Havana -> LA
As of November I know that my reasons for travel need to fall under 1 of 12 categories. The ones I thought I could easily apply for would be either one of the below:
– Support for the Cuban People
(imagine is the easiest? seems you only need to stay at Casas Paerticulares and “support local businesses”.)
– Professional Research
(I work for an environmental engineering company and imagine can come up with a professional looking itinerary on a company letter head or something similar)
As of now, it seems like I’d mainly want to visit 3 regions in Cuba (any suggestions would be appreciated):
That being said, I can come up with an itinerary of what I will be doing, where I will be staying and what my day to day would look like. (For “where I am staying” in the itinerary you mentioned that in most locations you can find a casa particulare once you arrive, so will I be able to simply state the city, not the exact address?)
Do you suggest or have you heard anything as of late that would require my trip to have a more legitimate itinerary?
Any suggestions you can provide would be a huge help!
So sorry for the delay in getting back to you–I’ve been traveling myself for the past 3 weeks and am just now catching up on website stuff. Anyhow, onto your question!
There is no requirement to present an itinerary upon entry or re-entry on a trip to Cuba, although I think you’re smart to create one in advance just in case. The U.S. Government can ask you for an itinerary from your trip to Cuba for up to ten years after you return home, however, to ensure that you’ve complied with all laws. To what degree this will be enforced in the future, I am unsure. With this in mind, there should be no issue if you fill in the specific address of a casa particulare when you return home.
I think that limiting yourself to those 3 cities is a good idea. Getting from place to place in Cuba isn’t as easy as it is in some other countries, and I’d allow a complete day for travel between each city (delays in departure and unforeseen mechanical problems do occur).
In regards to what I would recommend you do in each place, your day-to-day really depends on what category you travel under. According to the latest U.S. Governmental documents (found here: https://www.treasury.gov/resource-center/sanctions/Programs/Documents/cuba_fact_sheet_11082017.pdf) to travel under the Support of the Cuban People exemption, you would need to “engage in a full-time schedule of activities that result in meaningful interaction with individuals in Cuba. Such activities must also enhance contact with the Cuban people, support civil society in Cuba, or promote the Cuban people’s independence from Cuban authorities. Renting a room in a private Cuban residence (casa particular), eating at privately owned Cuban restaurants (paladares), and shopping at privately owned stores run by selfemployed Cubans (cuentapropistas) are examples of authorized activities; however, in order to meet the requirement of a full-time schedule, a traveler must engage in additional authorized Support for the Cuban People activities.” I couldn’t find a similarly-detailed example for the Professional Research exemption. If you let me know which category you choose I would be happy to help you brainstorm some activities.
Great article Andrew! very helpful! My husband and I are traveling to Cuba in December for New Year. We booked our trip in May. Staying in a casa particular. We are not sure about which category to travel under, with all the recent changes. Any suggestions? Did you have any problems in customs coming back into the US or going out of Cuba? Did you buy the health insurance that supposedly is required to travel to Cuba? Thank you so much for your help!
So glad you enjoyed the article. 🙂 I had no trouble with customs either way. It was the same as coming and going from any other country. When I purchased my ticket through Southwest Airlines, the required health insurance was included automatically. I’d check with your airline to see if this is the case.
Have you booked or signed any contracts other than the flights and the casa particular? I ask because any contracts you signed prior to Trump’s speech on June 16 still fall under the Obama-era travel rules. So if you’d signed up for a People-to-People trip in May, you’d still be able to take it. If not, then the choice of category depends on what you want to do when you get there. To ensure that your travel to Cuba is entirely legal, you need to focus your trip on one of the approved eleven categories, meaning that if you travel under the Religious activities exemption you must maintain (and document, as the government could potentially ask for documentation of your trip) a full schedule related to religious activities. With this in mind, I would suggest selecting a category based upon what you’d most be interested in doing in Cuba. Is there something in particular that you’d like to do/accomplish in Cuba? Another option would be to join a certified people-to-people group tour–there’s one listed on this website for around the New Year http://www.usacubatravel.org/ — but you’ll have to pay a premium. I’m sorry there’s no easy answer to your question.
Thank you for your answer Andrew! we are traveling to Cuba from Guatemala because my family lives there and we’ll be visiting from Christmas. We are flying with interjet and they don’t sell the insurance but told us that we can buy it at the Cuban airport when we arrive. I think we are going to travel under the Support of the Cuban people category. We didn’t sign any other contracts before the announcement from the government but I’ve been reading that you can travel independent under this category as long as you do activities to support the locals (eat in paladares, interact with the locals, shop in stores run by self employed Cubans, etc.). We definitely want to experience the real Cuba! learn and share with the Cubans.
Hey, Paola! Happy to have helped. That sounds like a fantastic trip! OK, buying at the airport sounds fine then. I love your desire to experience the real Cuba, the way the locals live! 🙂
Looking at the latest announcement from the U.S. Government, found here, to legally travel under the Support of the Cuban People exemption you must “engage in a full-time schedule of activities that result in meaningful interaction with individuals in Cuba. Such activities must also enhance contact with the Cuban people, support civil society in Cuba, or promote the Cuban people’s independence from Cuban authorities. Renting a room in a private Cuban residence (casa particular), eating at privately owned Cuban restaurants (paladares), and shopping at privately owned stores run by selfemployed Cubans (cuentapropistas) are examples of authorized activities; however, in order to meet the requirement of a full-time schedule, a traveler must engage in additional authorized Support for the Cuban People activities.” I’m not entirely sure what else that would entail, but I imagine it would mean simply filling the rest of the day with activities that support the locals (as opposed to relaxing at a Government-run resort, etc.). I hope this helps.
It helps a lot Andrew!! Thank you so much for all your help! One last question. Do they accept dollars? or is better to convert them?
You’ll want to convert currency into Cuban Convertible Pesos (CUCs) when you arrive. There’s a currency exchange at the airport and I think at some hotels. Your ATM card probably will not work, so bring all the cash that you’ll need for your stay. There’s a special 10% fee for converting US Dollars to CUC (in addition to the regular currency exchange fee of 3%), so bring Euros instead.
Thank you for your helpful article! My family and I are traveling to Cuba w one other family at the end of the month and over New Years WITH an authorized tour company that does salsa dancing in Cuba tours. We will be traveling under people-to-people and have a full schedule of 6-8 hours/day of cultural workshops, tours and lectures and will also be doing a service exchange, teaching english to artists, dancers and musicians. Unfortunately we have to be “chaperoned” by them pretty much 2/3rds of each day and have much less control over where we are staying and what we are doing as we are used to. This also leaves less time for spontaneity and serendipity. BUT we are sure it will still be great!
We are planning a day trip to Vinales. We wanted to go over-night but it was much too expensive taking the authorized “chaperone” with us, so we settled for a day trip. We plan to go horseback riding and visit a Tobacco farm. My friend wants to ALSO visit the big cave. Do you think this is doable in one day?
We will be traveling with two 10-year old girls. Any recos for kids to do on our free time we may not know about?
P.S. Can we tell them what we think about our orange child in the oval office, or should we avoid politics all together?
Glad you enjoyed the article! I’m sure you’ll be able to find room for spontaneity and serendipity; even the most steadfast plans seem to change when in Cuba.
That’s going to be a tight schedule for sure, especially considering that you have less daylight this time of year. If you leave early enough in the morning, I think you can make it all work. It’s about a 2.5 hour drive to Viñales from Havana, assuming you don’t stop. Have you hired a hired a car already? When you do, make sure that it’s exclusively for you (so you don’t have to wait on others to join) and that you’re clear about what time you want to leave at. I would also suggest that you do the things you most want to do at the start–enjoying them for as long as you want–just in case you run out of time. More isn’t always better. Also, are you bringing the children with you to Vinales? If so, perhaps insist upon a modern car for the long highway ride. They will be more comfortable and such safer.
That’s fantastic that you’re exposing the kids to such an exciting and unique culture. I’m sure that the locals you meet will appreciate it as well. Outside of the activities you might already be aware of–riding in vintage cars, baseball games, kayaking, snorkeling, beach-going, horse riding–in Havana you could visit the Teatro Para Niños Cinecito, the Coppelia ice cream store, and the Museum of Chocolate (it’s more of a chocolate shop than anything else). I think there are zip lines in the Viñales area.
In general it’s best to avoid speaking politics–especially Cuban politics–with the local people as it could hypothetically put them in a difficult situation, but each situation and person is different. If need be, you can always reference your feelings in subtle ways, like mentioning how you hope to be able to visit more frequently in the future.
I hope this helps.
Thank you for the thorough and insightful post regarding your recent trip to Cuba. My boyfriend and I will be joining a group people to people tour flying directly from the United States to Cuba in March. I have been trying to gather as much information as possible regarding travel so that we can be prepared. We typically travel independently so this will be an interesting change of pace, but I am excited to immerse myself in the culture without having to organize the logistics.
One question I do have is regarding entry and exit from Havana. Do they stamp your passport? We have waited a long time to travel to Cuba legally and I would love to have the stamp in my passport as part of the experience.
Hey, Janelle! I’m so glad you found the article useful.
