Can US Citizens Travel to Cuba Legally?
Can US Citizens travel to Cuba?
Yes, they can!
The USA is so close to Cuba and for years Havana was America’s favourite playground and holiday destination. Over the past sixty years, US-Cuban relations and the US Embargo have made Cuba seem like a forbidden fruit. Tantalisingly close and yet just out of reach. Easy to see why travelling to Cuba looks so complicated. In reality, it’s pretty easy for US citizens to travel to Cuba.
So, how can US citizens travel to Cuba legally?
Some opt for US travel agencies, licensed to organise tours in Cuba. Others choose to travel independently. These are the ones who ask Cubania Travel “How can I travel to Cuba legally from the USA?” Cubania Travel has been organising sustainable active adventures to Cuba for the past 20+ years. So, we’re a great place to start when organising your trip to Cuba.
As one of the most environmentally responsible adventure travel companies in Cuba, (check the carbon footprint on any of our trips!). We do things the Cuban Way so that our tours support local communities and give you an amazing insight into Cuba’s unique way of living.
How to travel legally to Cuba (AND support Cuban people)
In this article, we give you all the information you need for legal travel to Cuba from the USA. We’ll guide you on how you can avoid sanctions by travelling smart and we’ll encourage you to travel consciously and give something back to local communities.
So, how can US citizens travel legally to Cuba? Remarkably, it’s pretty easy! But you need a little background information before you jump on that plane and head for Havana’s vibrant streets and Cuba’s beautiful towns and landscapes. You’ll need to choose a tour which complies with OFAC regulations (view ours here) and you’ll need to get your travel documents in order.
You’ll need the following documents for travel to Cuba:
★ Passport valid for at least 6 months after your trip to Cuba
★ Cuba Tourist Card (Pink or Green depending on where you travel from)
★ Health Insurance (It’s a legal requirement to have health insurance for any trip to Cuba)
★ Flight ticket
Pretty straightforward right? Double check you have 6 months of validity on your passport otherwise you won’t be able to enter Cuba.
Cubania Pro Tip: Cuban Immigrations will NOT stamp your passport unless you specifically request a stamp. This is super helpful – you won’t have to answer any uncomfortable questions about what you were doing in Cuba, once you return home.
Cuba Tourist Card
Pink Tourist Card or Green Tourist Card? Most travellers need a visa to enter Cuba and there are 2 kinds: Green Cuba Tourist Card and Pink Cuba Tourist Card.
★ GREEN TOURIST CARD. If you’re flying to Cuba from anywhere else in the world but the USA, you need to buy a Green Tourist Card. So, if you’re flying from Cancun or from Toronto you buy a Green Tourist card, regardless of nationality. Cubania Pro Tip: Both tourist cards are valid for 30 days from the day of entry into Cuba and can be extended by a further 30 days if required. Phew!
★PINK TOURIST CARD. If you’re a US citizen or simply someone who booked a direct flight from the US to Cuba, you’ll need to buy a Pink Tourist Card. This is a Cuban government requirement and has nothing to do with US Sanctions on Cuba. The Pink Card simply states that the passenger entered Cuba from USA. Your airline in the USA should be able to sell you a visa directly. If not, you should be able to purchase the pink visa card at Miami Airport (or whichever airport you fly from) If you’re travelling to Cuba direct from the USA, you’ll need to satisfy US authorities that your trip complies with OFAC regulations. Whatever you do, DO NOT say you’re going to Cuba for tourism! Most people travel under “Support for the Cuban People” category (More about this below!).
Cuban authorities require all visitors to have valid Health Insurance Cover before entering the country. Hard to buy when you’re travelling from the USA but you can buy on arrival through Asistur S.A., the local Health Insurance provider. The approximate cost per person is USD 5.00 per day.
Cubania Pro Tip: Most insurance companies do not have contracts with Cuba so if you have a medical emergency while in Cuba, your insurance company will ask you to pay in advance for treatment and you’ll get a refund once you return. However, if you buy local Asistur insurance, medical expenses will be paid for upfront. Please double-check terms and conditions with your insurance provider.
