I’ve been receiving a lot of questions on just how I am able to visit Cuba even after the recent-ish policy changes on Cuban travel. Basically, the Obama administration had eased the travel and trade restrictions making it more accessible for Americans to visit Cuba; airlines started offering flights and BOOM, we IN THERE. Fast forward to 2019, Trump administration basically says “okay let’s just undo these things.” This caused a ton of confusion because then it became widely thought we could no longer visit Cuba.
Plot twist: we can.
Let’s back up, to visit Cuba, you have to have a reason for going; they have categories or general licenses. There are 11 categories, which are:
- Family Visitation
- Professional Research/Meetings
- Journalistic Activity
- Public performances, clinics, workshops, exhibitions, athletic and competitions
- Religious Activities
- Authorized export transactions
- Activities of Private Foundations, or Research or Educational Institutes
- Humanitarian Projects
- Official Business of the U.s. Government or Foreign Government
- Exportation, Importation, or Transmission of Information
- Support for the Cuban People
So, there was 12 categories before June 2019. The other category, that has since then been banned, was “People to People”. This was the main category people used to visit Cuba and it basically encompassed anything tourism related. Now that it is gone, however, the new category for people to use is number 11: support for the Cuban people.
With each “general license” or category, there are certain standards that have to be met. You essentially have to prove that reason is why you are in the country. If it’s academic, what research or studies are you doing? If it’s for government business, what government is it for and what business is it? Luckily, support for the cuban people can almost refer to anything you do as a tourist. You stay at an Airbnb, YAY support! You do a tour with a local, yay support! You take a cooking class or a dance class, YAY more support! You get the gist. As long as you are doing things that are beneficial to the locals of Cuba, this counts as support. Spending your money to boost the economy and pockets of the local people is support, taking classes, doing tours, etc.
Now that you know what category to choose, you will also need a visa. It is officially called a “Cuban tourist card” and they are very easy to obtain. They last for up to a month and costs anywhere from $50-$100. A little steep but not a bad deal! To get a Cuban visa, you will need to do a few things first: buy your plane ticket. Your visa is going to need your arrival and departure info and a copy of your ticket. You can’t visit Cuba by cruise anymore so flights are the only option for getting there. Next, you can now buy your actual tourist card. There are a few places you can get them from: here, for $85 and some fees; and here, for $103.50. Now, be sure to buy the RIGHT card. If you are traveling to Cuba from America, you need the pink tourist card. From any other country, you can buy the green. Please buy the correct card. This is ONLY for the country you are traveling to Cuba from, NOT the country you’re a citizen of.
The other way to get a tourist card is through your airline. There are only a few airlines operating to Cuba, currently and all have options for getting you a tourist card. Delta, Southwest, Jetblue, American, and United all have options where you can either buy directly at the airport/gate or in advance and have it shipped to you. Prices range from $50 (Southwest, Delta, Jetblue) to $75 (United) to $85 (American) plus any shipping fees you may have. Depending on what airline you fly, I would look into these options. I did mine through American and it was really easy and arrived earlier than expected.
The travel visa is definitely something I would do in advance and not wait until the last minute to do. If you misplace your tourist card, you HAVE to get another before you can leave Cuba. Keep it wherever you keep your valuables and I would also keep a copy, if you can.
The last thing you need to visit Cuba is: health insurance. Here’s the catch, your insurance you have in the US is not valid in Cuba due to the trade embargo. So yes, that is something you will have to purchase. You can do this a couple ways: wait until you arrive and buy directly at the airport OR you can do it in advance. There’s about a million travel insurances out there so I advise you to do some research and see what is best for you while traveling. Buying at the airport is also just fine and only costs $4.50 for each day you’re there. The insurance company they use has an office near immigration where you can purchase.
To recap, the three things you need to go to Cuba: a reason (one of the 11 sanctioned licenses), a visa/tourist card (you have to buy this), and travel insurance (you have to buy this). Cuba travel is still very possible although it does take some extra steps and planning. I hope this helps you be more ready for when the time comes for your trip to Cuba or could just educate you on the steps needed.
P.S. They have two currencies which can be a bit confusing but CUP (Cuban Peso National) is the one locals use, mostly. You may want a little of this for street food and small vendors. CUC (Cuban Convertible Peso) is the one used by tourists and this is the one you’ll probably be using more of so get most of your money into this. A little pro-tip a friend told me: when you go to exchange money, first have your money exchanged into CAD (Canadian dollars) then into CUC and CUP (Cuban currency). The reason why you want to make the exchange to CAD first is because USD exchanges are taxed by about 10%, so you’d lose a good hunk of money if you just exchange from USD. However, this will only be a good option if the place you are originally exchanging from offers a lower commission rate than 10%. I would talk to your bank, first. It isn’t worth it if you’re paying a 10% or more commission fee to an exchange company, then you’re just wasting your time.
That was a lot of info to process, I hope it all makes sense. Is Cuba somewhere you’ve wanted to go? Did you find this helpful? Let me know in the comments!