How To Travel To Cuba: A Guide For Americans

American Travel in Cuba

How to Travel to Cuba for Americans

Travel Tips

While relations between Cuba & the United States are improving, it’s still technically illegal to travel there. Here’s how you can travel to Cuba as an American anyway.

UPDATE: As of August 2016, there are now regular flights to Cuba from the United States from certain airlines/cities. Keep reading for more information.

Back in 1960 the United States imposed a severe trade embargo against Cuba. The Blockade was created after Cuba nationalized American owned oil refineries without compensation.

As part of this embargo, travel to Cuba by Americans has been restricted for over half a century. Or more specifically, it’s technically illegal for U.S. citizens to have transactions (spend money or receive gifts) in Cuba under most circumstances.

Basically this regulation has prevented most Americans from considering Cuba as a travel destination. Due to economic sanctions, air travel to Cuba from the United States was almost impossible. American credit & debit cards don’t work in Cuba either.

However things are finally beginning to change.

Traveling to Cuba for Americans

Exploring the Tobacco Farms of Viñales

Can Americans Travel To Cuba?

Even though travel to Cuba for Americans is restricted, that doesn’t make it impossible to visit. For many years some intrepid Americans were traveling to Cuba anyway. Initially there were three ways to accomplish this.

Special License

You could register for a special license with the US Government if the reason for your travel fit a certain category. These include family visits, professional reasons, journalism, religious or cultural programs, and humanitarian projects. You can see the full list here.

People To People Tours

Organized tours that involve some sort of educational experience with local Cuban people. It’s never been defined officially, but basically your trip can’t just involve sitting on the beach. Travelers would talk with a school, volunteer for a community project, or collaborate with artists. A kind of legal loophole that tour companies use to sell tours in Cuba.

Foreign Gateway Cities

The other option was to travel to Cuba “illegally” through a foreign gateway city. This means flying yourself to Canada or Mexico first, then traveling to Cuba on your own from one of those countries. Because for the rest of the world, Cuba has been a popular travel destination for many years.

It’s only us Americans who haven’t been able to visit Cuba!

New Rules

As of January 16th, 2015 Americans no longer need to apply for specific licenses if they fit one of the 12 special categories.

What does this mean? It simplifies the process for Americans that meet those special requirements to visit Cuba. But it also creates a grey-area.

If you no longer have to pre-apply for a license, can you say your trip is for journalism when it’s really not? Will anyone even check to make sure you actually match one of the 12 categories?

If you don’t fit one of the categories, will anyone enforce the rules when you return to the United States? From my experience & listening to other travelers, the answer is no.

While it’s still technically illegal for Americans to travel to Cuba for tourism only, it seems in practice, no one really enforces these travel restrictions anymore.

American Travel in Cuba

Local Game of Dominoes in the Streets of Havana

How To Travel To Cuba

In April 2016 I traveled to Cuba as an American with my girlfriend Anna from Anna Everywhere and our friends Hannah & Adam from Getting Stamped. We traveled through the popular foreign gateway city of Cancun, Mexico.

You can buy a 30 day Cuban tourist visa at the airport there for $20.

It can be purchased the at the check in counter (or while waiting in line) before your flight. The visa is a separate card you keep with your passport, but it’s not attached.

We flew into Havana from Cancun on the Mexican budget airline Interjet for $240 USD round trip, and the flight took about an hour.

As of August 2016, the US government is allowing some American companies to resume flights to Cuba.

Airlines that are flying to Cuba from the United States now include American, Frontier, JetBlue, Southwest, United, Spirit, Alaska and Delta.

For flights leaving from the Untied States, the visa process can be different depending on the airline you’re flying with. Here’s more information about obtaining a Cuban visa in the United States, depending on who you’re flying with:

  • Southwest: $50 – Purchase online & delivered at the gate
  • JetBlue: $50 – Purchase at gate
  • Delta: $50 – Purchase at gate or through mail
  • United: $75 – Purchase at gate
  • American: $85 – Purchase online & sent via regular mail
  • Frontier: $110 – Purchase online & sent via regular mail

Some reports suggest that it’s not the same everywhere though.

For these reasons, I recommend calling your airline beforehand to verify.

Check prices for cheap flights to Cuba here.
Cuban Visa for Americans

My $20 Cuban Visa

Cuban Immigration Process

The Cuban immigration process was super simple. I told the officer in Havana that I was traveling to Cuba for tourism, and he offered to stamp my visa card instead of my passport. This has been standard operating procedure for years.

Cuba wants American tourism, and they offer to stamp your visa rather than your passport so you don’t get in trouble with the US government.

This way, when you return to the United States, it just looks like you traveled to Mexico. Or Canada. There’s no passport record of your travel to Cuba.

However I asked him to stamp my passport directly. I was curious what would happen when I returned to the United States. Would anyone ask me about it? Would I get fined or arrested?

Nothing happened. When I returned to the United States, immigration didn’t even ask me what countries I’d been to, and they didn’t look at my passport stamps either.

Cuban Currency

Two Different Kinds of Money

Exchanging Money In Cuba

Credit & debit cards issued by American banks still don’t work in Cuba. So a trip to the island involves bringing lots of cash. How much? I’m planning to write a budget travel guide for Cuba soon, but to give you an idea, you can travel there comfortably on $50 – $100 per day.

Bring more than you need to be safe. If you run out, you’re out of luck!

Cuba actually has two different currencies. The Cuban Convertible Peso (CUC) is the “tourist” currency, pegged to the American dollar. The Cuban Peso (CUP) is what locals use, and worth a lot less. So when you exchange money as a tourist, you’ll receive CUC.

$1 USD = 1 CUC = 24 CUP

You can exchange US dollars for CUC, but there is a special 10% penalty fee for this service. So it’s cheaper to exchange Euros, Canadian Dollars, British Pounds, or Mexican Pesos for CUC instead.

There’s an official currency exchange outside the airport in Havana. You can exchange your leftover CUC back to US dollars (or whatever) before you leave the country too.

Casa Particular Cuba

Inside Our Casa Particular in Trinidad

Accommodation In Cuba

You’ll find some hotels & resorts in the most popular tourist cities like Havana, Trinidad, and Varadero. But they generally aren’t cheap. To travel on a budget in Cuba, you’ll want to stay with locals in casas particulares.

A “casa particular” is like a homestay or guesthouse in someone’s home. They sometimes include breakfast, and run between $20 – $30 per night for a double room. To operate a casa particular, local families need to register & pay special taxes to the Cuban government.

Most casa’s don’t have websites, so you just walk around and ask about availability when you get there. If one is booked, the owner will usually help you find another nearby.

AirBnB is now operating in Cuba too! We booked our first two nights in Havana through AirBnB.

Renting a Car in Cuba

Our Rental Car in Cuba

Transportation In Cuba

Cuban Bus System

Cuba has a government run bus company for tourists called Viazul that covers most of the country. Tickets aren’t very expensive, but you can’t book them online yet, and popular routes sell out fast. Which means you might need to buy your ticket in person at the station the day before.

Renting A Car

We rented a modern car in Cuba for 6 of the 10 days we were there. Renting a car in Cuba isn’t easy or cheap. There aren’t many vehicles available yet, so you generally have to book a car at least 2 weeks in advance by calling or emailing the company.

When we arrived in Havana, we tried to rent a car directly at the airport with no reservation, and were told repeatedly there were no cars left. Eventually Anna found a guy who said he had two, but from the same company who earlier said they had none, Via Rent A Car (they have no website, but you can book online through other sites like Cuba Junky).

So it seemed a bit shady/strange… but we ultimately got one.

Renting a car in Cuba with insurance is going to cost you between $70 – $90 USD per day. It’s not cheap! Luckily we split the cost between 4 of us. There’s also a $200 cash deposit required.

Vintage Taxi

The other option for traveling around Cuba is to rent a vintage American car with driver. This isn’t cheap unless you split the cost with a few people.

Hailing a vintage taxi for a short ride in town will cost you $8 – $10. Renting one for a longer 2-3 hour trip can cost around $60 -$70 USD depending on your bargaining skills.

Split between 4 people, our 3 hour vintage taxi ride from Havana to Viñales cost $60, about the same as 4 bus tickets, but we could stop anytime we wanted for photos or snacks. The cars are super cool too!

I’ve also heard it’s possible to rent one for a full day for $100 – $120.

Internet in Cuba

Using WiFi Internet Cards

Internet In Cuba

Despite popular opinion, there is some internet access in Cuba. That wasn’t always the case though. For many years Cuba was one of the least connected countries in the world. The government does censor some stuff though, like access to Snapchat or anti-government blogs.

These days you can get connected through Cuba’s state run ETECSA telecom company. Tourists can buy ETECSA prepaid wifi cards at special kiosks for $2 – $3 per hour of service.

These scratch-off type cards provide a username and password for ETECSA wifi networks, which can be found at major hotels or in public parks around the country.

