Vacations for US Citizens to Cuba

For over 50 years Cuba was pretty much off limits to US citizens thanks to a 1962 trade embargo. Then, after Barack Obama’s 2014 reestablishment of diplomatic relations with Cuba, travel restrictions loosened, and major airlines began offering direct flights from the US. And while the Trump administration has rolled back some of these changes, it’s still perfectly possible for Americans to travel to Cuba – whether travelling on a tour or independently. What’s more, US citizens will find a warm welcome and a people keen to engage and share their stories.
Choosing your category

Choosing your category

As was the case under Obama, all visits by US citizens to Cuba should involve meaningful interactions with Cuban people and help to strengthen civil society in Cuba. US citizens have to travel under one of 12 categories; and while in in Cuba they can’t have dealings with businesses on the US State Department’s Cuba Restricted List – all of which have links to Cuban military's business arm, Grupo de Administración Empresarial (GAESA). Official rules also state that they’re required to document their trip to prove they were in Cuba for one of the 12 reasons.
If you’re keen to travel around Cuba, you’ll need to visit Cuba under either the People to People Travel or Support for the Cuban People category. The former involves taking a chaperoned group tour sponsored by a US organisation, accompanied by a US representative to ensure that the tour follows regulations and documents activities, and with a full schedule of cultural activities.
Visiting under the Support for the Cuban category is a more flexible way to travel. You can visit Cuba independently or with the help of a tour operator, as long as you use privately owned businesses (casa particulares and local restaurants, for example), and avoid transactions with businesses on the restricted list. Under this option, you’ll be able to design an itinerary yourself, the activities you can take part in are more varied, and you don’t need to travel in a group. As with Person to Person tours, all activities and transactions should be documented.
Taking an
organised tour

Taking an organised tour

While it’s certainly possible to travel under your own steam, having a tour operator organise your trip is a far easier option, whether you want an individual tailor made tour or to travel in a small group. It’ll help you avoid the hassle and uncertainty of designing your own compliant itinerary, as this is done for you – and the operator will help you sort out the required documentation, too. Tour operators offer trips under both the Support for the Cuban People and the Person to Person categories.

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Every US traveller needs a visa (known as a tourist card) issued by the Cuban government. You can either buy the tourist card in advance from an authorised US agency (your tour operator will be able to recommend one) or buy it at the airport when you check in for your flight to Cuba. As long as you’ve been travelling under an approved category there should be no problem having a Cuban stamp in your passport.
Flights & insurance

Flights & insurance

You can still buy direct flights from the US to Cuba. Airlines plying the route include JetBlue, American Airlines, Delta, United and Southwest. When buying your flight, you’ll have to certify that your travel is authorised under one of the approved categories.
All overseas visitors to Cuba must have a travel insurance policy in place with sufficient cover for medical evacuation by air. Although some US health insurance policies cover you when you’re abroad, you should buy separate health insurance for Cuba. In most cases your tour operator will be able to provide this for you or point you in the direction of a reliable supplier; alternatively, you can buy Cuban government medical insurance when you arrive at the airport.


Cash is king in Cuba, and credit and debit cards issued by US banks, as well as American Express travellers’ cheques, don’t work here, so you’ll need to bring money with you. If you’re worried about carrying large amounts of cash, choosing an organised tour where all accommodation and activities and many meals are included can be an easier option.
The Cuban Convertible Peso (CUP) is a handy currency for US citizens as one CUP is equal to one US dollar. Do note, however, that there is a 10 percent charge on exchanging US dollars here, on top of the regular currency exchange fee.
Written by Nana Luckham
Photo credits: [Page banner: Nick Kenrick] [Top box: vxla] [meaningful interactions: Gareth Williams] [Chaperoned group tour: Mary Newcombe] [Casa particlualr: Dirk van der Made] [Taking an organised tour: Mary Newcombe] [Visas: Fredrik Enestad] [Flights - Delta airlines: Delta News Hub] [Money: Mauro Parra-Miranda]
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