Info for Americans
Americans have a few extra steps to complete in order to travel to Cuba. Here's what to consider:
Americans can’t travel to Cuba simply for tourism. As a US citizen, you need to declare your reason for travel in the form of a general license. Don’t worry, you don’t need to apply for a license. It’s 'self-declared' and one of the categories is broad enough that just about anybody can claim them.
Pick a Category: There are 11 categories to choose from (formerly 12 before the June 5, 2019 restrictions), but the one that most people fit into is:
The most frequent circumstances where you'll be asked which category you chose are:
Booking a flight
Upon arrival at your casa particular
At the immigrations counter coming back into the US. This is rare (~5% of the time), but possible and shouldn't be a worry. They'll ask, you tell them, and they'll send you on your merry way.
State the same category throughout your entire trip, whenever asked.
Create an Itinerary: As part of the license, you will need to prepare an itinerary showing what you plan to do on your trip and how it fulfills the terms of the license you selected. For example, if you are reporting your trip under Support for the Cuban People you will need to document interactions with locals and contributions to the local economy, such as staying in a casa particular. It’s very, very rare that anybody will ask for this, but going through immigration you’ll want to be prepared just in case.
If flying from the US:
Cuban-mandated health insurance is a part of your ticket price on JetBlue and American Airlines. Check with your airline to confirm the inclusion of Cuban health insurance in your ticket price.
If flying through another country:
Upon arrival at the airport in Cuba, there will be a table selling health insurance for Americans, just before the line for immigration. Health insurance is mandatory and you won't be allowed through immigration without it. It only costs $4 per day. This small investment is required because American health insurance can not be used in Cuba due to the embargo. There is no way to do this ahead of your travel to Cuba.
Currency Exchange Strategy
Your American credit, debit and ATM cards will not work in Cuba (unless you use Stonegate Bank), so you'll need to bring cash with you. This can be a lot of cash to carry around, and one way to limit your risk is to book all of your lodging ahead of time by credit card via Airbnb or Cuba Travel Network. You can also make bus reservations ahead of time through Viazul.
Note that there's a 3% exchange fee on all currencies and a 10% tax on US currency only. So while the exchange rate between CUC and USD is 1:1, you'll only get 87 CUC for every $100 USD you bring. One tactic is to bring Euros, Canadian dollars or Mexican Pesos, if you have access to that before your trip. It's best to look at the exchange rate and do the math yourself. Changing your money to another currency may save you money, however making two exchanges may eat up all your savings.
See our article on money for more info on Cuban currency.
As an American, you have a few extra rules on what you can bring back from Cuba:
Any souvenirs, up to $400 total. This doesn't include art, cigars, alcohol or prohibited items.
Art, an unlimited amount.
Cigars, tobacco and alcohol, $100 total maximum.
The following items are prohibited:
Fruits and vegetables
Updated March June 7, 2019