40+ Things You Must Know Before Traveling To Cuba in 2019 (Especially If You’re American)

40+ Things You Must Know Before Traveling To Cuba in 2019 (Especially If You’re American)

Updated: September 2019

Cuba has always been a bucket-list country for many travelers, but since the recent re-establishment of diplomatic conversations between the U.S. and Cuba, the country rose to the spotlight to become a prime destination for American travelers.

In the last few years, tourism in Cuba boomed exponentially. Not only more travelers from around the world are visiting it, but now Americans added themselves to the tourism mix, even when they are still not quite in the “I can visit Cuba green zone.”

Back in 2015, I had the opportunity to visit Cuba for the first time and then again in 2019. Both times I had a great time there, as I already shared here and here. But, traveling to Cuba can be a bit of a hassle.

Man smoking a cigar in Cuba

One of the things to know about Cuba (especially if you’re American) is that the travel regulations can change at any moment. These changes are not imposed by Cuba itself, but by the US. Still, there are workarounds to travel to Cuba as an American.

Here I’ll show you how to travel to Cuba and share all the tips I believe you should know before heading there – especially if you’re American.

Update: As of 2019, there are still ways to visit Cuba independently, and legally, as an American (even with the new travel restrictions imposed by Trump on June 2019). More details below. This post is full of Cuba travel tips!

Important note: If you already have a trip booked before June 5th, 2019, reach out to your tour company with any questions, and expect your trip to go ahead as scheduled—for the time being. If you haven’t booked anything, I tell you below how you can still book your tours to Cuba.


Getting to Cuba and Some Planning Tips


1. Most People Need A Visa to Travel to Cuba. How to Get a Visa for Cuba?

When it comes to planning a trip to Cuba, the most important is getting the right visa. Travelers from 18 countries (see the list here) can travel to Cuba without a visa. Travelers from the rest of the world can purchase a “Tourist Card” at the airport before checking into their flight. For Americans, it’s a bit more complicated.

To this date, only Americans traveling under one of 12 visa categories are allowed to visit Cuba:

  1. Family visits;
  2. Official business of the U.S. government, foreign governments, and certain intergovernmental organizations;
  3. Journalistic activity;
  4. Professional research and professional meetings;
  5. Educational activities and people-to-people travel; (no longer an option)
  6. Religious activities;
  7. Public performances, clinics, workshops, athletic and other competitions, and exhibitions;
  8. Support for the Cuban people (if you’re going there as a tourist, this might be your category… keep reading for more info on this);
  9. Humanitarian projects;
  10. Activities of private foundations or research or educational institutes;
  11. Exportation, importation, or transmission of information or informational materials;
  12. Certain export transactions that may be considered for authorization under existing Department of Commerce regulations and guidelines with respect to Cuba or engaged in by U.S.-owned or -controlled foreign firms

These visas can be obtained via a tour company, the OFAC website, or the Cuban Embassy in Washington DC. Regular tourism is still forbidden. And now, unfortunately, the easiest way to get a visa, the people-to-people category, is forbidden too. But still, there are ways to visit Cuba on your own.

TO CLARIFY: Since I get this question via email quite often. The “Tourist Card” applies to almost every traveler visiting Cuba (except the 18 countries linked to above), but the 12 visa categories are only for Americans (if they choose to fly direct from the US). I give more details below for non-Americans wishing to fly direct from the US to Cuba.

Cuba Building in Havana

The Cuban Embassy in Washington DC gives visas/tourist cards under one of the 12 OFAC approved categories even if you’re traveling to Cuba just for tourism (now with a tour operator). The cost of the application is $50 in person or $70 by mail.

Their embassy site is a mess not working at the moment, but here’s their contact information in case you’d want to reach to apply or know more about the tourist cards and the OFAC.

Cuba Embassy in Washington DC

2630 16 St. N W.
D.C.20009
Washington
United States

Phone: +1-202-797-8518  /  +1-202-797-8519

Fax: +1-202-7978521

Email: 

Important Note: Since June 2019, Americans who wish to travel to Cuba can no longer take an educational trip under the people-to-people category or take a cruise.

Still, there are many ways to travel legally to Cuba as an American, including the “support for the Cuban people” category which means you can’t stay in government-owned hotels or visit government restaurants, among other details that I’ll cover below. 

Trinidad, Cuba

Under the “support the Cuban people” category, which is the most common category for independent travel to Cuba, you must adhere to the following:

  • A full-time schedule of activities that support the Cuban people. These activities can range from eating in privately-owned restaurants to spending money in locally-owned businesses, visiting local artists, and staying at casas particulares. (ViaHero does this for you. More about them below)
  • You need to avoid spending money at military-owned businesses and staying at hotels banned by the US State Department
  • You must keep all of your records and receipts for 5 years.

Alternatively, if you’re not looking for a tour or have a full-time schedule that “supports the Cuban people,” you can go back to the “old way” of using Mexico or any other third country as a jumping point to reach Cuba, which while legal, is still considered a “grey area” (see tip #4 below).

Also note that Americans are still allowed individual travel within 11 of the 12 categories, including humanitarian and religious travel; family visits; journalistic activity; professional research; and participation in public performances, clinics, workshops, athletic and other competitions. But, for those categories do not apply to the typical tourist.

Americans traveling in these categories will still be able to book a flight and reserve a room online. However, they should pursue the activity in Cuba for which their visa is granted and keep records of their visit for the requisite five years.

How can you still visit Cuba independently as an American tourist?

While restrictions are tougher now, there’s still a legal way for you to go travel Cuba independently as an American. I recommend using ViaHero to travel to Cuba as a tourist without the need for a guided tour. I used them on my last trip to Cuba (2019) and I highly recommend their services.

This site helps you plan a customized independent trip to Cuba with the help of a local Cuban expert, thus considered a “tour.”

But in reality, you’re traveling independently to the places you’re interested in and still meet the requirements for the “Support for the Cuban People” visa category (which is what makes ViaHero so unique). 

Should you want, you can throw the itinerary “out the window” and do whatever you want while in Cuba, but at least you have proof of “a tour” prepared by ViaHero.

Even better! GloboTreks readers get 5% off their planning service by using this link or using the code GLOBOCUBA at checkout.

If using ViaHero, you’re still responsible for getting your own visa/tourist card, but with their planned itinerary you fall under the “Support for the Cuban People” category.

My experience with ViaHero on my recent trip to Cuba in 2019 was excellent! My “Hero” (how they call their local experts), prepared a customized and detailed itinerary with all my feedback of the places I wanted to go and the things I wanted to do. He even suggested a lot more to do in the time I was there, which was also cool! Since I had been to Cuba before, I knew I did not need a guide.

I was comfortable moving around on my own, but having that full itinerary (even when I changed some things and ignored others while on the go) made my trip “legal” under the US eyes. 

Another plus about ViaHero is that many things like local transportation and local tours can’t be booked online, and those few that can be booked online are overpriced. My “Hero,” on the other hand, booked these for me at the local rate and even made a few restaurant and event reservations for me.

While I paid for ViaHero‘s service, I ended up saving money and a lot of hassle thanks to them.

Havana, Cuba

Important details about the Tourist Cards, and how to get them:

There are two types of tourist cards: the Green Tourist Card and the Pink Tourist Card.

The Green Tourist Card is needed if you’re flying to Cuba from any country other than the US. This one costs you $20 at the airport or more if you’re purchasing it online ahead of your trip. I know you can buy it at the gate in Mexico and Panama (which are two of the most popular jumping points to Cuba).

If flying from Canada, your airline will already include the green tourist card price on the ticket.

If you’re flying directly from the US to Cuba, you will need a Pink Tourist Card (this includes direct flights from Mainland US, Puerto Rico, and US Virgin Islands). The cost of the pink tourist card is $50, but some airlines and visa websites charge a processing fee.

Depending on the airline, you will be able to arrange it with them either online, via mail, or at the gate. I give more details on point #3.

Important: For direct flights between the US and Cuba, you will not be able to board the flight with the Green Tourist Card. But, if you have a connecting flight (in Mexico, for example) on your way to Cuba, then you need to use a Green Tourist Card (that you’ll purchase in your layover or online) because the flight taking you to Cuba departed from that other country, not the US (even if it was under the same booking).

The site Cuba Visa Services offers an easy way to purchase online a visa/tourist card (without having to fill all the OFAC “paperwork”). Just select one of the 12 OFAC approved categories that best match your trip. The current cost is $85. 

Additionally, CubaVisa offers tourist cards for American and international tourists starting at 25 Euros (which is the cheapest you’ll find online). Their only drawback is that at the moment, they only ship to Canada, Europe, Australia, New Zealand, and U.A.E.

Cuban Tourist Card
My Cuban Tourist Card with my American and Dominican Passport.

2. Cuba WILL welcome you even if you’re an American without an “Approved Visa” from the U.S.

While the U.S. still has “issues” allowing everyone to travel to Cuba freely, Cuba, on the other hand, does welcome everyone to their country, as long as they have a valid “Tourist Card.” (more on that on #4)

3. There are direct flights to Cuba from the US, but…

Anyone not from the U.S. can simply fly from their country. Easy. Americans with a visa can fly direct from cities like Los Angeles, New York, Miami, Fort Lauderdale, Orlando, Charlotte, Atlanta, Newark, and Houston. Non-Americans can also fly direct from the US if they have the “Pink Tourist Card.”

Update: Now that the new regulations are issued (removing independent people-to-people travel), you’ll need to get one of the 12 visa approvals or use ViaHero to still go legally as an independent traveler (my recommended option).

When booking your flight from the US, you simply need to declare the “support for the Cuban people” category to be allowed to book it legally (as well as during re-entry into the US). The same applies to accommodation.

Since this information might change at any moment, I recommend checking directly at the dedicated “Cuban travel” page of your airline to see if they still sell the “Tourist Card” during check-in at the airport, for how much, and what documents are needed. Below is a list of the current cost and how to acquire a pink tourist card with each major airline flying direct from the US.

  • American Airlines: $85 ($50 visa + $35 processing fee), purchase online and sent via mail. AA will send instructions.
  • Delta: $50, purchase at the gate or through the mail.
  • JetBlue: $50, purchase at the gate.
  • Southwest Airlines: $50, purchased online and delivered at the gate
  • United: $75 ($50 visa + $25 processing fee), purchase at the gate.

A street in Old Havana, Cuba

4. The Stopover Technique is still an easy way to go, for regular American tourists.

Anyone from the U.S. wanting to visit Cuba as a regular, independent tourist can do so by flying to a stopover country (like Mexico) and then flying from Mexico to Cuba.

This “trampoline” technique has been used for decades by “rogue” American travelers. Mexico, Panama, Dominican Republic, and the Bahamas are among the most popular stopover countries – though Mexico is almost always the cheapest.

An important detail here is that you must pass through immigration in this stopover country to be able to buy your “Cuban Tourist Card” during your flight check-in process there. At the moment, the tourist card costs $20.

Another important detail would be to buy your flights as two different round trips. For example, Denver to Cancun as one round-trip, and Cancun to Havana as a separate round-trip.

To help on your flight search via a stopover country, check this Wikipedia page that lists all the airlines that currently fly to Cuba and from which airports.

Update: As of June 2019, I can confirm you can still buy the “Green Tourist Card” at the airport in Mexico for $20 during check-in.

Havana, Cuba

5. You can enter Cuba with a US passport

The American passport presents no issue when entering Cuba, even without one of the 12 visas. Like I said, Cuba has no problem with American. Just buy your Tourist Card at your stopover country (or now even in the US) and once at Cuban immigration, they will only stamp your Tourist Card, not your passport.

For non-visa holders, this will avoid some potential problem when returning to the US. I didn’t have any issues when I returned to the US.

Update: Several American friends have gone to Cuba with an American passport and with only a tourist card bought at the airport and none of them had any issue coming back to the US. They actually said the US immigration agents didn’t even bother asking further questions after they told them they just returned from Cuba.

