How to Plan an Independent Trip to Cuba

5 Tips for Planning a Trip to Cuba + 5 tips for traveling to Cuba independently

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.

5 tips for traveling to Cuba independently

Are you planning a trip to Cuba?

58 thoughts on “How to Plan an Independent Trip to Cuba

  1. Sue Reddel says:

    We visited Cuba before the sanctions were lifted. It was a wonderful trip but you really do need to have great tips like these to ensure a good trip. All of your tips are spot on.

  2. alexisrae13 says:

    SO excited it will be easier to get to Cuba next year. I know the tourist visas are still limited, but I can’t wait!

  3. Angel Jackson says:

    This is great information! I wasn’t aware of the airlines that went to specific spots. I am planning on visiting Cuba in the future. Thanks for sharing

  4. Thewanderingdarlings says:

    Cuba looks amazing! I’ve been wanderlusting after so many gorgeous photos and your post has just added to this. I had no idea it was so hard for an American to get into Cuba and that even your cards won’t work! I wonder if this is the same for other countries.

  5. JC says:

    I would love to eventually travel to Cuba; I have an aunt from there who has always talked about how beautiful it is! Thank you for the compilation of information; definitely saved me a lot of Googling!

  6. Ana Sofia says:

    This was so helpful! I’ve been throwing around the idea of going to Cuba for awhile, but haven’t actually looked too much into it. I feel like this is a sign. Thanks for the info!

  7. Cali says:

    I was just in Cuba for the month of April! I loved it! As an American your tips are very helpful, but I ended up avoiding all of that because I was in Mexico prior to flying to Cuba!

  8. cleverlychanging says:

    Once the Cuban ban lifted several of my friends have traveled there and loved it. I would love to visit Cuba one day too.

  9. Mimi Green says:

    I keep seeing recaps of Cuba trips and now I want to go. 45 is trying block that so I guess I need to hurry up before it is nolonger a thing. These tips are helpful as I had no idea where to start.

  10. MJ says:

    I hope to visit Cuba to trace my family history. We are from Jamaica but we have ancestors from Cuba. Thanks for the tips.

  11. Kita says:

    Great tips. I see so many people taking trips to Cuba. I hope this tourism increase is beneficial for the regular population.

  12. Drea Day says:

    You’re right! It looks like Cuba is the travel destination of the year! I have had concerns about visiting, but with your tips and experience I am def willing to reconsider. I think it’s cool that you can now fly from the US instead of having to travel through Mexico (or a Caribbean island) to get there now.
    Thank you for sharing so much helpful information, JoAnne! You’ve covered ALL the bases! Such great tips, love.

  13. ejnosillA says:

    A friend of mines is going to Cuba in September and I was really concerned about her going… but she said the same great things you have written and I think I might get me a ticket to go too… Don’t want to miss out on a mission!

  14. CJ | says:

    I have heard a lot of mixed reviews about Cuba. I am still definitely interested in going, but I’m wayyy too spontaneous and don’t trust myself yet. If I can get through my next two trips and stick to the itinerary and budget, maybe I’ll allow myself to plan for Cuba. lol

    • Joanna E says:

      I thought I’d be bad with the budget, but with local drinks between 1 and 3 CUC’s plus lodging already paid for, we did pretty good with money. Some tours, transportation and if you want wifi is the big expense imo

  15. Autum Love says:

    This is so informative!! I’ve been wanting to go to Cuba! I will be revisiting this post in the future thanks for sharing!

    • Joanna E says:

      No problem. The insurance is usually a stamp on your boarding pass. Just make sure to keep it with you on the duration of your trip, otherwise it’s about 10 CUC a day.

  16. BehindTheSchmile says:

    This was a very interesting post! Some points to consider that i had never thought about before. Thanks for sharing!

  17. Alice Gerard says:

    Looks like it could be an interesting trip. Thank you for all of the helpful hints about visas, currency, etc. I’d like to go to Cuba some time. I am a journalist so that could work.

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