Can Americans Travel to Cuba Today?
Travel between the United States and Cuba for Americans has been hampered in many ways for a long time. Except for Cuba, there is virtually no place on Earth where American citizens are prohibited from traveling.
President Obama announced a new direction for relations between the US and Cuba in 2014. He made a good start, even though he didn’t completely normalize ties between the two nations. Importantly, he started removing restrictions on travel to Cuba.
Prior to these modifications, visiting Cuba for Americans was much more difficult and frequently required traveling there for educational purposes as part of a group trip or with a licensed company. In order to avoid U.S. restrictions, Americans also frequently traveled to Cuba via Mexico or Canada.
We want to address all of your urgent inquiries in this article about traveling to Cuba on a US passport. Cuba’s entry requirements and the 12 types of travel to Cuba that are permitted.
Since 1959, when Fidel Castro overthrew a U.S.-backed government in Havana and established a socialist state allied with the Soviet Union, the U.S.-Cuba relationship has been marred by mistrust and hostility. Following that, successive American administrations pursued policies aimed at diplomatically and economically isolating the island nation. More than any other nation, Cuba has been subject to US sanctions.
The actions taken by Presidents Barack Obama and Raul Castro to normalize their bilateral ties included reestablishing diplomatic ties and boosting trade and travel. The administration of Donald Trump undid many of these changes.
In the wake of widespread demonstrations on the island and a renewed crackdown by Havana, President Joe Biden relaxed some U.S. restrictions.
Yes, Americans are welcome to visit Cuba. You can easily travel to Cuba from the United States and obtain a travel visa there. It’s much simpler than you might imagine.
June 5, 2019 Update: The White House and OFAC have enacted new restrictions to the way Americans can travel to Cuba. However, Americans can still travel to Cuba! It is still 100% legal to do so. Learn more about this announcement in our Cuba travel policy article.
October 25, 2019 Update: The United States has prohibited American airlines from flying anywhere in Cuba EXCEPT Havana. That means you can still fly to Cuba—just that you need to book a flight to Havana. (Which you probably would do, anyway.)
September 28, 2020 Update: The Trump Administration has banned Americans from staying at government-owned hotels. The new restriction also bans Americans from importing Cuban rum or cigars.
The inability to travel to Cuba at all and the inability to travel there as a typical tourist are two very different things. There is a huge area of middle ground that permits travel that is advantageous to the Cuban people and enjoyable for tourists as well. Cuba is safe and legal to visit, despite the recent restrictions.
• Simply put, Americans must travel on their own within one of the eleven permitted travel categories.
• The most popular category is Support for the Cuban People.
• American citizens used to be able to visit Cuba on cruises or through guided tours (under the People to People category, which was the 12th category).
• The People to People category has been removed as a result of President Trump’s June 2019 Cuba travel restrictions, and cruise ships are no longer permitted to visit Cuba.
• Again, visiting Cuba is still entirely legal as long as you do so on your own and fall under one of the other 11 categories.
Americans can visit Cuba legally by merely stating their purpose for going there, which is typically done when buying an airline ticket. You can travel quite freely if you declare that your trip is to “Support the Cuban People” and promise to spend your money at independent stores rather than state-run ones.
If the purpose of an American’s trip fits into one of the 12 categories for authorized travel to Cuba, they are permitted to go there!
To discourage Americans from visiting Cuba, the Trump administration worked to reverse changes made by the Obama administration to the country’s travel regulations. The rules governing American travel to Cuba haven’t changed all that much, though, and it’s still relatively simple to do so. There are just a few more guidelines to follow.
Some of these changes include:
• American citizens are no longer able to bring rum or cigars back from Cuba;
• Americans citizens are now prohibited (by the U.S. government – not the Cuban government) from staying at a variety of hotels in Cuba;
• Some methods of traveling to Cuba, such as “people to people Cuba” travel organized tours, and the ability to travel to Cuba by cruise, have been scaled back or eliminated.
Here is a list of entry requirements to Cuba that you need to comply with before you arrive at a Cuban airport:
You can travel to Cuba with your standard U.S. passport. To avoid any issues while going through customs, make sure your passport is valid for at least six months after your Cuba trip.
No matter where they are from, everyone visiting Cuba requires a special visa called a tourist card. When you board your flight to Cuba, you must have your tourist card with you.
