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Cuba tourism is booming, and all American’s can now legally travel to Cuba – with some limitations. American travelers have been restricted from visiting Cuba for years now due to a trade embargo preventing the US from spending money on the Caribbean island, and while “tourist travel” is still prohibited, travel restrictions are now less severe. Now any American wishing to travel to Cuba may do so for one of 12 reasons.

The new regulations came into effect December 2014, and now allow Americans to visit Cuba without prior permission from the US Government. The US previously required that any American visiting Cuba obtain a specialized licence to do so, though now citizens can travel on a “general license”, which is simply a claim that you qualify for one of the 12 categories permitted for authorized travel.

Unlike having to obtain a physical piece of paper granting permission for travel, all a general license means is that the individual decides that their visit fits one of the 12 rules, meaning “the government is essentially now giving citizens the benefit of the doubt.”

With US booking websites and online travel agencies now offering flights to Cuba from the US, all fliers will be required to do when booking is to check a box indicating what category they are eligible to fly under.

Vintage cars Cuba

Chevrolet a lo cubano. Photo CC by Jaume Escofet

Categories for Authorized Travel to Cuba

  1. Family visits;
  2. Business of the U.S. government, foreign governments, and certain intergovernmental organizations;
  3. Journalism;
  4. Professional research and professional meetings;
  5. Educational activities;
  6. Religious activities;
  7. Public performances, clinics, workshops, athletic/other competitions, and exhibitions;
  8. Support of the Cuban people;
  9. Humanitarian projects;
  10. Activities of private foundations or research or educational institutes;
  11. Exportation, importation, or transmission or information materials; and
  12. Certain export transactions that may be considered for authorization under existing regulations and guidelines.

Tourism for it’s own sake is still prohibited, though with the diversity of the above list, now most Americans who want to visit Cuba should be able to find a way to do so.

You won’t be able to spend your time lazing on the beach, though there are now a range of tour companies and organizations offering Cuban itineraries which satisfy the above criteria for “people to people” contact – experiences that bring American and Cuban people closer together through programs involving cultural exchange.

Such companies include International Expeditions, Insight Cuba and National Geographic Expeditions, and these tours are a sure way to travel legally if you are otherwise unsure.

Cuban girls

Cuban travel itineraries based on cultural exchange. Photo CC by Theodor Hensolt.

Those looking for more information on what constitutes a visit under each of the above categories should consult the Frequently Asked Questions Related to Cuba from the US Treasury.

How to Get to Cuba

Flights to Cuba from the US are currently few and far between, so many travelers are still traveling via the Bahamas, Canada and Mexico, though starting next week (March 17 2015), New Yorkers interested in visiting Cuba will have the option to fly directly from JFK to Havana; the new route part of the expanding efforts to develop the Caribbean island for American tourists.

In the past, American’s have traveled to Cuba illegally, and have evaded travel bans by traveling through third party countries, but travelers caught illegally traveling to Cuba will face steep fines. If you use Global Entry though, you should be able to easily avoid having your stamps scrutinized on re-entry into the US.

Note that while Cuba has previously been willing to not stamp US passports, officials have recently started stamping all passports as a matter of policy.

Cuba taxi’s in Havana. Photo CC by Gerry Balding.

For those living in Southern States like Florida, the cheapest and quickest route for reaching Havana is to fly direct from Nassau in the Bahamas, with flights operating daily, though the more popular method of travel for US citizens is to catch a flight from Canada where non-stop flights operate from Montreal, Toronto and Vancouver.

With the ease in travel restrictions services are increasing for traveling to Cuba by boat, and many major cruise companies are slowly beginning to offer Cuban itineraries for US travelers.

Mandatory Health Insurance

Cuba makes having non-U.S. health insurance a mandatory requirement for all visitors entering the country. Those who cannot provide immigration with proof of coverage will be forced to buy insurance from the local Cuban insurance provider who have an office set up in the immigration area of the airport.

Cover purchased in Cuba is likely to be less comprehensive than most local policies from your home country, and are generally likely to have more expensive premiums, so we highly recommend covering this before you travel.

For those Americans planning to travel to Cuba, GeoBlue now provides International Travel Medical coverage for those traveling to and from Cuba, and the The GeoBlue Voyager Choice plan is our recommended solution for this need.

Sunset in Havana

Sunset in Havana. Photo CC by José Eduardo Deboni.

To apply for coverage with GeoBlue or obtain a free quote, contact Timothy Jennings at IndividualHealth.com.

A health insurance broker we trust, Timothy has worked in the international and US domestic market for more than 30 years and offers travelers a range of different options on plans and coverage including short-term travel medical (generally less than 6 months), annual renewable coverage for expats, and coverage for business groups worldwide.