To answer your question, yes, the Cuban government does stamp your passport!
I’m excited for your upcoming trip–you’ll have an amazing experience in Cuba. 🙂
is it Mandatory to purchase travel insurance when visiting cuba?
Hey, Christian. Yes, it is mandatory to buy travel insurance when visiting Cuba. However, most airlines include this in the cost of your ticket. What airline are you flying with?
Jumping in on this, but I’m flying with Copa through Panama City, Panama. I don’t think the purchase includes insurance, do you know for sure?
Hey, Lisa! Welcome to the conversation. I looked online and I couldn’t tell whether or not tickets from Copa include the insurance. I’d contact them directly just to be safe. 🙂 -Andrew
I have read your articles and comments. Thank you so much for taking your time to write this and responding back.
How do you purchase insurance?? Is it necessary? We will fly aeromexico.. Do you know if they offer the insurance?
Hi Andrew! Thanks very much for all your tips and information, is not easy to figure out what exactly this new legislation implies in cases such as mine and my firends’: we are non-Americans but travelling to Cuba from the US. We were planing to go to Cuba in March. Do you know if therse restrictions apply also for us, holding a Spanish passport, but travelling from Miami to Havana? We haven’t booked the fligths yet. If you don’t know, could you recomend us any site to figure this out ?
Thanks a lot!
Yes, if your flight to Cuba originates from the United States, you fall under the same restrictions. You could travel to a third country first (such as Mexico) if you wanted to avoid this, but it would add to the cost.
As for booking your flights, do you have specific dates and destinations already in mind? If you’re flexible, I would first check prices for multiple airlines on an aggregator website like GoogleFlights, Kayak, or SkyScanner to get a sense of what the prices would be on various days, with various airlines, to various destinations in Cuba (from Miami you can fly directly to Havana, Varadero, Santa Clara, Holguín, and Camagüey). Then I’d also check with Southwest Airlines (not included on those aggregator websites) to see what their prices are. I hope that helps; let me know if you have any more questions. 🙂
Thank you for all this wonderful information! My husband and I are visiting next month and we’re so excited to learn about the beautiful Cuban people and their island. Frankly, I’m thankful to be traveling under the Support for the Cuban People category because it forces us to be intentional about our experiences and where we spend our time and money.
You may not know the exact answer to the question I have but I figured since you’re clearly well versed it couldn’t hurt to ask. Through my research, I’ve discovered that it is in fact legal to use AirBnB for lodging during our stay. I know that AirBnB also offers different experiences (salsa classes, food tours, etc.) Although it’s a US-based company, does that still count toward Support for the Cuban People considering it’s locals teaching the classes and being paid by AirBnB? Also, are there any activities in Havana that you would suggest?
I’m so glad you found the article useful; Cuba is a wonderful country and if I can help someone just a tiny bit to better experience it, then I’m happy. And yes, the category you selected will, I think, help to make for an exceptionally memorable trip.
With regards to your question, I would *think* that would count as supporting the Cuban people. While the locals are certainly paying a tax that goes to the Cuban government, a good portion is going to them, and I don’t see it being much different than finding a Casa Particular on another website or simply when you arrive there–both of which are legal for Americans to do.
In terms of activities to do in Cuba, it depends on what you like to do. For me personally, my favorite thing to do when I travel somewhere is to connect with the local people. So wandering a few blocks from the main tourist drag and exploring the neighborhoods where the locals live (any of them) was really insightful. Frankly, just walking the city itself is probably the most interesting thing one can do. Every neighborhood has its own unique vibe, and you never know what sights, smells, or sounds you will discover. I’d certainly suggest going to a Casa de la Musica (or any other similar establishment) to dance salsa with the locals and hear the incredible Cuban musicians. Are you going anywhere else other than Havana? I’m planning on writing up an article specifically on Havana soon, but you’re question has inspired me to speed that up a bit. Stay tuned!
I hope this helps. Let me know if you have any more questions or need clarification.
I love your website! I am thinking of traveling to Cuba in next few months. I see that American airlines has good tickets from Seattle. I called them to ask if we can get tourist card at the boarding gate. They didn’t know. Do you know if you can get tourist card for any airlines at the boarding gate?
Thanks so much,
I’m so glad you’re enjoying the website! 🙂 Yes, you can get your tourist card for the airline at the boarding gate. I did this when I visited Cuba and had no problems. However, if you have a short transfer on your way to Cuba, you might want to book your tourist card in advance, which you can do here: https://cubavisaservices.com/product/aa-visa-card/
I hope that helps. Let me know if you have any more questions!
Thank you for the info. I booked flights through Delta. The flight there is pretty brutal. From Seattle -> Minneapolis -> Atlanta -> Havana. Our flight starts at 12:25 AM in Seattle and we end up in Havana at 1:35 pm. We fly out on March 10th. Do you think it will be too much to try to do Havana, Viñales, and Trinidad during this time? Thanks so much for your help. I really appreciate it!!
Yeah, that’s quite the itinerary; I hope you can get some sleep on the plane! How long are you planning on being in Cuba for? YOu can definitely visit all three if you have enough time.
Happy to have helped. 🙂
Hi Andrew, so we fly in on the 2nd and fly out on the 10th.
OK, so you definitely could do it , but it will be tight. Bear in mind that you’re going to have to devote almost a full day to travel (each drive is going to be around 6 hours or so) when going between Viñales to Trinidad and Trinidad to Havana. If I were you, I’d try and find transport to Viñales for the 3rd, leave for Trinidad on the 5th, and return to Havana on either the 7th or the 8th. You’ll need to book transport at least a day in advance if using a taxi collectivo, and perhaps 2 days in advance if using one of the buses. I recommend giving yourself that buffer time in Havana at the end just in case you get stuck in Trinidad for an extra night or so you won’t have to worry about missing your flight on the 10th. Alternatively, you could hire a guide and do Viñales for a day, spending the night in Havana, but I wouldn’t recommend that as it’s really a wonderful village to sleep in. Does this make sense?
I didn’t see an option to reply to your latest response, so I am replying to your first comment. That makes sense. We have booked a photographer for the 3rd in Havana, so we won’t be able to leave for Viñales until the 4th. I am leaning more towards skipping Trinidad, so it won’t be rush-rush. I hope I don’t regret it later.
Thank you so much,
That’s weird that you couldn’t respond to the second comment; I’ll look into it.
Your plan sounds good. When in doubt, I feel as though it’s always better to go fewer places. There is plenty to enjoy in Havana and Viñales alone. And you can always return to Trinidad at another date if you fall in love with Cuba (perhaps under different political circumstances). Happy to have helped. I’ll be adding a few additional pages about Cuba in the near future which should be of help to you, so keep an eye out for them!
Thanks so much for your helpful responses. I have decided to go to Havana and Trinidad, and skip Vinales. I was wondering if there are any casas that you recommend in Havana? 🙂
Thank you again,
I’m glad to have helped. I’m sure you’ll have more than enough to do (and enjoy) in Havana and Trinidad. There are tons of great casas in Havana, at various price points. Do you have an idea as to your nightly budget? Feel free to email me at [email protected] if you prefer to discuss finances privately.
Thanks for the great article.
My wife and I are traveling to Cuba via Cancun. Do we need to be concerned about traveling solo once we are in Cuba? We are not planning to have our US passport stamped and will purchase the tourist card in Mexico before flying to Cuba.
Please let me know your thoughts on this.
Glad you enjoyed it! These specific regulations apply to all U.S. citizens traveling to Cuba regardless of whether or not they depart from the U.S, so if you don’t follow them you could be charged with a crime. Considering the current political climate, it’s impossible to say how tightly they will enforce this. Personally, I think there’s little downside to following the regulations as a solo traveler, so if I were you I’d do that.
Great article! Reading it made me so much more excited to go to Havana than I already was!
My boyfriend and I are travelling to Havana at the end of February for his birthday. The more I read about this 12 restrictions/regulations the more I get worried. I was thinking to select the “for the support of Cuban people” category. Please advise if you think I will be okay to do so in our case.
We are flying into Havana from Miami. I believe we are purchasing the tourist visa at the airport through Delta prior to entrance to Cuba. From my understanding health insurance is also necessary to purchase?
I believe we are planning on staying at an Airbnb for 4 nights and then return home back to the states. I am just worried that we will not fall into the category for legal travel. It would be solo traveling, we really did not want to be in a group. We are planning on doing all the local things. Like eating at local restaurants, shopping at local shops and all that jazz. Do I need to have proof. I guess I am just growing worried of getting fined or breaking any of their policies and regulations or what if they will not let us into the country because we do not fall under the chosen category.
Any advice would be greatly appreciated 🙂
Thank you very much in advance!
Hey, Irene! I’m so glad you found the article useful and I’m happy you’ve decided to visit Cuba–you’ll have a great time! 🙂
Yes, health insurance is necessary for any trip to Cuba. Fortunately, your trip through Delta already includes it. Just be sure to keep your board pass while in Cuba; that will serve as your proof of health insurance.
