How to visit Cuba - a practical guide for US citizens

Posted: 20-Jan-16 13:37

It is still illegal for US citizens and residents to visit Cuba as tourists. However, with President Obama working to restore diplomatic relations between the US and Cuba, a reduction in such travel restrictions is on the horizon, as this guide shows.

How to visit Cuba - a practical guide for US citizens

At the moment, US tourist activity in Cuba is punishable by a hefty fine – or even jail time. However, restrictions on other kinds of travel for US citizens and residents to Cuba are steadily being reduced. Here's a handy guide to help know what's possible...

So, how can an American visit Cuba legally?

As of 2015, the following 12 categories of travel to Cuba that have been granted permanent pre-approved status:

  1. Visiting family
  2. Humanitarian projects or to provide support to the Cuban people
  3. Official business of the U.S. government, foreign governments and certain intergovernmental organizations
  4. Journalistic activities
  5. Professional research
  6. Educational activities by persons at academic institutions
  7. People-to-people travel
  8. Religious activities
  9. Public performance, clinics, workshops, athletic or other competitions and exhibitions
  10. Authorization to provide travel services, carrier services and remittance forwarding services
  11. Activities of private foundations, research or educational institutes
  12. Exportation of certain Internet-based services

If you are an American and you wish to visit Cuba, your trip must fit into one of the above pre-approved categories. While some of these are clear-cut, others are quite vague, and it's you, the traveller, that must decide if you meet the criteria.

Now that the formal application system has become less restrictive, the US essentially relies on an honour system, trusting would-be visitors to Cuba to decide for themselves if they fit into the above categories.

What about a visa?

Although Americans whose trip fits into one of the above categories no longer need to apply for a licence to visit Cuba, you do still need a tourist visa.

A visa is different from the now retired travel licence – and you still need one. The easiest way to obtain a tourist visa is through a travel agent specialising in travel to Cuba, and it can take up to four weeks to be processed.

If you'd rather not go through a travel agent, many airline companies also assist in visa applications, so check before you book your flight.

As of 2015, tourist visas for Cuba cost about USD 25.

Working around the system

Americans travelling to Cuba from a gateway country such as Canada, Mexico or the Bahamas do not need to organise a visa in advance – instead you can purchase your visa (tourist card) at the gateway country's airport. As well as this, a two-leg journey still works out cheaper than flying directly to Cuba from the US, as of 2015.

However, it is important to note that even if you are travelling through a gateway country, you must still fit into one of the pre-authorized traveller categories to make your trip legal if you are a US citizen or resident.

As of 2015, all US travel providers require Americans to sign an affidavit declaring which of the pre-approved categories they fall into. The affidavit is usually processed at the same time as your flight reservation.

Travelling as an American in Cuba

It is worth noting that cell phones with a SIM card from a US provider will not work in Cuba, so make sure to purchase a local SIM and have your phone unlocked to be able to use it.

Internet access is extremely limited in Cuba, and your local SIM will not provide data. There are some Wi-Fi spots available, but most locations use a slow dial-up system and there is usually an hourly fee attached.

Althoght major providers have been approved, the majority, but a few, US–issued debit and credit cards do not work in Cuba, so it is recommended that you bring enough cash with you to cover all your expenses. You should also set some money aside for the exit tax that you will be charged when you leave Cuba.

It is useful to know that there is a 10% penalty tax on the exchange of US dollars that is not applied to other currencies. As a result, many travellers find they get a better deal by converting their dollars to another currency first, such as Euro, before converting to Cuban pesos. Check the conversion rates before trying this.

Overall, it has become much easier for Americans to visit Cuba now that relations between the US and Cuba are improving, and the travel licence has been abolished for American citizens and residents. However, travelling to Cuba for Americans is still far from easy, so do your research before you go.


Popular Holidays in cuba

OUR EXCLUSIVE DEALS AND LATEST OFFERS

Best Value

From £599 per person
villa pinares de mayari

Villa Pinares De Mayari

4.0 stars

Beautifully perched on the panoramic Mensura Hill, surrounded by striking greenery, this blessed and secluded natural...

Included
  • Flight
  • Accomodation
  • Transportation
  • Representation
From £629 per person
villa mirador de mayabe

Villa Mirador De Mayabe

2.0 stars

This enchanting villa hotel is surrounded by exuberant tropical plants and is perfectly located in a high point towering...

Included
  • Flight
  • Accomodation
  • Transportation
  • Representation
From £679 per person
sercotel club cayo guillermo

Sercotel Club Cayo Guillermo

3.0 stars

The perfect haven for lovers of nature in its purest state, the Villa Cojimar hotel sits in an idyllic location amidst...

Included
  • Flight
  • Accomodation
  • Transportation
  • Representation
From £679 per person
club amigo atlantico guardalavaca

Club Amigo Atlantico Guardalavaca

3.0 stars

Get away to one of Cuba's best kept secrets for a dream holiday at Club Amigo Atlantico. Guardalavaca is known to host...

Included
  • Flight
  • Accomodation
  • Transportation
  • Representation
From £679 per person
tryp cayo coco

Tryp Cayo Coco

4.0 stars

The perfect beach holiday awaits you the all-inclusive Tryp Cayo Coco hotel, where non-stop entertainment and utmost...

Included
  • Flight
  • Accomodation
  • Transportation
  • Representation
From £699 per person
memories holguin

Memories Holguin

4.0 stars

Enjoy a perfect beach setting while you unwind in the historic sands of the all-inclusive Memories Holguin. A short...

Included
  • Flight
  • Accomodation
  • Transportation
  • Representation

More deals


Explore cuba your way

Tailor made cuba holidays

For those who prefer to travel at their own pace or to explore places not included in the brochure itineraries, we have years of experience at organising tailor-made holidays.

Create the perfect trip with the help of our specialists

Our expert tour consultants will be pleased to suggest ideas to complement your own and to organise the most appropiate programme to suit your interests, time and budget.

Call 0207 644 1600
to speak with our award-winning travel consultants.

If you would like a member of our team to contact you back, please click here Contact us