You can often buy additional cards from locals in the park or at a hotel front desk for about $6. The internet isn’t blazing fast, but you can certainly upload web-sized photos to Facebook & Instagram.

Passport Stamp Cuba

My Pink Cuban Passport Stamps!

Cuban Exit Fee

As of May 1, 2015 Cuba no longer charges the $25 CUC exit fee to travelers leaving the country, this fee is now included in the price of your airline.

Drinking Water In Cuba

Tap water in Cuba is not safe to drink, and bottled water can sometimes be difficult to find depending where you are. If you plan on traveling to Cuba, I recommend picking up a LifeStraw Filtered Water Bottle. It’s better for the environment too!

Can You Bring Back Cigars?

I thought you’d never ask! So officially, if you are traveling to Cuba under one of the 12 special categories, you are now allowed to bring back $400 worth of souvenirs, including up to $100 worth of Cuban cigars. Yay!

Does that mean $100 of official branded cigars with a receipt? What if you buy unbranded “loose” cigars from a farmer in Viñales for $1 each?

Well I don’t know for sure, but I did manage to bring 30 Cuban cigars back into the United States. I was never questioned about tobacco, and it’s not listed on the customs form as something I have to declare.

Buying Cuban cigars in another country, like Mexico, and bringing them back to the US is still illegal. If you decide to try, do so at your own risk!

Most Recent Changes

To learn more about the legality of traveling to Cuba as an American, check out the Treasury Department’s Cuba FAQ. ★

Traveling To Cuba Soon?

Don’t forget travel insurance! I’m a big fan of World Nomads for short-term trips. Protect yourself from possible injury & theft abroad. Read more about why you should always carry travel insurance here.

More Information

Useful Notes: While technically it’s still illegal for Americans to travel to Cuba for tourism only, in practice people are going anyway and not getting in trouble. It seems there is no one enforcing these rules as the government attempts to jump-start tourism & business there.
Recommended Guidebook: Lonely Planet Cuba
Suggested Reading: The Other Side Of Paradise

Have any questions about how to travel in Cuba? Are you planning a trip there? Drop me a message in the comments below!

Disclosure: Some of the links in this post are “affiliate links.” This means if you click on the link and purchase the item, I will receive an affiliate commission. Regardless, I only recommend products or services I use personally and believe will add value to my readers.

Any Questions Or Comments?

Thanks for leaving a comment, I appreciate your feedback. However please use your real name only and treat everyone with respect. Lets have a meaningful conversation!

267 Comments

  1. Great read. I have been drawn to this country for many years and have so badly wanted to go. Mostly to step back in time. I found the information you provided very helpful and encouraging.

  2. We are planning on visiting Havana for our honeymoon, but we are traveling JFK to St. Kitts, then to Anguilla, and finally to Havana, before returning to New York. Would the “visa at the airport” option work if we are going to St. Kitts and Anguilla first, or would we need to travel New York to Havana first, and then to the Caribbean Islands?

  3. Thanks for the articles and info on Cuba. My daughter and I are wanting to go to Cuba with our motorcycles this summer to tour. Is this possible to do?

  4. So I have a question…as an American Soldier, is it ok to travel to Cuba? I have wanted to go to Cuba for a long time. I love everything about the culture and Music as a latino. I have always wished they would lift that embargo but I would love to go there today. :(

  5. Super helpful, thanks! I’m traveling alone JFK-Havana for 10 days in July. I picked “person to person” when buying flight through Delta but I don’t have anything specific scheduled with a group or event — I hope it’s ok!?

    I’m overwhelmed by the options of what to do when I’m there. Other than Havana (where I’ll be a few days in an Airbnb), I’m wondering if you could offer suggestions for non-touristy places to explore snorkeling/scuba, lush jungle/mountain hiking (waterfalls!) and beautiful beaches — within reasonable bus ride from Havana. Thank you!

    1. Tracy, I would like to travel there at the end of July. Can you tell me what exactly was the process you did in order to make it possible?
      thanks,

  6. Hi there, thanks for this blog post. I have a bit of a random question. I am a US citizen living in Colombia. I am planning to travel to Cuba in June for Educational (people to people) purposes, but will be flying in to Havana from Bogota. I know I will have no problems getting into Cuba. My question comes at the end of my time in Cuba. I am hoping to travel directly into the United States from Havana. I am wondering how to go about getting the correct visa if my initial flight is not a US based airline. I assume I will have a tourist visa into Cuba from Colombia, but am worried about the process of getting back into the US. Thanks so much for any insight you can give me.

  7. Ok, I think I’ve read everything and this is a new question.
    I’m going to Cuba in 10 days. Italian passport, traveling FROM Cuba to the US and back to Cuba (relatives visit in NY)

    For what I understand, I can go to the US without any problem (just filling the ESTA aplicattion form), but I have to choose 1 of the 12 reasons to board the plane from NY to Cuba, and that’s it…

    Is that right?

    Thanks!

  8. We are traveling as US citizens to Cuba and are doing a group People to People organized tour with an agency. We would like to extend our trip by 4 days just the two of us to enjoy some beach and snorkeling, and the agency offers reservations at an all-inclusive resort post group trip, with the caveat that we still need to be engaged in people to people activities. We have been told that activities such as music, school donations, watching sports, sharing a meal or drink with locals are acceptable. Is this risky or reasonable to add these 4 extra days on? If not, what are the possible penalties, and from the US or Cuba? Thanks for any guidance.

    1. You’ll be fine Linda. No one is enforcing these rules at the moment. It’s kinda like jaywalking. Technically it’s illegal, in reality no one is going to give you a ticket for it.

  9. Hi, I am from Poland. This summer I travel with my family to Miami and we would like to take plane to Havana. Does U.S. restrictions about traveling to Cuba concern also foreigner? Where can I check this to be sure. I wrote to Transportation Security Administration (TSA) but it seems they do not deal with this kind of problems.

    1. Hi Krzysztof,

      I’m from Germany. https://www.law.cornell.edu/cfr/text/31/515.560 regulates “Travel-related transactions to, from, and within Cuba by persons subject to U.S. jurisdiction.”
      “Subject to U.S. jurisdiction” does mean something like “no matter where you come from, as long as you have your feet on our ground this rule is also for you”

  10. Hi!
    My girlfriend and me are from Germany,. We are going to marry each other in Miami and already booked flights to Cuba for our honeymoon.
    Now we are afraid to get any trouble any time we want to visit the US in the future.
    What is your opinion? Cancel the direct flight to Cuba and go via Mexico? Or will there be no risk for us? It would be horrible to stand at the customs for a trip to NYC e.g. and to be told to immidiately leave back to Germany.
    Best Regards,
    M.J.

  11. Would it work if I bought the Cuban Tourist card (visa) by mail from say Delta (by mail) for $50 and used it for the American flight (they charge $100)?

  12. I have a simple question. Where can I apply for a visa. I will on a cruise and they want $75.00 per person for a visa. I would rather do this myself. Thanks

    1. Had the same thought having been told by cruise hostess same information. Say, are you by any chance from Farmington, Missouri?

  13. Hi!! Thank u so much for sharing your information, it really helped me understand planning Cuba trip.
    I was wondering if I can travel Cuba for 3 days.
    I also read some comments that they took cooking or salsa classes and the receipt they got will be a proof of people to people visit when going through immigration.
    Can I book those classes thru online and where do I send the receipts for the immigration proof??

    1. we booked our cooking directly with Ajiaco Café and it was awesome. It was $50 including mojitos and lunch and very educational. You can google and email them to reserve

  14. Hello. Has anyone traveled from the US to Cuba and back with children? I am interested in taking a trip to Cuba with my 11 year old. It would be just the 2 of us (mother/son), and while I am not overly concerned about personal safety being a female traveling with a child, I am somewhat concerned about the potential for being separated from him at immigration for questioning, etc. We are US citizens and have traveled just the two of us to a number of countries, but this seems like a special circumstance. Thanks!

    1. Hello Jennifer,

      I have been to Cuba twice in the last 6 weeks. I live in Miami (Not of Cuban decent and don’t speak Spanish). My first trip I flew out of Ft Lauderdale on Jet Blue and my second trip I flew out of Miami on American Airlines. Ft Lauderdale and Jetblue we easily more enjoyable if I had to pick (plus Jet Blue is cheaper and the Visa is $50 as compared to paying $100 on American). I have not traveled with Children but can tell you that the entering and leaving Cuba were a breeze. In fact, they were the smoothest international trips I have ever taken. Getting through customs on both ends were a breeze. I don’t think you will have any issues.

      1. Dion,
        I am traveling from Ft Lauderdale on JetBlue in one month and that’s good to hear! Where did you get that $50 Visa?
        Also, when you book your flights which of the reasons do you claim for your visit?

      2. Hi Dion

        Did you need itineraries when traveling to Cuba or where u questioned about your reason for traveling there?

