For the past few years, Cuba has gained significant popularity among American travelers due to the ease in the travel regulations that previously restricted Americans from visiting this gorgeous Caribbean country. Visiting Cuba as an American is now much easier than it used to be, but there are still some limitations. Here I’ll share with you what you need to know before booking a trip to Cuba and how can you prepare yourself to make the most of your vacation there.
You Need a Visa or a Tourist Card
In theory, all Americans visiting Cuba need a visa that falls under one of 12 OFAC visa categories (including family visits, official visits, journalistic, professional, educational and religious activities, and public performances, among others), and none of them include regular tourism. But don’t worry, for tourists, there’s the Tourist Card. Visas can be obtained via a tour company or the Cuban Embassy in Washington, D.C.
Diplomatic relationships have eased in the past year or so that now the Cuban Embassy in Washington, D.C. gives visas and tourist cards under one of the 12 OFAC approved categories, even if you’re traveling just for tourism. The cost of the application is $50 in person or $70 by mail.
Alternatively, the site Cuban Visa Services offers a visa/tourist card you can purchase online. You can select one of the 12 OFAC approved categories even if your primary purpose is just tourism. The current cost is $85.
You Can Now Fly Direct from the US
Americans who want to visit as tourists and wish to fly direct from the US can now purchase “Tourist Cards” at select airports if they are traveling with approved airlines. The same rules apply for foreign nationals flying direct from the US to Cuba due to the embargo restrictions (unless your nationality doesn’t require a visa).
At the moment, the following airlines sell the tourist card at the airport or refer you to a third-party service at the airport.
- Alaska Airlines
- American Airlines
- Frontier Airlines
- Southwest Airlines
- Spirit Airlines
Here’s a list of current airports and their respective airlines that sell the Tourist Card. Since this information could change at any moment, I recommend checking directly at the dedicated “Cuban travel” page of your airline to see if they sell the Tourist Card during check-in at the airport, for how much, and what documents are needed.
Will you have any Problem Entering Cuba with an American Passport
You shouldn’t. As long as you have either a visa or a tourist card, you should be able to get into the country with no issues. Of course, as with any country, you will have to go through the regular immigration process, so unless you raise any red flags on a personal level, you’ll be good to go.
Some Search Engines Still don’t show flights to Cuba
At the moment, Expedia.com and Orbitz.com don’t show flights to Cuba. On the other hand, Kayak.com, Skyscanner.com, and Momondo.com, and a few other do show flights from the U.S. to Cuba.
American Credit and Debit Cards are Still Banned in Cuba
Unfortunately, they are. The best way to get around it is to take as much cash as you can to cover your entire trip, and it all should be in Euros or British Pounds as they get a better exchange rate.
Most hotels, Casas Particulares, and Activities are not Available Online
Cuba is now getting up to date on the Internet, but still, most businesses there don’t own a website. Some established hotels and companies do. So you might be able to find the hotel online, but even if they have a website, it is possible your reservation will have to be made via email or over the phone.
If you want to simplify your life, you can book a multi-day tour from the U.S. that will take care of all the bookings and even provide you with documentation to get a visa. Alternatively, if you’re open to “playing it by ear,” it is easy to book things there as “walk-in,” or through local’s recommendations.
You Need Travel Insurance to Enter Cuba
Insurance is a requirement to get into the country and one that you should always have, even if it weren't required. It is better to be safe and covered than sorry in the event of an accident or serious illness there.
Heading on a cruise? Find out more about what kind of travel insurance you need!