The Complete Guide to Traveling to Cuba as an American
Everything you need to know about traveling to Cuba as an American!
Didn’t think you could visit Cuba as an American? Well, I’m here with some good news! President Biden lightened restrictions on Trump-era policies for Americans entering Cuba so it is perfectly legal to visit Cuba in 2023, provided you meet a few requirements. I traveled to Cuba from the USA in February 2023 from Philadelphia to Havana with a layover in Miami so here’s what I learned from my trip. Just like visiting Myanmar with confusing travel regulations, the key is to know what exactly to prepare in advance traveling to Cuba as an American. Now let’s get to what you need to know:
Traveling to Cuba Legally As an American
There are restrictions traveling to Cuba on:
➡️ All US Citizens and Permanent Residents
➡️ Any person traveling from the USA to Cuba (directly or in transit)
US Citizens and permanent residents cannot visit Cuba explicitly as “tourists.” The difficulties surrounding travel to Cuba as a US passport holder is imposed by the US Government as a consequence of the US Embargo against Cuba.
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So, if you want to travel to Cuba, your trip must fall under 12 categories of authorized travel to Cuba known as a general license. Most Americans’ trips will qualify under the “Support For The Cuban People” reason. In order to meet this guideline, you must have a full schedule of activities that demonstrates you are meaningfully interacting with local people and that you are supporting private businesses (and under no circumstances can you support any government-run entities). It will also be your personal responsibility to keep a record of your daily activities while in Cuba, including the names of the businesses you visit and your expenditures, as the US government reserves the right to audit your trip for up to five years. Also, bear in mind that as an American, you can only fly to Cuba. You cannot enter the country via a cruise ship.
Checklist: What to Prepare for Your Trip to Cuba
✅ Roundtrip Ticket or Onward Flight
✅ DViajeros QR Code
✅ Affidavit for Travel
✅ Turista SIM Card
✅ Cuban Tourist Card (Cuban Visa)
✅ Booked Accommodations
✅ US Dollars in Cash (~$100 per day)
✅ A Copy of your Itinerary
✅ Valid US Passport with 6+ months
Buying a Flight to Cuba from the USA
You will need proof of return for visa purposes so make sure to buy a roundtrip ticket or have onward travel from Cuba if you are buying one-way. All flights from the USA will include travel insurance. Travel insurance is a requirement for all visitors entering Cuba.
Pro-tip: You cannot check-in online if you have a ticket to Cuba so make sure to go to the front desk and show all your paperwork in advance.
The Cuban Tourist Card
Traveling to Cuba as an American requires a Cuban Tourist Card (the equivalent of a visa). This can be ordered in advance and they do overnight shipping. Or you can get it right at the gate, with the “Cuba Ready” tourist card stand popping up an hour before boarding. I traveled with American Airlines to Cuba and paid $100 for the visa at my gate. It took less than 5 minutes since I had a “Cuba Ready” green sticker on my ticket from showing all the required documents at check-in. No joke, this was the easiest visa process I’ve ever been through and you don’t need extra time at the airport to get your visa. Flights from the USA receive a pink visa that you will fill out yourself.
The tourist card is what is stamped upon arrival and you must keep the two tourist visas with you at all times since this is what is collected upon departure. The best way to figure out your visa needs is through the airlines’ website. DO NOT call an airline call center about the Cuban visa due to misinformation. See the following carriers’ websites for accurate details on purchasing your visa:
Money and Finances
Start withdrawing USD well in advance. I budgeted around $100 per day and brought $200 as emergency funds. I cannot stress this enough–bring more money than you think you need!!! As an American, you will not be able to pay using a credit card or debit card and you will not be able to withdraw money from the ATM as well. In fact, you won’t be able to access any financial accounts from Cuba, even with a private VPN. This includes mobile banking applications, Paypal, Venmo, CashApp, etc. Make sure to notify your banks about your Cuba travel dates to avoid fraudulent activity while you’re out of the country and cannot access your accounts.
Pro-tip: If you have access to withdraw from Chase ATMs, they allow you to choose the types of bills you need. I found that $5 bills went the furthest in Cuba for tips, meals, and shopping. Locals cannot really use $1 bills so they’ll ask to exchange money with you too for $5 notes.
When checking into your flight, you will be asked to provide an address of where you’ll be staying in Cuba. You will most likely stay at a Casa Particulares (i.e. a homestay), which is great not only for the cultural exchange aspect, but you’ll also be giving money directly to a Cuban person. Make sure you have the address of your casa screenshotted for quick reference. Americans are not allowed to stay in hotels as they are typically government-owned entities.
DViajeros Immigration QR Code (48 hours before departure)
As of January 2023, filling out the Cuba immigration and health declaration form is MANDATORY. This form is found on the DViajeros website. The form will only be active 48 hours before your departure so if you do it before that time, it will not work.
When filling out the form, here are some helpful tips:
- The QR Code is the most important thing to have in hand. Once you complete the form, screenshot the confirmation page with the QR code as the website sometimes doesn’t send the confirmation page to your email.
- Some airlines will ask for the QR code prior to boarding. In my experience flying with American Airlines, having the QR code along with my return flight and the address for my casa right while I was checking in afforded me a green sticker saying all my documents were verified and therefore made it that much easier to get my tourist visa right at the gate.
- In the upper right hand corner under ‘Lenguaje,’ you can change the website to English.
- Unless you are bringing items for commercial purposes or $5,000 worth of “gifts” (avoid using the word donations), you will not have anything to declare
Affidavit for Travel
The affidavit for travel is essentially a letter that clearly states your purpose for traveling to Cuba as an American. I like Copa Airlines’ easy template but if you opt to book with a tour group, they should supply you with a template as well.
If you’re looking to purchase a tourist SIM card at the airport, you must order it in advance from SuenaCuba at least 24 hours before your departure. The Cubacel Tourist SIM Card is the only SIM card for tourists and is $35 for 6GB of data, 100 min talk time, and 100 SMS messages. The SIM card is good for 30 days after activation. You can top up mobile data online only but not calls or SMS. As a reminder, your phone must also be unlocked.
To pick it up, you must present your passport and the 12-digit confirmation code that is emailed it to you. There are three spots to pick up your SIM card in Havana:
📍 At Jose Marti Airport in Terminal 3, you’ll see the Infotur stand to your right before you pass immigration in the baggage claim area. This stand is open 24/7 (according to the website).
📍 The Etesca Office right across the airport entrance next to the parking lot.
📍 At any Etesca commercial office in the city (open 9 AM to 4 PM).
When they installed my SIM card, they had to tinker with the settings by adding login credentials on my iPhone 11 to get service. If you have the same issue, go to “Settings > Cellular > Cellular Data Network” and insert these login credentials to activate your service:
Pro-tip for IOS Users: The SIM card doesn’t play nicely with iphones so don’t bee too dependent on it. Also make sure to turn off cellular data on background applications, especially iCloud photo uploads or it will use all your GB. You have been warned! The data you get from your cellphone is basic data and is very unstable but it is enough to contact family and friends, as well as check emails and social media.
How I Planned My “Support For The Cuban People” Trip
I booked an 8 Day Tour for Women through Cuban Adventures to ensure my itinerary focused on local and cultural immersion and that I supported independent economic activity, particularly those of female entrepreneurs. Cuban Adventures is one of the longest running Cuba travel specialists and they are very well-connected in the country. Not to worry, you can travel independently; but most important thing to know is which businesses are on the US government’s Restricted List.
Last but not least, don’t forget to print out your itinerary in case it’s requested at check-in or at immigration! If you have any questions about traveling to Cuba as an American, feel free to use the comments below.
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