    2. hello Jennifer. My wife and I recently traveled with our two-year-old daughter to Cuba and we did not have any problems at all. At immigration it was business as usual. While in Cuba she rode in the taxis with us, walked around with us and did everything that we did. You and your son will have a ball

    3. We just traveled to Cuba with our 2 preschool age kids and I was able to go through immigration with my kids, although my husband had to go through by himself. It was very easy and Cubans love kids. It’s also extremely safe there! I definitely recommend taking your son.

  15. Hi Everyone :)
    We were 10 days to Cuba too in December.
    We are American, flying from NYC with United.

    Regarding the Visa we chose people to people and Educational, both were possible:
    We used a local company based in New York City too called Cuba by Event Premiere.
    Contact if you need:
    cuba@eventpremiere.com

    Our itinerary was:
    – 4 full Days in La Habana ( Cultural tours and classes )
    – 1 Day trip to Vinales from La Havana
    – 4 days in Trinidad
    – 1 day trip to Topes de Collantes and los Molinos form Trinidad
    – 1 Day in Cienfuego on the way back to La Havana
    You can go to playa Ancon from Trinidad, you can also spend half a day at Playa del Este from La Havana

    With the agency we reserved several cultural tours and classes and got a full itinerary to justify this type of Visa at the immigration – the 12 reasons –

    Here are some possible ideas for Educational activities :
    – Cooking class / Religion and rumba class
    – Salsa Class / Spanish class
    – Architectural tour with a university teacher
    – Historical workshops with a professor / Economy and Political tours ( w economy teacher form University of La Hababa)
    – Walking tour of the cuban markets, food tour, art gallery tours and meet the artists….

    You can book one or 2 , they costed us $40 per person, and with the agency receipt, you are all set at the immigration.
    It was a unique way to see La Havana, I would recommend it , Definitely worth it.
    Camilla

  16. Hey thanks for the great info. I have already bought a ticket for my flight from New Orleans, to Havana for three weeks with spirit airlines. When I was purchasing my ticket I had to choose from about 12 different approved reasons and selected educational purposes as my reason, but have no plans to meet with schools or anything like that. The requirements also stated I had to call the Cuban embassy in DC, is this going to be a questioning? Will I run in to problems getting a visa?

  17. Thank you for this very helpful information.

    I am thinking of taking a trip to Cuba with an educational tour group as Americans had to do in the past. I’m having second thoughts because the cost is $400-$500 per day for an 8-day trip (seems a bit pricey to me). But after reading your blog and other sites, I think I could have just as nice of a trip and save money if I went with just 2-3 friends. I do have a couple of questions though.

    1. Would it be wise to have a printed itinerary just in case I’m questioned upon entry into Cuba or upon my return to the States? I can easily list out the daily activities I’d like to do while visiting the island nation.

    2. Would visiting just Havana offer enough to do for a first trip to Cuba for 8 days or would it be better to visit an additional city? The tour group I was considering is offering 4 cities during the 8 days (seemed like a lot of traveling to me).

    3. What about bringing bottled water in my checked luggage? I do that whenever I travel domestically. I like to have plenty of water wherever I am since it’s basically all I drink. Water in the checked bag is fine, just not the carry-on. I’m sure I’d use it all up and still need more. But at least I’ll have some to get me started while I’m in Cuba. Thoughts?

    Those are all the questions I can think of for now. But if I have more, hopefully after receiving a response or two, I’ll post again. Thanks, again, for this blog post. Quite helpful for the Cuba newbie like me.

    Ciao!

    1. Kim, My wife and I spent 10 days in Havana in March 2016 and loved it. We stayed in Airbnb in old Havana and were very happy. We are going back in May this year. As for your questions 1. Don’t worry about any questions at entry or exit. It is very easy. I don’t remember any questions on arrival and upon return we said we were on an educational visa and no further questions. Of course we were also apprehensive at first, but let me assure there is no need to be. 2. I think 8 days in Havana is ok, but you should see other places. We were going to go to two other cities but changed our plans in order to see the Rolling Stones perform in Havana. We did take a very nice day trip to Vinales, well worth it. This trip we are planning to see other cities. 3. As for bottled water. We had no problem finding water for sale. We bought a case at a local shopping area and smaller places have it available by the bottle. Just ask the locals, they are happy to help. I hope this helps you. We can’t wait to go again this May.

      1. Dave, Can I ask you what you did about money? Was it really safe to carry all the cash you would need with you for the whole trip? I worry about being targeted by the fact I cannot use a card to get money along the way.

    2. Hello Kim how are you? I agree at you and a few friends can go and have just as good of a time and save money. when my wife and I travel in December we did not have an itinerary and it was fine because immigration did not inquire at all. If it makes you feel better you can have one just in case. Also, you could consider traveling to another nearby city or to the beach in addition to your stay in Havana. Havana had a lot too see and do, however in 8 days you could definitely add a few day trips to other cities. And finally, concerning water, bringing water would save you time and money. Although bother water is available, it wouldn’t hurt to purchase what you are accustomed to. You’ll also probably pay less than what you would pay in Cuba. Enjoy!

  18. Hey guys!

    A few questions:
    Where/how do I apply for the visa? I am an American and have family in Cuba so I fit into one of the 12 categories easily!

    How long does this process take?

    And my mom was born in Cuba, I believe she needs an HE-11 visa. Does anyone have any insight as to this process?

    Thank you!!

  19. Hi Matt. I am hoping to travel this May with 3 other women. I know a couple who went in November and they were able to make a connection with a local musician who was very kind to them. I am hoping to connect with this gentleman and ask him to put us in touch with other local people.

    In your article, you reference travel insurance. Where do I get this? Is it standard insurance you get through airlines?

    – Maria

  20. Thanks for all the information! I’m from Brazil, and I don’t have american passport, not even green card, but I will be in Miami soon as a tourist and I would like to travel to Cuba from Miami, one flight! Would I have any problems when I return back in the States after few days?

    1. Oi frederico! Você encontrou essa informação? Estou querendo fazer Miami-Havana mas não sei se o visto que vou pagar é o de americanos ou de brasileiros…

  21. Just returned from Cuba February 5, 2017. Decided that waking up in Havana on Groundhogs day might snap the spell. Flew through Orlando. Had no hassle at all returning to US. No one asked anything. My wife raised the question of bringing in cigars with the Customs and Immigration people and no one cared about that either.

    Cab fares in Havana are very expensive. The drivers do not use meters. Make sure you ask the driver in advance for the fare. Typical in-town fares are 10 to 15 c.u.c. One time we had a driver try to charge us 20 c.u.c. for a 4 minute drive and I refused to pay. I told him to call the police and haggled it down to 8 c.u.c. but I should not have let myself get into that situation.

    Visit the night club called the Art Museum for great entertainment. Get there before 9 on weekends or you will wait in line.

    1. Which of the 12 reasons did you say you were going for? Did the US or Cuban Goverments ask for documentation of your trip?

      1. I am trying to plan a trip for myself and boyfriend on our own to cuba, not with a tour company. We’re planning on breaking up the trip where we stay 4 days at an all-inclusive and 4 days in Havana, is that possible? I don’t see anyone on this blog advising they’ve stayed at all-inclusives, just airbnb.

        1. Many tourists stay at the all-inclusive resorts in Varadero and other beach areas. I don’t have any experience with them, but I know it’s popular. I don’t see why you couldn’t do a little of both!

    2. thanks KS Bell for sharing about your recent trip to Cuba! I am traveling with my husband on Friday but have been nervous with the new administration and travel bans. It feels great to hear that you did not encounter any problems coming back. Any additional recommendations? Thanks :)

      1. We have travelers to Cuba coming in and out of the U.S. daily – zero problems: easy to get in, lots of friendly people in Cuba, and easy immigration and customs clearing back through the Miami airport. Biggest problem we’re seeing is U.S. travelers do not know if their return flight departs Terminal 2 or Terminal 3 (no signs at the terminals tell you, driver’s do not know, no transfer shuttle and no taxi’s cover the 20+ minute walk along city streets) – simply note the terminal you arrived at — that’s also your departure terminal!

      2. Please share your experience when you come back to US. I have tickets to go in april, but like you, im having few concerns. Thanks and have a safe trip.

    3. Cuba Taxis & transfers are unusually expensive – because cars are so expensive as supply is controlled (a 10 year old South Korean car with 100,000 miles in the U.S. costs about $5,000 – same car in Cuba costs $50,000). Although “K S Bell” was ripped off at $20. Best value for transfers: viazul.com tourist bus tix.

  22. Matt,

    Thanks so much for the article/info. I am flying to Havana end of the month and am having a difficult time finding affordable accommodation, there are 5-7 of us going. Any suggestions?

    Also, looking to spend a few days in Havana and then travel to Vinales. Any recommendations on getting there? Once in Vinales, same question about accommodations as well as would like to do a horseback tour through the valley and see some cigar factories and such. Suggestions on this?