Get a Quote

Click For More Information About GeoBlue Health Insurance

GeoBlue is a trade name of Worldwide Insurance Services, LLC (Worldwide Services Insurance Agency, LLC in California and New York), an independent licensee of the Blue Cross Blue Shield Association.

Since 1997, Worldwide Insurance Services has been dedicated to helping travelers and expatriates identify, access and pay for quality healthcare, all around the world. Sold in connection with certain Blue Cross and Blue Shield companies, each GeoBlue policy is U.S. licensed and offers the most complete set of benefits and services in the industry.

  • GeoBlue members enjoy:24/7 Phone, Web and Mobile Support
  • Prompt Access to Trusted Doctors and Hospitals
  • Cashless Appointment Scheduling
  • Paperless Claims Resolution
  • Destination Health Intelligence

GeoBlue and the US Traveler

One of the most important aspects of International Cover is the relationship between you and your insurer.  After all what good is the health insurance if you cannot find a doctor you trust.  GeoBlue has an elite network of doctors from most every specialty ready to see you in over 180 countries.

Only a small fraction of doctors around the world meet GeoBlue’s exacting standards—participation is by invitation only. GeoBlue seeks out professionals certified by the American or Royal Board of Medical Specialties who speak English, and they factor in recommendations by over 158 Physician Advisors from all over the world.GeoBlue assembles in-depth provider profiles so their members can choose with confidence, and they put formal contracts in place to ensure preferred patient access. GeoBlue doctors and hospitals bill them directly so their policy holders don’t have to worry about filing a claim.

For members choosing a GeoBlue plan that offers benefits in the United States, they gain access to the largest national network and facilities that have been awarded the coveted Blue Distinction for superior medical outcomes. In the U.S., more than 80 percent of physicians and 90 percent of hospitals contract directly with Blue Cross and Blue Shield Plans.

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Megan is an Australian Journalist who has been travelling and blogging since 2007, with the main aim of inspiring others to embark on their own worldwide adventure. Her husband Mike is an American travel photographer, and together they have made the world their home.

Committed to bringing you the best in adventure travel from all around the globe, there is no mountain too high, and no fete too extreme! They haven’t been everywhere, but it’s on their list.

Follow their journey on Facebook, TwitterYouTube, Pinterest and Instagram also.

Featured Photo CC by Alex Brown

    57 Comments

  1. This is a great resource! Thank you! I’ve been looking into travel to Cuba for Americans, but being someone who likes to do things on her own without tours, it looks like I’m stuck waiting a while until things get a bit more lax. I might consider one of the National Geographic tours though. Have you heard anything about them?
    Sonja @ Breadcrumbs Guide recently posted…How I Scored 2 Free Flights to MauiMy Profile

    • Glad you found it useful :) We are also travelers who enjoy doing our own thing over taking part in organized tours, though there are some fantastic tours out there, especially for Cuba, and while we’re extremely picky, IE, Nat Geo and Insight Cuba are all companies we would consider traveling with.

      I haven’t heard anything about the Nat Geo tours to Cuba specifically, though I’ve heard fantastic reviews about their tours elsewhere in the world so I have no problem recommending them for this. Their Cuba tours were recommended in an article I found in the NY Times this morning while researching for this post, which is how I found out they ran them :)

    • If you’ve heard mixed reports, only way to find out if it’s for you is to spend some time there yourself 😀 Also keep in mind who the reports are coming from – a trip to Cuba if you’re from the UK would be far more flexible and relaxing than for someone from the States, as you can travel for tourism’s sake and don’t have to necessarily be restricted to an organized tour :)

    • Canadians also never had these kinds of restrictions, I was very lucky to have visited Cuba a couple of years back and would go back in a heartbeat. It seems like an amazing place and I would love to explore it a little more
      Yvonne recently posted…Eco-Lodging in Les Ardennes: Chambres du VivierMy Profile

  2. Really fantastic information.It’s going to be interesting over the next few years to see how this more positive relationship between the US and Cuba impacts the region. Thanks for sharing and I look forward to having the opportunity to explore Cuba myself.
    Jennifer recently posted…A Different View of Playa’s Fifth AveMy Profile

    • Glad you found it useful Jennifer :) Absolutely, I’m looking forward to the relationship continuing to grow, and hopefully it wont be long until American’s can travel for tourism.

    • Absolutely – I’m hoping that this is just the first of a number of positive steps towards completely removing the barriers to travel from the States – the trade embargo has been in place for well over 50 years which is way too long in my humble opinion!