And on my last trip (2019), I didn’t have any issue coming back to the US. Immigration didn’t even bother asking why I was in Cuba or any other question about the trip.

6. Some search engines don’t show flights to Cuba

Expedia, Orbitz, and other search engines don’t show flights to Cuba. Period. At the time of writing, skyscanner.com, momondo.com, and kayak.com do show flights from the U.S. that can be purchased online. 

They show flights departing from the U.S. (and all over the world), but will warn you that you can only buy them if you have a visa – otherwise you will be denied boarding. You’re not required to show proof of a visa when buying the airfare.

Tourism in Cuba is still booming, so I expect more flight aggregators will start showing flights to Cuba from the US in the near future.

Update: While flights still show up and you can buy them online, you’ll need to make sure you qualify under one of the 12 OFAC categories to get the “Pink Tourist Cards” at the airport, now that the new regulations are set in. It’s best to call the airline to confirm. Without it, you won’t be able to board the flight.

7. Best time to visit Cuba

The best time to go there is between Mid-November to March, when the weather is the coolest and driest, but it is the busiest season. May and June are the wet seasons, but Cuban highlights like the tobacco harvesting and Carnival happen at this time.

July to November is hurricane season, so there’s a chance to stormy weather between these months – especially more towards late August to early October when it’s the peak of the hurricane season.

The bird's eye view from the tower in Trinidad, Cuba

8. Buy a tour to Cuba or not?

If you want to take the easy, yet more expensive road, buy your tours before arriving in Cuba. Traveling Cuba is a hassle, but not impossibly hard if you’re open to dealing with the struggles. In this case, don’t buy your tours and wait until you get to Cuba.

There, local agencies often offer tours and hotels for a fraction of the price (or the “national rates”). This is how I managed to stay in the Melia Cayo Coco for about 1/3 of what it costs online. But, prepare to have a hard time finding tour shops in some cities.

Also, your host can always recommend doing some tours, which often are run by locals, and not tour companies – adding to the local experience. That’s the best part of Cuba tourism.

Update: Now that the new regulations are set in place, traveling with a US-based tour operator is the “legal” way to visit Cuba as a regular tourist (as an American flying from the US).

For Americans and every other citizenship, I recommend checking Intrepid Travel as they have several good tours to Cuba, but they have one tour in specific that complies with the US regulations of “support for the Cuban people,” so it is legal for US travelers!

G Adventures also has really good tours to Cuba, but so far none of them comply 100% with the new regulations, so these are more recommended for non-Americans (or Americans who don’t mind bending the rules a bit with the tricks mentioned above). 

No matter with which company you go, before booking online, make sure the tour complies with your visa as an American (if you want to comply 100% with the regulations). For all other citizens, you’re fine!

9. What about a cruise?

Unfortunately, American cruises are restricted for the time being. Carnival, Norwegian, Royal Caribbean and a few other companies offer offered cruises to Cuba departing from Miami (from 2016 to 2019). 

Other cruise companies offering that offered trips to Cuba from American ports include Pearl Seas Cruises and Oceania Cruises, which seem to offer more than one stop in Cuba on some of their routes.

NOTE: Since regulations change all the time, I recommend keeping an eye on the news or bookmarking this post in case major cruise lines start visiting Cuba again.

You still need a tourist card when traveling on a cruise, and, if the cruise departs from the US, you’ll need the Pink Tourist Card. Some cruises sell them while others don’t so you’ll have to get them yourself.

10. Print out your documents before leaving

Technology is not easily found in Cuba and while there I didn’t see a single internet café. Print and take any travel documents, reservations, insurance, or other information you need before leaving.

You might need to show your proof of travel insurance at immigration in Cuba and you will need to show your hotel booking confirmation at a road checkpoint when going to Cayo Coco, among others.

Playa Pilar in Cuba
The beautiful Playa Pilar in Cayo Coco, Cuba.

11. You need travel insurance

It is required to have travel insurance to enter Cuba. They may or may not ask for proof at the airport, and should you not have any, they could deny your entry.

I wasn’t asked, nor other people I’ve asked or read about their entry to Cuba. But, you never know, so better go safe and buy travel insurance.

Ok, we are finally in Cuba! Now what?!


Money in Cuba


12. Americans can’t use debit or credit cards

And this sucks. The Cuban sanctions imposed by the U.S. does not allow any American to withdraw money or pay with a debit or credit card while in Cuba. In fact, I got my bank account frozen just for signing up to my mobile banking while in Cuba.

My bank didn’t even want to unfreeze it until after I left the country and showed proof of it via a copy of my boarding pass. This restriction is supposed to be lifted soon as relationships improve, so I recommend checking for the latest updates regarding the sanctions on this page.

Other nationalities can use credit cards, where accepted.

Frozen Bank Letter
The letter I got from my bank saying, “fool, don’t you know there’s an embargo? Yeah, we are going to freeze your account until after you leave Cuba.” I’m paraphrasing, of course.

13. Tell your bank you’re going to Cuba

While this is highly recommended every time you travel outside your country, when going to Cuba it is quite important. You will want to make sure your debit/credit card will work there (non-Americans, of course).

Americans on the other hand, it’s recommended you don’t mention anything to your bank since the US has sanctions against Cuba and could block your account just to make sure you don’t spend any of your money in Cuba. Just withdraw all the money you need for your trip to Cuba before leaving, and pay everything in cash.

14. It’s all about taking lots of cash

Cuba is still mostly a cash economy, so even if you’re not American, you should take enough money with you to last most of your trip. Americans, of course, have to take all their money cash, and then some more for contingencies.

On my last trip I took with me what I calculated to be my full expense in cash (in Euros), and then took about 25% more for contingencies in USD (since it gets a worse exchange rate).

Some companies are starting to accept credit cards and ATMs do allow withdrawals with non-American cards.

15. Don’t take U.S. Dollars to exchange

Currency exchanges places are known as CADECAs. It is possible to exchange U.S. Dollars, Euros, British Pounds, Mexican Pesos, and a few other currencies, but the worst currency to exchange there is the U.S. Dollar.

It gets charged a 10% fee in addition to the current exchange rate while all the other currencies don’t get any additional fee besides the exchange spread.

Preferably, get Euros or British Pounds from the U.S., as these get the best exchange rates since they are more liquid. Or, withdraw money from an ATM at your stopover country in their local currency (preferably Mexico), to then exchange that in Cuba for Convertible Cuban Pesos.

Curiously, if you’re going with Canadian Dollars you’ll get an even better exchange rate than with EUR or GBP. 

You can check the current exchange rate on this national bank page. (It’s in Spanish, but the “Canje” boxes are the ones you want to fill out.)

16. Cuba has two currencies

This will be confusing at first, but you’ll get used to it quickly. There are two currencies in Cuba: The National Peso (CUP), and the Convertible Peso (CUC).

Funny enough, Convertible Pesos are valued at 1 to 1 with the U.S. Dollar, while the National Peso stands at about 26 pesos per dollar.

The money you should exchange for is the CUC, Convertible Peso, as this is the currency used for almost everything there (especially among tourists). I don’t recommend exchanging for CUP since you’re probably not going to use it at all.

The CUP is only used for local transportation, to buy fruits and vegetables on the street, and some restaurants that cater more to locals. Should you need to use the public bus, for example, you can pay in CUC and get the change in CUP.

Both Cuban currencies. CUP on the left ($1 = 26 CUP) and the CUC on the right ($1 = 1 CUC).
Both Cuban currencies. CUP on the left ($1 = 26 CUP) and the CUC on the right ($1 = 1 CUC).

17. Always confirm which is the demanded currency

Whether it is CUC or CUP, Cubans simply call it “pesos”. So, when someone says this is “2 pesos,” you should make sure which one he is referring to as the amount is substantially different.

You can ask, “is this in CUC or Moneda Nacional?” Or, if the price seems to be really high, them most probably it is in CUP.


Accommodation in Cuba


18. The most common form of accommodation in Cuba is known as Casa Particular

There are several hotels in Cuba, but the most common form of accommodation are the Casas Particulares. These are rooms or apartments rented by locals for a daily fee.

Sometimes, you might rent an apartment for yourself while in other cases you might rent a room in a family’s house and share the common spaces with them.

Many families have turned their houses into Casas Particulares with several rooms to make a living in Cuba. If you can, stay in a Casa Particular for the local experience and to help the family’s local business.

The base price per night in a Casa Particular is $25+, which is a fraction of what you’ll pay at a hotel.

Update: Many Casas Particulares are now bookable via Airbnb

Malecon in Havana, Cuba

19. Couchsurfing is “illegal”

While the site is not illegal itself, the act of staying at someone’s place for free is illegal in Cuba. Under Cuban law, every foreigner must pay for accommodation unless they are friends with a local.

In this case, the local must go to the appropriate agency with email exchanges, pictures, and other communications proving you know each other. The authorities may or may not approve it.

20. Bookings are mostly through word of mouth (but now possible through some sites)

Given that the internet is still not widely accessible there, most hotels and casas particulares don’t have internet, nor a website. Most bookings are done through the phone and recommendations from other locals.

For example, I “couchsurfed” in Havana and my host from Havana recommended (and booked by phone) the other casas particulares where I stayed in Trinidad and Viñales.

Many Casas Particulares are using Airbnb to promote themselves without the need of a website. You should consider this option (and with this link you get $40 off your first booking). Or, Couchsurfing is another good option (though unlike the rest of the world, you still have to pay).

It is recommended to have at least the first night booked before arriving in Cuba. The rest you can book or extend as you go.

Some hotels can now be booked online by emailing them directly through their website, and some do even have their own booking engine available.

I recommend you read hotel reviews on TripAdvisor and then book based on your preference (sort them by “Traveler Ranked” to get the best-reviewed first).

There are also a few hostels in Havana and other cities, which are worth considering too.

Update: The new directive that was set in place April 24th, 2019 prohibits “direct financial transactions” with military assets on the Cuba Restricted List, which includes dozens of hotels and shops in Havana, Santiago de Cuba, Varadero, Baracoa and elsewhere.

So, if you’re American and are booking a hotel or activity, do not to use any on the list above if you want to have a “legal” trip. Airbnb and Casas Particulares are all fine!

Hotel Nacional in Havana, Cuba


Eating in Cuba


21. Food in Cuba is nothing to brag about

Due to its trade restrictions, Cuba lacks in its culinary delights; so don’t expect the most delicious meals. Yes, you can find good food here and there, but this is not the norm.

UPDATE: Based on my recent trip in 2019, I can say that my food experience what much better than on my first trip. The culinary scene targetted towards tourists has improved substantially. Most of my meals on this last trip were delicious.

22. Don’t drink the water

Simple and easy. Buy bottled water. Otherwise, your tummy and booty will not be happy about it.

23. Try eating only at Paladares Particulares.

Cuba has two types of restaurants, the state-run restaurants and the privately run ones known as paladares particulares. Try eating at the paladares particulares since they cost about the same as the state-run ones, but usually, have better quality.

As locals say, state-run restaurants don’t care about the food quality since, in the end, they don’t need the profits (because they are supported by the government). The private ones, on the other hand, if they are not good, they go bankrupt.

How to know which is state-run and which is private? Either ask them before ordering or just pay attention to where locals are eating and queuing.

Cubans (who can afford to eat outside) don’t like the state-run restaurants, so they prefer to queue at a paladar particular.

Bodeguita del Medio in Havana
Hemingway made famous La Bodeguita del Medio, but it is actually an overpriced state-run restaurant. Better have your mojitos somewhere else.

24. Don’t eat from the really cheap local restaurants

I usually eat street food, from very cheap places, but Cuba was an exception. It is common to see places selling pizza and ice cream or other meals for a fraction of what they should cost and charged in CUP (like 10 CUP or $0.50 and much less).

These foods, while cheap, are considered “garbage” by locals since they are done with local products of the lowest quality possible.

