Guide Americans traveling to Cuba 2016-Featured Images

1st Hand Guide for Americans Traveling To Cuba 2017

Americans have been impatient for the day when travel to Cuba is possible. The wait is finally over, sort of…. Traveling to Cuba has been getting easier and easier. We just returned from a 10-day trip to Cuba and have been flooded with Cuba travel questions from all the Americans traveling to Cuba in 2016 or who want to travel to Cuba in the future.

In this Cuba guide for Americans traveling to Cuba we’re going to cover (jump to):


Americans Traveling To Cuba Guide

How To Get A Cuba Visa/Cuban Visas/etc

Guide Americans traveling to Cuba 2016-2

Americans traveling to Cuba in 2016 will need to obtain a Cuban tourist card, which is similar to a travel visa. Unfortunately, Americans cannot travel to Cuba for just tourism. All American travel to Cuba has to fall within the 12 authorized travel categories per the state department.

12 categories of authorized travel for Americans traveling to Cuba

  • 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 export transactions that may be considered for authorization under existing regulations and guidelines.

During our trip to Cuba, no one asked us what authorized category we were traveling under. If it would have come up, we would have cited,  journalistic activity and presented a business card. We personally know at least five people who have traveled to Cuba from Mexico (specifically Cancun airport) who were never asked any questions pertaining to authorized travel when obtaining their Cuban tourist card/Cuban visa.

In reality, it’s the U.S. that has an issue with Americans traveling to Cuba. The Cuban government has no issue with it and they want American tourists in Cuba.

We cannot guarantee that you won’t be asked what category you fall under or what documents you will need to show, this was our experience.


Is It Legal For Americans To Travel To Cuba: YES

Cuban flag blowing in the wind over Havana

Cuban flag blowing in the wind over Havana

In January of 2015, President Obama expanded the categories of authorized travel to Cuba. It was great news for Americans traveling to Cuba, or all Americans who always wanted to travel to Cuba (like us!). This expansion allowed U.S. citizens to legally travel to Cuba if they fell in one of the 12 categories.  In previous years, most travel to Cuba required applying for a license and jumping through a bunch of hoops, which was often confusing and quite frustrating. Now Americans can “self-license” if they believe they fall within one of the authorized categories.

Click here to read frequently asked questions about the relaxed policy online by the Treasury Department.


How To Travel To Cuba From The US

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A Purple Classic Chevrolet in Havana Cuba in 2016

You may notice when you use your favorite search engines like Orbitz, you cannot find flights from the US to Cuba or flights from Cancun to Cuba. *Skyscanner does work* Flights to Cuba typically need to be booked directly with the airline itself, we purchased our flight online with Interjet. Other airlines that service Cuba from Mexico: Copa, Aeromexico, Avianca, and Cubana.

We traveled in April 2016 and purchased our flight from Cancun to Havana only 2 weeks in advance for $250, which included checked bags. For Americans traveling to Cuba, going from Mexico was super easy and the most affordable option. The best way to get the flights sorted out it to purchase a round-trip flight to Cancun or the cheapest Mexico destination you would be willing to go to, then book a round-trip flight to Havana, Cuba from that city on a separate ticket. When searching for flights please note Havana is listed as La Habana.

Flights to Cuba from Canada are another great option for Americans traveling to Cuba. A quick flight search for a round-trip ticket from Toronto to Havana for 4 weeks and it was $308. Vancouver to Cuba was a little more at $695, round-trip.


Money In Cuba

Cuban Money - CUP local Currency (above) & CUC convertible peso (below)

Cuban Money – CUP local Currency (above) & CUC convertible peso (below)

Within Cuba, there are two different currencies, the CUC and the CUP. As a tourist, you will use only CUC the Cuban Convertible Peso which is equal to the U.S. Dollar. The CUP is the local Cuban Currency. 1 CUC = 24 CUP. It’s technically illegal for tourists to have, or use the local CUP currency.