    1. Consider air BNB. We have used them twice for our Cuba visits and found excellent housing at affordable prices. And with 7-8 sharing the cost, you could rent a very nice place. Hope this helps.

  23. Hello Everyone

    We would like to go to Cuba but we don’t know what is the best transportation you can use? We were thinking of a car but that’s quit expensive. How far these the busses go in the country? Are there also dangerous places in the country?

    Thanks for your ansers. Greetings from Belgium

    1. No “dangerous places” in Cuba — but as anywhere avoid dark streets. In high season least expensive car rental with mandatory insurance is usually over $75 / day.

  24. Hello, I am a British citizen currently studying in Florida on a J-1 visa. Do you know if the regular US laws for travelling to Cuba will affect me? Is it ok to fly direct from the US to Cuba?

    1. Hey Elena,

      If you are flying to Cuba directly from the US, you will need to comply with the US regulations like a normal US Citizen.

    2. You will have NO problems – the U.S. treats everyone who is in the U.S. the same if they want to go to Cuba. You need to “self-certify” that you fall under one of the 12 Categories (Category 5 – Educational – is the most popular as it covers “People to People” which allows individuals to travel). I have no idea if a J-1 allows you back into the U.S.

  25. Hi there, good article. Wondering, your girlfriend said she never used the waterbottle and there was water everywhere for sale and you seem to advise to have it. What’s the deal. I don’t want to buy a bunch of stuff on Amazon right now but I’m sure I’d also spend at least 20$ on water in 2 weeks there so maybe it will even out. Just not sure if its worth it as I already have so much stuff and don’t want more.

    Thanks!

    1. She also doesn’t drink water, only diet coke. Haha. :-)

      Yes, you can find water. But there aren’t convenience stores on every corner. I’m happy I had the filtered bottle, and used it plenty. If you don’t mind buying & carrying around large bottles of water when you find them, you should be fine.

      If you’re worried about money though, a filtered bottle saves you tons money in the long-run anyway. 1000 liters of bottled water is going to cost you at least $1000. Not to mention the environmental impact. A LifeStraw gives you the same amount of clean water for only $20.

  26. Hi everyone,

    Just a heads up from someone coming back from a two week trip from Cuba. I am one of those lucky few who are pulled to the side to chat with a Cuban official about my reasons for being in the country. No one else from my completely full flight was pulled aside. I wasnt wearing anything suspicious (activewear pants, Nike jacket, and a top bun), and I wasn’t acting suspiciously. In fact, I started chatting up a nice woman from Jamaica while waiting in line before I was pulled to the side for questioning

    Spent forty-five minutes talking with the guy. My reasons for travelling were for journalistic purposes. I thought that was vague enough since I journal every day in my personal journal, but no. Most of what I explained was lost in translation. That lead to him wanting to see my journal, taking down my casa information, passport info, and telephone number.

    This guy was beyond shady. After all those questions and all my info being taken down, it goes into first date territory. What kind of music do I like? Do i have a boyfriend? What’s my favorite color? Do i like to dance? and then a poop ton of compliments.

    do yourself a favor and say people to people connections. I missed my taxi driver and had to pay extra just to get to my casa from the airport.

    1. Hey Renee! Thanks for sharing your story. We actually had a similar thing happen. Traveling in a group of 4, my girlfriend Anna was singled out and asked all kinds of strange questions. We never found out why.

    2. Hello Renee! A friend of mine and I are traveling to Havana next week and also wanted to say that we are visitig because of journalisitc reasons. Is it really ok if we only have a personal travel-blog and a journal as proof? We are flighing directly from Florida. Will we be asked about it already in USA or just at the immigration in Cuba?
      Thanks!

      1. Cuban officials (like many countries) randomly select approximately 1% of travelers for additional questioning. They are most sensitive to journalistic / religious / “support for the Cuban people” travelers. Smart to stick to “people to people” which is Category 5 – Educational.

  27. I really liked your article, it actually made me make up my mind and decide to travel to Cuba with my wife and proceeded to book our flight for February 8th. We were very excited until the last weekend after everything that is going on and all the restrictions, bans etc etc. I did a lot of research and talked to my buddy (an American citizen) that just traveled to Cuba a few weeks ago and is now going back, he said that he didn’t have issues going thru immigration but I’m concerned to have issues coming back in so at this point I’m debating about going or not. I’m fully aware of the 12 reasons in place and that “they don’t really check” I just don’t want to have issues coming back to the US.

    1. I’m an American citizen and my wife a permanent resident. We would fly out of Fort Lauderdale, FL. Any suggestions? Tips or advice?

  28. I loved your article! I leave for Cuba in two weeks from America. Slightly getting nervous with the travel bans emerging. Traveling as a single women, how safe do you rate Cuba? Any museums or musical acts I MUST check out?

  29. Hey everyone,
    I’m currently planning a trip to Cuba in April but I’m concerned about the risk in the new administration increasing the difficulty in traveling there legally. Is that something I should be concerned about or if tickets are booked and application sent, should I be ok?
    Thanks!

    1. Dear Carly,
      My wife and I are also going to Cuba in April. Would you mind sharing information you find with us? I’ve booked the flights, but I need to figure out a way around some of the restrictions. Any insight would be greatly appreciated.

  30. Hi everyone,
    I have my upcoming trip to Cuba in March, I’ve been there before (through Canada) but this time we’ll be flying out from JFK…
    Does anyone know how the immigration process is here in the U.S when you are flying to Cuba?
    I’m still confused of why the airline even offers tourist Visas if supposedly you can’t even go as a tourist?

    1. I’m not sure how it will work as I leave in 2 weeks but I do know that you can buy the visa at JFK at the gate counter through JetBlue and Delta (possibly others as well) I also know that both of those airlines include your 25$ travel insurance with price of your ticket. I think it should be fine.

      1. Please share your experience here when you come back. I have ticktes to go in april, but concerned about the return. Thanks and have fun :-)

        1. Will do there is lots of planning so far! But very excited! If you want email me and I can fill you in as I might forget to get back to you here. misslily718@yahoo.com
          I also have a blog I’ll probably be updating soon after I get back if I’m not too lazy about it. Haha I’m not as on top of it as this guy! :)

  31. I’m heading there in March and your article is definitely a great asset for the trip. You may have addressed this but what is it like trying to get around the country. I’d like to dive near the bay of pigs but stay in Havana Vieja, near the plaza if possible.

    1. Hey Grant! I dove at the Bay Of Pigs too. We rented a car, but that wasn’t easy. Bus travel is comfortable, but you can’t book tickets online, and often need to go to the station the day before because tickets are usually sold-out the same day. So getting a bus ticket means a few taxi trips to the station and back.

  32. Hi! I am a French exchange student, currently studying in the US with a J1 VISA, I am leaving for Cuba in less than two weeks and I am starting to freak out because my school sent us an email that states that we shouldn’t go to Cuba because there is a risk that we won’t be able to come back to the US. Moreover, I am supposed to meet my French friend who is traveling from France and come back with him in the US: is an ESTA enough for him? Nobody was able to answer my questions so if anyone has the answer I will be very greatful!
    Bests

    1. Marie, I would be cautious about traveling to Cuba right now, especially since you are on a J-1 visa. Trump is planning to revise the J-1 & H-1B visas. We are advising our international students not to leave the country until after May 2017. Things are very unsettled right now. I encourage you to talk to the international office at the school you are studying at.

  33. some up to date info for anyone flying direct from the US (and yes you just pick one of the 12 categories, its just a formality and not checked)

    If you’re flying from the US to Cuba, your airline will help arrange your Cuban Tourist Card. This card is pink, instead of the typical green Tourist Card. You will not be able to board the flight to Cuba with the green one. 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 are taking a charter flight from the US or you’re traveling on an organized tour, the Cuban Tourist Card should be included in your package. Double check to be sure that this is the case and if it isn’t, make sure to get one.

    1. Hi Julie,
      I’m not sure if you already had you trip, but I was wondering if you could help me by telling how the immigration process is here in the U.S flying to Cuba? I would like to know, so I know what is expected.
      Thank you,
      Anabel

    2. I’m curious Julie, which of the 12 reasons did you pick?None really speak to me so I want to be with the most popular/easy to explain!

    3. Thank you so much for your full information. What about spirit airlines ? This is the only timing that match for me as I am coming from dubai and I am french. Couldn’t really find any infos and try to call them and send email already but couldn’t speak to someone yet.

  34. Matt….you said when you entered the US, no one checked your passport? I’ve never had that happen. What US city did you arrive at? Maybe I can fly that way?? I’d like to visit Cuba but can’t afford a tour or wouldn’t fall under the 12 reasons (although I image they don’t really enforce the self-licensing. Have you heard much about that?

    1. Marilyn, he didn’t say that. He said:
      ” When I returned to the United States, immigration didn’t even ask me what countries I’d been to, and they didn’t look at my passport stamps either.”
      As for the “12 reasons”, I would suggest that you read the article again, twice; once to get it right, and once again to read between the lines.
      You’re welcome, Matt. Love your work.