25. Take your favorite snacks with you

Not surprisingly, markets there don’t offer much variety since they focus on selling items of first need to locals – which don’t include sweets and snacks. You may find a few snacks here and there, but those are rare, and there will not be a lot of varieties.


Transportation in Cuba


26. Cuba is relatively well connected by bus

You will be able to visit all the major cities and travel all around the country by bus. While there are a few bus companies there, as far as I know, only Viazul is the one that takes tourists traveling independently.

27. Go to the bus station at least an hour before departure

While Viazul has a site with a current service schedule, it is not possible to book tickets online. You must go to the bus station ahead of time and queue for a ticket. Since buses are not that frequent, they tend to sell out quickly. But, there’s an option…

Shared Taxi Cuba
My vintage Taxi from Ciego de Avila to Havana.

28. Shared taxis are also a good option

Taxi drivers stand in front of the bus station to pick the excess of passengers without tickets. They offer a shared taxi ride to some of the most popular and well-connected cities in Cuba for about the same price as the bus and faster.

If you’re going to a smaller town not covered by the shared taxi, you can take the shared taxi to the closest city possible, and from there take a local shared taxi called “Almendrones.”

Should they price the shared taxi ride much higher than the bus, then, you’ll need to haggle. Oh, and don’t be surprised if the local sharing your ride paid a fraction of what you paid. That’s Cuba. Foreigners almost always have to pay more than locals.

29. The local buses in Havana are fine, and so are the taxis.

Local buses cost 1 CUP (about $0.04 – which you can pay in CUP or give 5 cents of a CUC). It is hard to understand the routes, but your host could tell you which ones you should take to go to most of the important places. Taxis are not expensive, costing about 5 CUC from Old to Central Havana.

30. Vintage taxis have a set route

All those pretty vintage taxis you see in pictures, those are exclusive for tourists to ride (not drive) and they only go through a select route in Havana. You could, though, have the luck of riding a vintage car as your shared taxi from one city to the other.

Cars in Havana, Cuba

31. Havana is walkable

Havana is big, but if you have a few days there, you can save money on transportation by walking it and seeing things at a slower pace. I do recommend walking; that’s when you see the best scenes of the city. Prepare to sweat… I mean, sweat crazily!

Also, Viñales, Trinidad, and other popular cities can be walked easily.


Technology in Cuba


32. Internet… there is, but don’t count on it

Don’t expect internet at your hotel or casa particular, and even if they have it, it will not be available for you to use it.

Since 2015, the local telecommunications company (ETECSA) started adding WiFi hot spots on major cities, which can be used with the purchase of a WiFi card that allows you to use it for an hour.

Hot spots are found in select parks in Havana and in front of the ETECSA building in other cities. The cards can be bought at ETECSA and cost 2.50 CUC for an hour’s use. They often run out of cards quickly due to the demand, so make sure to buy a few when available.

You can also buy the cards from street vendors for 2.00 CUC. They often roam around the parks with wifi. In Havana, for example, you’ll find them at Plaza del Cristo and in front of La Floridita, which are two spots with wifi – among a few others.

Oh, and don’t expect the WiFi to be reliable or fast.

Havana, Cuba

33. Get a Tarjeta Propia

A Tarjeta Propia is a phone card you can buy at ETECSA to make local phone calls in Cuba from any public phone – found all around the city in all cities. This was a saver for me when I needed to coordinate my arrival time with my hosts.

34. Don’t expect roaming phone service

Simple… just don’t count on it. Any (expensive) international call will have to be made from a phone center.

35. Use offline maps or preload your Google Maps

Galileo Offline Maps App allows you to use your phone’s GPS to show your location on regular and pre-uploaded maps from other sites (continued in next point). Of course, you’ll download these before going to Cuba. It is a paid app, but it is worth it.

On this last trip, I marked all the spots I wanted to visit on Google Maps and downloaded the map on the app to have it available offline.

36. Cuba Junky is a good source of information

A good blog about the country and an excellent source to find casas particulares. They have their directory app for casas particulares on iTunes. It doesn’t seem to have good reviews, but it might still be helpful while on the go. You can upload Cuba Junky’s map with the casas particulares onto your Galileo app to locate them while in Cuba.

Che Guevara image in Havana, Cuba

37. Stay current with LaHabana.com and Cuba Travel Services app

If you’re interested in music, arts, and events, LaHabana.com lists all current events in the city. The site is also full of current news and tips. The Cuba Travel Services app has an extensive list of sights all over Cuba and can even be used offline.


Other Stuff To Consider


38. Havana is not dangerous, but scams are common

Other than petty theft, violent crimes are not common there. What many people do, though, is “friend you” and tell you about an awesome party happening at a restaurant or café, or some other event somewhere else.

They will take you there, sit down, chat and drink/eat, and make you pay for everything.

Additionally, they will ask for money for the “recommendations” given during your “lovely chat.” They also get a commission from the restaurant. Don’t be afraid to say no to them.

Having said that, Cubans are generally friendly, so don’t be afraid to chat openly with them, but be cautious about their intentions.

39. You can buy or trade

Due to the trade restrictions, Cubans don’t have access to many items we do. When purchasing souvenirs, it is possible the seller might offer to trade something (a t-shirt, pants, school materials, old used phones, a bar of soap, snacks, or whatever you have available) for the souvenirs.

Economically, they might get more out of selling your traded items, and you virtually paid nothing for your souvenirs.

This is not always the case, but it happens often. Don’t forget to haggle if needed!

Trinidad, Cuba

40. You can now bring Cuban products back to the U.S.

Americans can now import up to $400 worth of goods from Cuba, including up to $100 in tobacco and alcohol products. So, now there’s no need to smuggle those Cuban cigars, as long as they are under the limit.

41. Learn Spanish

It will make your life easier there. At least learn a few basic words to communicate. Locals are also way friendlier with tourists who at least make an effort to communicate something in Spanish.

The country might be a hassle to travel, and there might be a lot of limiting bureaucracy you might not understand, but this is part of the Cuban experience. You must go through it to live the richness of its culture, and up to a certain extent, the hassles of their daily life.

42. Traveling to Cuba with a Drone?

You can travel to Cuba with a drone, but be aware that you will be questioned at the airport for hours before they decide to let you into the country and if you can indeed enter the drone.

43. What if you need help while in Cuba?

According to the State Department, because of a reduction in personnel in the US Embassy in Havana, it will be able to help Americans only in emergencies. The State Department provides emergency telephone numbers and information here.

Hopefully, this post has given you enough information to plan your trip and enjoy the best Cuba has to offer. Ready to visit Cuba?!

40 Things You Must Know Before Traveling To Cuba (Especially If You're American)

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192 thoughts on “40+ Things You Must Know Before Traveling To Cuba in 2019 (Especially If You’re American)”

      1. Eloenia Mazarelli Renzi

        I look to go to Havana and visit the 1700′ Medical School from Havana I need follow a research about skin. My whole family is from America . If I go there I would like to go by myself . I need to check in at the Dermatology Department of Havana Medical Center for Skin Research. I am a Therapist in Holistic Health and I am looking for certain information about the cure of some skin problems.If you can contact me
        [email protected].
        giving me some instructions it will be fine!

        1. According to what I was told by my “couchsurfing” host, they do need proof (as in pictures together, email conversations, etc). Once your local friend receives you, they have 24 hours to register you with the authorities (showing proof). Should you no know anyone and are staying in a Casa Particular, the host still has to register you within 24 hours and pay a fee.

          In both cases, should they not register you, they can be fined.

          1. I am looking to go to cuba with a friend. We have tickets book out of the US. We also have the health insurance and passports needed. The only other thing we need is a visa. We have no personal connections in cuba and were hoping to go for more or less a cultural experience. Any tips on what visa to get or suggestions to make sure we make it in and out of the country? Thanks.

          2. Hi Liam – You should get the regular Tourist Card given to tourists at the airport or bought before hand from a tour agency. If you’re flying with an authorized airline directly from the US, then they might sell it to you (check the list on the post), otherwise, if you’re flying via a third country, you could buy it at the airport there.

    1. Hello, did you visit Santiago De Cuba? If not, what city was your favorite? I will be going in 2 months and want to start planning soon!

      1. you are a fool, go and ask a cuban born british citizen that went to visit his mother, was allowed in with his british passport then was not allowed to leave with the same passport, was forced to pay $400 for a cuban passport just to leave the stupid island and as a result this guy missed thanksgiving and christmas. i hate and despise this stupid communist country because i was born there

      1. Please norbert I need a help, don’t no any person in cuba) and am coming there soon please I need help

        1. Hi Kenneth –

          You don’t need to know anyone in Cuba to travel it. At most, I can recommend checking Couchsurfing to get to meet locals once you’re there.

  1. I liked your tips. I think that Cuba, now, will be better and more developed country and consequently, easier to visit. Thanks for your tips.

  2. This has been one of the most detailed sources about going to Cuba that I have seen yet. Thanks for all the great references linked to your tips as well. Good job!

  3. Did you see many tourists renting and driving cars? we have that planned, I’m hoping it works out we have a tight schedule, we reserved online and pick up at Havana Airport.

    1. Choose the “Family Visits” reason for travel under OFAC’s 12 general licences. Office of Foreign Assets and Control. Americans with immediate family members living in Cuba can travel there. For who constitutes immediate family consulte OFAC’S site. Google “12 general licences for travel to Cuba”

  4. Hi. Thanks for all the great tips about visiting Cuba. I’m going May 2016 and wonder why you suggest 2 Rt tickets. I have a flight from Chicago to Panama to Havana to Panama to Chgo.

    Do yiu think this could pose a problem?

    1. Hi Susan –

      Given how the relationship between the US and Cuba has improved in the last few years, it is possible you might not have any problem, but I can’t speak from experience. Having said that, “legal” travel to Cuba is still limited to the 12 visas classifications I mentioned on the post. Depending on your airline, they may ask to see such visa since they know you will be going to Cuba. If your flight to Havana is from another country (not the US) they don’t care if you’re American, and won’t ask for the specific visas for Americans, as long as you buy a generic Tourist visa offered at their airports for $20.

      I would highly recommend calling the airline to see if this could be a problem, and if they say you need a visa, try contacting a tour agency that may get you one of those 12 visas beforehand. Should the airline say there’s no problem checking in to your flight to Panama (without the visa), then you must make sure you have a long layover in Panama to get out of the terminal and check in to your flight to Havana, since you will need to buy a tourist visa there.

      Honestly, I think my best/safest suggestion would be to contact a tour agency and try to get a visa through them, even if it is more expensive. I wouldn’t want you to go to the airport and be denied boarding just because of the visa.

      Hope this helps!

      1. If you are flying through Spirit Airlines, they have a company they work with called Airline Brokers that has great information about Americans traveling to Cuba legaly and they can get you the proper “tourist” visa (60$+shipping). This is the only helpful resource for getting a visa I have found for an individual flying direct to Cuba independent from a group.

  5. great information thanks i was thinking about traveling by boat from say key west, stop in havana to refuel and then head for isla holbox, mexico. any thoughts

    1. To be honest, I don’t have any concrete information regarding boat travel to Cuba, beyond the new Carnival cruises stopping there. I believe, though, that if there are no restrictions to enter Cuba by boat, immigration should work the same whether it is by plane or boat. So, if you stop in Havana, you should make sure you have the tourist visa applicable to your passport to enter the country.

  6. Thank you so much for the detailed information. A few years ago I was going to attempt to go through Canada, but after reading posts from other travelers, going through a Caribbean country would have less restrictions and after reading your detailed blog, I feel more comfortable booking now that you’ve provided so much more information.

    Thanks again!!!

  7. It is now. 2016 , do I still need insurance to travel to Cuba leaving from Los Angeles to Mexico city(where I will buy my visa) to Cuba

    1. Hi Rosalind – I would still recommend it. I was never asked to present any evidence of insurance, but you never know. You can buy them for as cheap as $10 a week. I recommend you check SquareMouth to compare the cheapest insurance policies based on your trip and info, or WorldNomads since they offer excellent coverage too.