The costs and procedures for obtaining a Cuban tourist card vary depending on the airline. To board the aircraft, you must present your Cuban Tourist Card when checking into the flight. Here is the current price of a Cuban Tourist Card based on airlines:
Delta: $50, purchase at the gate
JetBlue: $50, purchase at the gate
Southwest: $50, purchased online and delivered at the gate
United: $75 ($50 visa fee + $25 admin fee), purchase at the gate
American: $85 ($50 visa fee + $35 admin fee), purchase online and sent via mail or at a Cuba Ready” Kiosks at CLT or MIA airports for $100 ($50 visa fee + $50 admin fee)
In reality, it’s the U.S. that has an issue with Americans traveling to Cuba. The Cuban government has no issue with it and they want American tourists in Cuba.
All visitors to Cuba must have travel insurance. Any unplanned medical costs you may have while visiting the island must be covered by your insurance.
Because of this, organizations like RoamRight that focus exclusively on travel insurance exist. You will have coverage for any medical emergencies that may arise while you are traveling with RoamRight. Additionally, it provides protection against travel annoyances like trip cancellation and lost or stolen luggage. RoamRight costs about $50 per person for one week of service.
Technically referred to as a “general license,” or a type of authorized travel to Cuba, all Americans traveling there require a “license.” The Office of Foreign Assets Control has established these categories (OFAC).
We use the terms “license,” “travel license,” “general license,” and “travel category” interchangeably in this article.
Contrary to popular belief, even though it is referred to as a license, it is not the same as a driver’s license or even a tourist visa. You don’t need to bring a physical copy of it with you to Cuba.
NOTE: Beginning in September 2020, professional research and professional meetings, as well as public performances, clinics, workshops, athletic and other competitions, and exhibitions, may be the only two travel-related categories that DO call for a physical document.
Getting a Cuba general license means:
Confusing terminology aside, getting your Cuba general license is pretty easy. Take a look at our step-by-step section below.
Cuba requires all travelers to bring a Sanitary Statement and a Customs Declaration form. We suggest you complete the documentation online at D’Viajeros, the government’s website for this purpose. You will save time and annoyances!
Currently, there are a few mobility and business restrictions, a Sanitary Statement, and random Antigent testing upon arrival in Cuba.
You must abide by the prohibitions put in place by Cuban authorities while you are there to stop the COVID-19 pandemic from spreading:
Please, notice that as of April 4th, 2022, proof of COVID-19 vaccination or a negative PCR test is not required.
The 12 types of trips to Cuba that Americans can take without first requesting permission from the American government fall under the 12 categories of authorized travel to Cuba.
It’s important to note that the category of authorized travel you choose will serve as your justification for visiting Cuba to the American government. Cuba will simply regard you as a visitor and won’t place the same restrictions on your activities as the United States does.
These are the Twelve Authorized Categories:
Official business of the U.S. government, foreign governments, and international organizations;
Professional research and professional meetings;
Public performances, clinics, workshops, athletic and other competitions, and exhibitions;
Support for the Cuban People;
Activities of private foundations or research or educational institutes;
Exportation, importation, or transmission of information or informational materials;
Certain export transactions.
When traveling under these categories of approved travel, you don’t need any sort of special visa or permission as long as what you plan to do during your trip follows the guidelines of the category you select.
The first approach entails visiting a Cuban embassy. They are in every state, but you have to go there yourself to find them. To make sure you leave with everything you need, we advise you to call them and inquire about the requirements before you leave. In general, you must have a passport that is still valid at least six months after the date of your arrival in Cuba. The diplomatic mission will issue the visa based on their available processing time after you fill out an application there.
The second way to obtain a Cuban visa in the US is to do so through your airline of choice. However, not all of them have this feature, so you must first conduct some research. They undoubtedly have an official website, but if you can’t find what you’re looking for there, call them and they’ll let you know.
Thirdly, you have the option of having a Cuba Tourist Card application made for you by some travel agencies in the US. The only drawback to this approach is that not everyone travels to Cuba through tour operators. Some people prefer to manage the itinerary independently. It reduces spending. And it’s not like you can just use a travel company to ask for a Cuba tourist card. It is the sole component of a package.
Yes, nonstop flights are available from a number of cities, including Miami, New York, Fort Lauderdale, Atlanta, and more, to Havana. You need to have a Cuban visa in order to board these flights.
Flights to Cuba from the United States were initially only permitted to land in Havana during the Trump and Biden administrations; none of Cuba’s other airports were permitted. Airlines are now planning new flights between the United States and other Cuban cities as a result of the Biden administration recently lifting this restriction, giving Americans more direct access to the rest of the island!
No, Americans are not permitted to use ATMs or credit cards in Cuba. If you try this, your bank will lock your account.
