Travel insights from Jenna Buege, contributing editor of The Compass

Everything You Should Know about Traveling to Cuba

Update: As of June 2019, the U.S. government has eliminated people-to-people travel to Cuba. Learn more here.

Home to amazing food, historical cities and beautiful beaches, it’s no surprise that the Cuba travel market is steadily on the rise with people around the world. This growing list of hopeful travelers includes Americans who, despite some confusion, can legally travel to Cuba as long as they have a U.S. passport and meet one of the 12 categories of authorized travel.

Here’s a summary of everything you and your travelers should know about the ins-and-outs of visiting Cuba.

Quick Facts

  • Passport validity – Travelers must possess a valid passport with two blank pages for entry and exit stamps at the time of arrival.
  • Tourist visa required – Tourist travel to Cuba is prohibited and those wishing to visit Cuba must obtain a license from the Department of Treasury or their travel must fall into one of 12 categories of authorized travel.
  • Vaccinations – No vaccinations are currently required.
  • Currency restrictions – Travelers should bring cash when visiting Cuba as U.S. credit and debit cards generally don’t work. Cash amounts over $5,000 USD must be declared and the Government of Cuba charges a 10 percent fee on all U.S. dollar cash conversations.
  • Restricted Entities – There are still places in Cuba that Americans cannot visit including specific restaurants, hotels and businesses.

Get all the details on passport, vaccination and currency requirements from the U.S. Department of State International Travel site.

Categories of Authorized Travel

As mentioned above, there are 12 categories of authorized Cuban travel. Each category may issue specific licenses on a case-by-case basis and travelers are expected to retain specific records of authorized travel transactions.

Here are some of the highlights and requirements from each of the 12 categories:

  1. Family visit
    • U.S. citizens and family members traveling with them are allowed to visit a close relative who is a resident of Cuba.
  2. Official government business
    • Employees, contractors or grantees of the U.S. government, foreign government or any intergovernmental organization of which the U.S. is a member or holds observer status is authorized to travel on official business of their organization.
  3. Journalistic activity
    • Journalists and supporting broadcast or technical personnel can obtain a general license to visit Cuba as long as they meet one of the following qualifications:
      • They are regularly employed as a news journalist, freelance journalist, supporting broadcast personnel or technical personnel with previous experience.
      • The traveler’s schedule does not include free time or recreation in excess of a full-time work schedule.
  4. Professional research and meetings
    • Travel-related professional research is authorized provided the following:
      • The research directly relates to the traveler’s profession.
      • Traveler does not engage in recreational travel.
      • Traveler’s schedule does not include free time or recreation in excess of a full-time schedule of professional research.
    • Professional meetings are authorized, provided the following:
      • The purpose of the meeting or conference is not the promotion of tourism in Cuba.
      • The meeting directly relates to the traveler’s profession.
  5. Educational activities
    • U.S. citizens can obtain a general license for people-to-people travel for educational activities provided the following:
      • The traveler is participating in an educational program in Cuba, conducting noncommercial academic research or is participating in a formal course of study for credit as a U.S. graduate or undergraduate student.
      • The traveler is teaching at a Cuban academic institution and is regularly employed by a non-Cuban academic institution.
      • The traveler is a sponsor or co-sponsor of a Cuban scholar or noncommercial academic seminars, conferences and workshops.
      • The traveler is involved in an exchange program sponsored by Cuban or U.S. high schools. This includes participation of adult chaperones.
  6. Religious activities
    • U.S. citizens and religious organizations located in the United States are allowed to engage in travel-related transactions and religious activities in Cuba provided that the group engages in a full-time schedule of religious activities.
    • Religious organizations are authorized to open and maintain accounts at financial institutions.
  7. Public performances, clinics, athletic/non-athletic competitions and exhibitions
    • General licenses are issued for amateur and semi-professional international sports federation competitions provided the following:
      • The event is held under the international sports federation, the U.S. participants are selected by the U.S. federation for the relevant sport and the competition is open to the Cuban public.
    • Participants in nonathletic competitions and exhibitions will be issued a general license provided the following:
      • The event is open to the Cuban public and all U.S. profits from the event are donated to an independent nongovernment organization in Cuba or to a U.S. charity.
      • The authorized traveler is assisting with clinics or workshops in Cuba.
  8. Support for the Cuban people
    • Travelers can obtain a general license when making travel-related transactions or other transactions with the intent of supporting the Cuban people provided the following:
      • Travelers engage with recognized human rights organizations, independent organizations who promote peaceful transition to democracy or non-government organizations and individuals who promote strengthening Cuban society.
      • The traveler’s schedule does not include free time in excess of a full-time schedule.
  9. Humanitarian projects
    • Travelers visiting Cuba in relation to a humanitarian project can obtain a general license provided that the project is directly intended to benefit Cuba and that the traveler’s schedule does not include free time in excess of a full-time schedule. The following projects are authorized:
      • Medical- and health-related projects, construction projects, environmental projects, projects involving formal or non-formal training, community-based grassroots projects, agricultural and rural development, micro-financing and projects that meet basic human needs.
  10. Activities of private foundations or research or educational institutes
    • Travelers involved in activities by private foundations or research or educational institutes with an interest in collecting information related to Cuba will be issued a general license provided that their schedule does not include free time in excess of a full-time schedule.
  11. Exportation, importation or transmission of information or informational materials
    • U.S. citizens involved with importation, exportation and transmission to and from Cuba may travel to Cuba under a general license.
  12. Certain export transactions that may be considered for authorization under existing Department of Commerce regulations and guidelines with respect to Cuba or engaged in by U.S.-owned or controlled foreign firms.

Read all the fine print for meeting the categories of authorized travel on the Cuba Travel Services website.

VAX does not currently have any suppliers who offer packages to Cuba. However, we will be sure agents are the first to know if our suppliers add this fantastic destination to their list.

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