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. And once you've given the article a read, don't hesitate to message a local travel expert in Cuba with any questions you still have!
Table of Contents
By the way, Americans can again travel to Cuba legally thanks to recent changes to restrictions and increases to airline schedules. 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:
Most travelers will find that the Support the Cuban People category is the most ideal. To fulfill the category's requirements, travelers must spend their money in ways that directly support private businesses and individuals, such as staying in (more about these 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.
You can travel to Cuba independently with both of these categories.
The other 10 travel categories you may choose are as follows:
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). Pick the category that you think fits best—don't overthink it!
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 it will soon be possible to 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!
The easiest way to find a cheap flight is to search on the website of one of the airlines that provides service to Cuba. You’ll see flights on numerous airlines like American, Delta, and JetBlue. During the online booking process, there will be an extra step requiring you to declare your your intention to travel within one of the 12 categories.
The following airlines fly to Cuba from the US:
When booking lodging in Cuba, our Cuban Heroes recommend staying in casas .
Casas are rooms in someone’s home or entire homes that you can book directly from the owner. It’s easy for 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 Cuban travel planners are happy to help you find a great casa.
Everyone needs a Cuban Tourist Card (often referred to as a Tourist Visa). This is a Cuban government and has nothing to do with the 12 legal categories of travel required by the US government. Luckily, it’s very easy to get one. It’s just a card that you purchase and fill out.
If you are departing from the US to Cuba, regardless of nationality, you need the pink Tourist Card, which is $50–$100 per person. You can purchase one from your airline, but since every airline has different rules for acquiring the card, it's much easier to buy online in advance through sites like Online Tourist Card and have it shipped to you ahead of time. Online Tourist Card is also the official provider for American Airlines and Southwest Airlines.
If you’re departing from any other country like Canada or the UK without a layover in the US right before landing in Cuba, then you will need a green card, which may be included in the cost of your plane ticket. You can also buy the green Tourist Card online through Easy Tourist Card.
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.
All Americans who travel to Cuba must make sure their activities fit into their chosen category of travel. It’s not for you or for the Cuban government, it’s for US immigration. You may be asked about your trip when you return, and having an itinerary handy when you go through immigration on the way back to the US will make it easy to demonstrate the motives of your trip should you be asked about it.
The bottom line: your itinerary shows that you obeyed the rules for whichever category of legal travel you chose. Make sure you have a clear and well-organized one!
If this sounds like a hassle, send one of our local planners a message and they will be happy to clarify any questions. ViaHero's service includes an itinerary that will meet this requirement, but 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.
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—no ATM or credit cards issued by U.S. banks will work on the island. You must withdraw all the cash you will need during your trip before you leave the United States. But how much will you need? Creating a budget will help you make sure bring the right amount of money for your trip.
Here are some average costs to consider when creating your budget:
Tip: Book and pay for lodging before you leave home. Casa particular stays will be a large part of your budget.
Notes on Currency:
You’re all ready to travel to Cuba! Ask one of our Heroes (aka local Cuba travel experts) to plan an itinerary for you, filled with local hidden gems to make sure you see the best of Cuba on our trip. Heroes can have your trip planned in under a week.