I often get asked if American’s can still go to Cuba. The quick answer is YES.
Even though the Trump administration changed the rules for Americans traveling to Cuba in June, he didn’t stop tourism there.
1. You can still go.
There has been a ban on cruise ships going there. Previously everyone would go under the “people to people” category. This has since been eliminated. The easy pick is the “support for Cuban people” category. That category requires you to spend money at Cuban-owned businesses throughout your trip. This qualifies your trip, and will allow you to freely book a flight.
2. Get your tourist card at the airport.
The process is super simple. When you purchase your flight, the airline will ask you to select the reason for your visit. This is when you’ll select, “support for the Cuban people”. Arriving at the airport, you’ll go through customs to your gate, as you would for any other international flight. At your gate, there will be a booth where you can purchase your tourist card, the equivalent of a visa. The fee will depend on which airline you fly. I purchased my tourist card prior to online, for $50.
3. Be careful when picking your hotel.
As part of the travel restriction, Americans are not supposed to stay in hotels owned by the Cuban military. I’m not sure how the U.S. government would find out if you did. However, Cuba has great Airbnb options. I rented 3 houses for Mr. O’s 40th birthday. Paying for your lodging can be tricky. For those that allow payment through Airbnb, your lodging will be significantly more expensive. The reason being is the Airbnb owner has to know someone stateside with a American bank account. They basically have to go through a lot to get paid. I used Cuba Accommodation which was a local site. They had the same Airbnb houses but cheaper. I paid a deposit online with my credit card. The balance had to be paid in Cuban currency on arrival.
4. You need to bring a lot of cash.
That brings me to the next point. U.S. dollars are NOT accepted in Cuba. There aren't even A.T.M.s in Cuba that accept American-issued credit and debit cards. There are no ATM's and merchants will not accept credit or debit cards. Research the activities and restaurants you plan to visit so you’ll know how much money to bring. You’ll need enough money for every meal, tour, taxi, tip, Cuban rum, and cigar.
If you run out of cash, your only way to get money is to have someone wire you money via Western Union. The receiving person can’t be you. It has to be wired to a Cuban citizen, who must pick up the money at a Western Union for you in person. If you are staying at a Airbnb, your host can maybe do this for you. Again, how enough cash!
5. Don’t forget to factor in the exchange rate fee.
When United States visitors exchange dollars they are hit with a fee of at least 10%. Carriers of other currencies aren't charged the same fee. If you have random currency (euros, Canadia dollars, Yen, Peso, etc.) from previous trips, I’d recommend exchanging that first then your U.S. dollars. So add 10 percent to your spending calculations for exchange fees.
6. There are two currencies in Cuba.
Cuban nationals use the Cuban Peso Nacional (CUP), or, more commonly, “moneda nacional,” and prices in stores and restaurants that locals use are posted in CUP. Visitors and the businesses they frequent use Cuban Convertible Peso (CUC), more commonly called “pesos.” 1 CUC = $1.
7. Cuban health insurance
In major cities there is usually a Clinica Internacional set up to treat visitors. Built into the price of every airline ticket is a $25 fee that pays for Cuban health insurance while you are on the island. Keep a printed copy of your ticket with you (or a digital one on your phone) to show the clinic if you end up needing to go to one.
8. Visit with a Spanish speaking person.
Cuba is one of the few places where very few people speak English. Thankfully we had 2 people in our group who were fluent in Spanish. Otherwise we would've been on the struggle bus. If you are using a translation app, make sure you won’t need WiFi. You have to purchase a WiFi card, and it’s not that great when in use.
I’m seeing current round trip flights around ~$210 leaving from different cities in the U.S in October. Now that it’s been confirmed you can still go, when do you plan on taking a trip?