    2. Health insurance is included in the fare price with Spirit Airlines! FYI is a good own and one lead thing you have to do. Obviously they only fly out of certain American cities, so that limits who can take advantage of this perk.

  8. 20. Food in Cuba is nothing to brag about

    Due to its trade restrictions, Cuba lacks in its culinary delights; so don’t expect delicious meals. Yes, you can find good food here and there, but this is not the norm.

    what are you talking about?
    The cuban food is delicious, and the tap water is very good.

  9. I have my flight from Miami to Havanna purchased as well as my travel insurance. Where does one acquire a visa? My purpose for travel falls under one of the 12 categories so I don’t need to get a OFAC special license, but I am thinking I still need to have a visa to visit Cuba. Is that correct?

    1. Hi Azalea –

      I would highly recommend you to call the Cuban Consulate in Miami or the Embassy in Washington DC to get a clear answer on if you need it (which I believe you do – it’s not a “visa” but a “Travel permit”) and how to get it. Otherwise, I believe travel agencies in Miami (or any theory travel agency that offers trips to Cuba) will be able to get the visa/permit for you for an additional fee.

  10. Hi
    This site is one of the best! !! Thank you
    If there’s a $400 limit on goods for u.s. citizens do they provide receipts so that when I get back I can prove that I only spent $400? And if I barter for souvenirs and don’t spend any money how do I come back to the United States with souvenirs and things that I don’t have receipts for?

    1. It’s highly probable you’ll buy souvenirs in street shacks and small stores. They won’t provide you of any receipt, for sure. But, if you’re buying something in a brand store or major establishment, then it’s probable they will give you a receipt or at least you could ask for it.

      Have in mind that this $400 limit is mostly placed to limit the “traffic” of Cuban goods into the US. This won’t necessarily mean that if you spent $500 in small souvenirs for yourself and the family that they will start valuing how much each souvenir costs and only allow you to enter with $400 of those. This is mostly to avoid having people buying tons of goods to import them to the US for resale or similar purposes.

      Like you said, they have no proof of any bartering or know the real value of what you bought on the street, so as long as you’re not bringing several bags of souvenirs, you’ll be good.

  11. It’s now October 2016 are there any other additional ways or qualifiers for u.s. citizens to travel to Cuba on a charter flight or directly. If I’m unable to find one of the 12 qualifiers I’m confused about how I could plan a trip right now I’d really like to go and have a great Cuban experience.

    1. As far as I’m aware, the 12 categories are still the same today. Should you not fit into one of them, you can still travel to Cuba without any issue. Americans are welcomed there even without one of those 12 visas, as long as you purchase a tourist card (as explained in the post). What you can’t do is fly directly to Cuba from the US. Just fly to another country and from there have a separate roundtrip flight to Cuba.

      1. If you live in the U.S. but cannot qualify in on (1) of the 12………
        Is it necessary for all of the flights to be round-trip, and if so why?

        Or , should it be……

        U.S. to Mexico – one way
        Mexico to Havana – one way
        Havana to U.S. -one way

        Ummm, the one way trips do look kind of funky!!!!
        On the other hand are you saying since you

        Or are you saying, since I couldn’t enter Havana directly I can’t fly back to the US directly either?

        So just return round trip to Mexico from Havana…and round trip from Mexico to the US!

        I think I just answered my own Q!
        Mo

        1. Hi Mo –

          Thanks! To be really honest, I’m not sure about being able to hop on a direct flight back from Cuba. And honestly, I think it will be more expensive, anyway, since that’s a “prime” route.

          What I do know for sure is that if you try to hop on a flight from the US to Cuba (without a visa), they will not let you board your flight.

          I would recommend to buy one round trip from the US to Mexico/Panama or any other country that flies direct to Cuba. Then another round trip from that country to Havana. Make sure you have enough time to land, pass through immigration, but the tourist card, and check in on the next flight. I’d recommend maybe staying a night in Mexico in case there’s a flight delay, or at least have several hours between flights. For the return, the same… make sure you have enough one to pass through immigration again and board your flight back to the US.

          When you board your flight in the US, to all Effects, you’re just going to Mexico, or wherever. When coming back, should they ask you where you’ve been, don’t be afraid to mention Cuba. I was asked at US immigration and I told them I went to Mexico and Cuba. They didn’t care and didn’t ask anything further. Rules have relaxed a lot, so you should be fine.

          Hope this helps!

    2. Traveling to Cuba from the US is as simple as choosing one of the 12 general licenses. Educational purposes is one of them. If you’re an American going there for the first time or even the 5th time (I’ve been 4 Xs) every minute there will be an educational experience. According to OFAC’S (Office of Foreign Assets and Control) regulations you need to spend most of your time there (with little time for touristic activities) engaged in the primary reason for travel under that general license you choose. You’re supposed to have an itinerary to support your reason for travel but keep in mind I have never been asked for an itinerary upon entering the US from Cuba. Cuba doesn’t care why you’re going as long as it’s not for Business or Journalistic activities purposes. In those cases you have to apply for other permits and visa etc from the Cuban govt. As far as general travel to Cuba as an American, keep it simple: Educational purposes works.

  12. Hello! Thanks for your post. It was very helpful to read. Just a question – what was your experience flying BACK to the US? Were you grilled by Immigration upon your return? Did they ask to see any documentation on the purpose of your trip / what you did in Cuba?

    1. NORBERT Haven’t booked yet
      Tried to get in contact with the Cuban Embassy in DC, but everything went to voicemail. Confusing …do I book the casa particulares 1st or the flight. Is there a1 stop shop for coordinating the air and casa as well as the tourist card. As a US citizen, I’d like to visit and be respectful of the culture and people without feeling like I’m going to get in trouble for traveling thru Mexico?

      1. Even with the new restrictions, it is simple and hassle free to travel to Cuba as an American. i go regularly and just went in March 2018. The simplest category is “support for the cuban people “. it stayed that you will spend money with locals and not stay at resorts or hotels or government restaurants. so stay in casas particulares, eat at paladares and you have fulfilled the rules for travel. It’s easy to book an independent flight and get your visa at the airline counter on arrival or, if they don’t offer that , you can get it online and pick it up at the airport. There is no need to apply thru the govermment for the support for the cuban people category. And there is absolutely no need to travel they other countries to go there.
        at cuban customs they will look at the visa and make sure you have no illegal items. you are now restricted to 2 electronic devices per person and no weapons, pornography or subversive literature.
        it takes minutes to get thru customs. on the return you need your visa and customs declaration…they will supply this on the plane. US customs may ask where you stayed to make sure you weren’t at hotels and resorts. very simple and straightforward.
        I never agree with Trump, but the new rules put money in the pockets of Cubans and not the government which I agree with.
        Go to Cuba! it’s easy and wonderful and the people are great .
        Avoid talking politics because the locals are not allowed to speak against their government and know that locals can get in trouble if they get caught guiding or staying in a foreigners room . tourists are not punished for any of this but locals can get in trouble .
        go, have fun and be respectful. It’s an amazing place. ?

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  14. Hi,

    I am a Canadian traveling soon to Cuba for the first time. I have made reservations in Casa Particulares. One owner has emailed me describing his wonderful place and asking if I need anything.

    Is it a good or bad idea to ask hm if he needs anything I could bring from Canada?

    1. Hi –

      I don’t tend to do these things for strangers, just to avoid any potential issue, but I don’t see any problem with taking anything there as long as it is not illegal or does not go over the allowed import limits. I have Cuban friends who visit Cuba and take suitcases full of clothes and stuff – so anyone can do that, honestly.

      I guess your host would appreciate the question and your kindness, at least.

    2. Taking basic items there like toothpaste, pencils, pens, paper pads etc is a really nice thing to do. Remeber most Cubans make the equivalent of 30 USD a month! And supplies are hard to get for most.

    3. Another thing you could bring are usb memory sticks. Everyone uses them and they are not easy to find. Every Cab driver has one with music to play on his stereo. Also thats how cubans exchange digital information: Apps, photos, music etc.

  15. We are Canadian snowbirds in Fort Lauderdale and would like to fly direct to Havana for a few days. Are there any restrictions to travelling there and back directly? Do we have to fit into one of the 12 categories or do we just need a visa? Some posts say the flights are limited to US citizens. We do not wish to go via Mexico or elsewhere.

    1. Hi Nancy –

      I believe from Ft. Lauderdale you can fly direct with Spirit, JetBlue and Southwest. While it is possible to buy direct flights and purchase a tourist card right at the airport during check it, I’d always recommend calling the airline or visiting the airport (if it’s close to you) to verify the most current information. As you might know, travel to Cuba is changing rapidly these days, so it’s best to go straight to the source to know for sure what you can and can’t. But, as of this month, I can tell you that with these three airlines it is possible to fly direct by just purchasing the tourist card at the airport or by getting a visa at the embassy.

      1. Hello Norbert-
        Jetblue now has an agreement with the Cuban Gov’t that you can by your visa at the airport before you depart the airport to fly to Cuba. I spoke to them last week (Jan 2017), so for anyone asking this is the new law, but always speak with the airline as things could change at a pin drop. REALLY great site! I hope mine is as amazing too!

  16. Hi Norbert! Thank you so much for providing this very useful info. Me and my family are planning on visiting in April. Now, I have an American passport, but was born in Portugal, so Tuesday I’m planning on renewing my Portuguese citizenship and obtain a Portuguese passport. Now my question is, if I travel with my Portuguese passport do I still need to state what I will be doing once I visit Cuba under the 12 categories? Or does it only relate to Americans not having dual citizenship?

    1. Hi Marisa –

      Sorry for the late reply. No, with your Portuguese passport, as long as Portugal doesn’t impose any different rules regarding travel to Cuba (which I believe they don’t), you don’t need to worry about the 12 categories. Those are just for Americans. When I traveled to Cuba I used my Dominican passport. I never had to state or worry about the 12 categories. I simply presented my Dominican passport during check in, bought my tourist card, and entered Cuba as a Dominican (not as an American, even though I had my American passport with me).

      A recommendation… if immigration in Cuba asks you if you have another passport, say yes and present it too. I presented my Dominican passport to enter Cuba and was asked if I possessed any other passports. I said yes and showed my American one. They simply looked at it briefly and then stamped me in on the Dominican one.

      1. Ok I just need some clearance. So when I booked my flight one month ago on united.com, they still need to know why you’re traveling (since you’re booking in the USA) so I clicked visiting the Cuban people. When it’s time to fly I show them my Portuguese passport, but they still need to know why you’re flying. I won’t have any problems since I’m going to an all inclusive resort?

        1. I can’t really say for sure because it seems it all could depend on who’s checking passports during checking and how well do they know the process for Americans traveling to Cuba. I don’t think you should have any problem because you will be entering Cuba as a Portuguese, but, you might need to show them your American passport too to let them know you are legally in the US too. I don’t think they will ask you about the all inclusive resort. In any case, you can say you’re staying at a Casa Particular. I know this is lying, but many Cubans still have no internet, so they don’t send any email confirmation to their Casa Particular. Some still rely on the phone to get clients and everything is based on a “promise” that you will show up. My casa particular in Havana was done via email, but my other two casas particulares were done via the phone, so there’s no way the airline could prove or disprove you’re staying at a casa particular. Should they ask the address, you can say your host is picking you up at the airport, which is what mine did.

          1. Rosalina Santos

            Marisa,
            Mt family had dual citizenship too from Portugal. What was your experience traveling to Cuba?

