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1st Hand Guide for Americans Traveling To Cuba

1st Hand Guide for Americans Traveling To Cuba

YES, you can still travel to Cuba in 2019 legally. Americans have been impatient for the day when travel to Cuba is possible. If you have a US passport YES you can travel to Cuba!

UPDATED January 2020 with the latest Cuba Travel Restrictions

In this article, we’re going to go over all those details and different ways to plan your trip to Cuba.  The wait is finally over, sort of…. Traveling to Cuba was getting easier and easier but Trump has made several changes for those wanting to travel to Cuba. Don’t worry you can still travel to Cuba but a few things have changed.

Ever since we returned from our trip to Cuba we’ve been flooded with Cuba travel questions from all the Americans traveling to Cuba 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 or Cuban Tourist Card/etc

Guide Americans traveling to Cuba 2016-2

Americans traveling to Cuba in 2020 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 Americans traveling to Cuba have 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 – The Most common category
  • 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 (we flew to Cancun, Mexico, and then 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.

We got our Cuba Tourist Card at the airport in Cancun when we were checking into our flight for $20. If you are flying to Cuba from the USA your airline will help you obtain the Cuban Tourist Card.

Every airline has different fees and processes for obtaining a Cuban tourist card. You will need to show your Cuban Tourist Card when checking into the flight in order to board the plane. Currently here is how much a Cuban Tourist Card costs based on airlines:

  • Delta: $50, purchase at the gate
  • JetBlue: $50, purchase at the gate
  • Southwest: $50, purchased online and delivered at the gate
  • United: $75 ($50 visa fee + $25 admin fee), purchase at the gate
  • American: $85 ($50 visa fee + $35 admin fee), purchase online and sent via mail or at a Cuba Ready” Kiosks at CLT or MIA airports for $100 ($50 visa fee + $50 admin fee)

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.

The easiest way to travel to Cuba legally: If you would like a professional company to assist with arranging your Cuba Visa click here to contact ViaHero.  Special 5% discount for Getting Stamped readers.

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.

April 17, 2019, Cuba Travel Changes

Nothing has officially changed yet. If you have a trip to Cuba planned you should watch the news to see what the actual changes will be. April 17’s announcement didn’t include details of what changes were going to be put in place and when they would be effective. As of now, nothing has changed.

On April 18, 2019, the Trump administration announced new measures for travel and travel to Cuba. Basically, they want to limit the amount of money sent to Cuba from Cuba-Americans and put new rules in effect for non-family travel to Cuba.

National security adviser John Bolton said, “The Department of the Treasury will implement further regulatory changes to restrict non-family travel to Cuba. These new measures will help steer American dollars away from the Cuban regime or its military and security services who control the tourism industry in Cuba.” 

Can you travel to Cuba Independently?

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 travels 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.

Independently Travel To Cuba

Update 2018 Trump traveling to Cuba changes: Trump made a few changes for those wanting to independently travel to Cuba. In November 2017 President Trump made it so you cannot independently travel to Cuba under the People to People Educational category. You can still travel to Cuba independently under the other 11 categories above.

In order to comply with the new policies as an independent traveler in Cuba you need to:

  • Travel under any of the above other 11 categories including Support for the Cuban people category (the most common category). When booking flights, lodging, and during re-entry into the United States you will declare this category.
  • Stay at casa particulares (homes of local Cubans, this is all we stayed in on our trip to Cuba), eat at local restaurants, and support local Cuban businesses. – We only ate at local restaurants and stayed with locals families and wouldn’t do it any other way.
  • Avoid staying at any of the hotels currently banned by the US State Department and don’t spend money at the military-owned businesses. For the complete list of hotels to avoid click here.
  • Make sure to keep as many receipts as possible and have an itinerary of your time in Cuba accessible for the next 5 years. You might need to be able to prove that your time in Cuba was legal and feel under approved categories.

Click here to read frequently asked questions about the relaxed policy online by the Treasury Department – Updated November 7, 2018.

Build your Cuba itinerary with local experts that can help plan a legal trip to Cuba with all your arrangements and activities, special 5% discount for Getting Stamped readers.

