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Traveling to Cuba as An American: A Complete Guide on The Next Somewhere Travel Blog

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.

Support For the Cuban People Activities

One of my meaningful activities was taking a private cooking lesson with Hostel Milagros in Trinidad. It even doubled as a Spanish Language Exchange.

If you like cooking classes in different countries, read about my experience booking a Cooking Class in Nyaungshwe, Myanmar.

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.

Traveling to Cuba for Americans in 2023

This trip to Cuba exceeded every expectation I had for it! I’m so glad I went and all the prep work was worth it!

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.

Traveling to Cuba as an American with American Airlines

I flew with American Airlines but you can also fly with jetBlue, United, and Southwest. Delta will resume operations in April 2023.

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:

✈️ American Airlines

✈️ jetBlue

✈️ Southwest Airlines

✈️ United

✈️ Delta will resume flights beginning April 10, 2023

Traveling to Cuba as an American Cuba Ready pink tourist visa.

This is what my boarding pass and the pink Cuba Tourist Card looks like for Americans.

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.

CUP National Pesos for Americans

This is what $100 USD looks like in CUP, the Cuban peso also known as moneda nacional. Having enough cash to last the trip is crucial, especially if you’re traveling solo or without a tour group.

Accommodations

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.

Staying at a Casa Particulares in Cuba

The Puerto del Sol Casa in Cienfuegos

Staying at Casa Particulares in Vinales Cuba

The rooms at Casa Neyde in Vinales. All the casas I stayed at in Cuba had private bathrooms and air conditioners.

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
Traveling to Cuba as an American DViajeros Immigration Form

Don’t forget to screenshot the QR code page just in case you don’t get the email!

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.

SIM Card

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:

This is what the login credentials looked like in my iPhone.

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.

Traveling to Cuba with Cuban Adventures

The Cuban Adventures Women’s Only Tour works with female entrepreneurs in Cuba.

👉 ​​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.

Give me a shout-out on Pinterest pretty please?

Traveling to Cuba as An American in 2023: A Complete Guide on The Next Somewhere

Filipina-American Millette Stambaugh is a thirty-something former expat who has traded her nomadic ways for Philadelphia living. Corporate worker by day, content creator by night, Millette specializes in visual storytelling and joyful journeys and wants to help others find their "next somewheres." Follow her escapades on Instagram, Youtube, and Tiktok @thenextsomewhere.

Comments:

  • February 16, 2023

    There is a lot to think about when visiting Cuba and this really useful post ensures that we have it covered. Thank you for sharing

    reply...
  • February 16, 2023

    This is such a helpful post! I have never been to Cuba before, but if I ever visited, this post would be so helpful. I love your pictures too! Thanks for sharing.

    reply...
  • February 17, 2023

    That is a lot of very useful information in planning a trip to Cuba. I have never been there. But someday this might be really helpful for me.

    reply...
  • February 18, 2023

    Great photos! I love the colors 🙂

    reply...
  • Hannah

    February 19, 2023

    I’ve always known that Cuba was tough to travel to but this post is so helpful in case if I do want to go in the future! Thanks for sharing!

    reply...
  • February 24, 2023

    These photos are cuteeeee, but more than that the information is so helpful for anyone planning a Cuban getaway!

    reply...
  • Amaka

    March 23, 2023

    This was so helpful. I am traveling solo in April and was concerned about the limited Wifi thanks for explaning how to get data!

    reply...
    • Inga

      December 21, 2023

      also going in mid april…..PLEASE contact my dear friend who we visit more than twice a year. I am American Roberto is Havana born. Previous he was VIP concierge for visiting diplomatics. Contact ROBERTO IBARRA on wazup or or messenger PHONE (53) 5253 0653, contact me if you have any questions….

      reply...
  • Lizzie

    October 12, 2023

    Thank you for the heads up regarding the mandatory immigration & health declarations. Headed to Havana next month & almost have all my ducks in a row.

    reply...
    • Jim

      December 20, 2023

      Lizzie, this is the best summary of the requirements that I have found. The link to the Copa Airlines declaration didn’t work but I was able to find it by searching Google for “copa airlines cuba template”.
      Do you know of any templates I might copy for my itinerary?

      reply...
  • Mary

    October 18, 2023

    Thanks for the very helpful post! I have question. We know many Americans travel only for the tourist purposes. What would be the best category to use if the visit is for a week and there are only some dance classes in the tour plan( which is clear is for fun) what kind of document we need to show to the U.S . Officials?

    reply...
  • Jennifer

    October 24, 2023

    Awesome blog! Love the details. Can you tell us more on how you got around (transportation wise) and any Covid regulations you had to deal with throughout your trip.

    reply...
  • Emmanuel

    November 20, 2023

    Hi there,
    I’m a male. Do you have any links that can help me, especially with the “support for the Cuban people” part?
    I’ll like to visit as a solo traveler.
    Thanks!

    Best regards,
    Manny

    reply...
  • Sarah

    December 3, 2023

    Hoping to travel there with husband and two very little ones this coming year. Any tips for traveling with kids and/or recommendations for your operators beyond the one you used? Thanks!

    reply...
  • Teresa

    December 23, 2023

    This was so detailed! Very helpful. Thank you!

    reply...
  • Juliana

    December 25, 2023

    Link for Affidavit for Travel is broke, new link: https://www.copaair.com/assets/Affidavit-for-Travel-to-Cuba-7-aug-2023-EN.pdf

    reply...
  • jen

    January 1, 2024

    thank you so very much for this post. i look forward to booking a trip with the ladies tour group this year. I appreciate your efforts to help us have an awesome trip.

    reply...
  • Shanna

    January 3, 2024

    Hi Millette!

    Thanks for the great post! My Dad and I are planning to visit Cuba next month (we are Americans, I live in Miami).

    You mentioned being able to travel independently, however, you were with a tour group. If we book a place to stay through AirBnb and the local excursions through AirBnb Experiences, is that OK and holds up as supporting the local Cuban people? We don’t plan to use a tour group, but do plan to book tours with locals, but am hoping AirBnB as an OK medium to do so!

    Thanks for any tips!

    reply...

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