  17. Hi Norbert, we are US residents ( green card) but European citizens . We want to visit Cuba, but I understood that the same as for American citizens applies for residents. Or are yuh saying that I could easily without a visa traveling non stop from the USA to Cuba and back using my German Passport?
    If we would go via Mexico when coming back to thru immigration in the US do the officers check the passports for stamps and ask questions? Thanks Susanne

    1. Hi, Susanne –

      I’d highly recommend contacting the Cuba Embassy in Washington or your preferred airline to fly direct to Cuba since this is something you want to make sure you can do. On the other hand, if you fly through Mexico (or other country), you can just fly out of the US as a resident, enter Mexico and Cuba as a German, and when returning to the US, enter with the green card again. For example, in my case, I flew out of the US and entered Mexico as an American, but when I entered Cuba, I entered as Dominican. Again, when I left Cuba, left as Dominican but entered Mexico as an American.

      I wasn’t asked questions when I entered back into the US, and these days I don’t think that would be an issue since you’ll enter Cuba with a Tourist Card as a German.

      Cheers!
      Norbert

  18. This is an awesome Blog. Wish I found it before I visited Cuba. In December of 2016 myself, my wife and 10-year-old daughter traveled to CUBA from Atlanta on Delta Airlines for 1 week. We stayed at a different hotel every night and traveled to a different location every day. I struggled gathering recent information when organizing our trip , like this blog, I wanted to help as many future CUBA travelers as possible.

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  19. Great information. You mentioned that Americans can buy tickets even if for tourism purposes.

    I booked my trip for March, and I only have an American passport at the moment, (although I’m really considering getting my Dominican one too sometime this year)

    Let’s hypothetically imagine that someone in immigration is in a bad mood that day and they don’t want to hear that I’m being a tourist, is there anything in particular that I have to provide in order to show that I’m doing a People to People trip? Is an itinerary of museums/music clubs/ theatre enough?

    1. Hi Gemma –

      While I’m no immigration expert and I can’t speak officially on this matter, I think (emphasis on “think”) that you wouldn’t have any problem with the American passport when going through immigration. The biggest “issue” is getting the tourist card and these days it can be bought at the airport (for most airlines), no questions asked. So, once you have the tourist card, passing through Cuban immigration will not be an issue. Coming back to the US, they might ask you routine questions, but I’m pretty sure you wouldn’t have any problem. After all, you went there legally. Not sure if an itinerary, as you suggested, would help, but I don’t think it would hurt to have it ready in case you might need it.

    2. If you’re an American Citizen traveling to Cuba I think it’s best to get the word “tourist” out of your vocabulary. It is illegal for an American citizen to travel to Cuba for touristic reasons. Period! Choose one of the 12 general licenses and stick to it. The “Tourist” Visa Card is what you need to enter Cuba they don’t care about who or why anyone can travel. The US does. So when you return to the US from Cuba make sure you are clear on your purpose of travel there. It better not b as a tourist.

    3. In answer to your itinerary question according to the rules under OFAC’S 12 general licences you must have an itinerary accounting for all of your time in Cuba pertaining to that license with little time for touristic activities. I don’t know of anyone who has been asked to provide such an itinerary. But if you feel more confortable I don’t see why having one can hurt. I very been to Cuba 4 times and I’ve noticed that immigration and customs have been pretty lax.

  20. Hi Norbert,

    Thanks so much for your blog. It’s been so helpful advice I prep for my trip next month.

    I did want to sound something off you and see what you think: I’m traveling to Cuba from Toronto next month. Tickets have been booked through Air Canada who told us that they will provide us with the travel cards at the airport. My travel companion is a Canadian citizen. I am a US citizen. The Air Canada customer service rep said that as an American, aside of the basic Cuban travel card they’ll give us, she said I would also need a separate VISA from the Cuban embassy. This sounds incorrect to me. Sounds like the Air Canada rep is unfamiliar with the recent changes in travel policies for Americans and she is just giving generic advice to cover her own butt. What do you think, Norbert? From what you know, do I need a SEPARATE visa from the Cuban embassy? From all the research I’ve do everything for my trip, I’ve consistently read that all I need is the travel card.

    I personally know of American citizens who traveled to Cuba this month from both Ft. Lauderdale and even Cancun. In both instances, these Americans did NOT need a separate visa to Cuba. The travel card was all they needed. So the comment from the Air Canada rep sounds all the more erroneous to me.

    I’d love to hear your thoughts on this, Norbert.
    Thanks in advance for your time and help.

    Best,
    Lynn

    1. Hi, Lynn –

      My guess (and this is just a guess) is that Air Canada’s representative might be giving you misinformed or outdated information. BUT, I want to state that even though they might be misinformed, they have the capacity to not let you board the flight on the belief that you’re missing a visa.

      I have dozens of American friends who’ve traveled to Cuba direct from the US and via other countries, and NONE needed anything other than the Tourist Card (either purchased at the airport, through the embassy, or third party. I would recommend to contact Air Canada again and talk to someone else. Should they give you the same answer, try calling the Cuban embassy and ask them about their “immigration agreement” with Air Canada. Each airline has a different agreement, that’s why some airlines can sell you the tourist card at the airport while other can’t.

      Hope this helps and I hope it all turns out well!

        1. Hi Norbert:

          Thanks again for all your help.

          I followed your advice and called Air Canada twice. Unfortunately, their answers differed each time. So now, my sister and I called Air Canada a total of 3 times and got 3 different answers. It is of note that my sister purchased all inclusive packages for both of us through Air Canada vacations.

          So the responses we got were:
          Rep 1) As an American, I will need to have a separate visa with me from the Cuban embassy, in addition to the travel card they provide.
          Rep 2) Since we purchased an all inclusive package, I am clearly not going to Cuba for work. So I will not be permitted to board the plane.
          Rep 3) I will have to fill out a declaration form of some sort at boarding to certify that I am traveling on one of the allowed purposes. But she said I might be denied entry by Cuba.

          I am quite baffled on how to move forward from here. I am also alarmed by the inconsistency in answers I received from the 3 Air Canada reps. I am fearful that the same subjectivity of implementation / understanding of policy might occur at the airport.

          I did try calling the Cuban Embassy in DC twice but could not get through to anyone to inquire about their “immigration agreement” with Cuba. I tried dialing all the different menu options but they didn’t lead to a live person or even a mailbox. It just kept re-routing me to the main menu.

          Given the variety of answers we’ve received from Air Canada, I am not sure which rep’s advice I ought to heed. I am happy to purchase my travel card visa from the embassy beforehand to comply with rep 1. But to be honest, rep 2’s reply has me scared. And rep 3 offers little solace. So I am now concerned enough that I am considering incurring extra costs and booking a separate flight from the US for myself to just meet my sister in Cuba. I’ve had several friends fly to Cuba both from New Jersey and Florida just this month and did not encounter any issues with boarding, getting their travel cards as Americans, etc.

          What do you think Norbert? Apologies for the lengthy email. I realize that you are not an immigration professional and that this is all just advice but I’d love to hear your thoughts all the same.

          Let me know.

          Thank you!!
          Lynn

          1. Oh Wow! So sorry this is happening. In my opinion, if I were to give any reason to any of these three representatives, I’d give it to the first (even though I still think he’s not completely right). I think Rep 3 is completely wrong as Cuba does not impose restrictions on Americans who wish to enter as tourists, it is the US who does. Rep 2 sounds a bit “over dramatic” and taking the and assuming beyond his capacity. It’s possible Air Canada is not properly informed on the current American/Cuban travel agreements, or maybe they don’t have any agreement with Cuba (regarding Americans, at all). But again, this is just my perspective.

            If you want to err on the safer side, I’d go with Rep 1 and buy the tourist card at the Embassy. The airline might probably sell you the same thing again, but I rather “waste” $50 on a second tourist card than have an uninformed employee prevent me from boarding my flight and lose all my money invested on the trip.

            Have you contacted the Cuban Embassy to ask their perspective on the matter?

            Worst case scenario, if the answers you get are not positive, I’d try to book flights with a layover somewhere (Mexico?) and jump from there to Cuba.

            I really hope this gets solved positively!

          2. Dear Norbert,

            Thank you so much for getting back to me on this. Your feedback was very helpful.

            I did try calling the Cuban Embassy in DC twice but could not get through to anyone to inquire about their “immigration agreement” with Cuba. I tried dialing all the different menu options but they didn’t lead to a live person or even a mailbox. It just kept re-routing me to the main menu.

            Thank you again very much!!

          3. Oh, sorry they weren’t helpful. Would it be possible for you to visit a “Cuban travel” agency near where you live? They should be up to date with this information. After all, they make a living sending people to Cuba, and other places!

          4. Hi Norbert,
            I’ve just come back from a fantastic week-long trip to Cuba. I just wanted to circle back and thank you for your helpful blog and all your advice.
            I also wanted to share some of my experiences on the trip, in case it can be helpful to others looking to make the trip to Cuba. If you’ll recall, I received 3 different answers from AirCanada Vacations customer service reps as to whether I’d even be allowed to board my flight in Toronto to Varadero. What actually happened: there was no issue at all at the airport. When I got to the gate, I simply had to fill out a form stating that I was going to Cuba under one of the approved “reasons” /categories for Americans. I submitted that at boarding and the gate agent didn’t even look at it longer than 2 seconds.

            As a precaution, I did buy an American travel visa card beforehand for about $70, in case I ran into any issues at the gate. Turns out, I didn’t even need to do that. Air Canada gave out travel cards on the plane to all passengers (part of the fare already) – and they were used by all other passengers – both Canadian citizens and foreign nationals (there were Chinese nationals on my flight). Their travel card is in fact a different color than for Americans (something Nestorious posted about) but that didn’t seem to be a big deal once you arrive in Cuba, so long as you have the card. And upon my return to Toronto, there were no issues with Canadian immigration either as I am an American citizen.
            Thanks again for all your help Norbert. Thanks to Nestorious too for the feedback.

          5. Thank you so much for sharing your experience, Lynn! I’m glad you had an amazing time there and that everything went smooth with the flights and immigration. It’s good to know that things are way more relaxed now.

    2. Google “Airline Brokers Cuban visa”. They sell the Cuban “Tourist” Visa card. It may be that the tourist visa card that Canada has is a different color than the ones for Americans. I know Europe has a different color one that Americans can’t use

  21. Hi Norbert

    I will be travelling to cuba in about a month. I am an american citizen but I currently live in Poland. My flight is from poland, then a connecting flight to jamaica and finally to Varadero. I booked a stay in an all inclusive hotel ( so I am obviously travelling as a tourist) . Once I arrive to Cuba, would they ask me where am i staying, or they would not care since Im not traveling from the United States.

    Thank you

    1. Hi Jesus –

      I don’t remember being asked where I would be staying. But again, the issue here is not Cuba, it is the US. Cuba welcomes Americans whether they are coming as tourists, humanitarians, or whatever. So you should not have any problems at immigration in Cuba, from what I understand. You shouldn’t have any problems getting on the flights as long as you can buy the tourist card at the airport or ahead of time.

  22. Hi Noebert

    I am travelling (backpacker/tourist) from the US (LA) as a british citzen to Havana….do I have the same.restrictions as US citzens?

    I wanted to fly direct but now thinking I might need to go via Mexico in order to enter?

    Thanks

    Denise

    1. Hi, Denise –

      I believe you shouldn’t, but I would recommend contacting the airline you’re interested flying with to Cuba to ask them directly. The issue here is with American citizens, so in my opinion, you should be ok.

      It wouldn’t hurt having “extra vacation time” in Mexico, but I don’t think it’s necessary in your case.

  23. Hello, do you accept phone calls if someone wanted more advice? I don’t know many people I can ask that have already visited. Your website is the best yet and has the most details. But I would feel better talking through my questions. I know it’s a lot to ask.

    1. Hi Ashley – While I’d be happy to accept phone calls, I’m currently out of the U.S. and with not the best internet connection to even Skype, so it’ll be a bit hard. But, feel free to email any question you have and I’ll do my best to answer them.