Please don’t let the restrictions worry you. If you travel to Cuba with the intent of following them you should be fine. Your plans sound great and if you do those things throughout your trip, I think you’ll have fulfilled the requirement. As for proof, the easiest thing to do would be to keep a daily diary within which you write down what you did. Then when you get home you’ll not only have a memento of your experiences but also a detailed document from which you could craft an itinerary if the U.S. Government ever requested one. I don’t think you need to do any more than that.
I hope this helps. Enjoy your trip–Cuba is a fascinating country filled with so much energy, intrigue, and inspiration!
My mom, some friends and I just bought our tickets to Havana last week, under “Supporting the Cuban People.” We were very excited but now are a little concerned about the legality and the safety (my mom is concerned about the “sonic attacks,” not sure if you know anything about those but any info would be helpful). After reading through your article and the comments, it seems like we will be ok but there is still some stress. We are planning on staying at either an air b&b or casa particular. We would go to museums, local restaurants and marketplaces, dancing, and the like. We also might do an all-day tour with a local which would include lunch in his home. We were wondering about being able to go to one of the beaches as well; are there any Cuban stands or restaurants on a beach that would allow us to go there for a few hours or for the day legally? Thanks for your article and it would be so great to hear back from you! Thanks.
It sounds like you have a fantastic trip coming up; I’ve very excited for you! It sounds as though your planned itinerary fits the “Supporting the Cuban People” category well. If you’re extra concerned about following the laws, I’d pay extra attention to avoiding the restaurants on the restricted list (see here for list), do your best to engage with the local people, and–as the law states for this category–to “not include free time or recreation in excess of that consistent with a full-time schedule.” Having said that, if you travel with the intention of following the laws, you should be fine. While we don’t know what the U.S. Government will do in the future, I am not aware of any charges being filed against travelers to Cuba for violating these regulations.
Your beach question is a good one. Most of the beaches that travelers to Cuba go to are at resorts (parts of the island are kinda like Cancun for Canadians), but there are some more remote ones where you could find some locals selling goods. Not knowing what you intend to do while at the beach (relaxing in the sun vs. talking with the local vendors), it’s difficult for me to give an opinion as to whether or not that activity would count as “Supporting the Local People”. Perhaps one of your AirBnB or Casa Particular hosts could find someone who would be willing to give you a tour of one of the beaches, explaining it from a local perspective? That would certainly seem to fit the “Support the Cuban People” category.
Cuba is a very safe country for travelers so I would not be concerned. The harsh sentences that locals face for doing anything harmful to visitors (until a few years ago it was illegal for non-tourism-industry-affiliated Cubans to even speak with travelers) makes the change of your group having any issues extremely small.
As for the alleged sonic attacks, the AP recently obtained a draft FBI report that said there was no evidence that sonic waves caused any damage to Americans’ health in Cuba. While the U.S. State Department disagrees with these findings, I believe there is little to no risk that a civilian visitor is at risk. After all, what would the purpose of such an attack be? If you want to be extra cautious, you could avoid the site of the alleged attack–the U.S. Embassy in Havana.
Do be vigilant with your gastro-intestinal health, however. Bring anti-diarrhea medication, drink only purified water (either boiled or bottled), avoid ice made from tap water (most quality locations won’t serve it), and be careful what you eat from the streets.
I hope this helps!
Hello Andrew, I am heading to Cuba for the first time, with 37 seniors on a Holland America Cruise this month. We will not be arriving at the airport, where should we get the CUC currency? Can they bring back to the USA cigars and rum? And how much.? One couple does not have cruise line insurance. Should they bring their private travel insurance papers?
Thank you. I hope it all goes well.
Hey, Maureen! Your trip sounds exciting! There are two Cadeca’s where you can exchange currency in Havana, one at Calzada San Miguel Del Padron, and one right by the Basílica Menor de San Francisco de Asís. Otherwise, some of the larger hotels, like hte Hotel Nacional de Cuba also do currency exchange. Just be sure you’re getting the official rate, which you can google before you leave.
You can bring back as many cigars and as much rum as you want (as long you have room on your cruise!), as long as it’s for personal use. You can also gift rum or cigars to others, but it’s illegal to resell them.
As for the travel insurance, according to Holland America’s website, that is included in the taxes, fees, and port expenses cost they will have paid. But it’s never a bad idea to bring a copy of their private travel insurance papers along if they have them.
I’m sure you will have a fantastic trip and everything will go smoothly. Enjoy your time in wonderful Cuba!
Loved your article. My daughter (13) and I are starting to plan a trip to Cuba. My Husband is concerned about our safety traveling alone. We are not new to traveling but I’ve always gone with a girlfriend, for him safety in numbers. So I am talking to a travel agent about going under the “person to person” category. It would be my daughter, myself and the guide. As I read through all the comments I’ve started to think maybe we could go under the “Supporting the Cuban People” category. My biggest concern for this category (besides my husbands fears) is is it posable to support the people if we don’t speak their language??
I’m so glad you like the article. Cuba is an incredibly safe country. Because of harsh penalties for any transgressions against tourists, there is little risk for visitors. Of course, if fear prevents you from enjoying yourself (or causes your husband undue stress), then maybe it is better to travel in a people-to-people group. That call is ultimately up to you and your family.
As for the language barrier, it is real. As a fluent Italian speaker, I had hoped to be able to communicate easily with the locals (I’d done so fairly well in other Spanish-speaking countries). However, the dialect spoken in Cuba is quite fast and a bit different than what I was used to. Thankfully, most people involved in tourism will speak some English, and it’s not necessary to speak Spanish to support the people. You can still stay with local families, shop at local shops, eat at local restaurants, volunteer with a local organization, and have non-verbal or broken English/Spanish conversations with the people you meet. As the old saying goes, actions speak louder than words, and if you’re passionate about helping the Cuban people, that will shine through. I hope that helps! -Andrew
We got out tickets!! I got 2 other friends to go with me so hubby is happy 🙂
We are going April 3-14th! Now, what would you say is s the best area in Havana to stay. We want to book our first two nights before we arrive through airbnb. Also, how easy is it to find casas on the spot in
Trinidad and Vinales? I am traveling with a 15 year old who needs to know what the PLAN is. I’m more of a see what happens traveler. So if casas are plentiful and I can semi guarantee her we’ll have a place to stay things will go smoother.
That’s great to hear you got your tickets and that you were able to add two more people to the trip! 🙂
It really depends on what you’re looking for from your time in Havana. Do you want to be in a quiet, residential area? Do you prefer to be in the center of the action? Are you OK walking a bit to get to things?
It’s easy to find a place in Trinidad or Viñales. If you arrive by bus there will probably be people waiting with signs offering you a room to stay in. Otherwise, if you arrive by collectivo all the houses that have rooms to rent have the special symbol on them (see above in article for an image of this), and you can knock or ask to see that room. I’ve yet to hear of someone not having a place to stay in Cuba, but I suppose there is always a slight risk with anything (no one can predict the future). If you want peace of mind, you can always ask your host in Havana to set you up with a room in advance and then do the same in the next town, if you prefer. -Andrew
We like a little action 🙂 And we plan on doing plenty of walking. We don’t plan on using the bus. It is government run, right? Getting help with accommodations in Havana would help with some peoples nerves.
Thank you for your help,
The bus system you’d be using–Viazul–is, as far as I can tell, run by the government (as is pretty much everything in Cuba), although it’s not on the list of banned businesses for Americans. Taxi collectivos are more convenient, more interesting, and help the locals directly.
Since you’d like to be near some of the main attractions (is that what you meant by action?), I’d recommend finding a place in Habana Vieja. The prices will be slightly higher as it’s a bit more touristy here, but it’s also a beautifully-preserved area. Perhaps you could book the first two nights there, and if you feel like changing areas once you’ve explored more of the city, you could do so after that. Each neighborhood has a unique feel so it really comes down to your taste. If you’re looking for nightlife action, Vedado or Miramar has more, but they are a bit further away from some of the stuff you’ll probably want to be doing during the daytime. Centro is between both, but there’s not so much going on in that area at night.
I m planning to go to cuba alone for about 5 days. I am 57and a teacher. residing in NYC. Is it safe?
Yes, Cuba is absolutely safe! Penalties for any action against tourists is strict, so there is little crime against visitors. The only “safety” issue I faced while there was food safety; be sure to drink bottled water and be careful what you eat on the streets. I hope this helps alleviate any concerns you had. You’ll have a fantastic time in Cuba!
Thanks for your article! It’s one of the best I have found on Travelling to Cuba . Very informative and exciting!
I am Argentinian and I am planning to travel with my Girlfriend from Miami to Cuba in May for a 10 days trip.
Up to my understanding we still have to comply with US laws for travelling to Cuba besides not being US Citizens.
We would fall in the ” Support the Cuban People” Category. We are planning to stay only on AirBnb or Casas , eating in Local resturants and have activities to live the Cuban culture to it fullest.
However we have 2 doubts . The law states it has to be a ” Full Time Schedule” . Does it mean we have to take those activities at least 6 hours a day by our 10 days of travel? Or full time only include week days?
Also , we are planning to visit Havana , Vinuales and Varadero or a Cayo Beach. I am worried that our stay in the beaches , even been on local houses , may not fall in the ”Supporting the cuban people ” Category.
Please could you help us?
Thanks in advance!
