5 Things Americans Need to Know About Travel to Cuba

ViaHero · March 23, 2018

Travel to Cuba is now easier than ever, even for Americans under the latest Cuba policy. Below is a list of what you need to do to travel to Cuba as an American, beyond simply booking a flight. More questions about travel to Cuba? Feel free to message us any questions directly!

Want to make the most out of your trip? Tap into our network of local travel planners—Heroes—who build unique, locally-curated trip plans, designed just for you. Get started.

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. 

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

You simply need to declare your chosen travel category when booking a flight, booking lodging, and returning to the United States through Immigration.

If you'd like some help figuring out which category your trip fits into, send us a message

2. Create an Itinerary 

Once you pick a category, you will want to prepare an itinerary (or you can have one of our Heroes 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 a legal itinerary, Elvy is one of our local travel experts who can help. 

cuba locals selling fruit

Build My Itinerary 

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. It is mandatory for Americans. If you arrive 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. It only costs $4 per day.  

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:

  • Souvenirs like clothes, CDs, jewelry, coffee, etc. 
  • Art, an unlimited amount.
  • Alcohol.
  • Tobacco.  

The following items are prohibited:

  • Animals
  • Animal products
  • Fruits and vegetables
  • Chemicals
  • Drugs
  • Firearms

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 Stonegate 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.

If you'd like help putting your budget together, contact one of our Cuban travel experts like Lisbet

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 87CUC 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

cuba skyline

Have more questions about travel to Cuba? Here is a list of our Cuban travel experts who can help you or you can message us any questions you have. And before your trip, make sure to also check out: