5 Must-Know Rules for US Travelers Visiting Cuba

This post was originally posted by TheHipmunk on Hipmunk’s Tailwing Blog on April 6, 2016.


If President Obama’s recent trip from the US to Cuba has reignited your wanderlust, you’re not alone. Many Americans are thrilled to be ever closer to the chance to visit this vibrant, historic, and tropic locale. Though some restrictions placed on traveling to Cuba have been lifted, the opportunity to travel to Cuba is still very new and still heavily limited. There are several things Americans should know before booking a trip to the “pearl of the Antilles” to ensure a smooth and safe trip.

1. You Must Have a Reason to Travel There

You no longer need a license to travel to Cuba, but all American travelers do have to apply for a tourist visa. The name tourist visa is misleading, since it is currently still illegal to travel to Cuba to simply vacation. Americans traveling to Cuba must state a purpose for your trip that fits into one of 12 pre-authorized categories defined by the US government, such as for educational purposes, to visit family, or on a humanitarian project.

2. Travel Insurance Is Required

All foreign visitors to Cuba must have travel medical insurance, as it is required by the Cuban government. US medical insurance will not cover treatments in Cuba, so it is important for all American travelers to ensure that the travel medical insurance they purchase will provide coverage in Cuba. Visitors must be able to show proof of travel medical insurance upon entry into Cuba and the insurance must cover medical evacuation, medical emergencies, and repatriation of remains. You don’t want to forget this – Cuban authorities will not let anyone with unpaid medical bills leave the country. The Department of State recommends contacting the Cuban embassy for more information about available medical insurance.

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3. You Can Bring Cigars Back

If you’re traveling to Cuba and hoping to bring back some cigars, you are in luck!  Americans are allowed to bring Cuban cigars and other items back home.Restrictions do exist for US travelers, however: travelers are not allowed to bring back more the $400 worth of items, and tobacco and alcohol (or a combination) are subject to a $100 limit, including Cuban cigars.

4. You Can Fly Directly

There are now 22 airports around the US that offer direct flights to Cuba for American travelers, and several commercial airlines offer daily flights between the US and Havana. Travelers flying to Cuba should allow extra time for check-in and customs, it is recommended that travelers arrive 4 hours before their scheduled departure time.

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5. Bring cash, but don’t exchange using American dollars

ATM, debit, and credit cards issued by American banks will not work in Cuba. It is recommended that American travelers bring enough cash for their travel needs, plus extra in case of emergency. ATMs are difficult to find, if your ATM card will even work, so it is doubly important that travelers bring enough cash for the entire trip. For American travelers, it is wise to exchange American dollars to Euros before exchanging them for Cuban dollars (CUC) because of the horrible exchange rates for American currency.

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