Everything Americans need to know about visiting Cuba

Posted: 26-Mar-16 12:24

It is now easier for Americans to travel to Cuba, and likely more affordable too. Newly announced rules provide for "people-to-people" trips, making it possible to not only choose a flight but also book a room individually without going through an organisation. To help travellers understand the new rules, The New York Times recently published some online tips.

Everything Americans need to know about visiting Cuba

Now that “people-to-people” trips are easier and with wider reach, Americans have the right to independently travel to Cuba without booking through an organisation. The U.S. government recently announced the new rules, allowing Americans to book a room and an airline charter flight independently and not as part of a package.

To help explain the rules, writer Victoria Burnett of The New York Times published some answers to some of the most common questions. While organised trips may be laid out to include lectures, meetings and other things, they usually cost thousands of dollars. Burnett points out that “people-to-people” trips may be more affordable, as well as more informal.

While the author writes these trips must result in “meaningful interaction between the traveller and individuals in Cuba”, she adds this may be somewhat ambiguous. In quoting the founder of Cuba Educational Travel, Collin Laverty, the article explains the difference.

“People-to-people will be getting in a taxi and talking in broken English to a guy and getting his thoughts—not those of an architect or an expert.”

Most importantly, Burnett explains that Americans still have to abide by the 12 travel categories to visit Cuba. These include visiting close relatives, professional research, academic programmes, religious activities and journalism or participating in sports competitions and public performances, among other reasons.

Even with a “people-to-people” trip, Burnett reminds readers that travellers also must come up with a full schedule of activities plus be able to document what they did while in Cuba. This means hanging on to all travel receipts for five years after returning home. However, the article points out there seems to be no clear way for those booking a “people-to-people” trip to provide documents to U.S. officials on how their time was spent, other than signing an affidavit of their plans before heading to Cuba.

Along with this, Burnett adds that most Americans still need a tourist card to go to Cuba. A charter flight or travel agent usually handles this, but the writer says visitors can probably buy it at the check-in counter when traveling through another country to visit Cuba. That’s how some Americans now go there. Others book on non-American commercial airlines or U.S. charter flights. American commercial airlines could be announced this summer, making it cheaper. As well, some cruise companies and ferries have newly awarded licenses to sail to Havana.

Once visitors do arrive in Cuba, Burnett highlights the lack of high-rated hotel rooms. Instead, she recommends booking a bed-and-breakfast through TripAdvisor or Cubania Travel. Another option, she says, is using Airbnb to rent homes or apartments.

Additional recommendations Burnett offers include carrying British currency to get a better exchange rate while avoiding the 10-percent tax imposed on the U.S. dollar (which could be levied soon according to an official statement from the Cuban government). Also, she says, while there are more Wi-Fi spots in Havana than before, it may be easier to purchase a pay-as-you-go International Travel option from Verizon Wireless, though it is still expensive.

Finally, when bringing home souvenirs, the writer reminds readers that Americans can only return with $400 in items, including $100 in cigars.


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