US to Cuba Travel Guide 2024: Essential Tips and Requirements for Your Trip

May, 2024

As a US citizen, traveling to Cuba may seem complicated due to the embargo restrictions. But fear not, it is easier than you think if you are informed. In this article, we will guide you on how to travel to Cuba from the US in 2024, providing you with all the necessary information to prepare for your trip.

Flight

1) Make Sure Your Passport is Valid

Be mindful of your passport's expiration date. Cuba’s validity requirements are a bit murky, but to be on the safe side, make sure your passport will still be valid for 6 months after your trip- airlines could refuse to let you check in without it. Don't take any chances - if your passport is expiring within a year, get it renewed.

2) Book a Flight

You might be used to searching flights on third-party sites such as Kayak or Hopper, but booking a flight to Cuba generally requires you to go directly to the airline’s website. You could use Google Flights or Skyscanner; however, the results are sometimes limited and you may find better itineraries on your own.

American, United, Southwest, and Delta are the airlines currently offering direct flights from the US to Havana. If your search doesn’t yield results, you may have to use the multi-destination function or search the legs of the flight separately, e.g., your home airport to Florida, Florida to Havana.

Don’t overlook flights from Mexico, Panama or other American countries. It doesn’t change the rules you must follow for legal travel, but you could find better pricing or better itineraries. 

Boarding passes for flight to Havana
Flying to Havana from California, 11 hour red-eye

3) Print General License Affidavit

The general license is a US requirement that allows you to self-certify a legal reason for going to Cuba.

Most tourists use the category Support for the Cuban People (515.574), which allows most cultural activities that tourists like to do. Make sure you read about the Support for the Cuban People general license so you know what is expected of you, but don’t stress. Enforcement has been lax over the last decade, and it’s easy to comply with the rules if you’re using local guides and supporting small businesses.

The general license affidavit is simply a document stating your general license category. If you’re on tour with us, we will send you an affidavit, or you can create your own by writing a letter stating your travel dates and general license category, then signing and dating it. Many will tell you that bringing a general license affidavit is unnecessary, but it's best to err on the side of caution.

4) Get Travel Insurance

Cuba requires all visitors to have travel medical insurance. This is included with your flight automatically 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 search and compare policies that cover Cuba. Travel insurance is not expensive, for the peace of mind. For example, insurance for my week-long Cuba trip was US$41.27 with Trawick International. These are crazy times, and crazy times require insurance. 

5) Get Clean Bills from the Bank

You must bring enough cash for your entire trip. The currency situation in Cuba is wacky, but we’re fortunate to be able to use USD to pay directly for services from casas, restaurants, taxis, shops, etc. Very few places in Cuba can process US credit cards.

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 mostly small bills ($1, $5, $10, $20) and a few large bills ($50, $100) without marks or damage. The 1s will mostly be used for tipping instead of purchases. The larger bills you can use to purchase Cuban pesos if you decide to exchange money.

Euros spread out on a Cuba travel guide
There is little need for CUP, you can use EUR or USD to pay for everything

6) Buy the Cuba Visa (Tourist Card)

Most travelers only need a tourist card (visa) to enter Cuba which will be pink if you are flying direct from the US.

If you aren’t flying directly from the US, you need a  "green visa".

Cuba visa
The pink visa. From non-US countries, it’s the same but green

You can purchase the pink visa from Cuba Travel Services (CTS) before boarding your Cuba flight at the airport in Miami, Houston, Tampa, or Ft. Lauderdale. If your trip starts at another airport, you will purchase the visa at the gate during your layover.

All US airlines do a document check, or “Cuba readiness check,” before boarding flights to Cuba; during this process, you buy your visa. It will be obvious where to do it. It takes a couple of minutes and typically costs between $75 and $100 for the visa. There is no need to plan extra layover time for this process.

You can also buy the visa in advance to get it shipped to your home by Cuba Travel Services or another third-party visa seller. This generally costs $12-30 more than buying it in the airport, but makes the process smoother. 

American Airlines passengers can pre-purchase the visa on the American Airlines Passenger visa page and Southwest Airlines passengers, can pre-buy the visa Southwest Airlines customer visa page. 

Passengers get documents checked at the airport
Buying the visa at the Houston Airport

It is important to read the emails that the airline sends you in case the Cuba entry requirements or airport processes change.  Airlines also have Cuba travel information on their website. 

The Cuban government recently announced they will offer an eVisa, but this is very new and it remains to be seen whether this will replace the pink and green paper visas.

7) Download Helpful Apps for Cuba

You want to download all the apps you need before you leave home; even with a VPN, you could have trouble downloading them locally. Here are the apps I recommend for Cuba:

  • Whatsapp – the number one communication tool for locals
  • Maps.me- download offline maps of the areas you’ll be visiting
  • La Nave- Local app to hire a taxi
  • Google translate
  • VPN such as Express or Psiphon- This allows you to have access to sites and features that are blocked for Cuba. 
  • Mandao – Local app for food delivery
  • E-books and Audiobooks 

8) Pack Carefully

Make sure you understand the baggage allowances for your trip. For flights to Cuba, some airlines charge hundreds of dollars for a second bag, and overweight luggage may not be allowed at all. Many tourists like to bring donations to Cuba, which is very generous and appreciated, but try to keep it to one checked suitcase maximum unless you are flying Southwest. Make sure to pack a change of clothes and your medication in your carry-on bag. 

9) Two Days Before: Fill Out D’Viajeros Entry Forms

Instead of filling out paper forms on the plane, you must complete Cuba’s customs, immigration, and health declaration forms on the D’Viajeros website. You can fill out the form starting two days prior to your arrival in Cuba. Our step-by-step tutorial walks you through how to fill out the form to get the QR code.

There are no covid requirements or vaccination requirements of any kind to enter Cuba. 

10) Two Days Before: Buy a Cuba Tourist SIM or eSIM

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. This should be enough data for at least a week in Cuba. You can re-up the data 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. 

This year Cuba started offering eSIM services for data only. SMS and phone calls are usually not necessary in Cuba, using messaging apps you will be able to communicate with people at home and with locals. 

If you don’t want to purchase a SIM, you can connect to the internet via wifi hotspots

 

In practice, visiting Cuba from the US is not as difficult as it seems. However, since the rules and best practices for Cuba travel change rapidly, it helps to use a professional tour company to keep you informed about the changes and generally make your visit more interesting and enjoyable. Cuban Adventures offers specially designed legal Cuba tours that make traveling as an American fun and easy. 

Other helpful articles: 

The Havana seawall surrounded by buildings
Next stop, Havana!

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