  24. Hello quick ? Me and a group of 6 girls are traveling to Havana next month and will either be using air bnb or a hotel. If we get a hotel can we just do 2 rooms that can fit 3 people? Must we list the 3rd person on reservation, it seemed even cheaper to just get 3 rooms and 2 people each. Don’t know if it is like most hotels where they don’t care or check for a 3rd person in the room. Also we will spend one day at an all inclusive in Varadero, do they have beach excursions like jet skis or diving in those areas? Lastly I’ve heard you can bring stuff to give to the people like common items to give to children’s shelters and such. We usually do this when we go somewhere where there are missionaries or shelters, just bring a suitcase full of certain items to give away. I’m not sure if this is needed in Cuba

    1. Hi Vette –

      Well, I really don’t have a specific answer to your questions. Regarding the 3rd person in the room, I guess it would depend on the hotel, but I understand all casas particulares, airbnb, and hotels in Cuba must register everyone (it’s not like any other country where whoever stays wherever). I guess if the hotel is big enough they might not notice the extra person, but you’ll be doing it at your own risk. If it’s a casa particular or airbnb, they’ll definitely notice and register the 3rd person.

      Regarding taking stuff… yes, you can do that, but I don’t know how much can you take (without raising a red flag) or where to give it away. It seems like you have experience doing that with your missionary trips, so you might know more about that than I do.

      On the watersports, I’m pretty sure there must be something there. At least in Cayo Coco, I saw diving options, snorkeling, and kayaking. There was probably more, but didn’t pay much attention to it. Diving seems to be really good in Cuba.

    2. Hi Vette,

      I just came back from an all inclusive vacation in Varadero. Based on our experience, our hotel did offer activities packages you could sign up for once you get there. There are various tours / excursions – both land and water – depending on what you’re interested in. So just check with your hotel’s tour desk once you get there to find out about excursions and tours you can sign up for.

      We had brought with us a decent amount of toiletries (toothpaste, soap, nail polish, coloring books, make up) to give away as tips to servers and chamber maids at the hotel. Those items were a hit and were greatly appreciated by the staff. Definitely plan on giving some away to your Havana AirBNB host, as well as for your Varadero hotel room cleaning lady.

      Oh, and from what I saw, you MUST register EVERY single person at all hotels/ AirBNB, etc. In my opinion, it’s not worth the risk of trying to sneak someone in to save a few bucks.

      Have a good trip!

  25. One more thing! Im just booking a hotel for part of our stay on a different part of the island and it is saying(Please note Visa, MasterCard and Euro Card are accepted only if not issued or related to USA banks.
    Additional charges must be paid at check in in local currency. ) So how can I even book anything? I have bank cards and regular credit cards not attached to a bank like a capital one venture card. However these are all still based in US right?

    1. Hi, Vette –

      Sorry for the late reply. I somehow missed this before. Regarding the reservation, some hotels do take your reservation without payment and hold it on good faith that you’ll show up and pay there in cash. When going to Cuba, take all the money you need (and some extra) cash and take it in Euros or Pounds as the Dollar gets a really bad exchange rate.

    1. Yes, what you need is a Travel Card you can buy right at the airport if you’re flying with one of the approved airlines from select airports. I recommend going straight to your airline’s website and checking their dedicated Cuban Travel page, or calling them directly to confirm this.

  26. Hi,
    We are Indian citizens planning to visit Cuba for 2 weeks in May. As per Cuba Embassy info It is mandatory for Indians to obtain Cuban visa from Consutate before travelling.That means Indians are not allowed to travel to Cuba with tourist Card.But many blogs and websites carry any number of stories of Indians purchased Tourist Card from Airlines and traveled to Cuba.OK.
    My Q is different. If we have a valid visa issued by New Delhi Cuban Consulate, are we allowed to travel in an American Carrier from an American City to Cuba and return. Is there any travel restriction? Should we also fall in one of the 12 categories American citizens are allowed to go Cuba ?.Your reply is very much appreciated. Thanks a million for compiling such a wonderful mine of info.
    Dr. Raj

    1. Hi Dr. Raj –

      You shouldn’t fall under the 12 categories since you will not be traveling as a US Citizen. Those categories are only for US Citizens. Once you enter the US, you can simply provide your Tourist Card (or Visa, if you have it) at the airport to check-in for your flight to Cuba.

    2. Hi Dr Raj,
      Me too–an Indian (56Y, college professor), living in Hyderabad–planned to travel to Cuba (alone) during Apr’17. I got my Cuban visa at Delhi and flying direct (DELHI–>Havana and back without any transit in the US). As I was told by my Travel agent, if you wish to use US as transit to Cuba, you must have US visa (US airports are not transit airports). Just FYI, and shall share my story when I return on 27/Apr/17.
      KRISHNA, Hyderabad, India

  27. Marisa Figueiredo

    Hi, what’s the best thing to do regarding money. Cash US dollars there? Or convert US dollars here into euros and take euros and convert this into CUC?

    1. Hi Marisa –

      If you can get a good rate to exchange USD to EUR back home, I would recommend that over taking USD to Cuba as it gets an additional 10% fee over the exchange rate.

  28. Being a part of a travel service that offers and arranges small trips to Cuba, I am really amazed to the see the accuracy in this blog post. The author has amazingly blended the 40 points which are a must know especially for any American visiting Cuba for the first time.

  29. As a first time visitor to Cuba, are there any areas you recommend we stay away from? (“Bad areas”) also, I’m very familiar with Airbnb and will probably book through that site. Is it fairly legit in Cuba? Would you recommend renting a room so we are staying with locals?

    1. Hi Lauren –

      I don’t know of any areas to recommend to stay away from. At least in Havana, all three areas (old, central, and new) were fine. Maybe Central Havana looks a bit more “sketchy” since it is where several “low class” locals live, but don’t let the run down buildings and streets scare you. People there are really friendly and welcoming.

      Staying with locals via Airbnb is legit. It’s just another platform to find Casas Particulares, which is what most people use for accommodation while in Cuba.

  30. We had a wonderful time in Havana. One thing to maybe add to your list is that a person should not exchange all the EUR or USD to CUC at arrival to Cuba, because there could be troubles to exchange CUC’s back to your money.

  31. I’m curious about using US power plugs in Cuba. I’m finding all sorts of different info online. Has anyone here actual been, and can offer some first hand knowledge?

    Looking to be able to charge my camera batteries, computer, and the like.

    Thanks!

    1. Maybe someone else can tell more about it, but I would recommend taking an international adapter. Although the power supply in Cuba is mainly 110 volts, most modern hotels have dual voltage with all the sockets in the room being 220 volts. The common outlet is like the American one, but I stayed in Casas Particulares that had outlets that accepted British, European, and American plugs.

  32. Hi to all at GloboTrecks!,

    Please feedback us about these Havana questions, if possible=

    – As some cruises overnight Havana, it is secure to come back to the cruise very late in the night ??. Is the port open 24 hours for those visitors that are coming back to the cruiseship late, or very late, in the night, even walking ??

    – Havana bus tours offered to cruise visitors, in contract with the Cruise Lines, offer spanish tour explanations ?? Even using earphones or any other device or spanish speakers. We have heard that cruises from USA to Havana that include Havana Bus Tours do not offer that, but we need to be sure.

    Thanks, many many thanks for your kindly support !!

    Hasta muy, muy pronto amigos !!

    1. Hi FG –

      I don’t know the port rules regarding boarding hours, but in terms of safety, Havana (and Cuba in general) is very safe at night. I’d recommend contacting your cruise company to ask them about the port hours. They should know about it.

      Sorry, I can’t confirm anything about the tour translation either. Again, I’d recommend contacting the cruise line. From experience with other cruises, though, if you’re booking a tour via their website, they often tell you (and ask to select) if you want the tour in English or any other available language. If the option is not present on their website, then it is possible the tour only runs in English or in Spanish, in this case. I would imagine the site will share this information before booking.

  33. This was so helpful! Thank you! I’m planning to visit Cuba with my boyfriend, who has family there. Could my visit be categorized as “family” if I’m traveling with him? Any ideas?

    1. I can’t say specifically as you are boyfriends and not legally married. I would suggest forwarding this question to the Cuban Embassy for an accurate answer.

    1. Hi Jhon –

      I’d recommend to check Airbnb as they have several casas particulares listed there. Alternatively you can find them too on HotelsCombined. Sorry I can’t give you a specific house in each city. When I went there I got mines via word of mouth, so I don’t have their contacts.

  34. Hello and thanks for the good tips!
    How to I upload the Cuba Junky app to the Galileo Pro app?

    Charlotte

  35. American citizen who just got back from Cuba yesterday. This list was definitely a huge help so thank you for that!

  36. Great great stuff – thank you..are fiances considered family? If you dont know ill call us embassy – thanks again for all the great info

  37. Do you think it’s still safe to book a trip to Cuba for early Sept for educational purposes (individual person to person)? I spoke with someone in the Treasury department last week and they advised me that as of now individual travel is still permitted since the new regulations (restrictions) aren’t yet in place?

    Any advice would be super helpful. Thank you

    1. Don’t take my word as facts, but I believe that trips booked now (before the regulations are in place), can still be done even after the regulations start. I think your trip will be fine, but again, I can’t say this with 100% accuracy as things regarding Cuba are changing. It was good you called the treasury department to corroborate. I would also suggest calling the Cuban Embassy in DC to hear their perspective.

  38. Quinta Molinos house Havana
    La Habana, La Habana, Cuba
    3 reviews
    Luz is the host.

    First and foremost I would recommend that people just say “no” to visiting this awful repressive country. If you do not heed this warning, do not stay at the above mentioned AirB&B. The place is a dump, the hosts are LIARS. By far the worst place I’ve ever been. Be careful eating food anywhere, flys are everywhere, bathrooms are nasty. Just stay at home and pray that God himself will deliver the people from that hellish place.

  39. Hello
    I enjoyed your article, lots of items I would never have thought of,
    Just curious what advice or comments would you have about Canadians visiting Cuba?
    My wife and daughter are looking into for next Feb, March, or April

    Thank you,
    Kind Regards
    Steve

  40. Hello I am an international student in USA. I consider visiting cuba for 5 days. Do you think I will have any problem to enter Cuba and come back to USA again?

    1. It all depends on your visa status in the US. I’m no immigration expert, but assuming you have the liberty to enter and exit the US without any issue, you shouldn’t (emphasis on shouldn’t) have any problem entering after visiting Cuba since the regulations are for US Citizens.

  41. Hi Norbert – thanks for your super helpful article! I am a producer from Los Angeles, and am interested in visiting the country with some production team members to research the culture for a film. I assume this falls under the “Professional Research” category of the OFAC, and we can therefore visit the country without being part of a special tour group – do you know what steps go into verifying this? Do I just declare that that’s what we’re there for, or do I need to send in a written plan and/or evidence? Thanks!

    1. Hi Rose –

      I can’t say for sure regarding the proof/requirements for the “Professional Research” since I haven’t applied for it myself. I wouldn’t be surprised if they asked for some evidence of your filming plan in Cuba, a list of potential locations, production schedule, and such. I would highly recommend contacting the Cuban Embassy in Washington to clarify, or maybe even cubatravelservices.com if you want them to process it for you (as a third party).

      This is part of the text as it appears on the Professional Research category.

      “(1) Professional research. The travel-related transactions set forth in § 515.560(c) and such additional transactions as are directly incident to professional research are authorized, provided that:

      (i) The purpose of the research directly relates to the traveler’s profession, professional background, or area of expertise, including area of graduate-level full-time study;

      (ii) The traveler does not engage in recreational travel, tourist travel, travel in pursuit of a hobby, or research for personal satisfaction only; and

      (iii) The traveler’s schedule of activities does not include free time or recreation in excess of that consistent with a full-time schedule of professional research.

      Example to § 515.564(a)(1): The making of a documentary film in Cuba would qualify for the general license in this section if it is a vehicle for presentation of the research conducted pursuant to this section.

      Note to § 515.564(a)(1): A person does not qualify as engaging in professional research merely because that person is a professional who plans to travel to Cuba.”

