Contributor: Sarah Arizaga
As a US citizen, traveling to Cuba may seem complicated due to the embargo restrictions. But fear not, it is easier than you think as long as you are informed. In this article, we will guide you on how to travel to Cuba from the US in 2023, providing you with all the necessary information to prepare for your trip.
1) Make Sure Your Passport is Valid
Be mindful of your passport's expiration date. While Cuba’s requirements for validity are a bit murky, some airlines may require a six-month validity period in order to let you board. Don't take any chances - if your passport is expiring soon, get it renewed before your trip.
2) Book a Flight
Booking a flight to Cuba generally requires you to go directly to the airline’s website. You might be used to searching flights on third party sites such as Kayak or Hopper, but they no longer search flights to Cuba. You can use Google Flights; however, it shows only limited flight options.
Here are the airlines currently offering flights from US to Havana: American, United, Jet Blue, Southwest, Delta. If your search isn’t yielding results, you may have to search the legs of the flight separately.
Consider flying via a third country, for example Mexico or Panama. It doesn’t make any difference in the rules for legal travel, but it may offer you a better price or more convenient itinerary.
3) Get Travel Insurance
Cuba requires all visitors to have travel medical insurance. This is automatically included in all direct flights from the US, and doesn't require any action on your part. To use the medical insurance, you’ll just show the boarding pass at the clinic or hospital.
Cuba’s insurance only covers the medical attention you receive locally, you should also protect your trip with a comprehensive policy. I use www.insuremytrip.com to find insurance that covers Cuba. For my week-long trip, I paid US$41.27 for a policy with Trawick International. These are crazy times, and crazy times require insurance.
4) Get Cash
You have to bring enough cash for your entire trip. The currency situation in Cuba is wacky, to keep it simple I bring USD which I can use to pay directly for services to casa, restaurants, taxis, shops, etc. You can’t use your cards in Cuba except in rare (and usually medically related) instances. So, how much cash should you bring? A rule of thumb is to bring $100 per person, per day. Ask your bank for a mix of small bills ($5, $10, $20) and large bills ($50, $100) without any marks or damage. Read important information about money in Cuba here.
5) Buy the Visa (Tourist Card)
Travelers from most countries will need a tourist card, also known as a visa, to enter Cuba. When flying directly from US, you will need the "pink visa" instead of a "green visa", which you purchase from Cuba Travel Services (CTS) at the airport before boarding your flight to Cuba. For example, if flying from LAX to MIA to HAV, you will purchase your visa in MIA. All US airlines do what is called a document check, or “Cuba readiness check”, before boarding flights to Cuba, during this process you will show your visa if you already have it, or purchase it with a credit card if you don't. It takes a couple of minutes and typically costs between $75-100. No need to plan extra layover time to get the visa.
Airlines provide this information via email and on their websites. The process runs smoothly 98% of the time. However, in the remaining 2%, the agent at the home airport may delay the check-in process due to a misunderstanding of travel requirements. The agent usually has to call their support office to find out whether they can check in someone who doesn't have a visa, despite this process being outlined in the airline's website. While this doesn't happen often, it can be avoided by obtaining the visa in advance from a third-party seller like CTS.
American Airlines passengers can pre-purchase the visa on the CTS website here and Southwest Airlines passengers, can pre-buy the visa here.
Our visa page has information about where to buy the green visa if you aren’t flying from US.
6) Print General License Affidavit
The general license is US requirement for legal travel to Cuba. Many will tell you that bringing a general license affidavit is unnecessary, but the two times I didn’t bring one are the two times I was asked to show one; once at check in on United Airlines, and once from a prickly CBP agent in Miami. So, err on the side of caution and bring your affidavit. You will receive an affidavit from your tour provider or you can create your own by writing a letter stating your dates of travel and general license category, then sign and date it. You can also bring a copy of the Support for the Cuban People (515.574) regulation to show the US border agent in the event that they are misinformed about travel rules.
7) Two Days Before: Fill Out Entry Forms
Instead of filling out paper forms on the plane, you now have to complete Cuba’s customs, immigration, and health declaration forms online. Two days before your trip go to the D’Viajeros website to fill in the form. Watch our tutorial that walks you through how to fill out the form. You’ll receive a QR code that you need to check in for your flight and to enter Cuba.
The Covid vaccination and Covid testing part of this form are optional. There are no covid requirements or vaccination requirements of any kind to enter Cuba.
8) Two Days Before: Buy a Tourist SIM
If you can’t use your time in Cuba to disconnect from screentime, the easiest way to stay connected is with a tourist SIM that you purchase in advance. The US$35 tourist SIM card includes 6GB data, 100 SMS, 100 min talk time, and expires in 30 days. I used just over 2GB in my weeklong trip, being fully connected all the time, so this should be enough for a couple weeks in Cuba. You can re-up the data only with a credit card online, but cannot purchase more minutes or talk time. You’ll pick up the SIM at the airport in Terminal 3 at the Cubatur kiosk to the left before you go through immigration or at any Etecsa office throughout the country. If you don't want to get a SIM, you can use wifi or even your home provider, read more about staying connected.
Read Part II for information about entering and leaving Cuba.
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