Do you know those activities that feel illegal even when they’re not like taking the last slice of a pizza at a party or hanging out with your friends during a pandemic? Travelling to Cuba from the United States definitely feels like one of those activities due to the numerous travel restrictions imposed by the United States government. However, you do not need to feel like this when travelling to Cuba from the US because travel to Cuba is completely legal if you follow all the steps mentioned in this guide.
Step #1- Choose a travel category that matches your situation and interests
The Office of Foreign Assets Control has published a list of twelve categories under which Americans can visit Cuba legally, without any documentation or permission in advance. If the purpose of your Cuba travel falls under one of these twelve topics, you can hop on a plane and visit Cuba.
The 12 categories are-
- Educational activities
- Support for the Cuban people
- Humanitarian projects
- Professional research and professional meetings
- Religious activities
- Public performances, clinics, workshops, athletic and other competitions, and exhibitions
- Journalistic activity
- Family visits
- Activities of private foundations or research or educational institutes
- Exportation, importation, or transmission of information or information materials
- Certain authorized export transactions
- Official business of the U.S. government, foreign governments, and certain intergovernmental organizations
I recommend support for the Cuban people category as its requirements are extremely easy to meet and it is one of the most common categories for travelers. This category lets you get out of your comfort zone and experience the local culture. Under this category, you have to engage in activities like visiting local artists, spending money in locally-owned businesses, staying at casas etc. You cannot spend money at military-owned businesses or stay at hotels that are banned by the US government.
Step #2- Book a flight to Jose Marti Int’l Airport, La Habana, Cuba after checking the price of tourist cards
You cannot fly to any of the other 10 airports in Cuba due to travel restrictions imposed by the United States government. Citizens of the U.S. are only allowed to book their flights to the international airport at Havana.
The Cuban government requires that all travelers provide a valid passport and proof of travel insurance that covers medical emergencies and evacuation by air. I will talk about health insurance later in the post. In addition, all U.S. travelers must purchase a Cuban Tourist Card, which grants visitors a maximum stay of 30 days on the island.
A Cuban tourist card can be either obtained through the airline you decide to book or by websites like easy tourist cards. You could buy tourist cards from U.S. airlines like JetBlue, Southwest, American Airlines and United Airlines online or at the gate. The price varies with the location and the airline carrier. You should check these prices before booking your flight.
Easy tourist card lets you buy a tourist card online with two-day international shipping. You would need to buy a pink tourist card (around $100) if you are flying to Havana directly from the United States. If you want to pay less for the tourist card (about $39), you could take a connecting flight to Havana with layovers in countries like Panama City, Mexico etc. These flights usually tend to be cheaper than direct flights to La Habana.
Step #3- Reserve your accommodation and prepare an itinerary for your trip
You could book a casa through sites like Expedia, Booking.com and HostelWorld. These websites let you apply numerous filters during your search and are effective in finding an accommodation that suits your personal requirements. The hotels that are restricted for American citizens can be found using this link https://www.state.gov/cuba-sanctions/cuba-restricted-list/. Remember to check this list before reserving your accommodation reservation.
I really enjoyed staying in a hostel that was maintained by a Cuban family. The owners were very friendly and they even gave us free Breakfast every morning. I was also able to meet other travelers from different countries Iceland, Germany, Netherlands, France etc. because of choosing a hostel-kind accommodation.
You should make a list of the activities you are required to do under the category you choose beforehand. Some of my favorite activities in Havana were riding in a vintage convertible, going to the beaches, visiting the university, enjoying the nightlife, dining at hotel El Presidente and talking to the local people.
Step #4- Purchase a health insurance when you’re checking in for your flight
A travel insurance that covers medical emergencies and evacuation by air is necessary when travelling to Cuba. You can purchase an insurance when you are checking in for your flight. The charges may vary among different carriers and plans.
American credit and debit cards do not work in Cuba, so it is essential that you carry cash with you. While you may be able to exchange USD for Cuban Peso at some places, it might not always work. To be on the safer side, it is better to carry Euros with you. American dollars can be exchanged for Euros at the Airport after you have checked-in and passed the security clearances.
Once you land in Havana, you could exchange your Euros for Cuban Peso at the Airport either using the ATM’s installed there or through an exchanging service. Be sure to check the exchange rate before deciding which method you want to use. I would recommend exchanging how much ever money you will need throughout the trip, as exchanging money outside the airport could be a hassle.
Step #5- Enjoy your trip to Cuba
Some important things that you should keep in mind to have a safe trip:
- Save the name and the booking details of the hotel/casa beforehand as internet service does not work in Cuba.
- Download offline maps of the area you will be going to throughout your trip before hand to avoid getting lost once you get there.
- Get an offline translator if you are not very comfortable with your Spanish skills. The local people generally speak Spanish and do not understand English.
- Keep your belongings like passport, cash etc. locked safely at all times if you are not carrying them with you.
- Lastly, remember to have a great time!!