  42. Hi Norbert. I am American and my in-laws are Brazilian, traveling with Italian passports. They want to go to Cancun, spend several days in Cancun, then go to Cuba. From Cuba they want to come to Miami to visit us. Can non US citizens travel from Cuba to the US?? I am concerned that they won’t be allowed in that way. Also, they planned the stay in Cancun to avoid having to declare one of the 12 reasons, but if i understand correctly, those regulations do not apply to non- Americans. Thanks for clearing this up for me

    1. Hi Karen –

      It is my understanding that they shouldn’t have any issue entering the US from Cuba as long as they have the ESTA Application (for their Italian passport) up to date. But I would highly recommend calling/emailing the US Embassy in Brazil or Italy (if they are traveling with their Italian passport) to double check.

      On the 12 categories, you are correct, the whole issue with the US government is related to US citizens, so your in-laws don’t need to worry about that.

  43. fSo I’m a US citizen, bought a ticket with my friend to visit in late Sept flying direct to Havana from US cities. I am a bit confused how the visa/travel permit/OFAC 12 categories works. As of now we plan on travelling for tourism only, independently without any group or tour and simply using Education as the OFAC category. Is this possible?? If we buy the tourist/Visa Card from the Cuba Travel Services will that suffice or do I need to buy something separate at the airport?? Will we be denied travel or entry and do we need to present any documents, itinerary etc to prove we are actually doing educational things??

    thanks for the post it was very helpful, just sparked more questions
    Pete

    1. Hi Pete –

      You can buy the Cuba Travel Service visa online and that should be enough for you. If Trump’s new regulations are still not in place by late September (likely to be the case), you could still buy the tourist card (same thing as the Cuba Travel Service visa) at the airport and not need to do the Cuba Travel Service one. You could call your airline to confirm this. When you purchase it at the airport, they don’t ask for any proof. You just pay and that’s it. Probably the website won’t ask for it either, or at least, I haven’t heard of anyone who needed to provide any proof.

      1. Great, thanks for getting back. So I don’t need to worry about calling the Cuban Embassy and applying for a visa/tourist card through them? The overall question is that once I have the Visa/tourist card that I buy from the website (I want to get it early so that if Trump’s regulations are put in place I have it already) I worry that an official will ask me for proof that I qualify for one of the 12 OFAC categories or something.

        1. I’m guessing trips already booked up to a certain date will be “honored,” if the regulations are activated. I believe you should be fine by just buying the Tourist Card online or at the airport, but again, it’s good to keep an eye and stay up to date in case things change all of the sudden.

  44. Trump has not changed the Treasury policy yet nor any of the categories, including “people-to-people”. All travel changes made under Obama remain exactly the same, I’m not sure why you have this incorrect info listed at the top of your site? You can find the latest documents on the treasury website, e.g.

    https://www.treasury.gov/resource-center/sanctions/Programs/Documents/cuba_faqs_new.pdf

    and the changes announced by Trump:

    https://www.treasury.gov/resource-center/sanctions/Programs/Documents/cuba_faqs_20170616.pdf

    “The announced changes do not take effect until the new regulations are issued.”

    No new regulations have yet been issued, as of Sept 7, so there is no change! Also if you purchase tickets BEFORE the new regulations are issued, you are grandfathered under the old rules (see #4 on the second treasury document I listed above). Your first bulletpoints are all very misleading and incorrect!

    1. It is also unclear if the announced changes will affect all 12 categories, or ONLY the “education” exception (one of the 12) of which “people-to-people” is a subset. For instance, it is not clear if “support for the Cuban people” will remain allowable after any changes which the Trump administration may make. However it seems from the treasury announcement that it is only the “education” category which will be modified. There are still 11 other categories, e.g. journalism, humanitarian projects, “support for the Cuban people”, etc. that appear like they will not be unchanged — although it’s a little iffy of course.

      Also I made a mistake writing in the above comment–I meant that if you purchased tickets before the new -announcement- of regulations was issued (i.e. June 17) you are grandfathered in. If you rushed to get tickets after Trump’s announcement you may be out of luck.

    2. Thanks, William. You’re actually right. The way I had it is misleading and corrected it. Still, for anyone who didn’t make any reservation before the announcement and still hasn’t traveled to Cuba, they might be in a gray zone here. Should the regulations be set in place tomorrow and their trip starts the day after (or whenever), they might be screwed as they will not be grandfathered. In their case, I’d opt for the safer option of going via Mexico (or whatever country), or simply pay for a tour.

      1. My husband and I decided earlier this year to go to Cuba in November. We booked our roundtrip flight from NY to Havana in May 2017 with the thought it would be individual people-to-people. As you know, Trump changed this. I realize that this technically does not take effect until the new regulations are issued (which I believe has not occurred yet??).
        We have NOT planned or booked anything else in furtherance of our trip (airbnb, tours, etc) because we are afraid to spend additional money on a trip that we may not be able to take. Also, we feel that we might not be able to set up a “fulltime schedule of educational exchange activities” on our own. How closely do they look at “records”? What happens if it’s not good enough?
        I am “stressing” as you can tell. I would love to go to Cuba, but am seriously thinking of cancelling the trip (may lose out money that I paid for the non-refundable airline tickets).
        Any words of advice would be helpful!

        1. Hi, Lisa –

          I think the best I could recommend is to not cancel the trip, and if you’re open to a bit of uncertainty (and free spirit!), don’t plan much more other than the accommodation for the first few days in Habana. If you go via couchsurfing, you’ll be able to contact a Casa Particular and make the payment once you reach Havana. Airbnb could be an option, but the refund (should you cancel) will depend on the host. Then, you can plan the rest on the go. Cubans love to refer travelers to other Casas Particulares in other cities, so it’s relatively easy to plan your trip on the go.

          I can’t say from personal experience how much does the airline/immigration will check your records as this is something new and I didn’t go through it (other than the regular passport/visa check). I guess the airline will mostly check your ticket, passport, and tourist card/visa. One thing that helps you is that you’re grandfathered on the old regulations because your flights were purchased before the new regulations (which are still not active). In theory, for you (a grandfathered traveler), the airline should only check your passport and tourist card/visa. The Cuban immigration doesn’t care about anything other than your passport and visa (and maybe travel insurance, if they ask about it).

          Hope this helps!

  45. I am a Cuban photographer and I can only add to this article that “Cuba is a totally safe country”, here in Havana, everything is the same, tourism has gone down a bit because of Trump’s words, but it is a paradise for tourism.
    The consequences of Hurricane Irma are not visible and I sincerely believe that there is a lot of noise on the internet but it is not real, everything here remains the same.

    Greetings to all.

  46. I have wanted to go to Cuba for a long time but was confused on the ‘legitimate’ reasons and the perceived hassle. I will tell you what worked for me, because I just fluked into this info and I was in Cuba last week. I follow Cruise Critic on Facebook and they had a link to their site with last minute cruise deals. One of those deals was ta 4 day Cuba cruise out of Miami. I booked this cruise at the very last minute, less than 24 hours from sailing! I live in Florida so I just had to drive across the state to make it to the Miami port. The 4 day cruise was advertised at only $279, but add in the taxes, port fees, service fees and the Cuban Visa ($75), it was about $700-ish to travel to Cuba this way. Keep in mind you have a floating hotel at the dock so your room and food (and in my case, the boat had an open bar) is covered. For travelers curious about going but unsure they want to risk just booking an airline ticket, keeping an eye on a last minute cruise deal might be for you. Norwegian Sky offers 4 day Monday-Friday escapes to Cuba and one day in the Bahamas from Miami. October seemed like a great time to go weather wise and I thought the price was a pretty great deal. At the port where we dock in Havana, I traded Euros (left over from a trip to Europe last year) and I bought a phone card at the little booth behind the money changing area in the port building. That was only $1.50 CUC for an hour of internet/wifi and it worked in the port terminal building. The ship took care of the Visa, I paid for everything via my US credit card and the Visa was waiting for me to fill out at the Miami port during check in. Norwegian Cruises was very organized and everything went off without a hitch or any kind of hassle– if you have your passport, they can do everything else you will need.

    If you go to Cuba, please consider bringing extra bars of soap to pass out, animal medical supplies and people medical supplies. There is an organization called Aniplant that helps attend to the street animals you are going to see in Havana. It is heartbreaking to see so many stray cats and dogs, many with skin conditions. Basic medical vet supplies are really hard to come by. Here is a website to learn more: http://www.theaniplantproject.org Basic soap is a real luxury item in Cuba. I ducked in to one of the hole in the wall shops where maybe 12 different things are on display behind a counter. Soap was $6 a bar! Now, keep in mind the average Cuban makes $25-$35 a month and you can see that soap is an out of reach luxury item. Women’s sanitary napkins/tampons are non-existent also… bring your own and maybe some to share! Save your soaps and lotions from other hotel stays or just pack a few full sized bars to give away. Apparently things like 30 pound fishing line, fishing hooks, sewing kits are all coveted items as well.

    You cannot visit Havana and not be moved by both the grinding poverty, the beauty of the old falling down buildings and the general friendliness of the people. I noticed the plight of the animals because I work for animal causes in my area of the US. I thought the cruise was a good way to introduce myself to Cuba and the fact I was able to book my trip on a whim and the ship dealt with all the ‘official’ paperwork was awesome. I was a solo female traveler and my advice is to watch yourself the same way you would in any major city– it didn’t feel ‘unsafe’, but I also wandered in to some really sketchy back alley type places looking at the architecture. Be mindful at all times, be aware of who is noticing you as an American because believe me, we stick out! If I had it to do over again, I would have brought at least 12-20 bars of soap and some medicinal animal shampoos to donate to the animal clinic. Maybe talk to vets in your area and see if they are willing to donate medicines that are close to expiring–no good to them, but still very much appreciated in Cuba.

  47. Thank you so much for this wonderful and up to date information! My daughter is traveling there next month (were Australian, but she’s been living in Mexico) & all of this information is very much appreciated, including the feedback from posters.

  48. Wow, thanks a lot for this post. It was really helpful! I am also Dominican and still have my passport as I only have a US green card. I am plannning on traveling to havana on January and I wanted to know what I need under the category “family visits”. My cousin lives there but do I have to show an itinerary still? or proof that he is my cousin? he lives in Santiago and will travel to Hav to see me but I just dont want to have any problems coming back into the USA. I am getting a visa with a travel agency but want to know if I will be asked for proof of reasons of travel or what… hope you can help.. thank you!

    1. Yanilsa – This is just an opinion as I’m no immigration expert, so I recommend you consult this with the airline and/or the embassy/consulate. If you’re going as a Dominican, you shouldn’t need the visa. A tourist card should be enough. Now, since you mentioned that you have a green card, that might put you in a gray area, and like you, I wouldn’t want this to affect you. I think the safest thing for you is to get the “family visit” visa, as you mentioned.

      I know that if you’re going to stay with your Cousin in Cuba, he might need to show proof that you’re related (like email conversations, family photos, and such). For you, I don’t think you’ll be asked firsthand, but the government dictates that you keep your records/proof for up to five years after the trip. If you’re getting the visa with an agency, I’m sure they’ll be able to give you more accurate information as they deal with these situations on a daily basis.

      Sorry I couldn’t give you any accurate info here.

      On the other hand, should you want to avoid too much issue flying from the US to Cuba, you can fly to Mexico and then fly to Cuba from there, which is what I did and I simply showed my Dominican passport at the airport in Cancun to get the Tourist Card for $20.

  49. Hello Norbert!

    Thank you for such a good Cuba Guide!
    I am a swedish citizen with a swedish passport and I planned to visit Cuba. First I travel to New York and a couple of days later I bought a ticket from NY to Havana. I’m flying with the United airlines and I chose the “support the Cuban people” when I bought the ticket.

    I have called their customer support but I could not get a good answer whether there will be any problems or not for me to travel to Cuba. And also at the Cuban embassy in Sweden they told me that I should not get a visa in Sweden because I could get it at the airport in the US. I am sooo confused!

