Traveling To Cuba From The United States
How to Fly to Cuba
Travel to Cuba over the past several decades has been at times a confusing and difficult endeavor, due to the different travel restrictions that have been put into place by government administrations. Those traveling from countries outside of the U.S. do not have as many restrictions, but if you are traveling from inside the U.S., there are certain criteria you need to follow to legally travel to Cuba. Tourist travel is still prohibited, but there are 12 categories of travel that are authorized, as of 2019. By learning how to travel to Cuba legally and how to make lodging and transportation decisions, you can help yourself have a worry-free and enjoyable trip!
Booking Your Flight and Gathering Travel Documents
Check the 12 categories of authorized travel.If you are traveling for vacation, to sight-see, or just for fun, travel underneath the “Support for the Cuban People” category. Essentially, “Support for the Cuban People” means that you are only supporting local businesses and will not patronize any establishments that give money to or are run by the government of Cuba. When you fill out your flight, lodging, and re-entry information, you will need to declare the category under which you are traveling. The 12 categories are as follows:
- Family visits
- Official business of a government agency
- Professional research/meetings
- Educational activities
- Religious activities
- Public performances (e.g. clinics, workshops, athletics, or exhibitions)
- Support for the Cuban people
- Humanitarian projects
- Activities of private foundations or research/educational institutes
- Exportation or importation of information or information materials
- Export transactions that are authorized under existing regulations and guidelines.
- You can also travel to Cuba with an organized tour group. As of 2019, “people-to-people” travel is no longer allowed (meaning you can’t just visit as a tourist on your own); instead, you must travel with a group led by a person who is subject to U.S. jurisdiction.
Procure a valid passport, or make sure yours is not expired.If you have a passport, check the expiration date to make sure it will be valid throughout your entire travel time. If your passport is ripped, burned, or falling apart, apply for a replacement. If you don’t have a passport yet, submit your application 2-3 months before you plan to go to Cuba.
- Passports generally take about 6-8 weeks to arrive in the mail after you’ve applied for them, but sometimes it can take longer. The earlier you can apply, the better!
- You can pay a fee to expedite the passport processing if you need to.
Pick your travel dates for your trip to Cuba.Travel from December to May for clear, sunny days with little chance of rainfall. Avoid traveling to Cuba from August to October to avoid hurricane season and unpredictable weather. “Winter” in Cuba takes place from December to March, with temperatures in the 80 °F (27 °C) range, and summer extends from June to September, with June and July being the preferable “beach life” months as the chance of hurricanes is much lower.
- Peak temperatures in the summer will reach about 85 °F (29 °C), and wintertime temperatures will be around 75 °F (24 °C).
Research airline prices for round-trip tickets for your travel dates.Check out Southwest, JetBlue, Delta, United, American, and Frontier for airlines that include the option to purchase your visa and healthcare through them directly along with your airline tickets. Go the the airlines’ webpages and enter in your travel dates and how many individuals you’re traveling with to find the best pricing.
- You can also use booking sites that compare different pricing options for you, rather than visiting each airline’s website individually.
- If you don’t want to spend the time researching flight options yourself, consider hiring a travel agent to make your bookings for you.
Book your flight through the airline’s website and print a confirmation.Once you have selected your dates and found the best pricing for your flight, make your reservations online. Follow the prompts and answer all relevant questions until you get to the confirmation page. Print off this page to keep with your travel documents.
- Things to check: what are the refund and cancellation policies? Does the airline mail you your travel visa or do you pick it up at the gate? Does the airline include health insurance for you or do you need to purchase it separately?
Procure a Cuban visa, which is also called a travel visa.You most likely will purchase or pick up your Cuban visa at the airport once you are at the departure gate. But, if your reason for travel isn’t covered by 1 of the 12 categories for authorized travel, you’ll need to get a visa from the Cuban Consulate in Washington, D.C. before you book your flight to Cuba. To do so, either call the Embassy of the Republic of Cuba at (202) 797-8518 ext. 600, or visit their website at to determine the next steps for your visa application.
- At the airport, your entry permit will cost -0 per person (price not included in the cost for your ticket) depending on which airline you are using, and there will also be a service charge per person.
Obtain non-U.S.medical insurance with your flight.Medicare and the majority of U.S. health insurance companies don’t operate in Cuba, so you are required to purchase additional insurance. You won’t be allowed to enter Cuba unless you can provide appropriate documentation. Your airline ticket price normally includes the cost of health insurance that is accepted in Cuba since this is a common issue. You can also purchase health insurance at the airport once you land in Cuba.
- Health insurance for your time in Cuba will cost about .
- Cuban health insurance that you purchase with your airline ticket or at the airport in Cuba is valid for 30 days, so if you are staying longer than that you will need to purchase additional insurance for the duration of your travels.
Arranging Currency, Lodging, and Transportation
Bring cash to cover your expenses while you are in Cuba.As of 2019, U.S. credit and debit cards do not work in Cuba, so bring cash with you to exchange into Cuban Convertible Pesos (CUCs). Plan ahead and price out your stay to make sure you bring enough cash with you. The Government of Cuba charges a 10% conversion fee for all transactions. You can exchange your money in the airport once you land in Cuba at the CADECA (change bureau) desk, which is located in the departure hall.
