If you haven’t noticed, Cuba is one of the most popular travel destinations in the Caribbean this year and a lot of Americans are traveling to Cuba independently. Since taking a Caribbean Music course in college and being a lover of history, I’ve always wanted to visit. I’ve asked friends, read several blog posts, and even joined Facebook travel groups to be informed of what to do, where to stay, and what to eat if I ever got a chance to travel to Cuba independently. Since it’s much easier now than in years past, here are five tips if you’re planning on traveling to Cuba independently.
Traveling to Cuba Independently? Check Entry Requirements!
First things first, as an American citizen, traveling to Cuba independently for tourism is not allowed. Before planning check to see if you fit in one of the 12 categories of authorized travel to Cuba issued by the Department of Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC). As a travel writer, I had the ability to select ‘journalistic activity’, but since my cousin was coming, we chose the “people-to-people” category. In addition to our personal belongings, we brought clothing and household items to give to our hosts and danced salsa with locals in Old Havana. You can view the full list of categories & current facts about visiting Cuba on the Travel.State.Gov website.
As of June 16, 2017, the current US Administration announced individual “People to People travel” would no longer be allowed. Per the Treasury Dept/OFAC, changes will not be effective until it issues new regulations in the coming months. Individual travel under the support for the Cuban people and other categories will still be allowed.
Get a Visa (Cuban Tourist Card) & Health Insurance
After determining you’re eligible to travel to Cuba, you would need to buy a visa aka a Cuban Tourist Card. A Cuban Tourist Card can be purchased at your departure airport for around $50. When filling out your Cuban Tourist card, make sure to not make any mistakes lest you purchase a new one.
Cuban Health Insurance guarantees your visit to a doctor in the event of sickness or injury. For our flight with Delta, there was a stamp on our boarding pass showing proof of the Cuban health insurance.
The Government of Cuba treats U.S. citizens born in Cuba as Cuban citizens. If you are born in Cuba after January 1, 1971, you must travel with a US passport AND Cuban passport to gain entry.
Spending Money in Cuba
When planning your trip spending money in Cuba is cash only so make sure you know how to budget. Your U.S. credit and/or debit cards WILL NOT WORK. Depending on the market, you can exchange your dollars to Euros or CAD (Canadian dollars) to avoid the 10 percent fee for U.S. dollar conversions.
Getting to Cuba from the US
Great news! You don’t have to travel to Canada, Mexico, or other Caribbean islands to travel to Cuba anymore. If you’re already in these locations, travel from there, but commercial flights with US airlines available. Here’s a list of US Airlines providing services to the island and the destinations at the time of our trip:
- Cayo Coco – American Airlines
- Havana – Delta, Alaska Airlines, American Airlines, Southwest, Jet Blue, United
- Holguin – American Airlines, Jet Blue
- Santa Clara – American Airlines, Southwest, Jet Blue
- Varadero – American Airlines, Southwest, United
Phone Service and WiFi in Cuba
If you need to connect to the internet, wifi in Cuba is available at specific hotspots and hotels. You need to buy wifi cards and they cost between 1.5 and 5 CUC depending on the length of time purchased. Calling home or abroad is very expensive and it is not possible to use Skype or FaceTime. Instead, use Facebook Messenger and Whatsapp. Another popular messenger service is IMO which runs well with the slow connection. If I traveled to Cuba alone I would’ve purchased a wifi card, but my cousin and I accounted for each other well.
Over the Memorial Day weekend, my cousin and I traveled to Cuba independently for 6 days in Havana and Varadero. Make sure to check back next week as I share more about planning a trip to Cuba including casa particular and transportation options.
Are you planning a trip to Cuba?