Financial transactions involving Americans are prohibited in Cuba. Even if you have a visa, you cannot use ATMs, debit cards, or credit cards, so you must bring enough cash with you to cover your entire stay.
So how do you manage your finances as an American in Cuba? If you bring US dollars or euros and exchange them on the ground, you’ll be fine. (In the past, you could only buy with US dollars, but as of early 2020, you can buy with both US dollars and Euros.)
There is internet in Cuba, but it is extremely limited and is typically only accessible by purchasing a one-hour wifi card and going to an access point.
All over the world, “free wifi” signs can be seen, but in Cuba, they mean something entirely different. Typically, “free wifi” means you can easily connect to the internet. If you have a local phone number, it typically means free wifi in places like Belarus and Turkey.
However, “free wifi” in Cuba typically refers to a nearby wifi network that you can access using the wifi cards you already purchased.
Lacking any wifi cards? You’ll have to purchase some. They are available at the neighborhood Etecsa store, and some hotels also sell them. You can avoid the line by purchasing them for more from some street vendors who sell them for more than the hourly rate of $1.
Cuban wifi hotspots are easy to spot because of the crowds of people huddled together and engrossed in their phones. There are several hotspots in Old Havana, including the area in front of the Hotel Ingleterra, Etecsa stores, and some parks.
There are places you can occasionally connect to the internet without having to enter your credit card information. Although they are uncommon, these places do exist.
A list of hotels that Americans are not permitted to stay at while visiting Cuba is another restriction imposed on US travel by the Trump Administration.
It has been falsely claimed in some publications and websites that Americans are not permitted to stay in any hotels in Cuba, but this is untrue. Just some hotels that are fully or partially owned by the Cuban government are off limits to Americans.
Americans can still stay in many privately owned boutique hotels as well as private rentals known as “casas particulares” or private home rentals like Airbnb. There are many options, ranging from reserving a spare room in someone’s apartment to renting a sizable, exclusive colonial mansion with a pool. Every traveler can find their ideal casa.
There are many tour operators in Cuba willing to give you an introduction to the country, its people, and its history. There are also tours available for everyone, including driving around Havana in a vintage car, riding a horse through the untamed Viales, and hiking in the Sierra Maestra mountains.
Keep in mind, though, that not all tour guides are dependable. There are many people looking to make money off tourists in Cuba, which has only recently started to experience a huge surge in tourism, especially from the US. You should only book tours through reliable local guides to avoid being duped by fake or unqualified guides. Don’t forget to tip them if they do a good job as well!
On the entire island, Tour Republic offers thrilling excursions led by knowledgeable local guides. You’re in capable hands!
Private homes, or casas particulares, are like bed and breakfasts in Cuba.
They are owned by Cuban families who charge a daily fee for the use of the rooms. In addition to being more reasonably priced than hotels, they also provide a much more genuine taste of Cuba.
Additionally, a lot of casas even serve breakfast that is prepared at home. A night in a casa costs roughly 20–50 USD.
To make sure that your casa particular is not listed as a prohibited accommodation, please check the most recent Cuba Prohibited Accommodations List.
Private restaurants called “paladares” are run by Cubans with a love and talent for fine Cuban cuisine.
Paladares offer better service and more diverse menus than Cuba’s government-run eateries. Depending on how upscale or casual the paladar is, the cost of eating there varies. However, in general, you can anticipate spending between $10 and $30 USD per meal. By the way, see our comprehensive breakdown of a reasonable Cuba travel budget.
You might be accustomed to using websites like Yelp back home to decide where to eat next, but access to the Internet is scarce in Cuba. Therefore, we advise bringing a travel guide instead, like this one from Lonely Planet.
For more information on how to stay healthy in Cuba and cut costs on your trip, kindly review our food safety guide.
When you flag down a taxi in Cuba, you’ll notice two different taxis: state taxis and private taxis (almendrones).
State taxis are owned and operated by the Cuban government, while private taxis are run by private taxi drivers. Chances are, the almendrones will catch your eye because many of them are the colorful, beautifully restored vintage American cars that have become synonymous with Cuba.
If you travel to Cuba under the Support for the Cuban People category, you’ll need to support local Cuban businesses during your trip.
Supporting local businesses includes staying in casas particulares, eating at paladares, attending a performance by a local musician or artist, or taking a cooking or salsa dancing class.
Even after learning that they can visit Cuba, many Americans still believe it might not be safe to do so. Nothing could be further from the truth.
Cuba is making a sincere effort to develop its tourism industry and draw more visitors from EVERY country, and it’s really paying off. I can assure you that anyone from the United States going to Cuba will be completely safe.
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