      1. Thanks Dan! Yes that’s the key, read between the lines. Officially, you need to fit one of the 12 reasons. Unofficially, just pick any one of them and go, because no one is going to check.

  35. We want to travel in June from LAX to Havana, we do have European passports but are Green Card Holders ( permanent residents). Can we all ( family of 3 ) just travel under one of the 12 categories like people to people even if we do not have booked an official tour? Will we have issue flying direct back into the USA at immigration ? Thx for any information

      1. Don’t the restrictions apply to anyone travelling from the US, regardless of their nationality?
        I am a New Zealand passport holder and will going to Cuba in June from Miami, and concerned about this.
        Would going through Nassau in the Bahamas be a satisfactory alternative?

        1. Hi Tony, we are on NZ passports and are going in May. I applied for visa from Wellington Embassy and have just been advised “We are sending back your applications and documents. We received a notification the last week about new regulations for travelers going through USA to Cuba.

          Cuban visa card must now be purchased at the American Airport with your travel agency, tour operator or airline. Due to the blockade, Americans are not allowed to go for tourism to Cuba and therefore all passengers using American airlines are required to do the same. Unfortunately, the american airlines are requesting twelve categories to travel to Cuba from US (none is tourism) and they are selling a ´tourist card´ (pink colour) as a visa to enter Cuba. “

      2. unfortunately this is only the case if traveling on a non-direct flight from the US, if you are flying on one of the new direct flights from the US you need to choose one of the 12 reasons (they don’t check them) and purchase a more expensive travel card from the airline – you cant travel on the green tourist card (needs to be a pink one) or get one from the Cuban Embassy in Washington

        1. Hi Julie, we applied to the Cuban Embassy in Wellington yesterday and have just received this email … “We are sending back your applications and documents. We received a notification the last week about new regulations for travelers going through USA to Cuba.

          Cuban visa card must now be purchased at the American Airport with your travel agency, tour operator or airline. Due to the blockade, Americans are not allowed to go for tourism to Cuba and therefore all passengers using American airlines are required to do the same. Unfortunately, the american airlines are requesting twelve categories to travel to Cuba from US (none is tourism) and they are selling a ´tourist card´ (pink colour) as a visa to enter Cuba. “

  36. I am traveling to Cuba in March and I wanted to know if you have updated information about visas. Do we need to purchase and apply beforehand when traveling to Havana from Miami, or can we purchase at the airport?
    Thanks in advance!
    Lauren

    1. Hi, if after spending a week in Burmuda, and then flying from Bermuda to Cuba, briefly transiting through Miami, is it the same as say, flying from another country such as Mexico, saving the hassles of fitting into one of the 12 categories required.
      I am travelling on a New Zealand passport.

      1. as you have to clear customs and immigration at every first port of call in the US you will effectively be traveling from the US to Cuba direct but you just need to purchase a pink travel card at the airport, don’t worry about the 12 catagories, just pick one

  37. Hi, We are looking to go in June of 2017. My husband is a swedish citizen and I am American. He owns his own business. If he set up a business meeting and included me as his secretary do you think that would fall under the categories. Also, how much do they even check that?

  38. Hi everyone! We are traveling from Chicago to Havana. We have a layover in Houston. The United website says we can purchase visas in Houston. But since our original destination is Chicago, will we be required to have our visas before we board from Chicago to Houston? Or just when we go from Houston to Cuba? I can’t seem to get a straight answer from anyone, and we leave in two weeks (last minute trip)…I appreciate your help!

  39. Thanks for the great article, Matthew! My friends & I are looking to go in March, & were discouraged by various people we know in the travel industry ~ but your piece gives us hope! Thx : )

  40. Hi! Thank you for the great article! I am interested in going to the Havana International Book Fair in February 2017. Do you think this would count as Education? Thanks again for the tips!

    1. There are some short trips from Marathon near Key West, World Cuba Travel. Maybe contact them: 1205 19th Terrace Key West Florida 33040.

  41. I have a US passport. I am traveling From Italy and back without entering the USA. Does anyone know if that creates any problems?

    1. Was your travel situation easy? I have US passport but a resident (long term resident visa) of Ecuador. Planning to travel to Cuba March 2017.

      1. Did you do that? I was wondering if I would have issued travelling out of Canada as a US citizen with the green tourist card.

  42. This is extremely helpful, thank you! I’m going from the 6th to the 10th of January and will get the Lonely Planet as recommended (I’ll buy through your site!) A question that I have is about going to venues/bars for live music…Cuban Jazz etc. Any comments or places that are a must? Any advice on the Music Scene would be extremely welcomed! I’m staying at the Four Points so also curious about that.

  43. I am a legal resident of the US, so I don’t have a US passport. I will like to travel to Cuba, but with my Bolivian passport. Would I get into problems when returning to the US?

  44. Hi,
    For those who are Non US citizen and have asked the question, “do USA sanction regulations apply to me if I’m not from the US but want to travel from USA direct to Cuba”. It has taken me numerous calls and emails but the answer I received is below..

    If you are traveling directly from the United States to Cuba, you are subject to the same sanctions regulations as U.S. citizens and permanent residents. So if on a direct flight, you’d need to be traveling under one of the 12 authorized categories of travel. More information can be found here – https://www.treasury.gov/resource-center/sanctions/Programs/Documents/cuba_faqs_new.pdf

    How easy is it to tick one of the 12 general licensing options and get on your flight …I don’t know. If anyone who is not a US citizen and has taken a direct flight, I would love to know if you had any issues.

    1. i am flying on frontier to cuba in april, spirit airlines will let you get a visa at the airport through their services but it frontier won’t assist in getting a visa and i have not been able to get one through the cuban embassy in DC. Does anyone have any information about frontier’s policy regarding flying to cuba with a tourist card? is a tourist card the same as a visa? I think not. I have tried Cuban embassy several times but get no response. Will frontier let me on the flight to cuba if i don’t have a visa? Any information would be appreciated, allan

      1. Look on line for Cuban Travel Services. You can buy the tourist card through them. A bit pricey at $85 but at least you know you have the required document.

    2. Hi, I have a european passport. Im going to Cuba in March. I thought I was being clever and booked a flight to New York. After the booking I realized, that I cant just fly direct. So now I, stuch with two tickets to New York and dont know what Im gonna do. Im gonna follow this post. Maybe someone will have something to say. Thx

    3. Hi Shantell, Have you had any luck finding the answer to this question?
      I am an Aussie and wish to travel NYC-HAV direct rather than adding to my trip by both time and price going through Mexico or Panama.
      I am a teacher/director and would happily consider adding a school visit or two to my trip to qualify for the ‘education’ visa.

      Do you, or does anyone know if this is acceptable?
      The Cuban embassy in Aus has told me they cannot comment or give any suggestion. My travel agent suggests I should only be going through a host country, but all other info I’ve found seems to suggest otherwise?

      Thanks in advance, Meg

  45. Hi Matt
    I will be going to Cuba in Mar 2017(4 weeks) before that spending a few months in Mexico.Is it worth exchanging USD for Euros/Canadian $ for Cuba?Heard the Mexican Peso is lower value and everytime Money is exchanged there is a devaluing?? Any recommendations for a casa particular in Havanna or Triniadad?
    Thanks Tuolovme

    1. Hey Tuolovme, I really don’t know, it will depend on the currency exchange rate at the time of your trip. You’ll have to do the calculations yourself. If you can exchange to Euros for less than the 10% fee, then yes it will probably save you a bit of money.

  46. I have double nationality. I was born in brazil but I live in usa and have american citizenship. I was wondering if I can get in trouble if I use my american passport to go to mexico, and from mexico to havana, my brazilian one (and then back to mex with braz. passport, and from mex to usa with american one). Does anyone know something about this? Thanks a lot.

      1. Really Iris, I am a U.S. citizen and want to go to Cuba in Feb. but thought the only way to go is through Canada???? Are there any problems leaving from NY and returning directly to NY with a U.S. Passport???

    1. Luisa, you can’t get into trouble for using both passports the way you mentioned. You are not doing anything illegal. I do it all the time.

    2. I did it some years ago. I have my American passport and my Uruguayan Passport. So, my visit to Cuba was stamped on my Uruguayan passport.

      1. Hola Bea, vi que respondiste algo similar a una duda que tengo. Soy argentino, y tengo pasaporte español con visa americana. Me voy de viaje a cuba y pensaba hacer unos días en miami (es decir, La havana-Miami-La havana). Por lo que estuve leyendo, es complicado volar de EEUU a Cuba aunque no seas americano. Si hago una escala en méxico en el vuelo de vuelta a cuba, sabés si tendría algún problema? Es decir: La Havana-Miami-Mexico-La havana. Mil gracias porque estuve llamando a varias embajadas y consulados y nadie me sabe dar una respuesta! Saludos

  47. Hi Matthew Karsten
    What a great article! I am from France traveling Canada to Cuba and then I want to return to the French. Do you have any advice that helps me? I will not have the right visa since I will be getting it at the Paris Le Bourget Airport. Thanks!

