Visiting Cuba with its laid-back Caribbean Island vibes, classic vintage cars, and iconic cigars have seemed like an impossible pipe dream for most, especially for so many Americans who have always wanted to travel to Cuba. So, let’s make that dream a reality!
Americans can travel to Cuba with a general license visa. The best visa for a Cuban vacation is a “Support for the Cuban people general license” visa, which a specialized tour operator can facilitate. Americans can also legally enter Cuba via a neighboring country like Mexico without a visa.
Can Americans Legally Travel To Cuba?
There are several easy ways Americans can legally travel to Cuba should they have a visa. Other travel requirements include proof that they are fully vaccinated against COVID-19 and have a PCR negative test result dated less than three days ago.
Fortunately, Americans are no longer required to go into quarantine once they arrive in Cuba, which makes traveling to this incredible destination much more fun.
What Cuban Visa Types Can Americans Request?
While US citizens cannot legally apply for tourist visas to enter Cuba, and the application process can sometimes be confusing, their best option is to apply for a general license well in advance.
The Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) has the following 12 general license categories to choose from:
- Family visitations
- Official US government business
- Journalistic travel
- Professional meetings and research
- Educational general licenses
- Religious events
- Workshops, public performances, exhibitions, including athletic competitions
- Support for the Cuban people
- Humanitarian programs
- Private foundation events or educational institute activities
- Exporting or importing essential informational materials
What Is The Easiest Cuban Visa To Apply For In America?
While the “People-to-People Activities” visa category, which formed part of the educational” general license category, was the easiest Cuban visa in the past, it has unfortunately fallen away.
Furthermore, most cruise ships don’t travel to Cuba anymore due to COVID, which was the most convenient legal way to enter the country.
Although, joining a specialized tour group for American tourists is a great option as they provide all the necessary paperwork for religious or journalistic activities categorized general licenses.
However, the “Support for the Cuban people” general license, like applying for a visa through a tour operator, is the best option for Americans who want to travel to Cuba for a vacation.
There are various bespoke tour operators like ViaHero. They provide all the required supporting documentation for “Support the Cuban people” general licenses, like itineraries issued by Cuban locals.
Apart from providing invaluable support with the visa application process, these tour operators can also arrange transport in Cuba, which is essential as it can be incredibly complicated!
Can Americans Fly To Cuba Without Visas?
There is a legal loophole for Americans who do not have enough time to apply for a Cuban visa, as they can travel to a neighboring country and book another flight to Cuba from there.
A cost-effective option is to fly from the US to Cancún and book a separate flight to Havana; from there, apart from being cheap, the flight only takes an hour which is a bonus. However, a “green tourist card” must be collected at the airport’s ticket office instead of a visa before departure.
The quickest way to get a green tourist card at the Cancún airport is at the Interjet check-in line for flights departing for Havana.
Other cheap flight options include flying to Havana from Mérida, Mexico City, or any other Mexican city, including a Canadian metropolis like Toronto.
Notably, numerous flight booking websites don’t include flight options to Cuba. However, Skyscanner is an excellent option for cheap flights to Cuba.
Are There Any Direct Flights From The US To Cuba?
For Americans who have secured a Cuban visa, there are several non-stop or direct flights to Havana, Cuba, from New York, Miami, and Atlanta, including Fort Lauderdale. All they need before their departure is to collect a “pink tourist card” upon check-in at the ticket office.
Pro tip – while it is possible to pay for the “pink tourist card” in advance with a hefty processing fee, it’s not necessary.
Can Americans Pay With US Credit Cards In Cuba?
Americans cannot legally make any financial transactions in Cuba. So, in that sense, traveling to Cuba is a little complicated at times, mainly because US banks can freeze their debit or credit card-linked accounts if they attempt to use them in Cuba or try to withdraw cash at an ATM.
However, non-American visitors may struggle to withdraw cash from Cuban ATMs, especially if they have MasterCard-linked bank cards.
So, while Americans must travel to Cuba with US dollars or Euros, which can be exchanged for the local currency, the same applies to foreign visitors from other countries as some Cuban ATMs are unreliable.
Although it’s essential to note that Americans traveling with more than $5000 will have to declare their cash upon arrival in Cuba.
What Is The Best Way To Exchange US Dollars In Cuba?
While exchanging US dollars or Euros in Cuba is the easiest way to access their local currency, it can involve standing in ridiculously long lines or paying more commission.
Although there are several exchange bureaus at the Havana airport, they charge exorbitant commissions and offer the worst exchange rates. While Cuban banks offer better rates, they usually have long queues and waiting times.
So, the most accessible and affordable way for Americans to exchange US dollars for local currency is by using their accommodation’s currency exchange service.
However, it is essential to use all the exchanged Cuban funds in the country, as they cannot legally be converted to US dollars at a bank or forex exchange bureau back home.
Is There Wi-Fi In Cuba?
Although there are internet networks in Cuba, they are mostly limited to few access points, and the only way to go online is by purchasing a Wi-Fi card that provides access to the internet for an hour at a time,
Visitors will need to purchase a NAUTA Wi-Fi card, which will only work in certain ETECSA internet or Wi-Fi hotspot zones dotted throughout Cuba. However, accessing the internet in Cuba can be tricky, and their network is not incredibly fast.
The only areas with ETECSA hot spot zones are situated in parks, central squares, inside and outside hotels, and ETESCA office branches, including the Havana airport. It is usually incredibly easy to spot them as several locals with bowed heads check their mobile phones in those areas.
What Other Things Should Americans Be Aware Of In Cuba?
All Americans traveling to Cuba are required to have comprehensive travel insurance, so it is essential to have a copy of the travel insurance policy upon arrival.
It’s also vital to remember that Americans visiting Cuba may not spend any money at prohibited establishments or those noted on the US Government’s restricted list.
The restricted list includes several government-owned hotels, so it’s essential to review the list and book alternative accommodation.
Most importantly, all visitors should keep and safeguard their Cuban vacation receipts as the US government can request to inspect them, even up to five years following their return.