    • I hope you manage a visit to Cuba soon! It’s SUCH an amazing country!!

    • You and me both!! Just remember that healthcare!

    • A lot of countries are starting to jump on the bandwagon and require this now, not something you generally think about and then you get hit with the forced policy when you get there. Glad we could help :)

  3. We were in Cuba last July and it’s amazing how much has changed already. We went on a people to people trip through our church. We had everything arranged for us so we were lucky. This is terrific information for anyone looking to plan a trip to Cuba. I would highly recommend a visit the Cuban people are wonderful and of course the food is terrific too!
    Sue Reddel recently posted…Super Cool Housewares ShowMy Profile

    • So glad you enjoyed the post Sue, and I’m glad you had the opportunity to visit Cuba – I really hope that with the new boom of tourism the country doesn’t become too touristy so to speak, and it doesn’t impact upon the authentic experiences which make the country so unique and wonderful!

      Highly recommend everyone try and visit before it comes out of it’s time warp! :)

  4. I am sending my parents to Cuba this spring – I’m sure they’ll love it. As a Canadian, we’ve been coming for years, and the country definitely has a unique colonial, old-world feel, with a lot of the Soviet Union thrown in.

    • So glad to hear – I’m sure they’ll love it too! Do remind them about the mandatory health insurance, as this one applies to everyone and not just Americans :) Safe trip!

    • Glad you found it useful Aileen, and thanks for sharing – all shares appreciated! If heading there yourself, just remember the mandatory healthcare requirement – this one applies to citizens everywhere and not just Americans :)

  5. I’m really surprised to read the bit about health insurance. Good to know before you go! I really want to go before it gets too popular, it seems like a really interesting place to visit.
    Katrina the Two Week Traveler recently posted…2 Weeks in ChinaMy Profile

    • Absolutely – it’s not something I knew about either at first, though since doing a lot of research into it I’ve found that a number of other countries are beginning to jump on the same bandwagon.

      And absolutely, highly recommend everyone travel before it becomes too popular and the country comes out of it’s timewarp! It’s such a unique destination right now, it’s so great that tourism has started to boom, but by that same token, I truly hope that tourism doesn’t have a negative impact and mean that the country looses it’s authenticity and charm :)

    • Glad you found the article helpful – I hope you do manage to work Cuba into your travel plans, if not for the fact that it’s an amazing and fascinating destination, just because you now can!!

  6. I’m so excited about travel to Cuba becoming easier. Word on the street is that there will be a ferry from South Florida by the end of the year.
    Mags recently posted…Why I Cruise DisneyMy Profile

    • Wow that would be amazing! I hadn’t heard about that development, but am all for it! Too bad that concept wasn’t in place while I was living in Florida!! Would have been all over it!!

  7. Recently Ive been looking info traveling in Cuba but have come across some of the odds and ends you brought up. I found your breakdown for having a decent experience really useful. I especially appreciate your addition of companies giving legal tours.
    Sabastian Laurent recently posted…Seven Things Travel Will Do To You!My Profile

    • Glad you found the article helpful Sabastian! Do let us know if you have any further questions or queries about Cuba travel – always happy to help where we can :)

  8. Though I am not American (I’m the friendly neighbour to the North) there’s been a lot of debate over what the legalities of this new political relationship would mean. This is a great tool and resource, and I learned a lot! It’s interesting to read about the categories offered.
    Andrea recently posted…A Solo Girl’s Guide to Making FriendsMy Profile

    • Glad you found the article informative :) Let me know if you have any other questions about the legalities – always happy to help :)

  9. Such invaluable information, Meg! Thanks for putting it together. Is blogging considered part of journalism? Can you organize a tour around that? That would be a great service for us bloggers who want to see Cuba!

    • Glad you enjoyed it Carol – I would say blogging is definitely considered part of Journalism! That would be my pitch anyway if I was American and had to chose a category :D!

  10. This is such good news for my felloe ‘merican travelers! Thank’s for sharing such detail info for this and I really hope this will be good for both countries. I’m realizing everyday that coming from a South American country is very good thing sometimes, and very cool we, Chileans, are not banned from traveling almost anywhere!
    Gloria @NomadicChica recently posted…QOTD | What is meant to be will beMy Profile

    • So glad you enjoyed the post and found it informative Gloria :) And glad to hear that there are hardly any travel restrictions for Chileans! Definitely something to be proud of!

  11. Now is the best time to travel to Cuba. You will get to see it before it changes, and trust me it will. So book that flight quickly. Great Post on visiting Cuba.

    • Absolutely – highly recommend everyone travel before it comes out of it’s timewarp! Change is inevitable, so travel now is smart for those who want to experience the country before tourism truly takes hold.