I’m so glad you found the article helpful; your words mean a lot! 🙂
Yes, you are correct in that you have to follow the US laws, even though you’re not a US citizen. Your plans for what to do sound like they perfectly fit the “Support the Cuban People” category. And yes, it would mean that you’d have to do it every day (I imagine an exception would be made if you got ill and had to rest in your Casa for a day, of course).
As for the beach stay, it really depends what you do there. Are you planning on just relaxing in the sun all day, or are you going to interact with the locals, learning about their culture and helping to improve their lives? If you do the latter, I think you’re OK. The key is to avoid “touristic activities” within your full-time schedule, so if you’re tired after a long day of engaging with the locals and want to dip your feet in the water for a few minutes, I don’t think that would violate the spirit of the law. After all, you need to be mentally and physically well if you want to help the Cuban people, right? I hope that helps. 🙂 -Andrew
I forgot one more question.
Not being US Citizens , we would be ok if we take a flight to Panama and then Havana or we will still have to comply with US regulations?
What airline would you be taking?
Awesome article! Cuba has been on my list for years…Ive been able to visit really cool countries all over the world but its not till May that I will be able to travel to Cuba. Although I am not a professional blogger, I do make edited videos of my travel including interviews with locals and such. Do you think I could qualify under the JOURNALIST category or only applies to people that work for Discovery Channel and such??
Hey, Omar! I’m excited to hear that you’re going to Cuba! Your project sound super interesting by the way; I’d love to see those videos!
Professional (and perhaps non-professional) bloggers have traveled to Cuba under the journalist category in the past without incident, although from reading the statute, it sounds like the idea is that it should be a professional thing. You can find the specific statute on this page if you search for ‘§515.563 Journalistic activities in Cuba’: https://www.ecfr.gov/cgi-bin/retrieveECFR?gp=&SID=adfa4cc86cce37c37ee65e43c5dab107&mc=true&n=pt31.3.515&r=PART&ty=HTML#se31.3.515_1560
As far as the Cuban Government is concerned, if you’re there on a general visa, you’re not there to do work, so if anyone were to ask, don’t say that you are there for journalistic reasons. Journalism would be (or could be) the reasoning you provide to the U.S. Government.
I’m sorry I cannot give you a clearer answer; with the continual changes to Cuban policy it’s always difficult to know with certainty how the US Government will act in the future.
Yeah Ill give them that reason but Im also going to learn about the cigars and other things.
Today I booked my ticket for 73 bucks after using my southwest points.
Just 4 days but Im used to travel like that.
Thanks for the quick reply. I have some interesting visas in my passport doubt they’d freak out about a Cuban stamp.
Hey, Omar. Glad to hear you booked the ticket (and at such a good price)! I used Southwest as well and they were great. 🙂 And 4 days will give you a nice introduction to the country; if you decide you love it you can always return at a later date!
You’re right not to be concerned about the Cuban passport stamp. I’ve had no issues traveling since my trip.
I have celiac disease and cannot tolerate gluten or flax seed. How hard will it be to find food in Cuba. Also, can I bring bread into the country. Going for 5 days in June. Thanks in advance!
From what I’ve heard from others with similar conditions, there is not a lot of awareness of Gluten intolerance (or Gluten contamination) in Cuba. Having said that, I found grilled meats, rice, and beans readily available in almost all restaurants. Fruit is common; vegetables less so. I would avoid anything deep fried, save perhaps plantains that might just be cooked in a skillet. Spices are rarely added.
As for bringing bread into the country, I found this Spanish-languagge listing of foodstuffs that are restricted from Cuba: http://www.sld.cu/sitios/med-veterinaria/temas.php?idv=20627
I don’t see bread on there (although I suppose some of the terms on there could be open for debate as to what they mean). I myself brought crackers and granola bars without issue.
It might be worth it to contact the writer of this blog, who apparently books gluten-free tours of Cuba; perhaps she would be able to direct you to some safe restaurants: https://glutenfreetravelsite.com/gluten-free-cuba.php
Wow Andrew, that’s a great article!
My husband and I would like to take my daughter to ballet summer school in Cuba. The school information says they will issue a D2 visa for her, so I assume this falls under educational activities… However, she needs an adult with her, and our plan is to go both of us; what kind of visas will we have? Are we under the same category with her? Do we need to have our own category? Have you come across such info?
I’m new to these Cuba restrictions and categories, but from reading previous comments I see that there is a support for the Cuban people, and it’s as simple as keeping a diary/itinerary?. We are planning to stay with locals through Airbnb anyway, and of course eating and shopping at local businesses too. And we still need to find things to do while she’s in school.
We will be staying next to the Ballet Nacional, do you know the area? Do you have any suggestions? We love mingling with people, learning the history, talking, walking around
Also, her classes are only M-F 9:00 to 1:00, for two weeks, will this be sufficient you think (I mean for the restrictions)?
The Embassy website is not very clear… Any help, or reading materials will be greatly appreciated.
I’m glad you enjoyed the article! Your plans for the summer sound fantastic.
Your question is quite complex. Would you mind emailing me at [email protected] so I can send you a more detailed response?
Just returned traveling under Support for the Cuban people category. Had a great time and the weather was perfect. We stayed in Old Havana in an airb&b, choosing to walk most of the time. To say we felt uncomfortable at first is an understatement. My brother in law had travelled there last year and he spoke the language which was a huge asset. Walking the streets you get to see how tough their life has been, but we never felt un safe. The people were very friendly and seemed happy. We brought a suitcase with supplies for an orphanage as well as things for our house keeper. She was so happy to get my wifes curling iron, she was hugging it to her chest and smiling. I read a previous post that Havan is the cleanest city around, well, that’s just not the case, but it is still quite nice. I’m a cigar smoker and rum enthusiast so I was in my element. Hotel Nacional is a great place to purchase and enjoy both. Pick up a torch lighter there as you’ll be hard pressed to find them anywhere else. $7.00 and comes with a can of butane. Food was very good, though the beef was hit or miss. Fish was excellent. The old cars were a site to see. Like being at a car show everyday. I was told you needed $25 to leave Cuba but we were never asked for money, so not sure if that is still necessary. Upon arrival back in the states, we breezed through customs with only questions about items to declare. I brought back three boxes of cigars and bottles of rum with no problems. So would I go again, probably not but I’m pushing 60 and enjoy traveling more comfortable. My son wants to go back, though as does his Uncle.
Hey, Mark. Thanks so much for sharing your experiences! It sounds like you had an enjoyable time, even if things were somewhat uncomfortable.
That’s fantastic that you brought a suitcase full of supplies for an orphanage and your house keeper! Those things are much-needed and much-appreciated, as you clearly saw. Your trip shows that you really can make a difference in the life of ordinary Cubans by visiting. And thanks for your insights on the lighters and exiting the country!
I am hoping to book a last-minute flight to Cuba feb 26-march 2. I love world travel, and have lived abroad twice. Having said that, I haven’t been out of the country in 11 years and I am very nervous. Mostly about CUC v CP. I understand some Spanish from having a native speaker boyfriend for a few years– I’m working on the speaking part. Mostly, I intend to walk around Havana, and to dance salsa and bachata. I will be alone, and hopefully meeting an American friend who will be visiting family with her Cuban husband (they live in the states). I have a salsa instructor friend here who conducts twice-monthly tours of Cuba. He told me not to fly into terminal 2 if I can help it, as 8 hour delays getting luggage are common, and they regularly steal small things out of luggage, but only in that terminal. This is troubling. I would like to carry on, for that reason, but I also want to bring my own (powerful) sunscreen, and I will need more than 3 ounces for the week! Any tips on packing? I also understand small gifts are appreciated for guides, children, etc. What are your thoughts?
That’s great that you’re thinking about visiting Cuba! Don’t let the currency issues worry you. The exchange process is straightforward and CUC can be used pretty much everywhere you visit. Speaking some Spanish will definitely make your trip easier (and more enjoyable).
I don’t know anyone who has had an issue at terminal 2 personally, but considering your friend’s expertise, I wouldn’t discount his warning. I used a TSA-approved combination lock to keep my backpack closed. Perhaps you could divide the sunscreen into multiple 3.4 oz containers (or by a few separate smaller ones)? TSA guidelines restrict travelers to one quart-sized plastic bag full of 3.4 oz containers for carry ons.
I’ve included a downloadable packing list in the article to make sure you don’t forget anything, but one thing I’d be sure to bring would be wet wipes, as toilet paper is not common (and carrying around a roll of toilet paper is often annoying). Yes, small gifts are always appreciated! Crayons, colored pencils, markers, pens–these will go to good use!
I hope this helps. You’ll have a great time in Cuba! Let me know if you have any more questions!
