An American’s Guide to Traveling to Cuba

Are you thinking about traveling to Cuba?

It’s exciting to think that after 50 years of being prohibited from Cuba, Americans can now experience this exotic country.

But it’s not as simple as traveling to other countries.

Some of the repercussions of a long-strained relationship between Cuba and the United States still exist.

So there are things you need to know while you’re planning your trip.

Getting into Cuba from the United States

As an American entering Cuba, you need a few more permissions than people from other countries.

You basically have to have a “reason” for traveling to Cuba. So the first thing you’ll need to acquire is an OFAC license from the United States Treasury Department.

Choosing from 12 different categories, the license essentially states which one you’ve selected for your trip to Cuba.

The 12 categories are as follows:

  • Family visits

  • Official governmental business

  • Journalistic reasons

  • Professional research/meetings

  • Religious activities

  • Educational activities

  • Public performances, workshops, clinics, athletic and other competitions, and exhibitions

  • Support for Cuban people

  • Humanitarian efforts

  • Private foundations/research/educational institute activities

  • Importation, exportation or transmission of information or information materials

  • Certain export transactions

Once you arrive you must always have your passport and tourist visa on you.

You will also need to provide proof of health insurance policy. This cannot be an American policy and must be one that’s accepted by the Cuban government.

The simple solution is to get it at the airport in Havana. There’s a booth before Customs where you can purchase a policy. And it only costs a few dollars per day for each day you will be there.

Finally, you may need to present proof of your return ticket, as well as proof of the funds you’ll be using during your stay.

Changes Since June 2019

Initially, when the travel ban to Cuba was lifted, there were organized tours called people to people that involved some sort of educational experience with local Cuban people.

They were a more hassle-free way to travel to Cuba as an American.

Though there was never a strict definition of what a people to people tour was, it basically meant that travelers would volunteer for a community project, talk with a school or collaborate with artists.

It was a legal loophole that tour companies used to sell tours in Cuba.

In June 2019, however, the Trump administration closed the People to People loophole and added new restrictions that prohibit cruises, private yachts, and fishing vessels to stop in Cuba.

Entering Cuba from Canada or Mexico

It’s also possible to enter Cuba from a gateway city in Canada or Mexico. For instance, you could fly out of Toronto or Cancun.

And since neither of these countries has had restrictions in the past, Cuba has long been a popular destination from these locations.

Traveling this way can be a little risky though. It isn’t that Cubans don’t want American visitors. They actually do. It’s the U.S. government that has the issue.

So coming in through a gateway city is easy on the Cuban side. They will happily stamp your visa card instead of your actual passport. That way, it looks like you merely traveled to Mexico or Canada.

But since you’re breaking rules as an American by getting into Cuba this way, you could be fined by the Treasury Department if you’re found out.

How Long Can You Stay In Cuba?

United States citizens are permitted to stay a maximum of 30 days on a visa. In other countries, the maximum stay is typically longer. It’s 90 days for Canadian citizens.

If you wish to stay longer, you can contact the Cuba consulate. But that doesn’t mean they will grant you your request.

And if you overstay your visa, you could face some heavy fines.

Exchanging Money In Cuba

Spending money as an American in Cuba is tricky.

First of all, credit and debit cards issued by American banks are not honored there. So bring cash. You can get by comfortably on $50-100 per day, but it never hurts to err on the side of too much.

Also, it’s crucial you understand the two different currencies.

The tourist currency is called the Cuban Convertible Peso (CUC) and is pegged to the American dollar. Meanwhile, the regular Cuban Peso (CUP) is what locals use. And it’s worth a lot less.

The rate exchange is $1 USD = 1 CUC = 24 CUP.

When you exchange money as a tourist, you’ll receive CUC. Exchanging US dollars for CUC incurs a 10% penalty fee. This is not the case for other currencies such as Canadian dollars, Mexican pesos or Euros.

So you may want to exchange your US dollars for one of those first.

Be Aware of the Restricted List

Before you even start exchanging money, it’s important you’re clear on the Restricted List.

This is a list maintained by the US State Department that lists organizations that have connections with the Cuban military. Therefore, Americans are prohibited from spending money at any of the businesses on this list.

Some of these businesses include hotels, travel companies, restaurants, and stores.

But don’t worry. If you’ve had your heart set on smoking a Cuban cigar that is otherwise illegal in the states, this list won’t restrict you from finding a place to make that happen.

And in no time at all, you’ll know full well the answer to the question, what makes a good cigar?

Internet/WiFi In Cuba

If you’re planning on putting your every moment on Facebook and Instagram, you may need to scale down your plans a little.

While you can get connected to the internet through the country’s telecom company, you need to do so by purchasing prepaid wifi cards at special kiosks. They charge $2-$3 per hour of service.

These scratch-off type cards can be found at major hotels or in public parks around the country.

It’s important to note that the internet going to be slower than the speed to which you’re probably accustomed. But you can upload web-sized photos to Facebook and Instagram easily enough.

Forget about Snapchat though because it’s censored by the Cuban government.

Traveling to Cuba Is Exciting

Although traveling to Cuba as an American comes with some additional challenges, the journey will be so worth it.

It really is a magical place that’s simply like no other.

And to stay up to date with the latest in travel and popular culture, keep checking back with us.

About RJ Frometa

Head Honcho, Editor in Chief and writer here on VENTS. I don't like walking on the beach, but I love playing the guitar and geeking out about music. I am also a movie maniac and 6 hours sleeper.

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