If you’re an American traveling to Cuba, don’t plan on using the ATM machine. US-based bank, credit or debit cards don’t work in Cuba.  You’ll have to estimate the amount of money needed for your entire trip.

Exchanging money in Cuba should be simple, but it’s not. There is a 10% penalty for exchanging USD on top of the standard fees for money exchange in Cuba. The best, and cheapest, option is to withdraw money in Mexico or Canada at an ATM. You may need to notify your bank to increase the daily limit and alert them to the amount you are withdrawing and the country you are withdrawing in. We found the exchange rate at the time of our trip was best for Mexican Pesos. Another option is buying Euros/Canadian Dollars/Pesos in the USA and bringing them into Cuba with you. However, after the extra fees to buy them, and then the standard money exchange fees in Cuba, it might end up being essentially the same cost as the 10% USD penalty in Cuba.

There are talks about eliminating the 10% penalty on exchanging USD in Cuba, but as of April 2016 it is still in effect.


Insurance Requirement In Cuba

Guide Americans traveling to Cuba 2016-Man selling cigars in old Havana Cuba-1

A Cuban man selling Cigars on the Streets of Havana (I bought two and asked for his picture, which he seemed excited for)

Cuba requires all travelers to have travel medical insurance. However, we were never asked at Cuban immigration if we had travel medical insurance, nor were any of our friends who traveled to Cuba in 2015 or 2016.

The medical insurance you have in the USA will not cover you in Cuba. We always buy travel insurance with World Nomads that includes medical and personal property (theft/damage). Click here for travel insurance prices and coverages. For a one-week policy, it’s $51 per person. It’s best to purchase a policy just so you’re covered if asked to provide proof of insurance as well as being safe if anything happens to you while traveling in Cuba.


Cuba Exit Fee

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Classic American Car in front of Graffiti park in the narrow streets of Havana, Cuba

As of May 1, 2015, Cuba no longer charges the $25 CUC exit fee. The fee is now collected by the airline as part of your ticket purchase price.


How Is The Wifi In Cuba 2016

Guide Americans traveling to Cuba 2016-Old Havana - Havana Viejo - Park - Wfi zone-1

We expected to be offline the entire time we were in Cuba. But, we were pleasantly surprised! There are Wifi hotspots in all the best places in Cuba, and they are easily spottable. We discovered town plazas, squares, and parks often had a hotspot. In  general, if you see tons of people on their phones or laptops, there’s a hotspot for sure. In Havana, several hotels had wifi right in the lobby. There were 4 wifi hotspots within a 2 block radius of our casa in Old Town Havana. For some more info on getting connected in Cuba, check out Two Scots Abroad post on the internet and wifi in Cuba.

Guide Americans traveling to Cuba 2016-Wifi card in Cuba ETECSA card-1To access wifi in Cuba you need to purchase prepaid 1-hour wifi cards. Then, find a wifi zone and look for a network called WIFI-ETSCA. Finally, just log in, and enter the username & password. Once you’re finished, don’t forget to log out and save the remaining time for your next session. We purchased ETSCA cards for $2 an hour at the airport. If you see an ETSCA building anywhere in Cuba they will sell them for the same price. We purchased additional cards at a tourism office in Trinidad Cuba. The cards are also available at hotels, though they charge $6 an hour for non-guests. If you reach the end of your trip and have some wifi to burn, there is an ETSCA wifi hotspot at the airport to use up your remaining credit.

There is Wifi in Cuba! But not every computer or app will work. For example, I have an iPhone 6 plus and was unable to download anything in iTunes, use Snapchat, or Skype. My friend has an older Samsung and she was able to use Snapchat. Neither of us could get the internet to work on our Macbook Pro. It would connect to the wifi, but never actually go online. The same thing happened to another friend with a Macbook Pro. Just to be safe, bring an older, backup, device to connect to the Wifi in addition to your current phone.