Andrew, We are planning to travel to Cuba under the “support the Cuban people” rule. I understand that we have to keep track of our activities. Is there an example itinerary of a trip that follows this rule? Is walking around Havana on our own supporting the Cuban people? Or is that a tourist activity? OR, would I write about my activities more specifically? For example, instead or “walking around Havana” I might list the buildings I saw, the roads we walked on? I guess I’m wondering how carefree we can be? Of course we will take a few tours and eat at locally owned restaurants, stay in locally owned rooms, and listen to Cuban music. I’m imagining my “full time” itinerary. Is that 8 hours a day? If I spend an hour at each meal, two hours listening to music each night…and then taking a tour or walking around for three hours during the day, am I satisfying the itinerary requirement? Our spirit in taking this trip, I believe, supports the Cuban people. We aren’t interested in resorts at all. We want to learn about people and culture. I’m nervous about the rules though. I’m worried we might make a mistake and not even realize it.
I don’t have an example itinerary, unfortunately. I wouldn’t be too worried about accidentally breaking the rules; if you’re doing your best to follow them that should be fine. As far as I know, no one has been charged before by the U.S. Government for accidentally violating the terms of their trip to Cuba.
Having said that, if you want to ensure you’re following the letter of the law, I’d recommend staying at a privately-owned residence (ex: casa particular, AirBnB), eat a privately-owned restaurants, buying goods/souvenirs from privately-owned shops, and go to private locales for your entertainment. In addition, I’d try and engage the local people when you do these things. Talk to the local about life (even if certain topics–like Cuban politics–might be off limits) when they give you a tour of Havana. Maybe find a school to donate supplies to and speak to the teachers (if you have a teaching background). Or perhaps you’re an entrepreneur and you want to help a local business-owner be more efficient in their marketing.
I’d also recommend recording what you’ve done in a journal. You don’t need to write down which streets you’ve walked down, but I would suggest outlining what you’ve done that day. That way you can create an itinerary when you get home just in case someone asks you for it in the future. As far as I know, the U.S. Government hasn’t provided examples of what these should look like, otherwise I’d give you an example.
Does this make sense? Let me know if you have any more questions or need clarification!
Thank you so much, this is very helpful. The law never does state exactly what’s expected!
Glad you found it useful, Emily, and yes, you’re correct. 🙂 Have an enjoyable time in Cuba!
First off, great article. Thanks for all this info. I’m looking to go to Cuba next summer (2019). I wanted to know if you could recommend a travel agency/group/company/etc. that you either used or have only heard positive reviews about. I want it to be one of those educational trips with a tour guide. Thank you!!
I’m glad you enjoyed the article! Shoot me an email at [email protected] and I can send you a list.
Your article is AMAZING!! Its funny how I’ve been to 8+ countries yet Cuba makes me the most hesitant simply because of the “legal” travel restrictions. In one month I want to surprise my older sister with a trip to Cuba but now I’m not sure if that will happen. (Spur of the moment idea) What would work best for us is People to people (support Cuban people). Now after my hour of researching I want to know do I have to go through a legal US or Cuban travel services for the “people to people” or can i do this by myself? i.e shop at local markets, stay at Casa Particulares, visit art galleries and just keep the receipts? is that all it takes?
I’m so glad you enjoyed the article! I do hope your trip can work–Cuba is a fascinating country!
You can plan a trip under the ‘Support for the Cuban People’ exemption by yourself. The requirement is to have a full-time schedule that is designed around helping the Cuban people (rather than relaxing on the beach, etc.). So yes, staying at casa particulares, eating at paladares, shopping at locally-owned restaurants–those will all help. To follow the letter of the law, I’d also add a service component to your trip. Try and give back in some way. If you’ve got a background in entrepreneurship, for example, you could assist a local business with marketing. Even just having multiple meaningful conversations with the local people can help.
Keeping receipts is useful, but I’d also keep a written diary. Not only will this help you to remember the interesting details of your trip, but it will also help you to create an itinerary of what you did when you return home. While I don’t know anyone who has been asked to submit one, the U.S. Government does have the legal right to request an itinerary from you to ensure compliance for up to 5 years after you return.
I hope this helps!
Thanks for the reply!
I decided that i will buy a bulk of school supplies and children clothes to give to a grade school or two (possibly spread out different things and each day start the morning go out with giving supplies to a school, I’ll be there 4 night 5 days). I read that there are a few schools in Havana that would be more than grateful to have such things. However, instead of taking pictures (and disturbing classes) Im thinking just drop them off but do you have a creative way that proves I did this? Could you help with an itinerary example on what would look lawfully correct.
I was wondering are AirBnB’s considered as a casa particulares? Im used to flying into a country staying in hostels or simply camping out, however this will be too huge of a culture shock (flying into a country and looking for a place to stay) for my sister I’d prefer to have our accommodations booked ahead of time I can do that with AirBnB but if its not the same as casa particulares is it possible to book a casa particulares ahead of time?
Because the tickets are cheaper through 3rd party sites after reading “Thankfully, most airlines allow you to purchase your Tourist Card when you buy your ticket.” if they dont offer a tourist Card where could I purchase one? At the airport? ahead of time(online)? is there a long waiting list?
I think your school supplies idea sounds great! I don’t think there is a need to prove that you’ve donated them; your word should suffice.
Unfortunately, I don’t have an example of what a lawful itinerary would look like, as the U.S. Government hasn’t provided much guidance other than saying that it should be a “full-time schedule”. There aren’t even court cases I could use as examples from which to construct a hypothetical itinerary. Use your best judgement–what seems like full-time/within the spirit of the law to you–and you should be fine.
Yes, an AirBnB would be considered a casa particulare. You can find and book casa particulares in advance without AirBnB through a wide variety of websites. Just Google ‘Casa Particulares Havana’ and a good number pop up.
If they don’t offer you an opportunity to buy the card in advance from the airline when you check out, you could either contact the airline directly to purchase one ahead of time or get one at the airport. When I flew through Miami, there was a kiosk right by the gate with only a short (5 minute) line. If you get to the airport early enough (or have a long connection time) I doubt you’d have a problem, but if you want to be safe and buy in advance I’d contact the airline directly.
I hope that helps.
Thank you so much!! I’ve booked my Air BnB and will be set to fly out next month!!
Awesome! Have a great time, Rae, and let us know how it goes! 🙂
This was an awesome read! A friend and I traveled to Cuba (cruise) Sep 2017 and we had an AMAZING TIME! Cuba is like no other! I’ll tell anyone, “GO WHILE YOU CAN”
Hey, Alexandria! So glad you enjoyed both the article and your time in Cuba. Keep spreading the word! 🙂
Your site is amazing! Thank you. It has helped me prepare for our trip.
I have one question. If we are to tip staff in our Airbnb and in restaurants or a driver taking us to Viñales, HOW MUCH should we tip (we were told not to overtip by our Airbnb host). We are taking the “Free Walking Tour” that I read about from travelers on TripAdvisor and of course it is expected that we tip our guide at the end. I understand that Cubans pay about $20 a month for rent, so what would you say is a proper tip to give.
does it make a difference to the Cuban whether we tip in CUCs, $, or Euros? The reason I ask is that Americans are charged about 13 per cent to convert $. I highly doubt that would be the case for Cubans, but would like to get your opinion on it.
So glad you are enjoying the site and that the information has helped you prepare for your trip.
Great questions. If it were me, I would tip in CUC so that I’m not forcing the locals to go exchange the money. And with regards to the exchange rate, I would bring Euros to Cuba to convert rather than USD as you will get a better exchange rate. 🙂 As for how much you should tip, it depends on where you are. Assuming that service is not already included in the bill, 10% is a good tip at a restaurant. For musicians or tour guides, a tip of 2 CUC is pretty good. I didn’t tip at any of the Casa Particulares that I stayed at, but I did bring gifts from the States, like soap, shampoo, and some spices (thinks that might not always be readily available for your hosts). 1-3 CUC for a taxi ride is sufficient.
I hope this helps!
Thank you very much Andrew! Very helpful indeed!
Happy to have helped, Lina. 🙂
Is it necessary to go through a Cuba tour group who specializes in Cuban travel for the individual itinerary? A person has put together a 7 day tour itinerary which costs about $636 per person and that does not include lodging, which we’ve arranged through Airbnb. What do you suggest we do? Cut the itinerary way back and plan to arrange our Support the people of Cuba when we get there and keep track with daily diary of our events? He put down a couple of expensive meals/tours and we don’t feel it’s necessary. Any assistance is greatly appreciated.
Hey, Deb! It’s certainly not necessary to go through a group, especially if you’re not interested in the meals and tours they are offering (or the price tag). Many people travel to Cuba solo and have no issues (legally or otherwise).
I would recommend a tour group for someone who doesn’t want to worry about arranging the logistics and is looking for experiences that they might not know about or have time to arrange themselves. But it’s not legally necessary to be in a group if you’re self-motivated to follow the requirements for whatever category you travel to Cuba under. Hope that helps!
We are traveling under Support the people of Cube and are absolutely willing to arrange our own tours.
We have found a couple of adventures we want to do through Airbnb, but will it be fairly easy to arranges tours while we’re there?
Hey, Deb. It really depends on what you’re interested in I suppose. If you want to do something that visitors regularly do (like riding horseback in Viñales), then that won’t be difficult to arrange when there. If you want to spend an afternoon helping the national baseball team with their English–that might take some advanced planning. In general, the more exclusive/exceptional the experience, the more difficult it will be to arrange when there.
Besides the Visa/tourist card is there any kind of license we need to travel to Cuba?