  48. This was helpful. Me and a friend are thinking about heading to Cuba over the Christmas holiday (about 5 days) and flying out of Dallas. Hopefully this won’t be an issue. Since we can’t use US credit cards, how much should we bring? Not going to lie that the idea of only bringing cash and if something happens (like getting robbed) and being stuck there is concerning. Do you think it’s safe for women to travel there?

    1. From talking to other travelers, I’ve heard only good things about Cuban people and the safety in Cuba. One man we spoke with didn’t realize his debit cards wouldn’t work while in Cuba and had a family take him in for the duration of his 2 weeks there for free.

  49. The visa is $50 through the airline in Orlando is there any way you can find it cheaper can anyone tell me please. Thank you

  50. Very useful review, thank you! I did not know it was allowed for tourists to roam the island in a rental so freely. I have been to Cuba once before but mostly in Varadero and I felt as though that’s where they want you to remain. The access to the peninsula was blocked by a gate with armed police after all.

    I have one question, my wife and I live in the states but we both have foreign passports, too (Taiwan and Germany).

    We are thinking about going to Cuba next year and I can’t seem to find out if we can just fly from an airport in the States as opposed to going to Mexico or Canada which would be an expensive detour.

    Any thoughts/experiences on that?

    Thanks for your help!

    1. Direct flights from many US cities to Cuba. Call the airline, book on weekdays and total round trip is very cheap. Prices skyrocket on the weekend.

    2. Yes you can fly direct from the United States now. We didn’t have any problems driving around Cuba in the rental car, but actually renting the car is pretty difficult — they don’t have many available. You need to try and arrange it weeks in advance, over phone or email.

  51. Matt, thanks so much for all this information! It was so much more useful than anything I’ve seen so far! I’ve been researching for hours now and still struggling to understand the OFAC requirements. Is any action required if you fall under one of the 12 categories? I see a lot of mention of general vs. specific license but no where do I see the difference and what I need to do. Also, it seems that all airlines have different policies on whether a visa needs to be obtained beforehand or not. Is this true?

    Thanks so so much!

  52. Hi Matthew,

    Great article an dvery usefull against the background of recent developments. Being a European citizen, one thing remains unclear to me though: am I allowed to travel to Havana and back (round trip Atlanta-Havana) from the US? From Europe, there is no problem or restriction visiting Cuba, but since it will be a round trip from the US I’m not sure how the US legislation will affect us. Any advise would be really helpfull. Thank you in advance!

  53. Hi, great article. I am British and travelling to Havana on a direct flight from Miami, and then on to the UK. Will I also have to fill in a form stating my reason for travel? Can you see any problems with that? Thanks

    1. Hi Jack, just wondering if you had any response to this? I am doing the same trip in April and unsure what visa I need to get and what questions i will be asked at the airport? Thanks

    2. Jack, just wondering if you got any further information on this. I am doing exactly the same trip and just wondering what the requirements at check in will be? Do you also need a tourist visa whilst you are there?

  54. Hi! What awesome information! I just booked my flight last night and I was getting nervous about traveling and restrictions since the Jet Blue customer service Rep said someone from the airline would be calling me to verify my license through OFAC. My cousin booked the day before on United and they never mentioned anything and just asked for the reason they were traveling. That said, I want to visit Camaguey and Havana for different reasons so I am flying in to Camaguey and out of Havana. My total stay is 8-9 days. What is the best way to get to Havana front camaguey and how long will it take? Would I have been better off entering and leaving from the same airport? Hoping to get a quick response and potentially have time to change flight if necessary! Thanks in advance!!!

    1. Hey! I just booked my flight last night and am going through similar feelings of excitement and nervousness. Would love to connect if you have found any answers in the past few days! I am going in a few weeks, would also love to have a potential friend to meet up with! Thanks!

        1. Hello Jill,

          Now that you returned from Cuba can you relate how that went? Did you have any problems whatsoever?

    2. Any updates from your conversatiom with the jet blue rep? I also booked a jet blue flight direct from nyc…
      I dont know if they need additional documents.

  55. Hello , I am an American traveling from Canada to cuba and then returning to the US . I am concerned that when reentering the US I will not have the right visa since I will be getting it at the Vancover Airport . Do you have any advice

  56. Hey

    I’m traveling from Miami to Cuba and was wondering if anyone could just buy a visa at the airport or were you only allowed to because you were flying from Canada? Any information would be helpful

      1. Hello ! So, about the “12 options” which authorized you to go in Cuba, there is no problem in Miami ? American Airlines just informed me about that and i’m a little concerned to be in troubles now …. !!!! Thank you and good job :)

  57. Hey!
    Very very helpful! Thanks for such a detailed answer. Question – did you fly back to the US directly from Cuba or through Mexico again?

  58. As always, I enjoy your posts and check daily for more. I appreciate the work you’ve done and the advice you give!

  59. I am looking to go to Cuba in December 2016. Would like to visit Havana for a couple days then head to a beach resort for a few as well. How does one qualify for the “people to people” requirement, or otherwise visit without problems? Thx!

    1. I wouldn’t worry about it too much Mia. No one is checking these days. Stay with some locals, visit a school or church, and save a few documents/photos of those visits as proof and you should be fine.

      1. So you’re telling me that I can go to Mexico city or Cancun and book a roundtrip flight to Cuba with my american passport without any questions?

  60. Does anyone know the best way to procure a visa (tourist card) when the flights originate from the US? Later this year we’ll be flying directly from Charlotte to Havana. Surely they’re not available in Charlotte?

    1. Did you find an answer to this question? We’re flying from Charlotte to Havana in August of 2017 and I can’t seem to figure out the visa situation. It’s been mentioned that you are sometimes able to buy a $50 one at the gate, but would like to know your experience!

  61. Hi,

    I am thinking about going on a week long group trip to Cuba through a website, it cost about $1500 and covers about 2 meals a day. Before I make the decision I was wondering if you could tell me approximately how much your trip cost you? I want to make sure that I am not overpaying through the website if it would be cheaper for me to travel on my own.

    Thank you,

    Joe Gould

    1. Hey Joe, while I think you could do it cheaper on your own ($50-$100 a day), travel in Cuba is far from easy. Depending on your experience with independent travel in other parts of the world, it might be better to go with a company the first time.

      1. Hi!
        Some girl friends and I are planning a trip for March from California. We’ve been contemplating if we can or should just plan it ourselves. We’ve been in contact with a traveling agency which I’m sure will cost more. Learning from you, it seems like getting the tickets and visa is pretty easy. Do you think it’s easy to set up our itinerary and get around ourselves? Would you recommend a guide? We’re thinking Havana and a beach city. Any suggestions and input is appreciated. Thanks

  62. Hi Matt-
    I’m a US citizen and would like to spend more than 30 days in Cuba. If I buy a ticket that has me returning in 45 days will that be a problem as far as getting in? I’d extend my visa beyond the 30 days once I was in Cuba.

  63. Hi, is that the new pink visa card in the photo? I’m travelling next month and I have purchased a green visa card but then read I have to get a pink one anyway. Can any of you confirm this? How does the pink visa card looks like? Thank yoU!

  64. Hello,

    Does anyone know if the problem is to fly from the US to Cuba being an American citizen or if I would also have to justify my visit being a Brazilian (leaving from Miami to Havana)?

    Thanks,

  65. Hello! For those of you who did the ‘people to people’ tour where you spoke to a school, community project, or artist, can you please share details on which school or artists? We would like to know to plan our own ‘people-to-people’ tour for December. Thank you in advance!

  66. Hello,
    My friend and I are planning on going to Cuba in February, going through Mexico City, has anyone encountered difficulties with getting a tourist card from the airport? Are there any additional steps that we need to take before getting the tourist card? My friend says Mexican people can be rude. We are looking forward for this trip any info would be helpful. Thank you!

    1. You shouldn’t have any problems getting a visa card at the airport in Mexico City. Call your airline just to be sure.

      Mexicans aren’t rude at all. Just don’t yell at people in English and expect everyone to understand you.

  67. I visited Cuba (via Mexico gateway) in 2003 without a license. I’m planning on attending a cultural dance class/festival there next year on my own. Since you said a person no longer has to pre-apply in advance for an educational/people-to-people license I have a few questions:
    • When does one identify the category/ purpose of the trip: when one purchases airline tickets or as part of the flight check-in process? (hotel/guest house booking sites also warn you that licenses are required for trips to Cuba). The federal rules are not about clear when and where (but tour companies are plus they provide their licensing number).
    • Since one has to identify the purpose of their trip (12 categories) does the questionnaire ask if you have ever visited Cuba before?
    • Is there a statute of limitations for the government to go after you for violating the embargo, i.e. my 2003 unlicensed trip?