    • Absolutely! I hope you can manage a visit soon – no doubt the country will start changing now that tourism is becoming more accessible for US travelers, though hopefully it will still retain it’s character and charm :)

  12. Hi Meg, thank you very much for putting together such a valuable resource. We’ve got very exited about the new US policy since we wanted to visit Cuba for a long time. Then, I started doing in-depth research and run into some issues you mentioned. However, the mandatory health insurance was a news to me (our current international medical insurance excludes Cuba).
    Elena recently posted…San Antonio de Pereira, a Sweet Tooth’s DreamMy Profile

    • So glad you enjoyed the post Elena – definitely check out GeoBlue, we’ve worked alongside Timothy for a while now and he’s one of the only reps in the US who works in his field full time. GeoBlue is now one of the largest healthcare provider networks in the world, and their policies do cover Cuba, so highly recommend checking out their plans for a Cuba trip :)

      Let me know if you have any other Q’s – happy & safe travels!

    • Do it! Will be watching for your updates and photos!

  13. That was interesting to read. I want to go to Cuba one day, but I suppose that the rules for US and EU citizens may be a little different 😉
    Izabela recently posted…Flying with kids to USAMy Profile

    • For sure – those from the EU have a lot more freedom and can travel just for the sake of tourism – though the mandatory healthcare requirement is applicable to everyone, so definitely check out GeoBlue plans if you’re planning a trip – they’re a global company so offer plans for those outside of the US as well :)

      Happy travels!

    • Will have to wait and see! I’m just hoping and praying it will only have a positive impact and won’t mean the country and culture will change due to increased boom in tourism :)

  14. Thanks for including our Havana post Meg. We’re Canadian so we’ve been going to Cuba for years and have nothing but good things to say about the country and people. I’m happy for them that these changes are finally coming – but it will transform Cuba for the good and bad. As someone above has said, go now.

    Besides Havana, a highlight is the colonial town of Trinidad. It is a Unesco Heritage site and is located close to other points of interest such as the valle de los ingenios and Ancon beach which is supposed to be one of Cuba’s nicest beach (we didn’t see it, had tummy problems). A bit on Trinidad here: http://bbqboy.net/photo-documentary-and-travel-tips-on-the-beautiful-town-of-trinidad-cuba/

    You’ve put together a great resource page on Cuba Meg. I read somewhere else (I think BBC) that they expect regular charter flights for tourism to start up within a year. So it won’t be long. What many don’t know is that there were already direct flights back and forth between Cuba and the US. On our last trip in 2011 we were in Cienfuegos and they had several flights a day into Miami. But again, mostly related to religious/humanitarian activities.

    Frank (bbqboy)
    Frank recently posted…Things learned through 8 months of travelMy Profile

    • You’re welcome Frank – have loved reading your Cuba posts and enjoyed your photos – and I’m now so glad that US citizens can enjoy the same!

      Glad you enjoyed the resource – my guess is that we’re only going to see direct flights to Cuba increase heavily in the very near future; my hunch is that this is something which is going to see an absolute boom!

    • You’re welcome :) So glad we could provide a resource which was helpful and straightforward. It can definitely be overwhelming trying to sort through the bureaucracy and back and forth, so our aim is to put everything you need to know in the simplest way possible :)

  15. Cuba has long been on my travel wish list, and this sort of complication makes me very happy not to be American – as a Brit I’ve always been free to travel to Cuba without fuss. Glad things are getting easier for Americans too, though :)
    Chris Wotton recently posted…Dasa Book Café: a haven for Bangkok’s readersMy Profile

    • Absolutely – do remember the requirement for mandatory healthcare though – that one hits everyone 😀

  16. Ah, once I was carrying Cuban cigars when I was making transit in the U.S. – they wanted to throw it away!!! It took me so much courage to save that precious gift! So I understand how difficult it may be to Americans to travel to Cuba, and vice versa.. The relationships between the two countries aren’t the greatest, I guess.

    http://www.therussianabroad.com
    Olga recently posted…London Pass Decoded: Is It Worth The Money?My Profile

    • I’ve heard it’s fairly difficult to get goods purchased in Cuba back into the US – so glad to hear you managed to save it though! The relationship hasn’t been the greatest in the past, though hopefully we’re moving towards a more positive relationship in the future, and hopefully this ease in travel sanctions in one of the first steps :)

    • Thanks for the information Moira! Semi frustrated that we just moved internationally to Australia from Florida lol always the way – if only the ferries and the new regulations had come in a year earlier could have had a direct route to Cuba! Would have definitely made the most of that!

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