Update: With the latest change in regulations around travel to Cuba, some airlines have reduced or paused their operations into Cuba. Check with your airline to verify, but the rest of the info in the post should still be accurate
As I found out when I was researching my trip, there’s still quite a bit of confusion about whether or not one can travel to Cuba as a US citizen, and so I thought I’d share my experience. When people say that being in Cuba feels like stepping back in time, it really does. I enjoyed my trip so much I even have plans to go back soon!
So, can I travel to Cuba as a US citizen?
The short answer is “Yes you can” but you have to qualify under one of 12 general categories. Delta has some helpful information on their website and you can read more here. Most people travel under the ‘People-to-people exchange’ category or ‘Support for the Cuban people’. I chose the latter since with Trumps recent policy changes, you now have to go as part of a US licensed tour company to qualify for the former. Folks are still out there doing it without a tour company anyway, but I didn’t want to take any chances, plus the quotes I received from the tour companies were outrageous.
Support for the Cuban people? What does that even mean?
Great question! Honestly, it’s all somewhat vague but as long as you’re engaging with/supporting the locals and not patronizing any government run businesses, chilling on the beach or holed up indoors throughout your stay, you should be fine. Here’s the legalese with some examples of what might be considered support for the Cuban people.
Booking your flight
I flew Delta from Atlanta since it’s a direct flight that’s just under 2 hours! I know United and Southwest also operate flights to Cuba from different cities. When I booked my flight, I selected a general license which was “Support for the cuban people” in my case. Delta also lets you call customer service to pay for your visa ($50) ahead of time which I did, but I don’t know how useful that was since the visa pickup process at the gate was terribly inefficient. The process and visa cost varies by airline so be sure to check with yours. Travel medical insurance is also required, and Delta includes this for $25 as part of your airfare.
Where to stay in Cuba
As part of the requirements to visit Cuba as a US citizen, we couldn’t stay in a hotel and honestly, I wouldn’t have had it any other way. We booked a beautifully quaint Casa Particular through Airbnb and we loved it. It had a nostalgic feel for me because it reminded me of my grandmother’s house back in Nigeria which was built many many decades ago. The location in Vedado was great and within walking distance to a lot of local spots, or a quick cab ride to the rest of the city.
Money and WiFi in Cuba
American credit cards won’t work in Cuba so be sure to bring all the cash you’ll need! There’s a separate currency for tourists called Convertible Pesos (CUC) and you get about 0.87CUC – 0.90CUC to a dollar depending on where you exchange money. WiFi is not readily available in homes and you have to purchase a WiFi card and go physically to one of several locations where you can connect. Honestly though, you’re in Cuba, why not take the opportunity to disconnect and make the most out of the experience. Not having the distraction of the internet gave me and my girlfriends who I traveled with a chance to really connect; we laughed hard, we bickered a tad lol, we had some great conversations and connected on a deeper level.
Check out my next post on how I spent five days in Cuba for more photos and tips. If you want to visit Cuba as a US citizen and you’re still debating, just do it! I would say that as long as you go with the right expectations and keep an open mind to experiencing a new culture, you’ll have a great time. I’m no legal expert, just sharing my experience which I hope you find helpful. If you have any specific questions, hit me up in the comments or send me a message and I’ll do my best to answer.