    1. In my experience (Feb 2016), you do not have an opportunity to identify the purpose of your trip, via the Mexico gateway. No one asks you and you do not have to declare your intentions anywhere.

      I received the “Mexican death stamp” but we never experienced any problems re-enterying the United States

      1. I just booked (Nov. 26) a flight with United Airlines to Cuba from Newark, NJ. I picked my category online from a drop down menu when I was booking my ticket.

  68. Does anyone have clear information on what is required for US citizens traveling to Havana on the new nonstop flights from the US?

    From what I have read all of the Imtips have been for US citizens traveling to Cuba but via a different country.

    Any advice is most welcome as I plan to travel in November.

  69. Thanks for the article! I may be going to Cuba in Dec. My mother is Cuban and my cousin who’s been in the U.S. for the past 3-4 years is going back to visit her father (my uncle) and hopefully my aunt. He lives near Guantanamo. I’m excited but nervous as I speak very little Spanish so I will rely on my cousin for everything. My mother asked me when I was 16 if I wanted to go to Cuba and as a teenager I had attitude that I didn’t know any Spanish so why should I go…I regret that, but I now have another chance – can’t wait :-) Any other advice is appreciated.

  70. Hi,

    If you rely on the people to people reason for traveling to Cuba how do you go about proving it or planning it? What type of activities constitute people to people trips? I’m trying to plan a trip in November but can’t really figure out how to plan this aspect or what is really needed.

    Thanks!!

  71. Great to know that you can buy a You can buy a 30 day Cuban tourist visa. This must have been really helpful. I have heard that everyone is really nice in Cuba. Was this the case for you?

  72. I flew to Cuba x2, back in 99 from San Salvador, and again in 2001 via Air Transat out of Vancouver Canada while my then girlfriend was studying at La Escuela Latinoamerica de Ciencias Medicas.
    Hitchhiked from Varadero to La Habana all the time.
    It was nice to see a country unexploited and hearing maybe Italian and German only in the bodeguita del medio. Not sure what to expect when I head there for Christmas 2016..

  73. Hi Matt,
    Thanks for putting this article together. Just a few points to clarify-the American travel ban is related to the embargo against Cuba which has been in place for more than 50 years. Obama has done all he can as president to loosen restrictions. Now it will take an act of congress to fully lift the embargo, it’s not as easy as just “lifting the ban.” I wish it were! Also, something to note about Cuba is while yes in order to fulfill the p2p requirement you can find schools or projects to talk to, but what if you don’t speak Spanish? How will you know where to go and who to ask? For example, what kind of unique experiences were you able to find on your own? I find Cuba to be very challenging to get around on your own, doubly so if you don’t speak Spanish. These tour groups that many of you at talking about avoiding have actually done quite a bit of research and have contacts on the ground that they have built over the years. I think it depends on what type of traveler you are, but in my opinion Cuba is not a place to buy a guidebook and just see what you see. You will end up frustrated, wasting time, or seeing what 99% of people see when they go to Cuba this way. again, I think it comes down to what kind of traveler you are and how much time and money and patience you have. Just a few thoughts to share, I want to be helpful for those heading down there.

  74. What a great site! Thanks for all the info, Matt! Lots of great info in all the comments, as well!!! My wife & I are trying to put together a trip for the end of the year (xmas-new years), and I have a couple things I’m trying to figure out. We will likely be flying out of Tijuana. Any weird rules about purchasing the tijuana-havana ticket online? Also – I’m trying to figure out where to spend the 1st night & a little confused/unsure of how to make reservations in advance. Any recommendations? Once we get our feet on the ground, we’ll be fine. Thanks so much!!!

  75. Hi all,

    I will be travelling to Cuba via Mexico in mid-August. My girlfriend and I are flying into Havana and thinking about travelling to Vinales and Varadero (we only have 1 week). We have an apartment reserved in Old Havana, and we are thinking about staying in a casa particular in Vinales and Varadero (potentially a nice resort one night in Varadero or Havana). Anyone have suggestions on fun (and cheap) things to do in these cities? Fun bars/night life?

    Anyone have suggestions on places to stay in Vinales or Varadero?

    I’m also looking for advice on transportation…I’m wondering if anyone has rented a scooter to get around Havana or if taxi’s are best. Also wondering if we should just take the bus (Viazul books online now apparently) or try renting a car to get to and from Vinales and Varadero. I don’t think we want to take a tourist bus.

    I also hear Master Card is allowing credit transactions in Cuba now. Anyone have any experience with that?

    Any tips on the best places to exchange money?

    Finally, we hope to bring some kids books and toiletries. Any suggestions on good places to drop them off?

  76. Hi,

    I am travelling to Cuba on July 27th. We are leaving from LAX to Panama City and then to Havana. I have called LAX, Panama City and other U.S. government offices, and the answer is different. The government office requires a tourist visa that cost 85.00 and the airports from LAX and Panama said to purchase the tourist visa in Panama. I am not sure if we should buy the visa here in Los Angeles through a Cuban travel agency or in Panama City. Can you please let me know what would be best?

  77. Re Scuba Diving.
    My husband was an avid diver for nearly 40 years – mostly for really old bottles and artifacts near where we live. The first year we went we were both looking forward to a dive.
    It didn’t make sense to take your own equipment since, of course, the Cubans have diving tourism down pat. If you don’t want to be crowded on a boat with a million others, it can be quite expensive.
    The only real problem is there isn’t much to see. We dove near Jardines del Rey, as well as near Havana. Natural sea life is being demolished not only by the evil Lionfish (scourge of the Caribbean now) but also by hungry Cubans and those who are allowed to bottom-trawl in Cuban waters. The once abundant coral reefs are now falling victim to bleaching, as they are everywhere. There’s dolphin-feeding and shark expeditions, too, bit they are a little disappointing as well as being hit-and-miss sometimes.

    1. so disappointing….we were hoping to go there for amazing snorkeling this winter. Sounds like it is not worth the trip.

  78. I had to laugh at:
    “So it seemed a bit shady/strange… but we ultimately got one.”
    That’s Cuba – all the way. From 2006 to 2011 my hubbie and I travelled to Cuba from Canada. Unfortunately he passed away last year, otherwise we would still be going.
    2006 was Camaguey; 2007 Arenal (Playa del Estes); then 2008 to 2011 Playa Ancon (near Trinidad)
    These were all resorts since most Casas, other than those in Havana and larger, urban centres, were really not that numerous or appealing.
    No doubt that’s changed in the last few years but from talking (sporadically – letters vanish sometimes) to friends there and from reading, I can see that much has not.
    With the exception of pricey restaurants and the occasional lucky good cook who has access to seafood and their own garden, food is pretty dismal.
    The entire island has not managed farms well over the last 25-odd years and climate change has just added to food supply problems.
    The great majority of foodstuffs is imported — at great cost to Cuba, eg. limes and lemons are not native to the country and salads are very hard to come by.
    People will ALWAYS be asking you to come to dinner at their house. If have only just met them, please know that this is not simple friendliness. It is a way for a family to make hard currency (their are paid in the native pesos, 24 to 1 CUC). They desperately need this now, since many of the items that used to be supplied monthly or biannually by the State no longer are or run out before the month is up.
    If your salary is, say, for a resort housekeeper, 12-20 CUC/month (i.e. US$12-20/month) you can be expected to pay (in CUC!) 2-3 for toothpaste, 3-4 for laundry soap, 2-3 for deodorant, 3 for shampoo, 1-2 for soda pop, 3 for toilet paper; the list is endless …
    Also a huge caution re health care!! In Havana and major cities you will probably be fine. For the rest of the country you should always carry with you things that cannot be readily supplied, either at a clinic or a pharmacy. We always carried plenty of Tylenol, anti-histamines, anti-biotics, bug spray (Zika and Dengue are present in places) anti-diahhreal and laxatives, first aid supplies including bandages and tape, etc. Don’t forget – this is NOT Mexico, PR, or the DR.
    I speak enough Spanish that I’ve been able to talk to people over the years and, once you get to know them and they trust you (and you can get the hang of their Castilian accents), they are truly wonderful people who are fascinated by the outside world.
    It takes a while before they trust, too. Quite often people have an “angle” and you really should exercise utmost caution when interacting.
    Lots of begging in smaller cities, quite a lot of ‘street crime’ such as pickpocketing and purse snatching in larger cities.
    Past the age of 10, kids aren’t always in school and are often a source of trouble.
    Don’t forget, the majority of the 11 million people on this island (including the massive prison population) have been living in a vacuum and extremely unevenly (a little like N. Korea) for about 55 years.
    Running water, safe water (make sure any bottles you buy have an unbroken seal) and regular electricity are still rare around the country and, as Matt said, internet is virtually non-existent unless you are a rich person (and there are many of those!!), an academic, or at a resort.
    I still love the place and the people (but no, I don’t want to marry you; if you are female you will get lots of those offers!) and will be taking my first solo trip there this winter (back to Playa Ancon) to see my friends.