How To Travel To Cuba From The US

Guide Americans traveling to Cuba 2016-1

A Purple Classic Chevrolet in Havana Cuba

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. Still, in 2019 any 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. Don’t forget your insurance! You never know when you’ll need it. We suggest getting travel insurance with Safety Wing. Which coverage includes medical, trip interruption, lost luggage, and more. Often rates are as low as $12 a week.  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

Guide Americans traveling to Cuba 2016-Cuba Cars-Grafitti

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 To Get Wifi In Cuba

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

YES, there is Wifi in Cuba and the good news is that it’s getting cheaper!

2019 ETECSA Wifi Prices In Cuba

  • $1 USD/$1 CUC for a 1-hour Wifi card
  • $5/5 CUC for 5 hours Wifi card

Wifi in Cuba Tips

  • Stock up on wifi cards when possible, they often will only sell you up to 3 prepaid cards.
  • Bring your passport when purchasing ETECSA wifi cards, they will often require this.
  • Make sure to log off otherwise you’ll waste your remaining minutes. To log off of the ETECSA wifi in Cuba type into the search browser and then click ‘cerrar sesión.
  • Purchase prepaid cards directly from the ETECSA offices when possible, other retailers often will markup the cards.

On our trip in 2016, 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 four wifi hotspots within a two block radius of our casa in Old Town Havana. For some more info on getting connected in Cuba, check out the Two Scots Abroad post on the internet and wifi in Cuba.

Guide Americans traveling to Cuba 2016-Wifi card in Cuba ETECSA card-1

To 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.

Even though there is Wifi in Cuba we had issues with not every computer or app that will work. For example, I had an iPhone 6 plus on our last visit and was unable to download anything from 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.

Guide Americans traveling to Cuba 2016-Cuba Cars-1-2

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 websites. We found 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 a private bath. Read our Havana accommodation guide.

If you prefer to book a Casa Particulares in advance there are several on Vrbo. Booking in advance also has the advantage of accommodation being prepaid. We booked our first 2 nights in Havana in advance on Vrbo. Those Cuban families with family members living outside of Cuba manage these Vrbo bookings since there is no Wifi in Cuban homes. If you message them on Vrbo 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 Vrbo stay.

*When looking for the best price and biggest selection of hotels in Havana check prices on, we’ve found they are the best option and have a great cancelation policy.

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

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Thursday 28th of March 2019

Loved the information! Very concise and helpful. The tip about flying from Mexico to Havana was the best! Thank you.

Mike Buchan

Friday 15th of February 2019

Hi guys!! You have lots of great info for Americans leaving and returning from America. I am an American - but - I live in Russia. And have lived here since 1999. This will be my first trip to Cuba, although I have lived and/or worked in 23 other countries. This trip is a vacation.

What information can you give me concerning my trip???

Happy trails!!! Mike


Friday 15th of February 2019

Hi Mike - If you are still traveling on an American passport, most of the information here would apply. Not sure if there are flights to Cuba from where you are living, but it would be a similar process as entering from Canada or Mexico. If you follow the normal visa process I would see any issue with you being able to visit. Happy planning!

Ana L

Saturday 29th of December 2018

Hi, Im an american Citizen and im planning to go to Cuba in April to visit a friend, I was told i can travel with no problem through Toronto. Is that possible?


Monday 4th of February 2019

Traveling through Canada or Mexico is much less restrictive. You still need to follow the visa rules for the Cuban Government, which are generally pretty easy and can be done at the airport.


Tuesday 11th of December 2018

I will be on a cruise in May 2019 which stops in Havanna for one day/night. I would like to sign up for a few Airbnb experiences, specifically a walking tour with a photojournalist. Are Americans able to move around Havanna without a cruise ship approved excursion?


Monday 4th of February 2019

The best place to check is with the cruise line. They and the port authorities will determine what you can do on land in Cuba. I don't see why it wouldn't be possible to take part in these experiences, but they may have their own rules or ways they apply their vias regulations.


Saturday 17th of November 2018

Hello! I’m going to Cuba but going straight from Ft. Lauderdale and then flying back into Ft. Lauderdale. Do you know what the stamp situation would be here? Should I ask not to get a stamp since I’m not flying back to the US from another country like Canada or Mexico? Not sure if coming back to the US directly from Cuba would raise any alarms/questions. Any insight or advice would be greatly appreciated!


Monday 4th of February 2019

If you are worried you can ask them not to stamp you and they generally won't. However, if you are flying from the US they already know and they are alright with it.