No, that’s all. Enjoy your time in Cuba! 🙂
Fantastic article. Thank you for such detailed information. My husband and I love to travel and now we have two children and have loved traveling with them. My son is 2 and my daughter is 4 and we are leaving for Cuba in a couple of days. We are renting a casa particular in Havana. It’s grey area for us because we booked our original trip to Cuba prior to Trump’s change but we were scheduled to fly out a few days after the hurricane hit in October. So we canceled our flight and rescheduled a month later for March. I am a school teacher and we have arranged to donate and visit with the school a few days out of the week. I am still on the fence but I think we are going with the Support for the Cuban people Tourist Card because we can come up with plenty to fill our itinerary but do you know if the school wouldn’t count (if it’s government run)?
Also, we are pretty well traveled with kids and have that part down but any advice for bringing little ones that maybe someone passed on to you about Cuba specifically? We read not to bring strollers so we are bringing our backpacks that they can sit in. Also, bringing milk (small juice box ones that don’t have to be refrigerated) and some basics foods/snacks for them, and some just in case medicines.
Thanks for your help (especially with this article). We are soooo excited to create more wonderful memories with our family in such a magical country.
Thanks for reaching out. It sounds like you’ve got a fantastic trip to Cuba lined up.
Even though the schools may be run by the Cuban Government, you should be fine.
I can tell you have experience traveling with your kids before, as you’re already planning to do the most important stuff (bring snacks, medicine, no strollers). I’m not sure what your kids usually do in their free time, but you might want to bring coloring books or something to entertain them since they probably won’t be watching children’s TV programing. In terms of places to visit, I’d check out the El Guiñol and El Arco Theaters (both have puppet shows that should be entertaining even if you don’t speak Spanish), as well as the futuristic Parque Coppelia (for ice cream). Hope this helps!
Enjoy your time in Cuba–I love the attitude. 🙂
Hi Andrew, We are the wedding photographers who wants fly to Cuba directly from NYC to do reportage about cuban weddings. Do you think we can qualify for the journalist category? How dose it work .Do we have to prove it at the airport before we leave US? ? Also, I do have freelance press ID, do you think it would help to leave the country and get back legally? Thank you
That sounds like an exciting project! If your purpose in going to Cuba is mainly journalistic, then yes, I think you would qualify. You don’t need to prove anything at the airport; you just tell the U.S. authorities that is your reason for visiting. The journalism category you’ll be applying under matters to the U.S. Government only. I would not advertise that you’re a journalist to the Cuban Government, however, as they might not allow you into the country. Instead, if they ask why you are visiting, say you are a tourist. I wouldn’t worry about bringing your freelance press ID. I hope this helps!
Hi there. I am hoping you can help. I am traveling to Cancun (CUN) for a wedding later this year from Boston, USA. I am a legal, US Citizen with a Valid and current US Passport. I was hoping (since Cuba is so close to Cancun) to get on a flight from CUN, travel to HAV and spend a couple days there, then return home to BOS via Miami. I am wondering what (if any) issues I will run into going from CUN to HAV as a US Citizen, and what issues I would run into from HAV to MIA as I did not fill out one of the 12 reasons for going to Cuba, as I didn’t leave from the US. Or would the airline give me the tourist visa at the airport returning home? Would US customs give me an issues coming back in from Cuba to US if I didn’t originally depart from US?
That’s a really interesting question. To begin, essentially everyone who visits Cuba has to get the same kind of tourist card (essentially the same thing as a visa in this case), regardless of where their arriving flight originated. So it doesn’t matter so much that you’re coming from Cancun vs. Miami. In Cancun, you’ll be asked to buy a tourist card before boarding (either at the gate or at check-in). As of recently, the cost was $20, which you can also pay in pesos (a better deal).
Your correct in your assumption that you’ll still have to abide by the U.S. regulations when in Cuba since you’re a U.S. citizen. This means, even though you’re traveling via Mexico, you still have to visit for one of the pre-approved reasons. As such, you’ll want to base your activities in Cuba on whatever category you’ve decided your trip fits into. I would also keep a written record of this in case they ask you for an itinerary at some point, which is within the Government’s rights for up to 5 years after your trip.
I’m not entirely sure what they will ask you when you return to the States since you came via Mexico–they might not even ask you anything–but if they inquire as to the purpose of your trip, give them an honest answer based upon whichever category you chose. What airlines are you thinking of flying with on your trip? Yours is a situation I’ve not yet encountered, and while I’m certain that you’re not doing anything illegal, it might be worthwhile to double check with the airlines (especially the one you’re returning to the United States with) just to be safe.
I hope this helps somewhat, even if it’s not a definitive answer.
Excellent page and articles!
My girlfriend is Cuban and holds a US passport. I hold a US passport as well. She invited me to visit her family and stay with them for four days. Do I qualify to get a tourist visa under family category?
We don’t live together here in the US yet. We are in the process of getting engaged shortly.
Hey, Joe! Thanks for the kind words–I’m glad you found the articles helpful.
The statute is a bit complicated, but my understanding is that no you wouldn’t be able to get a tourist visa under that category since you neither live with or are married to your girlfriend, meaning that legally you two are not family and thus her family members are not your family members. You can check the statute out here yourself: https://www.law.cornell.edu/cfr/text/31/515.561
I wouldn’t keep this from letting you visit, however. I’m sure you can find a way to qualify under one of the other categories!
Hi Andrew, thank you for writing this amazing article and taking the time to answer all our questions. I am planning to go to Cuba next month and meet some friends there. I am planning to travel with Copa Airlines since is the cheapest but also other airlines don’t have tickets available in the dates I am planning to go. This flights goes from Washington, DC to Panama and Panama-Havana, the only issue I have is the timing since it will arrive to cuba at 1:00 am and the returning flight will be at 6:20 am which means I will have to be at the airport at least at 5:00 am. Would be easy to find a taxi during those times ( 1 am and 4:00 am ) to get to the airport and casa particular? This airline doesn’t include the health insurance, but I can buy the tourist card at the airport for $50 us + taxes, is this fee the same for everybody or it depends on the airline? I am also confused with the Health insurance since some websites says if you buy it with a USA company they might not accept it there, but I don’t know how much will cost if I buy it when I arrive in Cuba and how much of a headache will be (long lines, high fees?) Would you recommend exchanging dollar to euros in order to get a better exchange rate on Cuba?
Thank you so much!!!
Thanks for the kind words—they mean a lot.
I’vet not been at the airport in the middle of the night, but I doubt you’ll have too much trouble getting a taxi, as there are usually a ton of them lined up near the exit gates. Depending on where you’re staying in town, it could be challenging to find a taxi to the airport in the morning. I would suggest booking one in advance (your casa particular host can help you) for your return trip to the airport. If you want to be extra cautious, you could arrange to have your host pick you up at the airport.
The fee for the tourist card seems to vary depending on the airline. For instance, I paid $50 for mine while traveling with Southwest, while the cost for those traveling with United is $75.
Everyone who travels to Cuba is compelled to buy health insurance. Usually the health insurance is included in the cost of your ticket—my Southwest stub was my proof of insurance while in Cuba—but it could be different with Copa Airlines. I didn’t find anything specific on their website saying either way, so I would contact them directly if I were you. It also looks like you’re required to fill out this form and present it when you check in to your flight: https://www.copaair.com/en/web/us/affidavit-travel-to-cuba
Yes, I would recommend bringing dollars to convert in Cuba rather than Euros, as there is a 10% surcharge for converting with USD, although I would double check with your bank to ensure that fees (if you have any) for getting Euros aren’t so high that they offset the savings you get in Cuba otherwise.
I hope this helps! You’re going to have an amazing time in Cuba!
Thank you again for taking the time to reply and for all your advice!
Sure, Vanessa–happy to help. 🙂
This has been a super helpful article. I am a U.S citizen in Costa Rica at the moment hoping to visit Cuba. I will fly back to Costa Rica after and then home to the states a month later.. do you think they will even know that I went? Do you know what an acceptable itinerary looks like. Is it something that I can just create my self? Thank you so much for your help!
Glad you found the article helpful. Let me work backward with your questions. Yes, you can absolutely create your own itinerary. I don’t have an example of an acceptable one to show you, since the U.S. Government has never provided one. Having said that, filling your day with activities related to whichever category you select should fit the requirements. I know of no one yet who has done that and gotten in trouble. The important thing is to avoid tourist activities–like sunning yourself on the beach. I don’t know if the U.S. Government would ever know if you were in Cuba or not. In the past some people would travel their illegally via Mexico (and you wouldn’t get a passport stamp), but since it’s now easier to visit, the Cuban officials may stamp your passport upon entrance (I know they did for mine). If it were me, I’d plan on following the regulations.
I hope this helps!
I am traveling to Cuba at the end of June, and I am flying there via Mexico (where I’ve just spent the last 2 months), however, I fly directly back from Cuba to New York. Do you know if customs will red flag me (or whatever) because I came back directly from Cuba? I won’t have them stamp my passport of course, the ONLY thing I’m worried about is the direct flight.
Also, I am wondering how does one qualify as a journalist? I have a blog, so do you think would that qualify me? Alternatively, I can claim support for the Cuban People..