  79. Hi Matt,

    I’m Canadian and have been to Cuba several times. The last time was when I backpacked from Holguin to Vinales in December 2014. I took local (not tourist) buses all over the island. The only time I took a “tourist” bus was from Vinales to Havana only because that was the only bus available for that route on that day. I bought my tickets the same day (during very high season) and never had any problems. Mind you this was 2 1/2 years ago – things might’ve changed since then with the influx of American tourists. Cuba is an amazing country with wonderful people – glad you got to visit!

  80. I heard that starting in December 2016, you will no longer need to have one of the 12 reasons to go and visit Cuba. Is this true?

    1. I’m also going to Cuba in mid Dec. 2016 anything you can share would be great. How much did you pay for the Visa out of MCO

      1. Hey Matthew, our plans are to go to Cuba next month, but we are having a bit of trouble trying to obtain an affidavit. Any suggestions?
        Do we fill out affadavit at airport? We will be flying Jetblue. TY

  81. Does anybody know how many people have been arrested in 2015 and/or 2016 for traveling illegally to Cuba from the USA?

    1. None. It was a fine of several hundred dollars, not a criminal offense to go to Cuba. You could be arrested for other things though, like if you were a suspected spy.

  82. Hey Matt,
    Do you know if anything has changed in recent months with travelling to Cuba? We’re thinking of planning a trip to Havana and to do some scuba diving in early January 2017.
    Cheers!
    -Ali

  83. This is a very helpful overview about traveling to Cuba. I would really like to go, but it still seems like a bit of a hassle (and perhaps more expensive) to get there because of having to go through a gateway country.

  84. Great in depth guide to travelling Cuba.

    It’s a shame the ban for American travellers is still in place, or anywhere for that matter. Personally, I find it so strange that one can’t visit certain areas of ‘land’ in this world due to historical events, but that’s the way the world works.

    Thanks for the heads up on the internet section also, keep up the great work!

    James

  85. Wow this is a great guide to Cuba. We’re staying in Tulum for 7 weeks this summer and I think we are going to go on a little jaunt to Cuba as a side-trip thanks to your information.

  86. I really enjoy reading about people’s different experiences in Cuba, because it is a really confusing place to travel to. I think that you have some great information on the steps that must be completed to travel to such a wonderful place.

  87. Hey Matthew, great up to date info here as it can still be massively confusing to plan a trip to Cuba, so worth going though. I’m a bit miffed about the abolition of the exit fee as we left the island at the end of May 2015 after 2 amazing weeks there. Cheers, C&K

  88. You are the Boss matt. Thats awesome. But i have 1 question for you. İf i travel to Cuba for 1 week, how much money should i spend? i can stay hostels and i can eat local foods.

    1. Hostels aren’t really a thing there yet Enes. Just the “casa particulars”. As for local food options, basically places that serve microwave pizzas & cuban sandwiches for about $1. Not tons of variety. Restaurants are generally for tourists.

  89. Hi Matt congrats for your very nice blog always updated with many many intresting news. I look forward to read more info as we are planning a trip to Cuba with my family next November.

    1. Good question Don! I’ve actually heard you can get a pre-paid credit/debit card from a bank in Mexico that will work in Cuba. However I’m not sure which banks offer them.

    2. Donald,
      I did it! I charged on an American credit card in Cuba in April – bought my husband’s cigars actually. The clerk didn’t want to try to run my American credit card but I asked her to please just try. You should have seen her face when it went through! My bank tells me that I am the first to do it.
      It was through a Florida bank called Stonegate. My branch was in Hollywood, FL. The nice people there will gladly help you get a card – ask for Lance. We flew out of Miami, a 46 minute flight and went under the even newer rules where we didn’t even have to qualify under the 12 categories. Cuba’s cool, so do go. We loved it.

      1. CarolSue,
        How did you obtain an affidavit to Cuba? Did you go ” people to people?” My husband and I plan a trip next month. A JetBlue agent was telling us when people arrived there, they were turned away and sent back home. Wondering what they did or didn’t do in the process. Can you give us some tips on how you accomplished your trip? It sounded very positive.,
        TY
        Rosie

  90. Quick hints: Buying cigars in MX and bring into US. I saw many do it in my tourist group. Bought the good ones, slipped off the band until they were home and then put the band back on.

    Cuba education: Talking with a local naturalist or birder. For those of us who chase birds, we easily fulfill the people to people requirement.

  91. Can you suggest a school or education venue to get in touch with (and how) to do a people-to-people visit without going through a tour company?

  92. I did not know why there was restrictions between US and Cuba and just read it here so thank you for sharing. Sounds like a place worth visiting one day….

  93. I’m so glad that this is finally changing for all of my American friends!

    I’ve always felt bad for American Travellers going to lots of places – the extra charges, like in Bolivia for example – can certainly make travel harder for a backpacker.

    Getting to experience Cuba is going to do wonders, both for travellers getting to see such a beautiful place, the the Cubans themselves. Let’s just hope it keeps it’s vibrant heart in the years to come.

    James

  94. Great article Matthew! Very informative. I’m glad you got to see this amazing place and shared such fantastic pictures with us. Did you see a ton of foreigners traveling there?

  95. Thanks for the helpful information. I am looking forward to your update on returning to the U.S. with your shiny new stamp and cigars!

    Once you actually got your rental car, did you have any problems driving around the country (getting pulled over, etc)? Does Cuba require an international drivers license?

    1. There are giant potholes all over the highways, so driving fast requires a lot of focus. Feels a bit like a video game trying to avoid them. It was sometimes difficult to find gas stations that offered the 95 octane fuel we needed for our rental car.

      The roads outside of town were pretty empty, not much traffic. We probably passed Cuban police jeeps every 30 minutes, but they seemed to only be pulling over locals. A regular driver’s license was fine.

  96. Three of us, all educators, are in the process of trying to plan a “people to people” trip to Cuba, possibly during the week of Thanksgiving 2016.

    Your uncle suggested you might be able to help us make the proper contacts to develop a “full time” itinerary. We had planned on going on a tour, but it didn’t work out, so we are on our own.

    Any help you could give us would be greatly appreciated!

    1. Hi Doi! You’re looking for an itinerary? I’ll be writing more about what we did in Cuba over the next few months, but basically if you have a week, a common trip includes:
      Havana > Trinidad > Varadero.

      As for the “people to people” requirement that tour companies love to sell, from what I understand all you really need to do is find a community project, school, or musician to talk with while you’re there, and take some notes/photos for proof.

      1. Thank you so much for this blog, and also thank you commenters for your helpful comments and questions!

        I’m considering a weeklong trip under the “people to people” category (without an agency hopefully!) this December, looking at the direct flights from NYC. I’m a PhD student in Counseling Psychology, speak fluent Spanish, work with many Latinx kids & families here in the US, and have visited/volunteered at different nonprofits on previous trips to other places. So I think I could make a pretty convincing case for this category and would love to visit community orgs, schools, etc while I’m there!

        I was just wondering what proof and contacts you need *beforehand*? And who would you need to show these to? The Customs people at the airport upon leaving? upon returning to the US? both? No one in advance of my trip, correct?

        Also, how strict are they with proof, and with the requirement that your “people to people” activities fill up every day of your trip?

        Mil gracias in advance to Matthew or anyone else who can answer these questions!! :)

        1. I would love to hear an answer to this question given that im planning to do the same
          Thanks in advance!

          Monica

        2. Hi Matthew,

          I would also really like to know the answer to Sylvia’s question of who I need to provide proof to for entry beforehand. I’m also a student and looking to meet the “people to people” requirement by scheduling meetings with local researchers at universities in Havana. Any additional clarification about who to talk to in order to get the visa would be great. I’d rather not spend more money by going through a tour operator, and planning to fly directly from NYC.

          Thanks for your help!

  97. Thanks for the article Matt. I’ve been saying how I want to go to Cuba. I didn’t realize there’s still some restrictions. It sounds like they sure make it a difficult place to visit even when you’re there. Still can’t wait to make it over there soon!

    1. Cuba is not the easiest travel destination to visit, but it’s a beautiful country with a lot to see. They aren’t quite prepared for mass tourism yet, so it will take a few years to work out the kinks when the American travel ban gets lifted.

        1. Hola Annette! I’m really curious if you ended up going and how it went. Did you go under one of the 12 general license categories? Trying to see if a trip (directly from the US) this December is doable for me — would love to hear how it went for you :)

      1. Hi Matthew,
        Thanks for a great article. We are planning a trip with our 9 and 12 years old sons, flying directly from NY to Cuba and meeting w schools there. Any recommendations on activities for kids and jazz clubs? we will be there two weeks. Beside Havana, Trinidad & Varadero, any country side locations we should not miss? is mosquitos a problem there on MID MARCH? THANKS! Seth.