By Allie Almario
Yes, Americans can travel to Cuba.
In fact, Americans have been able to take a Cuba tour for many years but with severe restrictions on their travels. What’s changed is that in 2014, President Obama began re-establishing diplomatic relations with Cuba. Since then, travel requirements have been somewhat relaxed.
With the easing of travel requirements, so many Americans are booking trips to this colorful, historically and culturally rich country that hotels are booked four months or more in advance!
Looser regulations, however, don’t mean unrestricted travel…at least, not yet.
Cuba doesn’t have enough hotel rooms to accommodate the influx of American travelers, so don’t think you can easily book hotel rooms on your own. Rooms are allocated first and foremost to companies reserving blocks of hotel rooms far in advance (one reason to book with Myths and Mountains).
Solo travelers may stay in private homes, but hotels do not typically have rooms for individual reservations. In fact, hotels in Cuba are beginning to demand non-refundable deposits and full payment months prior to arrival.
Nor are the airports able to handle a dramatic increase in air traffic and ports are also frozen in time. They are circa 1960’s and can’t handle large cruise ships.
10 Questions About Traveling to Cuba
Thinking of heading to Havana? Here are answers to the questions we’re most frequently asked by travelers interested in our inaugural adventure to Cuba coming up this February, and our second departure in May.
Do I need to go to Cuba with a tour group?
If and when the embargo on Cuba is lifted, solo travel will become easier to accomplish. For now, though, flights, hotel rooms, currency issues, tours, and transportation are more efficiently and safely managed by going to Cuba with a tour operator licensed by the Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC).
How have the restrictions changed?
Prior to 2014, itineraries had to be very specific and licensed tour operators had to send detailed summaries of every encounter and stop to the OFAC. Now tour operators have a general license, meaning they meet OFAC requirements and it’s not necessary to submit individual itineraries.
Included among the requirements is that a trip includes purposeful encounters – experiences that involve meeting Cuban citizens. In other words, Americans still can’t travel to Cuba as “tourists,” spending all their time snorkeling and hiking to waterfalls. For now, travelers are required to sign an affidavit specifying the purpose of the travel.
What is an approved “purpose” for traveling to Cuba?
There are 12 approved reasons for traveling to Cuba and the tour operator must fulfill at least one in designing your itinerary:
• Family visits
• Official business of the U.S. government, foreign governments, and certain intergovernmental organizations
• Journalistic activity
• Professional research and professional meetings
• Educational activities
• Religious activities
• Public performances, clinics, workshops, athletic and other competitions and exhibitions
• Support for the Cuban people
• Humanitarian projects
• Activities of private foundations or research or educational institutes
• Exportation, importation, or transmission of information or information materials
• Certain authorized export transactions
The US Treasury website provides a document explaining the specifics of each of these travel purposes.
Is there a daily limit on how much I can spend on Cuban goods?
No. There once was a per diem rate, but now there is no limit. There is a $400 limit on Cuban goods that you take back home. No more than $100 of that sum can be for alcohol or tobacco. (Yes, cigars are tobacco!)
Is it necessary to have a visa?
Yes. You also need a passport that is valid for at least six months and a separate visa for a stay of 30 days.
How much freedom does a traveler have while in Cuba?
Cuba is a safe destination. As long as the tour activity stays within the realm of “people to people” encounters, there is time to explore and get to know Cubans. As in most countries, military and government institutions are off limits to travelers.
What are paladars?
At one time, paladars were small and located in private homes. Today they are simply privately owned restaurants. They allow many food options and have elevated Cuba’s gastronomic reputation.
Is Cuba a good destination for a family vacation?
If you have a worldly child and/or young adult who loves history, art, and music, they will love what Cuba offers. If the kids expect to go jet skiing and paragliding, consider one of the other Caribbean islands.
Is a trip to Cuba expensive?
Everyone wants to travel to Cuba now before it changes, so considering the law of supply (small) and demand (great), prices have increased by over 30 percent over the past few years.
Are credit cards accepted in Cuba?
Few Americans are able to use credit or debit cards in Cuba, and few businesses are equipped to accept them. Check with your bank to learn if your cards can be used there. Better to be prepared by taking cash in small denominations.
What currency is used in Cuba?
There are actually two currencies. The one travelers use is the Cuban Convertible Peso or CUC. For $100, the exchange rate is about 87 CUCs. Some businesses do accept American dollars, but don’t expect a small business to make change when given a $50 or $100 bill.