How to Travel to Cuba Tomorrow as an American

By popular demand, here is my quick and dirty overview on LEGAL American travel to Cuba

Authorization

As political ties are slowly being restored between the US and Cuba travel restrictions have eased for Americans. Currently any American can enter Cuba so long as your trip falls within 12 categories of authorized travel:

  • 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 authorized export transactions

For more in-depth details about these categories visit the US Treasury’s FAQs.

The one category that is not authorized by the US government is tourism, and you will be asked to sign a waiver at the airport promising not to engage in any tourist activities. To avoid violating this clause, do not stay at a tourist resort and do not sign up for recreational tours online.

Airlines

While commercial flights are expected to start later this year, travel to Cuba is currently available via charter flights. Direct flights are available from New York, Miami, Tampa, Key West and Los Angeles. I had my travel arranged by Mambi Travel based in Miami, FL. Their number is (305) 267-3353. A quick online search will link you to a host of other travel companies providing the same service.

Itinerary

If your travel falls under one of these categories you are automatically authorized to visit Cuba legally without having to apply for a license. You do, however, need to write up a full-time itinerary of activities related to your category of travel. I simply emailed my travel agent a letter explaining my purpose for travel and my itinerary of activities. I traveled under the “professional research” authorization and created an itinerary full of visits to local gardens and farming collectives. I carried a printed copy of my itinerary through the airport coming and going to Cuba in case it was requested.

Visa

No visa is requires on the US side of things, but Cubans do require you to have a tourist visa. (This sounds in violation of the American authorization I know, but never fear, it’s a paper visa only used for Cuban immigration). My visa was arranged for by my travel agent. You can also apply for the visa at the Cuban Embassy in Washington DC.

A Word on Money

There are no restrictions to the amount of money you can spend in Cuba, however, keep these considerations in mind:

  • US credit and debit cards currently don’t function in Cuba. Bring cash to cover the needs of your entire stay. A good rule of thumb is budgeting $100 a day.
  • The primary currency is the Cuban Convertible Peso or CUC (pronounced as “cook”). Although it is currently pegged on the dollar at 1 CUC = 1 USD, there is an added 10% tax on exchange. If you have access to another currency such as Euros or British Pounds bring it, as no other currency incurs this tax.
  • Americans are allowed to return with up to $400 of Cuban goods, including up to $100 of alcohol and tobacco projects.
  • Cuban artwork is exempt from this limit however, so you can purchase art to your heart’s desire.

People-to-People

If you’d prefer to have your travel and itinerary planned for you the People-to-People trips are the easiest and priciest option. These are organized educational programs that provide you with a full schedule of meetings, lectures and activities. They cost approximately $2,500 to $5,000 per week including accommodation and flights.

Are your bags packed yet? Cuba is an incredible place to discover. To hear more about my experience, check out my article Getting to Know Cuba.