Image: Alex Brown (CC BY 2.0) via Flickr
Cuba tourism is booming, and all American’s can now legally travel to Cuba. No, news about Trump imposing tighter restrictions on travelers is not fake news, but has been wildly exaggerated.
American travelers have previously been restricted from visiting Cuba due to a US trade embargo, and while “tourist travel” is still prohibited, it is legal and safe for you to jet down to Cuba on a “general license”. This is simply a claim that you qualify for one of the 12 categories of authorized travel.
Unlike having to obtain a physical piece of paper granting permission for travel, a general license means that the individual decides that their visit fits one of the 12 rules. Essentially, the government is 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 you’re required to do when booking is to check a box indicating what category they are eligible to fly under.
Legal Travel to Cuba For Americans (Updated Jan 2020)
Categories for Authorized Travel to Cuba
- Family visits;
- Business of the U.S. government, foreign governments, and certain intergovernmental organizations;
- Professional research and professional meetings;
- Educational activities;
- Religious activities;
- Public performances, clinics, workshops, athletic/other competitions, and exhibitions;
- Support of the Cuban people;
- Humanitarian projects;
- Activities of private foundations or research or educational institutes;
- Exportation, importation, or transmission or information materials; and
- Certain export transactions that may be considered for authorization under existing regulations and guidelines.
Legal Red Tape and How to Get a Visa
All individual trips are required to fall under one of the above 12 categories of legal travel to Cuba. This requirement is supposed to be legally binding and you’ll need to document your activities to prove you traveled for appropriate reasons.
Granted, we haven’t heard of anyone being questioned about their trip to Cuba upon return to the States, though it’s always wise to be thorough. You will however have to state which category you fall under when you go to book your flight or cruise ship.
You’ll need a visa to enter Cuba (Cuban Tourist Card), which is a Cuban requirement, not one imposed by the US. You can apply for this through the Cuban Embassy in D.C. or have your airline arrange it for you.
If you’re planning on organizing it at the airport, keep in mind that not all airlines can help, and that each will have different fees. Costs can range from $50 to $110 depending on the airline you’re flying with. Southwest, Jetblue and Delta are currently the cheapest ($50).
There are many other intermediaries that can obtain a visa for you too; tour agencies and airlines are typically the most efficient, though note that neither the US embassy in Havana nor the US Department of State in Washington D.C. process applications.
Avoid Businesses of the Cuban Military
Trump has banned American support of businesses under the umbrella of the Cuban military. This means that you’ll have to forget about expensive hotels and beach resorts, and stay in locally owned and operated casas, or bed and breakfasts.
This legislation, according to Trump administration, is not meant to discourage you to travel, but to direct American money to Cuban entrepreneurs and private business owners.
The purpose is to encourage visitors to stay at private homes, eat at private restaurants (‘’paladares’’ in Spanish) and buy souvenirs and art from local private vendors. This results in a more authentic and immersive experience for travelers anyway, and the quality of service and food is better from privately owned businesses.
How do you know which is which? You can either ask the business directly if they’re government run, or book with an agency like cubaneden.com where they make sure you comply with government requirements.
Tourism is Still Prohibited
Tourism for it’s own sake is still prohibited, so you won’t be able to spend your time lazing on the beach (you’re required to engage in a full time itinerary of activities related to the above categories of travel).
Tour agencies that arrange your hotels, transportation and meals are an attractive way to book as they provide cultural exchange activities and usually have longstanding experience with sending travelers to Cuba. Though don’t be scared to book your trip DIY fashion too.
Although ‘’people-to-people’’ trips were suspended, Americans can visit Cuba without a tour operator under the ‘’support of the Cuban people’’ category. Key to this is the interaction with locals at different levels.
We recommend touring Havana in old American cars, savvy walking tours and salsa and cooking lessons. In addition, choose home stays (‘’casas particulares’’) that offer bed and breakfast instead of government owned hotels.
For more information on what constitutes a visit under each of the above categories, visit the Frequently Asked Questions Related to Cuba from the US Treasury.
How to Get to Cuba
In the past, American’s have evaded travel bans by traveling through third party countries like the Bahamas, Canada and Mexico. But now that airlines are operating direct flights from the States, this is no longer necessary.
Airlines that are operating routes include American, Frontier, JetBlue, Southwest, United, Spirit, Alaska and Delta. Direct flights to Havana operate from Miami, Fort Lauderdale, Charlotte, Newark, New York JFK, Atlanta, Los Angeles, Orlando, Tampa and many others.
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 policies from your home country, with more expensive premiums, so we highly recommend covering this before you travel.
For Americans, GeoBlue now provides International Travel Medical coverage for those traveling to and from Cuba. 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.
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.
OUR FAVORITE CUBA TRAVEL GUIDES. CLICK TO LOOK INSIDE ↓
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Images that have been used in previous versions of this post: Chevrolet a lo cubano by Jaume Escofet (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0) via Flickr. Hungry water for paradise by Simon Matzinger (CC BY 2.0) via Flickr. Children play on a backstreet in La Habana Vieja by Allan Hopkins (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0) via Flickr.