Thanks in advance!
I hope you’re having a great time in Mexico! When you arrive in New York I would expect that you’ll have to answer for why you were in Cuba. Thankfully, it’s perfectly legal for Americans to travel to Cuba, as long as your trip fits one of the categories I outlined above.
A good number of bloggers have traveled to Cuba under the journalism exception in the past, and as far as I know, no one has gotten in trouble for it. Of course, since the U.S. Government has 5 years from your return to request proof, this could change in the future. Just be sure your day-to-day matches up with that of a journalist. If you choose this option, tell the Cuban government you’re traveling as a regular tourist, as they might not let you in (they don’t like foreign journalists). Or, as you say, you could also do the Support for the Cuban People option, as long as your schedule is filled with activities designed to do just that.
I hope this helps!
Thanks for sharing your experience of the country – that is great material and very thorough.
I am wondering which method you used to get into the country on the good graces of our own (I am a US citizen)?
It sounds like Support for the Cuban People would be a very option for me. If you went this route, would you mind sharing some information around the schedule you followed? It would be very useful to understand what is considered a “full schedule” and what sort of activities and free-time was allowed?
Thanks for the kind words! Sorry for the delay in responding; I’ve been on the road myself.
I went to Cuba under the journalism exemption. With regards to what is a “full schedule” under the Support for the Cuban People category, the laws are written in such a way that it’s really up to your own, personal interpretation. Having said that, if you want to play things safe I’d consider a full schedule to be one where you did activities aimed at helping the Cuban people in some way roughly the whole day (or at least work day), giving yourself the appropriate time to rest and eat. The important thing is to avoid purely tourist activities, like simply sunning yourself on the beach.
I hope this helps.
The information here on Cuba is great – I will be visiting for the first time in a couple of weeks and want to make sure I am prepared. While I have found a lot of information for tourists, there is less about visiting family, which is what we are planning. While we have hotel reservations (which can be canceled), we have since been in contact with cousins in Cuba and they are eager for us to stay with them. Is there any specific documentation required? While staying at a hotel appears comfortable, I am also aware that this may appear pretentious – which I do not want to do! If I am staying at the family home, do you have any suggestions as to the best way to compensate them fairly (despite their opposition) and what amount would be fair (which: CUC or US$?)? I plan to take toys for their children. I know that they have periodic access to internet – Are travelers allowed to bring electronics (ie. iPad)? I don’t want to insult my family either, but do believe that they will be accepting of gifts for the kids.
I have searched for answers to these and other questions, with no luck. Any suggestions or recommended websites would be greatly appreciated.
Thanks for the friendly words!
With regards to documentation for staying with relatives in Cuba, this is not something that I’ve dealt with before in the past. With that in mind, here are my thoughts:
-I would absolutely stay with our cousins in Cuba—the experience of living with Cubans will be much more rewarding than a stay at any of the so-often drab hotels.
-The going rate for a room in a Casa Particular can range from anywhere between $15-30 (CUC is 1-1 with USD). Not knowing your relatives, it’s difficult to anticipate how they would respond if you tried paying them. If you want to play it safe, perhaps you could bring them a variety of things that they don’t have that they would like. Maybe you could ask them in advance what, if anything, they need?
-Yes, you can bring electronics, but if you bring more than $5,000 worth, you have to declare it or risk confiscation. Prohibited items include narcotics, explosives, pornography, anti-Cuba literature, aerial drones, stand-alone GPS devices, walkie-talkies, and items considered to be weapons.
-If you are the spouse or child of a Cuban citizen who is going to visit a blood relative (less than three generations removed, I believe), you can get a Family Visa. I would contact the Cuban embassy directly about this if you want to do it in advance as there are some forms to fill out. I know you will need proof of your kinship (ex: birth certificates) if you want to go down this route.
-If you prefer to travel as a tourist, the Cuban government probably won’t ask you when you enter where you’re staying (they didn’t ask me when I entered).
I hope this is helpful.
We are going to Cuba at the end of July for 6 nights. We are planning Havana for 2 days, 2 days in Veradero and 1 day in Vinales and the last night stay in Havana as our Flight leaves Saturday afternoon.
Do you think it’s too rushed? What do you think the costs of transportation will be? We don’t know how much cash to bring. There will be 4 of us- 2 adults and 2 kids. I booked 2 nights at an Airbnb place and the other nights I have not booked it yet b/c I am still debating how to arrange our times there..
We are flying aeromexico from San Diego to Cancun to Havana. They said we can get the visa for $35-50 at the airport. We have not purchased travelers insurance. I read that it’s not necessary but after reading your article you stated it’s mandatory.
Also at the end of July, you think the weather will be super humid? 🙁
I think I read you can bring back $400 worth of cuban cigars per adult? Is that true?
Do you think I need water pills to make sure the water is safe to drink?
Many Thanks and awaiting your reply.
I’ll respond to both your messages here. 🙂
Your U.S. insurance will not work in Cuba, and the Cuban government requires you to purchase specific insurance that covers their health system. The cost of this insurance was included automatically with my ticket with Southwest Airlines. Since each airline is different, I would contact Aeromexico directly to see if the ticket price includes insurance (I couldn’t find this online).
That schedule seems rather rushed to me, especially considering the time it takes to get between cities in Cuba. I would recommend cutting out Varadero (an underwhelming resort town) and instead focussing just on Viñales and Havana.
The cost of transport between Havana and Viñales really varies depending on what you take and your bargaining skills. One way on a Viazul bus (book these a few days in advance) was 12 CUC ($12, 1-1 conversion rate) last time I checked. A taxi collectivo one way might run you anywhere between 15 and 30 CUC per person, depending on your ability to haggle.
Yes, the weather will be humid at the end of July—think southern Florida humidity! Don’t anticipate having air conditioning, either. If you can find a cooling blanket, it might be worth bringing.
You can actually bring back as many cigars as you want.
The tap water is not safe to drink in Cuba. Only drink bottled or specially purified water while there. The water pills you mention or something like a life straw would also work. Avoid putting any tap water in your mouth, whether as ice in a drink or while brushing your teeth.
I hope this helps.
Wonderful article. Thank you!
Not sure if anyone brought it up, but do you know if traveling to Cuba now (july 2018) will make getting Global Entry later this year an issue?
Has anyone gone to Cuba under ‘support for the cuban people’ and gone on to get GE? Thanks!
Would it make a difference if you flew through cancun, and assuming your passport wasn’t stamped; maybe less of an issue as there wouldn’t be as much of a ‘trail’.
thanks for any info!
Thanks for the kind words. If you visit Cuba legally (and can prove that your trip was legal) that should not be an issue. People have visited Cuba in the past and still gotten Global Entry. I would be more concerned with being turned down if they somehow were to figure out you flew through Cancun.
Hope that helps.
My wife and I went to Havana in 2016 and loved it. We live in southern Florida, so the flight from FLL to Havana was quick and easy.The trip was a pleasant surprise The city was safer than we imagined. the people were friendlier than we had hoped for and we enjoyed the food and beverages and felt the cost were very reasonable. We loved the architecture. I just booked a return visit to Cuba for February of 2019. This time we will be staying in the old city at Plaza Vieja.
Thanks for sharing your story, Joe! I’m so glad you had such an enjoyable time in Cuba–and that you’re heading back in 2019! Let us know how it goes. 🙂
Hello Andrew. I am coming late to the conversation. Most of what I am reading says I have to fly from certain places in the US to Cuba. Why can’t I fly from LAX to Cancun or Mexico City, then in Havana? Are the restrictions the same for a single person with the intention of spending just a few days in Havana to “see the sites?” Also, I still do not understand how I “claim” one of the twelve reason I am visiting Cuba. With my case, I think “People to People” may be the best way to go. But HOW do I claim that reason? WHERE and WHEN do I claim it? How will the Cuban Government track what I am doing to show support or that I am violating the reason I listed? I just don’t want to get stuck for 7-10 days having to follow a certain group of people around just to see Havana. I would like to go as a single guy that just wants to experience the culture, eat some food, spend some money and get back home. Any suggestions? JIM
All good questions! I’ll tackle them in order:
1.) You absolutely can fly to Cancun and then onto Havana. That in itself is not illegal. However, legally you’re still required as a U.S. citizen to follow the same regulations that anyone who has traveled directly from the U.S. to Cuba has to follow. Whether or not the U.S. Government ever finds out if you were in Cuba (you might not get a passport stamp), is another questions.
2.) Yes, the restrictions are the same regardless of how long you intend to stay or how many people are in the group.
3.) The Cuban Government doesn’t care why you’re in Cuba, only the U.S. does. Depending on the airport, you may have to state your reason for visiting Cuba on a form when entering or exiting the country. Technically, there’s no one who is watching you while you travel. Rather, it’s all on the honor system that you’re following the stated purpose for your visit. The U.S. Government does have the power to request a daily itinerary from you up to 5 years after you return to Cuba, so as long as you’re able to produce one that matches what you said you were going to Cuba for, you should be fine.