As easy as heading to Google Flights or SkyScanner…
Other documents you’ll need
General Licence for travel to Cuba
If you’re travelling to Cuba directly from the USA, regardless of nationality, you’ll need to ensure that you comply with OFAC Regulations on travel to Cuba. The US Embargo on Cuba forbids travel for tourism to the island. And it places some limitations on where you can stay and what you can do whilst in Cuba. You’ll need to prove that you’re complying with these regulations by travelling under a General License to travel to Cuba. Don’t worry, that doesn’t mean you actually have to carry a printed Licence with you. It simply means that your trip complies with one of the 12 categories of permitted travel to Cuba outlined by the US Government. You can take a deep dive into US Treasury regulations on Cuba here. Most people travel under the “Support for the Cuban People” category, which allows travel to Cuba so long as:
✧ You have a full itinerary of activities which enhance contact with Cuban people, support civil society in Cuba and promote Cuban people’s independence from Cuban authorities
✧ You meaningfully interact with individuals in Cuba
✧ You ensure to keep a copy of your itinerary and transactions related to your trip for 5 years after your trip.
How to prove that you’re supporting Cuban people when you travel to Cuba?
Actually, it’s pretty easy.
The rule of thumb is to ensure that all your money is spent on small private businesses rather than paying for services belonging to the Cuban government. You’ll need a full itinerary packed with activities which support Cuban people directly (by staying in their homes and eating in private restaurants ) and which engage you in meaningful dialogue with Cubans (cycling with Cuban masters is one of our favourite examples). If you’re booking through Cubania Travel, most of our itineraries already comply but some may require some adjustments. Please email our sales team if you have any questions about Cubania small group tours.
Here are some examples of ways Cubania packs your trip with OFAC compliant activities:
·Bed and breakfast accommodation: Long before AirBnB, Cubans had been renting out rooms in their homes. As a US citizen you can only stay in this kind of accommodation. Currently, all stays in hotels are NOT allowed. Good to know: Cubania Travel uses Casa Particular accommodation on all tours so you get to experience Cuba like a local.
·Visit local businesses: Take time to schedule visits to small businesses in Havana and beyond. Meet with small business owners, talk to them about their work and, if possible, buy their goods. You’ll be engaging with wonderful, hard-working, creative people and you’ll have an amazing insight into Cuban life. Good to know: Cubania travel schedules visits to Cuban businesses on all tours, so you can get a chance to meet with locals.
·Eat in Paladar Restaurants: These are privately-owned, licensed restaurants which serve food and cocktails. Usually, service and quality are far higher than in Government-owned places. Good to know: all your meals on a Cubania tour will be in paladars so you can sample some authentic, local dishes.
·Discover locally owned Shops: Design stores, jewellery, crafts, clothing, souvenirs… The streets of Havana are packed with amazing small stores selling a myriad of locally made goods. Upcycling is a big deal in a country where re-using everyday objects happens as a matter of course. Good to know: Cubania’s local guides will direct you to the best of local arts and crafts, away from tourist traps.
·Engage with Local Experts. Learn about Cuban music, art, sport, and dance by engaging with local experts. Cuba has produced a huge number of world-class artists, sportsmen and women and it’s surprisingly easy to get access to their expertise. Good to know: Cubania travel organises visits to art studios, jam sessions with Cuban musicians, cycle tours with Cuban Olympic Medallists and Master cyclist, dance classes with professional dancers… ·
·Discover local culture: Get close to a particular area of Cuban Culture. Learn about Cuba’s Afro-Cuban roots by visiting a Santeria priest or visit San Isidro with a local graffiti artist who’ll help you unravel the meaning behind some of Havana’s amazing street art. Good to know: This is exactly the kind of visit all Cubania tours include!
If you want to know more about the OFAC Regulations then please check our Travel USA page where you can access full OFAC Regulations. You can access the OFAC list of Restricted Entities here.
So, there you have it. Now all you need to do is get in touch and come visit us in Cuba!
Ready to plan your Cuba holiday?
With over 20 years of experience organising sustainable tours in Cuba, at Cubania we have your back. From Cuba cycling tours to family Cuba tours or LGBTQI-friendly Cuba tours, we’ve got something for everyone!