    My Swedish friend already traveled to Cuba from the US and she did not have any problems at all, but she flew with a non-American airline.

    Can you please give me some answers or advice? What do I need to do to get to Cuba with out any problems.

    Thank you!

    1. Hi Tina –

      I’m guessing your Swedish friend did not have an issue because she managed to get a Tourist Card at the airport during check-in. I believe that even with the new regulations they still sell the Tourist Cards as they are a separate thing from the Visa (“support the Cuban People”). If you’re still in Sweden, you can buy the PINK Tourist Card online via CubaVisa. They do shipping to Sweden. DO NOT buy the green one because you’re flying direct from the US to Cuba. You will not be able to board the flight to Cuba with the green one.

      Alternatively, if you’re already in the US, your airline will help arrange your Cuban Tourist Card (at the gate or online, depending on the airline). This card is pink, instead of the typical green Tourist Card. The cost is $50 for the pink tourist card (instead of $25 for the green one), but each airline has different fees for acquiring it. Here is a breakdown of known costs and where to acquire the tourist card for each airline:

      Southwest: $50, purchased online and delivered at the gate
      JetBlue: $50, purchase at gate
      Delta: $50, purchase at gate or through mail
      United: $75 ($50 visa + $25 processing fee), purchase at gate.
      American: $85 ($50 visa + $35 processing fee), purchase online and sent via mail. AA will send instructions.
      Frontier: $110 ($50 visa + $35 processing fee + $25 mailing fee), purchase online and sent via mail. Frontier will send instructions.

      If you’re flying with another airline, I’d recommend getting the pink tourist card beforehand. If you’re already in the US, you can use Cuba Visa Services.

      Hope this helps!

  50. Hi, I am confused. So as an American I need to purchase both a visa and a tourist card? I can buy both at the airport? I am going from Guatemala to Lima to Havana (Yes, a crazy flight but by far the cheapest). So I would buy both of those things, likely where?…In Guate or Lima? Thanks.

    1. Hi –

      Since you’re flying from Lima to Havana, all you need to do is purchase the green tourist card at the airport (if they sell it there at the LIM airport). I recommend you contact your airline and let them know about it to make sure you can actually purchase it there. Otherwise, you can purchase the tourist card online and have it sent to your address before you depart to Guatemala/Lima/Havana.

  51. Hey guys,

    Awesome article. So, so informative. The only things is that it needs a lil update. There are only 11 categories you can visit on from the US now.

    1. It’s still 12 categories. Please refer to the Department of State website where you can confirm this. I make sure to have the information here up to date to avoid any misinformation.

      Thank you, though.

  52. Hello Norbert,

    enjoyed reading your Cuba guide! and getting more and more excited to explore this country.

    I haven’t purchased a ticket yet because the entry requirements are not clear to me 🙁

    My question is:
    I’m an European citizen living in the US under a work visa (E2).
    Would traveling to Cuba from the US as a tourist jeopardize my re-entry to the US? Is it legal for me?
    By selecting the category “support the Cuban People”, do i need to provide a detailed itinerary when entering Cuba? How do they proof it?

    I know that i could enter Havana flying through Canada/Mexico but i prefer to take the ´legal` route and would be also more convenient to take a direct flight from the US.

    Thank you!
    Julia

    1. Hi Julia –

      Regarding your re-entry, I can’t say whether it will be jeopardized or not, but I believe it shouldn’t if you comply with everything Americans need to comply with to visit Cuba. So, you can get a “support the Cuban People” visa once you have a full itinerary, which someone from ViaHero can do for you. Cuba doesn’t care about this, but the airline might ask for proof of an itinerary before they let you board. Just show them a printed version of the itinerary along with your visa/tourist card (red).

      Hope this helps!

  53. Hi Norbert,
    What a great page, so much useful information!

    I guess this question isn’t new but I’m still confused. I’m Portuguese but I’m on a J visa in US and my plan is to fly to Cuba from Miami. If I understood correctly, I need a tourist card but I don’t need to chose one of the 12 categories given that I’m not American?

    Thank you and hope to hear more about yout trips 🙂
    Cheers,
    Carolina

    1. Hi Carolina –

      I don’t know how the J visa works, but as far as I understand, you just need to buy one of the red tourist cards since you’ll be traveling from the US. Should you need to select one of the categories to purchase the red tourist card from a website, I believe you can simply choose “people to people,” as you’re not American.

      Having said that, I highly recommend contacting the airline you’ll use to fly to Cuba, as they are the ones who can give you a clearer answer.

      Hope you enjoy Cuba!
      Norbert

  54. Ricardo Pineda

    Hey Norbert Thank You For the Amazing Info as Iam looking forward to Visiting Cuba This Summer ,
    My Question is as a US Citizen I will be going to Mexico and then Going to Cuba, Now I want to come back to the US from Cuba , is their any Info Regarding that Travel itinerary?
    Will there be any difficulty leaving Cuba to the US?
    Or any Extra charges?
    Thank you

    1. Hi Ricardo –

      To be honest, I’m not sure what would be the most accurate answer to that question, but I think there shouldn’t be any issue as the green/pink tourist card difference is only for the entry. Having said that, I do highly recommend contacting the airline as they are the ones who can definitely say whether it is possible or not. But, again, my logic says it should be fine.

  55. Hi,

    Thanks a lot for the helpful article.

    I have a question – I’m a US permanent resident (geencard holder) with an Indian passport. I have a flight to Cuba (Havana) out of Mexico City. Do I need a Cuban visa or am I able to visit Cuba using the green tourist card?

    I have come across different reviews about this and would appreciate your advice.

    Thanks,
    Neel

    1. Hi Neel –

      Whether it’s green or red, both are considered visas. Since you’re flying out of Mexico City, you’ll be using the green one, but the airline can confirm this once you check in, as you can purchase it right at the airport.

  56. Hello !
    Im an American and Italian citizen , currently living in the Uk. Me and my boyfriend are going to Cuba Next month ( leaving from Manchester) , I applied for my visa online using the Italian passport ( American one is expired). Do you think there could be Abu problems to get my visa ? I called the company they said there shouldnt be , but maybe you have more info about.
    Thanks
    Simona

    1. I don’t see any reason to have a problem getting your visa with the Italian Passport. It’s not a complex process. It’s just a simple payment at the airport when checking in (or in advance, if your airport doesn’t sell them there). You should be totally fine.

  57. Hi, thanks for all the info, great tips!
    We will be travelling to Cancún from Ireland, (Irish passports) and then onto havanna, next country is the Dominican Republic but all flights go through the US, so we are looking at getting a connecting flight in Miami(not leaving the airport) , what paperwork do we need to do this?

  58. Hi Norbert,
    I’d like to travel to Cuba in late May (2019) with my wife. Correct me if I’m wrong. But my understanding is that we need the following:
    (1)fall within the 12 categories – support for the Cuban people most applicable for us (2) set up a tour or use VIAHERO so we can travel independently (3) passport and a (4) pink tourist card. Is that all? Thanks a lot.

    1. Hi Omar –

      That is correct. If you’re flying from the US, that’s what you need. If flying from another country, the green tourist card is fine.

      Don’t forget about travel insurance. While I wasn’t asked for proof, it is a requirement and they could refuse entry if you don’t have it.

  59. Hi Norbert

    I am a Malaysian, thus do not need a visa to Cuba. I will be on business to New York and am planning to detour from Newark Airport to Havana. When I am purchasing flight on United website, I am asked to choose of the 12 reasons as a compulsory item. What should I do? I am struggling if I should purchase the ticket first, and risk being ‘rejected’ on the pink tourist card (do I need one?) and lose the ticket value — or I should just try my luck at the airport itself to purchase both the ticket and the tourist card all at one go (and without making any accommodation reservation then)?

    Need your tips. Thanks!

    Regards
    Wee Loon

    1. Hi Wee –

      I recommend you call United Airlines directly as the US-Cuba policies change all the time. You shouldn’t need any of the 12 categories, as you’re not an American citizen, but since you’re flying from the US, you will be given a red tourist card.

      Ask them how can you purchase your flight, as a Malaysian, and which category you should choose, if need be.

  60. Thank you for these wonderful tips but my question in general please answer me
    What difficulties did you encounter when traveling to Cuba?
    Please mention

    Thank you

  61. This article is amazing. It’s the third time I’ve read it. we are headed there in Mid September. We only have a 1.5 hour layover in Panama. I’m thinking with customs in Panama and that little of a window, we should buy our tourist cards in advance online. No?

    1. Thanks! I think getting them ahead of time would be the safest bet, but I would recommend calling Copa Airlines and asking them if they sell the tourist card at the gate in Panama (not at check-in from your original departure city). I believe they do, so I think you can get it there without any issue.

      From my experience transiting in Panama, you don’t need to go through customs. You must jump from one gate to the other. But, again, ask the airline just to make sure of it.

  62. Short of wishing for Donald Trump to suffer a massive, debilitating stroke, this is the best solution I’ve seen, solution wise, for the unfit, unworthy imbecile infesting our White House. Thank you. My wife and I look forward to returning to Cuba and spending more time with its lovely people.

  63. I wanted to visit Cuba this September and want to make the trip very interesting. Can you give me a contact in Cuba that will take me to places that I wish to visit

  64. “It gets charged a 10% fee in addition to the current exchange rate while all the other currencies don’t get any additional fee besides the exchange spread.”

    This is not true, and is bad advice. The exchange rate is 1:1. Always. There is also a 10% fee for USD, plus the 3% exchange fee. So, it is *always* $.87USD = 1 CUC. This is regardless of the exchange rate for any other currency. So, it is often better to go USD–>CUC, given exchange rates and whatever the bank is charging. At the moment the USD is weak, so it makes sense to go USD to CUC. In short, it’s often simply less hassle to go USD –> CUC simply to avoid all the exchanging back and forth, especially if you don’t have a lot of money you’re trading.

    1. Didn’t you just contradict yourself here? No other currency gets the 10% fee. Only USD. And no, going with USD will never give you a better exchange rate. I literally just came back from Cuba and I exchanged both Euros and USD, so I can guarantee you that exchanging USD directly gives you fewer CUCs than exchanging EUR, even after taking into consideration the USD to EUR exchange in your home country. You can do the math.

      In fact, I’ll add yesterday’s (09/09/2019) exchange rate from the CADECA here, which is the one I used:

      1 EUR = 1.06454 CUC
      1 GBP = 1.18623 CUC
      1 USD = 0.96500 CUC (+10% fee)
      1 CAD = 1.36478 CUC
      1 CHF = 1.02357 CUC
      1 CUP = 24.0000 CUC
      1 JPY = 110.756 CUC
      1 MXN = 20.2593 CUC

      Let’s do two simple scenarios: Exchanging USD to CUC and Exchanging USD to EUR at your home country to then exchange those EUR to CUC: I’ll do these with the exchange rates I had this month, and let’s say you’re exchanging $1000 in both cases.

      USD to CUC:

      $1,000 USD = $868.5 CUC (at the above rate + 10%)

      USD to EUR to CUC:

      $1,000 USD = 854.7 EUR (using 1.17 as the bank’s exchange rate – which is the one I got)
      854.7 EUR = 909.86 CUC (at the above rate)

      As you can see, even after exchanging your money twice you still get almost 5% more CUC.

  65. “Due to its trade restrictions, Cuba lacks in its culinary delights; so don’t expect delicious meals. Yes, you can find good food here and there, but this is not the norm.”

    Also not true. People should check TripAdvisor. But a short list of amazing food in Habana Vieja and nearby:

    Chacon 162 for great ceviche.
    Beruit Shwarma for Mediterranean food.
    El Aljibe for the best chicken, rice, and black beans you’ll ever have.
    La Lamparilla for great croquetas and other munchies.
    Atelier for upscale-made Cuban food
    Doña Etumia if you’re near the Cathedral and want quick, tasty food.

    That’s just a few.

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