4.) You can absolutely visit Cuba solo without having to stay with a group for 7-10 days. You can experience the culture, taste the food, and meet the locals legally. However, as far as the U.S. Government is concerned, you’re not allowed to just do this—the focus of your trip cannot be tourism. Instead, you need to base your trip on one of the pre-approved categories. Fortunately doing things like volunteering, taking classes, or doing professional research can also allow you to touch on the things that you’ve described being interested in. I know this might not be exactly what you want to hear, but if you want to legally visit Cuba, this is the way to do it. Certainly you can ignore this advice, but it’s uncertain to what degree the U.S. Government will try and enforce these regulations in the future.
I hope this helps.
My friend and I are planning to go Cuba but I guess she did not know the rules to visit Cuba as you listed here. We just wanted to go Cuba for 3-4 days and stay in Havana city. However, we just think to book the flights from DC to Cuba and travel solo as travelers. Honestly, I don’t know which categorize to plan to visit Cuba. Can you help me or any ideas you think of that fit for us to travel to Cuba? My friend is only a house wife and I am a medical lab tech. We plan to go in Nov so you think it is also a good time of the year to visit Cuba? thank you very much.
I think November is a good time to visit Cuba, as you’ll be avoiding the summer heat. There is a small chance of hurricanes then, but usually by late October most of the storms have gone away.
In terms of categories, there is no easy answer. Perhaps you could look into doing some medical volunteering since you that relates to your profession and your friend could find something else she’s passionate about aiding with (what does she most love to do in life?), which would allow you to travel under the Support for the Cuban People category. Honest and well-meaning help is always welcomed in Cuba. And from personal experience, I can say that trips that are focused on giving back end up being the most rewarding.
I hope this helps. If you need more help brainstorming, let me know.
Hi Andrew- loved reading about your trip to Cuba and all reply’s and questions asked, we all are getting excited for the upcoming trip. We are traveling on Royal Caribbean in Jan of 2019. we have book a tour for our first day, the problem is with our second day. The reason our family is going to Cuba is that our Great grandfather is buried in Colon cemetery. So, on our second day in Cuba we want to go to the cemetery. we want to walk and be in the place that he is, but with out being on a tour. we are looking at trying to find someone to guide through the cemetery. How does this fall under the new guide lines? can we just go to the cemetery?
Thanks for the kind words and I’m so glad you’re excited for your upcoming trip!
That’s an interesting situation. The best scenario would be for you to get a tour from a local (that way you’re supporting the local people). Perhaps Royal Caribbean has a list of guides they recommend (or maybe they event set something up)? If not, you could speak with your guide on the first day about scheduling something on the second day. I’m sure they would know someone who would be happy to show you around.
Hope this helps!
I am currently trying to plan a trip to Cuba with my boyfriend who is from Cuba but lives in the United States with me. I would like to stay with my boyfriend’s family but I am not sure if I can do that under the category “Support the People”, if I do not get a receipt like I would if I were renting a room from a local. Do you have any advice on how to document this and it be acceptable? Also, how many activities would I have to do each day under this category and still be able to have time to visit with his family?
As far as I know, you should have no problems staying with your boyfriend’s family while in Cuba. No one will ask you for a receipt. Are you worried about proving to the U.S. Government that you didn’t stay in one of the prohibited hotels? Your word is fine. Just keep a detailed itinerary of what you did each day. The Cuban Government doesn’t care either way.
You’re supposed to have a full-time schedule. They don’t offer much advice past that. So whatever you think constitutes “full time”. I imagine taking each evening to relax with them would be acceptable. Perhaps there are some activities you could do with them as well?
Hope this helps!
This has been such a comforting website to read through! I’m trying to convince my husband that we should take a trip to Cuba in the spring (Feb/March 2019) and now I have some info to back things up.
I am wondering though – we’re looking at renting a place on the beach in Sante Fe (on Airbnb) and just relax a few days – maybe do a couple of visits to local places. And then move into the city for our last few days and stay at another Airbnb.. There are a few “experiences” I was looking at on Airbnb – cooking class, salsa lesson, seeing the coast and snorkeling – so would you think all of these things would satisfy the support of Cuban people point that a lot of people seem to be travelling under? I’m probably overthinking this but would just like to make sure I don’t have to book some formal tour thing before we go.
Thank you again for the great article and for all the comments and responses that have helped!
Thanks for the kind words–I’m so glad the guide has been helpful!
Technically, to fit into that category you’re supposed to have a full-time schedule dedicated to helping the Cuban people. Depending on how you interpret that, those activities could or could not fit that bill. Ultimately, it would be up to the U.S. Government to decide this (in the unlikely event that they ever were to ask you about your trip). From my perspective, anything you do to connect with the local people–providing them with a connection to the outside world–is a plus. You certainly don’t have to join a formal tour to fulfill the requirement.
I hope this helps!
I am planning to sail my own boat to Cuba from Miami. I have a valid passport. Will I have any problems getting in. Also do I need the visa you spoke of before hand. I have read about some sailors spending extended time there. One cruiser spoke of buying Cuban health insurance for about 30.00 a month there. Any guidance would be helpful.
Sailing to Cuba? That sounds awesome! You shouldn’t have any problems getting in, provided that you’re able to get a valid authorization for your boat and crew via the U.S. Coast Guard Form 3300. To do this your reason for traveling there has to fit one of the categories described in this article. If you send me an email at [email protected] I can send you a copy of this form.
Yes, you have to buy Cuban health insurance. You can do this upon entry to Cuba!
I hope this helps!
Hey Andrew! Thank you for this great website. I enjoyed reading it!
I am Italian, currently in the US with a J1 visa. I am planning to meet with my mum in Cuba and then come back to the US. My mum doesn’t live in Cuba, she is just visiting like me. When I bought the ticket I checked the family category box, do you believe I will be fine? Do I need to apply for a visa other then buying the tarjeta in the airport ?
Also, to your knowledge, non-US citizen may encounter problems to come back to the US ? By the time I come back my J1 visa will expire and I will then apply for an ESTA visa.
As far as health insurance, any recommendation ?
Sorry for all these questions but It seems that you know much more than me on the subject 🙂
Grazie per le parole!
That’s a really great question. Normally there isn’t any issue with a non-US citizen traveling to Cuba, assuming that they follow the regulations discussed on this page. Having said that, since your visa will be expiring while you’re gone, I think it’s worthwhile to talk to someone at the Italian Embassy or to contact US Customs directly just to be safe.
When you say the family category, do you mean you listed that as the purpose for your trip? If so, that’s only valid if you’re going to visit family who lives in Cuba, so in this case that wouldn’t be the case. You can change this when you arrive at the airport to something that better fits the purpose of your trip.
In terms of health insurance, it should be included with your plane ticket. If for some reason it is not, you can buy it when you arrive in Cuba.
I hope this helps.
Me and my boyfriend are going for christmas 2018! So in about two weeks! This was super helpful in planning my trip.. Do you know of any must do’s for Christmas? Any typical traditions? We will also be there for new years!
Hope to hear back from you soon, Thank You!
I’m sorry to just be getting back to you. I hope you had an enjoyable time over Christmas. I’d be interested to hear what your experiences were. An interesting tradition that some Cubans do on New Years Eve is to walk around the block with a suitcase, with the hope that this increases your chances of traveling in the upcoming year! Another one is to eat 12 grapes–one for each month of the year–making a wish before you eat each one. And watch out at midnight, as people often throw buckets of water out the window, symbolically getting rid of all of the past year’s bad. Hope this helps!
My boyfriend is from Cuba and he asked me to visit their family since he can’t go with us. I’m wondering if this reason is good enough to enter Cuba.
Unfortunately if you’re not married to your boyfriend you cannot use visiting family as an official reason. However, I’m sure you could work with his relatives to find some sort of activities you could do (like volunteering) that would turn the trip into something deemed OK by the U.S. Government.
Andrew!! This site is PERFECT! My boyfriend and I are looking to go to Cuba The last week in August for his birthday (7 days). I didn’t realize there was so much to traveling there. For one, I am a little nervous now that I see it will be hurricane season…but beyond that, I don’t know how we can “Support the People”. I am a fashion stylist and he is a maintanence manager for an apartment complex. Do you have any suggestions? We plan to stay at an Air BnB in Havanna, and of course soak up as much of the culture as we possibly can…but we don’t want any issues with the US government. (sheesh). I just want him to have an amazing experience for his birthday. Any celebration ideas as well. Any info you give will be extremely helpful. Thank you so much.
I loved your article and the “explore the culture and get to know the locals” approach which is the way my wife and I have traveled since we met on a remote Greek island 46 years ago.
All the questions and your answers seem to have been written in 2017 and 2018. Is this blog still active and if not do you have a new one.
My wife and I would like to travel to Cuba for 4-6 weeks starting in early January, 2020 so we are interested if Trump’s new Cuban travel restrictions in June of 2019 materially affect the “Support for the Cuban People” eligibility?
I’ve the same question.. Any up to date visitor accounts would be greatly appreciated. We’re intending to travel there next month. It seems like “support of the cuban people” will work well, but seek the reassurance that it’s working well recently.
I will be updating this article with accounts from 2020 soon. When are you leaving for Cuba?
Yes, that category should work as the changes last year do not affect it. I hope this helps!