- USD is equal to 1 CUC which is equal to 24 Cuban Pesos (CUPs, which are what local residents use).
- You can also exchange your money outside of the airport at a hotel or bank once you’re in Cuba.
Book an approved hotel if you prefer traditional lodgings.Visit the U.S. Department of State’s “List of Restricted Entities and Subentities Associated With Cuba as of November 9, 2019” at: to make sure your hotel is not on the banned list.
- The restricted hotels and businesses are generally under the control of the Cuban government or military.
Stay at a “casas particulares” for a bed-and-breakfast type lodging.“Casas particulares” are essentially private houses or rooms within houses that you can rent. You can use sites like Airbnb to book your stay, or you can inquire about lodging once you have arrived in Cuba from your taxi driver or from someone who works at the airport.
- Casas particulares will usually cost you - per night, so they are a great way to inexpensively stay in Cuba.
Buy bus tickets for inexpensive travel around the country.When you are in Cuba, visit the bus station to purchase your tickets for the Viazul, which is a tourist-specific bus company. Tickets are inexpensive but do sell out quickly, so keep in mind that you may need to visit the bus station the day before you plan to travel. Visit for more information. Bus stations are located in:
- Santiago de Cuba
- The most expensive trip you could take would be from Varadero to Santiago de Cuba, which costs for a 15 hours bus trip.
Reserve a car 2 weeks in advance if you want to drive yourself around.Plan to spend about - per day to rent a car in Cuba (including insurance). There are very few cars available in Cuba to rent, but making early reservations will increase your chances of having a car available for your trip to Cuba. A few of the major car rental companies in Cuba are: Cubacar, Havanautos, Rex, and Transtur. You can call or go online to make a reservation.
- You can also hire a taxi for rides around town rather than renting a car for an entire day. Short taxi trips will cost you about -10.
Navigating the Airport and Customs, and Getting to Your Hotel
Arrive at the airport at least 3 hours before your flight takes off.Give yourself enough time to travel to the airport, park or get dropped off, and get through the check-in and security lines. Check in at the actual check-in desk; most flights to Cuba won’t allow you to check in online or at a kiosk due to the documentation required to travel to Cuba.
- Some airlines recommend arriving 4 hours ahead of time for guests traveling to Cuba. So, the earlier you can arrive, the better!
Pick up or purchase your travel visa.If your visa was included with your plane ticket, it will be given to you either when you check in or at the departure gate. If your flight did not include a visa, you will be able to purchase one at the departure gate before you board the plane.
- Make sure to keep your visa in a safe place. When you land in Cuba, you will need to present it to the Cuban officials, at which time they will detach half of the visa. When you leave Cuba, you need to present the other half or they won’t let you leave the country.
Bring books, snacks, and other materials to have a comfortable flight.Download movies or books onto a tablet or laptop, bring an eye mask and neck pillow if you’ll want to sleep, and drink lots of water to keep yourself from getting dehydrated as you travel. Try to get up and move around during the flight to stretch.
- Don’t forget to bring headphones so you can listen to music or watch movies during the flight.
Go through customs once you arrive in Cuba.Present your passport and your visa card. Answer any questions that the immigration officer asks you, like “What is the purpose of your trip?” Present your proof of medical insurance that came with your airline ticket, or, purchase medical insurance from the immigration officer. After your passport has been stamped, you will go through a security checkpoint and then you can go and collect your baggage.
- After your plane lands, you’ll be guided by Cuban officials to the correct area to go through customs.
Pick up your rental car from the airport to drive yourself.All rental agencies have booths at the airport, so you just need to find the right booth for the company you rented your car from. Be careful to check over the vehicle before leaving the airport—make sure there is a spare tire, a car jack, and make note of any dents or scratches.
- The rental agency will give you a road map, or you can bring a road map with you from home.
Take a taxi to your hotel or casa particulare.Look for a yellow tourist taxi outside the airport and give the driver the address of the place you’re staying. Once you have arrived, you will pay the taxi driver in cash.
- You don’t have to trip your taxi driver, but it’s nice to give a small tip if you had a good experience.
Keep track of your daily activities while you’re in Cuba.Keep a small notebook with you in which you can list the places you visit and the establishments you give money to. The Office of Foreign Assets Control can question you about your time spent in Cuba for up to 5 years after your trip.
- You may also be asked to account for your time when you go back through security on your way home, so having a written log will help your memory if that question comes up.
Arrive at the airport 3 hours in advance for your return flight home.Check in and receive your boarding pass, and remember that you will need your boarding pass, passport, and travel visa to get back through customs before boarding your plane. You will go through security screening again before boarding your flight, so make sure to follow the same rules for your clothing and carry-on as you did on your original flight.
- Arrive at the airport for your departing flight at least 3 hours ahead of time.
Video: Everything You Need To Know About Cuba (New Regulations)| Travel Tips & Tricks | How 2 Travelers
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