The Six Simple Things You Need to do to Travel to Cuba
Updated January 3, 2018
So you want to go to Cuba? Awesome! There are just a few things you need to know before you go. Here’s your quick six-step guide to get ready to travel to Cuba. Follow these steps exactly and it’ll be smooth sailing.
- Pick an approved category of travel*
- Book flights
- Book lodging
- Get your Cuban Tourist Card
- Create an itinerary*
- Create a budget and take out cash*
*Required for Americans only
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:
Step 1: Pick an approved category of travel*
Each American traveler to Cuba needs to make a simple verbal commitment to one of the twelve approved categories of travel.
Most travelers fall under the support for the Cuban people category. To fulfill the category requirements, travelers must spend their money in ways that support the local economy such as staying in casa particulares (more info under lodging) and spending much of their time doing enriching activities like visiting museums, touring historic sites or tobacco plantations, and talking with locals. (Full details available from the Treasury Department.)
Another great way to visit Cuba is for professional research or professional meetings. Similar to the support for the Cuban people category, this category requires that you spend most of your time on enriching activities and don’t travel purely for leisure activities like hanging out at the beach. You must keep a full-time schedule of activities like museum visits and local interviews related to a research project relevant to your profession. Outside of the full-time work schedule, you may do as you please, just like working at home.
The other ten travel categories you may choose are as follows:
- Family visits
- Official business of the U.S. Government, foreign governments and certain intergovernmental organizations
- Journalistic activities
- Educational activities and people-to-people exchanges
- Religious activities
- Public performance, clinics, workshops, athletic or other competitions and exhibitions
- Humanitarian projects
- Activities of private foundations or research or educational institutes
- Exportation, importation, or transmission of information or informational materials
- Travel related to certain authorized export transactions
You can travel to Cuba independently with all of these categories except educational activities and people-to-people exchanges. For educational activities and people-to-people exchanges, you must travel with a licensed tour group.
Choosing your travel category is your first step in planning travel to Cuba because you’ll be asked about your category in steps two and three (booking flights and lodging). You may see this travel category referred to as a “General License.” But don’t worry, it’s NOT a paper license that you need to apply for or carry. It is a simple, verbal commitment. Pick a category and move on, don't overthink it.
Step 2: Book flights
The first step in booking flights is deciding where you want to go and which airport you wish to fly into. Most travelers fly in and out of Havana, but you could also choose one of the smaller cities listed below (click on each one for more info about the city).
Can’t decide where to fly? ViaHero can help, just message us!
Flights from the U.S. go to:
The easiest way to find a cheap flight is to search on Kayak. You’ll see flights on numerous airlines like American and Jetblue. Once you find a deal you like, click on it and you’ll be directed to the airlines’ website to book.
The following airlines fly to Cuba from the US:
Step 3: Book lodging
When booking lodging in Cuba, we recommend staying in casa particulares.
Casa particulares are rooms in someone’s home or entire homes that you can book directly from the owner. It’s easy find them on Airbnb then book and pay for them ahead of time. Basic rooms in local family homes run about $25-$35 per night. Luxury apartments average $75-125/night.
Our travel planners are happy to help you find a great casa.
Step 4: Get Your Cuban Tourist Card
Everyone needs a Cuban Tourist Card (often called a Tourist Visa). Luckily, it’s very easy to get one. It’s just a card that you purchase and fill out, usually at the airport or on the airplane.
If you are departing from the US to Cuba, regardless of nationality, you need the pink tourist card, which is $50-100 per person. Each airline has different rules for acquiring the card, but it is usually available at the airport (sometimes for an extra fee).
If you are departing from Mexico or elsewhere in Latin America, you will be able to purchase the green tourist card at the last airport before Cuba for about $25.
Step 5: Create an itinerary*
All Americans who travel to Cuba need to have an itinerary that fits into their chosen category of travel. It’s not for you or for the Cuban government, it’s for US immigration. Have it handy when you go through immigration on the way back to the US even though officials ask for the itinerary less than 1% of the time.
If this sounds like a hassle, send us a message! ViaHero's service includes an itinerary that will meet this requirement. You’ll also get a personal trip consultant who can give you recommendations on where to stay, where and what to eat, what to see and do, and which flights to book. Our trip planners are local experts who know Cuba very well and love to share their favorite secret spots and travel tips with visitors.
Step 6: Create a budget and take out cash*
Cuba is a cash economy, so no matter where you’re from, you’ll need plenty of cash in Cuba. But take note Americans: you’ll only be able to use cash. Because of the ongoing embargo, American debit and credit cards will not work in Cuba. You must withdraw all the cash you will need during your trip before you leave the United States. Creating a budget will help you make sure you have enough money for your trip.
Here are some average costs to consider when creating your budget:
- Taxi - Colectivo (shared taxi): $1 per trip, per person
- Taxi - Normal: $5-10 per trip within the city, $25 to/from airport
- Taxi - Classic car taxis: $30-40/hr
- Inter-city bus: $5-25 (~$5/hr)
- Street food/cafeteria meal: $1-2
- Nice private restaurant meal: $10-15
- Alcoholic beverages: $1-3
- Bottled water - 1.5L: $1.50
- Basic casa particular: $25-45/night
- Modern casa particular: $50-100/night
Tip: Book and pay for lodging before you leave home. Casa particular stays will be a large part of your budget.
- Public wifi hotspot: $2-3/hour
- Box of cigars:
- in local market: $30-60
- in airport or store: $80-150
- Bottle of rum:
- Rum for mixed drinks: $7
- Rum for sipping: $20+
- CDs from local musicians: $10
Notes on Currency:
- Cuba has two currencies, CUC and CUP. You’ll mostly use CUC - get more information on currency here.
- When exchanging American dollars, you’re subject to a 10% currency exchange fee. It can be cheaper to change your money into Euros in the US then exchange from Euros to CUC upon arrival in Cuba because of this high exchange fee.
Time to go!
You’re all ready to travel to Cuba! Have one of our Heroes plan an itinerary for you filled with local hidden gems to make sure you see the best of Cuba on our trip. Just let us know what you like best when you travel. Heroes can have your trip planned in under a week.