In this blog post, we will be exploring the various ways United States Citizens can travel to Cuba and the steps required by each option. This article will only mention the mode of transportation and the legal documentation required to travel to Cuba. Information about lodging and activities to do while in Cuba will be addressed in a separate blog post.
In 2014, President Obama made it accessible for American citizens to visit Cuba. Many people, including myself, took solo trips to the island using the “Educational-People to People” option.
However, in November 2017, the Trump Administration placed new restrictions on travel to Cuba which prevented individuals from using the “People to People” option. Under these new restrictions, the “Educational — People to People” option can only be used for group travel and not individual travel. The administration’s goal was to direct American money away from the Cuban military and direct these funds to the Cuban people. So under these new rules, United States visitors are not allowed to spend any money on hotels, restaurants or stores owned by the Cuban military(GAESA-owned).
Every United States citizen traveling to Cuba needs a valid passport that does not expire within 6 months of their travel dates, a pink visa/tourist card, local Cuban health insurance for the trip and OFAC certification(this is the form where you indicate what your reason for travel to Cuba is).
Everyone must complete an OFAC certification before their trip with the specific reason for their visit. The 12 reasons that can be used are:
- Family visits
- Official business of the U.S. government, foreign governments, and certain intergovernmental organizations
- Journalistic activity
- Professional research and professional meetings
- Educational activities
- Religious activities
- Public performances, clinics, workshops, athletic and other competitions, and exhibitions
- Support for the Cuban people
- Humanitarian projects
- Activities of private foundations or research or educational institutes
- Exportation, importation, or transmission of information or information materials
- Certain export transactions that may be considered for authorization under existing regulations and guidelines
Below are three common methods that U.S. citizens have used to travel to Cuba since November of 2017.
By far the easiest way to travel to Cuba is through a cruise. This is one of the few ways to still travel using the “Education People to People” option. It requires little to no planning on your own. All you have to do is buy your cruise ticket, purchase shore excursions and find a way to get to the port city (usually Miami). Cruises add the cost of your tourist card/visa and health insurance to the price of your cruise.
With cruises, to explore the island using “People to People” option you will need to purchase shore excursions through the cruise line.
You can book shore excursions for each cruise line using the links below:
If you are going on a cruise, I would suggest purchasing one or more of the shore excursions, because it requires little to no individual planning.
If you don’t want to purchase shore excursions while on the cruise, then you will need to use the “Support for the Cuban People” option on your OFAC form and create your own itinerary. To read more about how to create your own itinerary in accordance with the law, please read the Individual Travel section of this post.
Another relatively simple option is getting a Licensed Tour through a US-based tour company. These tours are classified under the people to people option. Using these types of tours allows you to be able to interact with the Cuban people. The tours come with lodging, meals, transportation and scheduled activities with your travel group. With this option travelers will not need to plan anything by themselves, the only thing you will be required to do is book a flight. The visa can also be included in the price of the tour.
Below is a list of US-based tour companies that offer trips to Cuba:
- Central Holidays
- Classic Journeys
- Collette Tours
- Cuba Explorer
- Friendly Planet Tours
- Insight Cuba
- International Expeditions
- Intouch Travel Services
- YMT Vacations
There are 12 reasons U.S. citizens can go to Cuba, but only 11 allow for individual travel now. The Education- People to People option is no longer allowed for individual travel unless you booked your travel before June 16, 2017.
The most common option for individual travel is “Support for the Cuban People.” Which according to the United States Treasury Department, requires “that each traveler under this travel category engages in a full-time schedule of activities that result in meaningful interaction with individuals in Cuba. ” It also requires each traveler not to conduct business with any entity owned or operated by the Cuban military. To ensure you are not visiting or conducting business with the Cuban military, please look at this list of forbidden entities from the U.S. Department of State.
Each person’s itinerary cannot include “free time or recreation in excess.” You are also required to keep all of your receipts, and itinerary for at least 5 years.
You can read more about the specific rules for the “Support for the Cuban People” section here.
Below are some activities which fall under the Support for The Cuban People(Before attending any one of these activities please ensure that they are not hosted or affiliated by the Cuban military) :
- Art show
- Cooking classes
- Dance Classes
- Dine at a local restaurant
- Independent Museums
- Markets ran by locals
- Shop at a local store
- Talk to locals and learn about their daily lives in Cuba
- Stay in a private home of a Cuban local (casa particular)
- Talk to business owners
- Visit farms and talk to local farmers (purchase things while there)
- Volunteer at a school
With individual travel, you are still required to obtain a visa/travel card and health insurance, in addition to completing an OFAC certification(form with the reason for Cuba travel). The OFAC certification will be completed either prior to your departure online or at the airport prior to your departure.
Below are the visa policies for airlines that fly to Cuba from the U.S.
Medical Insurance is included in the cost of airfare for all airlines listed below.
Airlines suggest that passengers arrive at least 3 hours before departure time in order to check-in for their flight.
1. You can buy the visa online here.
2. You can buy a visa at the airport in Miami before leaving for Cuba
*Online check-in is unavailable for Cuba travel. You must arrive at least 3 hours prior to departure time to complete the check-in process.
Delta only offers travel cards at the gate prior to your departure to Cuba. It is offered at the gate at the last U.S. you are in before going to Cuba.
Jetblue only offers travel cards at the gate prior to your departure to Cuba. It is offered at the gate at the last U.S. city you are in before going to Cuba.
1.) You can purchase a visa online here.
2.) It is offered at the gate at the last U.S. you are in before going to Cuba.
Southwest suggests that you buy your visa in advance.
If your airline does not offer visas in advance then I would suggest that you get your visa online, to avoid the long lines. Here is the link to get the visa online from Easy Tourist Card.
It costs $99 for the pink card that is needed to travel from the U.S. to Cuba.
More information on tourist cards can be found here.
If you have additional questions about Cuba travel, please do not hesitate to reach out.
Thank you for reading,