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Hannah with a Purple classic car in Old Havana, Cuba

As more Americans begin to travel to Cuba, the changes will continue and traveling to Cuba will be easier and easier. We already can’t wait to visit Cuba again, 10 days wasn’t nearly enough time. There are so many things to do in Cuba we can’t wait to go back.


Hotels In Cuba and Accommodation In Cuba Options

Booking a hotel in Cuba is very limited, as there are only a few hotels listed on hotel booking website. We found Booking.com had the most options here are the available Havana hotels. We never stayed in a hotel in Cuba we mainly stayed in Casa Particulares with local Cuban families. Most Casa Particulares you cannot book online, we booked our Casa on arrival in Trinidad Cuba, Vinales, Varadero Cuba, and Havana. There are tons of government approved Casa Particulares just look for the symbol above their door, knock and the owner will walk you through the house. Most Casas in Cuba were $20-30 a night for a private room with air conditioning and private bath.

If you prefer to book a Casa Particulares in advance there are several on Airbnb. Booking in advance also has the advantage of accommodation being prepaid. Click here for $35 off your Airbnb booking. We booked our first 2 nights in Havana in advance on Airbnb. Those Cuban families with family members living outside of Cuba manage these Airbnb bookings since there is no Wifi in Cuba homes. If you message them on Airbnb you’ll communicate with a family member outside of Cuba, they then call up their family members in Cuba to tell them about your upcoming Airbnb stay.


Are you an American who’s traveled to Cuba, do you have any tips for Americans traveling to Cuba?

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25 Comments
  • David
    Posted at 19:33h, 15 April Reply

    Good info, Can’t wait to hit Cuba next week! Some epic Adventures planned!

  • Drew
    Posted at 09:07h, 19 April Reply

    SO COOL! I WANT TO GO !!

    • Adam
      Posted at 22:41h, 20 April Reply

      Do it sooner than later! Traveling to Cuba for Americans is way easier than it sounds!

  • Mary @ Green Global Travel
    Posted at 12:11h, 19 April Reply

    Very helpful information about traveling to Cuba. Hopefully, it will become much easier for Americans to visit Cuba but maybe, many Americans don’t have information about what steps need to be taken. Its great that you weren’t asked why you were visiting Cuba.

    • Hannah
      Posted at 21:36h, 01 August Reply

      It’s becoming so much easier traveling to Cuba as an American, pretty soon even flights from the USA to Cuba!

  • Alana
    Posted at 12:25h, 22 April Reply

    Very helpful info, Hannah and Adam. We’re beginning to make plans to get there this year. It will be interesting to see just how much things have changed since your visit.

    Did you book accommodations in advance or just show up and find something?

    • Hannah
      Posted at 21:35h, 01 August Reply

      We booked our first night in Havana on Airbnb but all the other nights were on arrival. You guys are going to have a blast!

  • Cee Cee Stephens
    Posted at 13:46h, 24 April Reply

    My husband and I will be retiring soon and look forward to traveling more. Might have to add Cuba to the list. Thank you for a very informative look at this new destination.

    • Hannah
      Posted at 21:34h, 01 August Reply

      Congrats on the upcoming retirement! You def should add Cuba to your future travel list. Safe travels!

  • Rachel Harmon
    Posted at 20:00h, 25 October Reply

    Do you need to purchase a visa before leaving the US, or is that something you can do when arriving in Cuba? I have found a lot of material online that is not up to date and am not sure.

    • Hannah
      Posted at 23:28h, 25 October Reply

      No, we didn’t purchase or have a visa prior to leaving the USA. As indicated in the article, we traveled to Cuba from Cancun Mexico. At the Cancun airport, we paid $20 and got our visa at the check-in line for our flight that day. We went to Cuba April 2016. Safe travels!

  • Duc la
    Posted at 02:34h, 16 November Reply

    Please sign me up for weekly dose of Travel Goodies.

    Thanks

    • Hannah
      Posted at 09:15h, 16 November Reply

      Just did, you should get a confirmation email. Safe travels.

