There is so much confusion and unknown when it comes to travelling to Cuba from the US for both US citizens and other nationalities who may pass through that we thought it is timely that we share how simple it is to travel to Cuba for all. Yes, you heard right. It is very simple and easy as long as you know what you can and cannot do.
Just like any other locations in the world there are rules and regulations that you need to know when you are travelling to them. I.e do you need a travel license, do you need a visa, do you need to be vaccinated, do you need to complete a PCR test etc. etc. There are a few things changed over the past few years. Pre-pandemic times, you weren’t allowed to travel direct from the US to Cuba. During the Trump administration, cruises were banned and US citizens were only allowed to land in Havana, not other international airports. Whilst the licenses to travel under were limited before, they were reduced to one, being the general travel license, in Support for the Cuban People. Best part is, you don’t even have to apply for this license, but will tell you about that in a bit…
Lucky for us the Biden administration has started to ease the restrictions on travel to Cuba. People from all around the world can now travel to Cuba directly from the US. US citizens can travel directly from the US, under the above mentioned license, and there are talks of returning a couple of other options also. The exciting news is that you can now travel to any of the Cuban international airports, not just Havana.
So what are the things you need to consider for smooth travel to Cuba?
Your purpose for travel
Firstly let’s look at the license requirements. When booking your flight, you’ll be asked to provide an authorized purpose for travel. As we mentioned, the reason is to ‘Support the Cuban people’. This license requires a full-time schedule of cultural experiences that support local entrepreneurs in Cuba. What does this mean?
Buy services from Cuban entrepreneurs, such as casas (private accommodation), eat your meals at private restaurants called paladares, use the services of local drivers to get around and local guides for cultural activities and avoid sitting on the beach all day in all-inclusive hotels —you must engage with the local people of Cuba.
“Support for the Cuban People” is a general license, meaning it does not require pre-approval from the US government. A general license is based on the honor system, however the US government reserves the right to audit your travel, meaning they can request that you provide your legal itinerary (we will give you this when you book) and receipts (for anything additional you purchase) for up to 5 years.
When you choose to travel with Simply Cuba Tours, we tick all the boxes of this license.
Apart from the above, you must ensure that you are not spending any money at Cuban government-owned businesses listed on the Restricted Entity List. This includes restricted hotels, such as the Manzana Kempinski and Iberostar Grand Packard. Review the restricted list here and bring a printed copy with you to be safe. Restricted Entities are easy to avoid on a sustainable small group tour.
The next thing to consider is your tourist card. Now this one is quite easy. You can either purchase it online on our site, under ‘Get your Visa’ or you can purchase it at the airline on the day of your departure.
There’s one thing to consider with your tourist card. If you come directly from the US to Cuba, you will need the ‘pink’ card. If you are coming to Cuba after a Mexican holiday, i.e. not departing from US to Cuba, you will need to obtain the ‘green’ tourist card.
Once you land in Cuba, you will be asked to present your visa at customs.
Note that your boarding pass with commercial flights will also serve as proof of health insurance should you need it.
The final thing to consider is your flights. Quite easy. Check major US airlines for availability. Currently there are direct flights to Havana from
- Miami, Florida
- Tampa, Florida
- Fort Laureldale, Florida
- Houston, Texas
As pre-pandemic flight routes return, we can only hope that the routes from
- Atlanta, Georgia
- New York, New York
- Orlando, Florida
- Boston, Massachusetts
will also return.
The first flight to Cuba is unforgettable no matter where you come from, the mystique of this place will find you filled with anticipation. Best thing to do is to leave all expectations at the border and come with an open mind. The views of luscious green mountains, and glistening white sand under the island sun will fuel your excitement. Before you know it, your flight descends and touches down in the historic city of Havana, marking the start of a trip you will always remember.
What more do you need to know…
Do I have to travel with a tour group for “Support for the Cuban people?”
No. Self-guided individuals can travel without a company or tour group using the “Support for the Cuban People” travel license as long as you meet the requirements. Travelling with a tour company simply makes the planning and execution a lot easier given that most private homes and activities cannot be researched online.
Do I need to purchase international health insurance to visit Cuba?
No, not if you are travelling directly from the US to Cuba. All direct flights from the US to Cuba include Cuban health insurance. Your boarding pass serves as proof of insurance.
Should you come from elsewhere, you will be required to provide proof of Travel insurance cover. This insurance cannot be issued by an American company, so do read the fine print when you are making a purchase.
Is Cuba cash only?
Yes. US credit cards and debit cards will not work in Cuba. Even if you have cards by non- US financial institutions, teller machines are few and far between.
Although some private service providers may accept USD, the preferred currency is EUR in most instances.
Does Cuba have WIFI?
Yes. Speed and connectivity have improved significantly over the last several years. WIFI in Cuba is strong enough to reliably send and receive emails.
Will my US cell phone work in Cuba?
Yes, all major US carriers offer roaming in Cuba. Data roaming is very expensive and should be carefully avoided by turning off data roaming in your phone settings. Text and voice roaming can be great options to touch base with family back home or fellow travellers in Cuba.
Can I bring back cigars and rum?
No. On September 23, 2020, the Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) announced that US travellers will no longer be allowed to take home “Cuban-origin alcohol and tobacco products”
This rule is also applicable to non-US citizens returning to the US
What happens at US Customs and Border Protection when I return from Cuba?
You may be asked for your purpose of travel to Cuba. Simply state your authorized purpose of travel is “Support for the Cuban People.” We are not aware of any additional questions being asked of travellers. You may return to the US using Global Entry.
US Embassy information in Havana
United States Embassy
Calzada between L and M Streets,
Vedado, Havana, Cuba
+(53) (7) 839-4100
+(53) (7) 839-4100 and dial 1 to speak with the emergency operator
What do I need to know to return home to the US?
This landscape is ever changing. So best to keep updated via the U.S Department of Transport site.
What else are you waiting for? Book a tour to visit Cuba today!