Cuba Info for Americans
By the way, Americans can still travel to Cuba despite recent changes to Cuba travel policy. A legal trip is just a matter of making sure you know what's changed and how it affects your plans. ViaHero has you covered with the latest updates on Cuba travel policies in these recent articles:
Before your trip, make sure to also check out:
1. Pick a Travel Category
Before you book a flight, you'll need to review the 12 categories of approved travel for Americans. You can travel to Cuba independently under 11 of these categories. As of June 16, 2017, you may only choose the people to people travel category if you are going on a licensed tour. (More on the new regulations, here.)
All you need to do to travel to Cuba independently is choose one of the categories listed below. The most common choice is Support for the Cuban People.
- Support for the Cuban people
- Professional research
- Religious activities
- Visiting family
- Journalistic activities
- Educational activities by persons at academic institutions
- Humanitarian projects or to provide support to the Cuban people
- Official business of the U.S. government, foreign governments, and certain intergovernmental organizations
- Public performance, clinics, workshops, athletic or other competitions and exhibitions
- Authorization to provide travel services, carrier services, and remittance forwarding services
- Activities of private foundations, research or educational institutes
Although this is often referred to as a General License, this is misleading. There is no physical 'license' to acquire, you just need to pick a category and state it when booking a flight, lodging or returning to the United States through immigration. Here are the categories of approved travel needed to declare a general license.
2. Create an Itinerary
Once you pick a category, you will want to prepare an itinerary (or you can have ViaHero prepare one). The itinerary will need to show what you plan to do on your trip and how it meets the category of travel you chose. For example, if you are reporting your trip under Support for the Cuban People you will need to outline interactions with locals and contributions to the local economy. An easy way to do this is to stay in a casa particular during your trip. It’s rare that anybody will ask about your itinerary, but you need to have this just in case the US Immigrations' officer asks for a list of activities upon return to the United States.
If you want help planning your trip to Cuba, including creating an itinerary, Lianet is a local who can help.
3. Health Insurance
If flying from the US:
Cuban-mandated health insurance is a part of your ticket price on American Airlines and Jetblue. Double-check with your airline to confirm the inclusion of Cuban health insurance in your ticket price so you don't run into any surprises upon arrival.
If flying through another country, as an American citizen:
Upon arrival at the airport in Cuba, there will be a table just before the line for immigration that is selling health insurance for Americans. Health insurance is mandatory for Americans. If you arrived at Cuban immigrations without proof of health insurance, don't worry, the officer will kindly point you to where you can acquire Cuban health insurance for your trip. This is required because the embargo prevents US citizens from using American health insurance in Cuba. It only costs $4 per day. There is no way to purchase this insurance ahead of your travel to Cuba.
4. What You Can Bring Back
As an American, there are a few restrictions on what you can bring back from Cuba.
The following items are allowed:
Any souvenirs, up to $400 total, excluding art, cigars, alcohol or prohibited items.
Art, an unlimited amount.
Cigars, tobacco and alcohol up to a combined total of $100 maximum.
The following items are prohibited:
Fruits and vegetables
5. Bring Cash & Exchange It
You must bring cash with you to Cuba because your American credit, debit and ATM cards will not work in Cuba (unless you use Southgate Bank). This can be a lot of cash to carry around, which can be unnerving. One way to limit the amount of cash you need to carry with you is to book all of your lodging ahead of time by credit card via Airbnb or Cuba Travel Network. You can also make bus reservations ahead of time through Viazul. These are two of your largest in-country expenses and would greatly decrease how much cash you need to bring.
Currency exchange strategy
Note that there's a 3% exchange fee on all currencies and a 10% tax on US currency only. So while the exchange rate between CUC and USD is 1:1, you'll only get 87 CUC for every $100 USD you bring.
You can do a little bit of exchange rate math to try to get a better rate and avoid the penalty on US currency. One tactic is to bring Euros, Canadian dollars or Mexican Pesos, if you have access to that before your trip. Changing your money to another currency may save you money, but before you do it make sure that exchanging money twice won't eat up all your savings.