  • Jayne Bray
    Posted at 16:54h, 26 November Reply

    Brilliant articles! After researching a fair bit on Cuba, you’ve nailed it. Thanks guys, love your work. I use several Google products (ie gmail, docs, Google Analytics and Google AdWords) – while I plan on not working, it would be good to know if anything urgent came up that I could access these apps in Cuba. Do you use any of these and if so was there any problems?

    • Hannah
      Posted at 20:19h, 01 December Reply

      We didn’t have any problems with Google products. Download a VPN for sure. What type of computer and phone do you have? All of us with Apple’s had more problems then our other friend with an Android and sony computer. Let us know if you have any other Cuba questions. Safe travels,

  • Luisa Fernández
    Posted at 14:52h, 11 December Reply

    Hi, were you required to purchased a pink tourist card? Because I was reading that Americans are required to get the pink tourist card instead of the green one. I called delta and they told me the color doesn’t matter, also the Cuban embassy doesn’t give you any information regarding an specific color. What was the color of your tourist card?

    • Hannah
      Posted at 03:21h, 12 December Reply

      The only thing we had to do in Cancun was pay to get our visa while we were literally checking into our flight. We handed over our passports and they filled out the paperwork, and then we gave them the money. When we got to Cuba we got the pink stamp in our passports. Where are you flying from? Our trip originated in Cancun, Mexico and was a return flight back to Cancun.

  • Doug E
    Posted at 14:57h, 18 December Reply

    Hi Hannah & Adam.
    Thank you for the great article! I’d like to know if when you booked through Air B&B, did you use your personal account or did you have a foreign friend (non-US citizen) book for you? In planning our booking, we are being asked about the purpose of the trip. How did you manage this part?

    Thanks in advance!
    Doug

    • Hannah
      Posted at 20:30h, 18 December Reply

      Glad we could help. We booked our Airbnb right on Airbnb with our credit card. If you are booking on Airbnb here is $35 off http://www.airbnb.com/c/hlukaszewicz Where are you flying through? Who are you booking with? We went through Cancun and didn’t get asked anything, the airline actually filled out our visa paperwork for us. So I can’t really speak on traveling from the USA. We were going to say journalist had we been asked. Let us know any other questions. Safe travels.

      • Doug E
        Posted at 12:42h, 19 December Reply

        Thank you for the quick response Hannah. We are doing exactly as you did, but I was a bit concerned when Air BnB asked for our home address because we’re going to Cuba. This is the message: “Since you’re headed to Cuba, we need to collect a few extra details before…” I am just curious to know if the gov’t follows up with the traveler now that they have our home address.

  • Sanne - Spend Life Traveling
    Posted at 12:50h, 02 January Reply

    Nice guide! An american friend recently visited Cuba and I remember how many questions he had before going so I am sure many Americans will find this useful!

    • Hannah
      Posted at 23:20h, 02 January Reply

      I hope your friend had an amazing time. We too had tons of questions before we traveled to Cuba, hoping our guide helps those searching for info.

  • Joe
    Posted at 13:39h, 02 January Reply

    It’s great to hear that it’s, at present, both easier and indeed possible for Americans to travel to Cuba now. How times have changed! Let’s hope it will continue…I’m from the UK, and it has been seen as a quite accessible destination for us in recent years, although we still need Visas, tourist cards and the like, of course.

    • Hannah
      Posted at 23:21h, 02 January Reply

      Have you made it to Cuba yet? It’s amazing and we are glad Americans will be able to travel to Cuba!

  • SindhuMurthy
    Posted at 06:43h, 17 January Reply

    I am quite curious to know why American government had imposed all those restrictions on its citizens on visiting Cuba. NO wonder with such restrictions, I have heard or read very little about Cuba as a tourist destination. I loved the pictures of all the colorful and vintage cars you have posted. I would mind going to Cuba just to take a ride in one o the vintage cars. Any idea if similar restrictions are imposed by other countries?

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