Can Americans still travel to Cuba in 2023? The short answer is yes. However, unlike your neighbors traveling to Cuba from Canada, Americans are subject to certain restrictions. Since “tourism” technically isn’t allowed, your trip must fall into an authorized travel category. You’ll also be subject to certain financial restrictions while on the island.
In this article, we want to answer all your burning questions about going to Cuba with a US passport. The entry requirements to Cuba, including those concerning the COVID-19 pandemic. The 12 categories of authorized travel to Cuba. Why the Support for the Cuban People license gives you more travel flexibility. The practical tips for Americans traveling to Cuba.
In this guide, we cover all of it.
- Can Americans Travel to Cuba in 2023?
- Why Can’t Americans go to Cuba for Tourism?
- What Do You Need to Travel to Cuba with a US Passport?
- How to Travel to Cuba from the US (Legally): Planning a Trip to Cuba
- Step 1. Choose one of the 12 categories of authorized travel to Cuba
- The Support for the Cuban People Travel category
- Step 2. Book a flight to Cuba
- Step 3: Plan your itinerary in Cuba
- Step 4: Book accommodations in Cuba
- Step 5. Don’t spend money at restricted businesses
- Step 6. Keep your receipts and records for five years
- Bonus Tip for Americans Traveling to Cuba: Stick to Private
- FAQs About Traveling to Cuba from the US
- The Final Step
Can Americans Travel to Cuba in 2023?
Specifically, you need a Cuban Tourist Card (a.k.a Cuban Visa), travel insurance, and a self-certification under one of the 12 travel categories of authorized travel to Cuba. You must also avoid spending money at some restricted businesses and keep your travel receipts and records for 5 years.
We’ll fill you in on what you need to do, step by step, to legally travel to Cuba from the US.
Why Can’t Americans go to Cuba for Tourism?
The regulation that prohibits most travel to Cuba by US citizens is the Cuban Assets Control Regulations of July 8, 1963. This regulation falls under the Trading With the Enemy Act, administered by the Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC).
The Cuban Assets Control Regulations, which have been amended many times, impose a trade embargo on Cuba and don’t allow Americans to visit Cuba as tourists. However, the regulations allow for specific travel categories to Cuba, such as educational and cultural exchange programs, professional research, and support for the Cuban people.
What Do You Need to Travel to Cuba with a US Passport?
Here is a list of entry requirements to Cuba that you need to comply with before you arrive at a Cuban airport:
1. Valid US passport
You can travel to Cuba with your standard U.S. passport. To avoid any issues going through customs, ensure your passport is valid for at least six months after your Cuba trip.
2. Cuba Tourist Card
All visitors to Cuba, regardless of country of origin, need to have a special visa called a tourist card. You’ll need your tourist card when you board your flight to Cuba.
How do you get the Cuba Tourist Visa? You’ve got a few different options:
A) Directly from the airline
The most common way visitors get their Cuba tourist card is by purchasing it directly through your airline.
Each company handles the process a bit differently. Some airlines will include the visa cost in the ticket price, while others will have you buy it separately. The visa costs 50 USD on top of a processing fee between 25-35 USD.
Here are travel visa prices from a few major airlines:
American Airlines: 85 USD (50 USD visa fee + 35 USD processing fee) if purchased online. 100 USD (50 USD visa fee + 50 USD processing fee) if purchased in person at Miami (MIA) airport
Delta: 50 USD, purchase in-person at the gate.
JetBlue: 50 USD, purchase in-person at the gate.
Southwest Airlines: 75 USD (50 USD visa fee + 25 USD processing fee) can be purchased online or in person at the gate.
United Airlines: 75 USD (50 USD visa fee + 25 USD service charge), purchase in-person at the gate.
Not all flight search engines carry flights from the US to Cuba. To price out Cuba flights, we recommend using Skyscanner.
B) Buy the Cuba visa online
If your airline ticket doesn’t have your travel visa built-in, you can buy it separately using the site Easy Tourist Card.
You can expect to pay around 144 USD for a 30-day tourist card, which is more than if you bought it packaged in with your ticket.
3. Travel health insurance for Cuba
Travel health insurance is a requirement for all visitors to Cuba. Your insurance must cover any unexpected medical expenses incurred while on the island.
That’s why companies specialize in insurance just for travelers, like Insubuy. With Insubuy, you’ll get coverage for any medical emergencies that might pop up during your trip, starting at 8 USD per week per person. Travel protection benefits, such as trip cancellation, baggage delay insurance, etc. are not required.
4. Valid general travel “license” to Cuba
All Americans traveling to Cuba need a “license”, technically referred to as a “general license,” or a category of authorized travel to Cuba. These categories are defined by the Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC).
In this article, we indistinctively use “license”, “travel license”, “general license,” and “travel category”.
Confusingly, even though it’s called a license, it’s not actually a license like a driver’s license or even a tourist visa. It’s not a physical document you need to bring to Cuba.
NOTE: As of September 2020, there may be two travel categories that DO require a physical document: Professional Research and Professional Meetings; and Public Performances, Clinics, Workshops, athletic and other competitions, and exhibitions.
Getting a Cuba general license means:
- You’ve chosen one of the U.S. government’s 12 categories for legal travel to Cuba.
- You meet all the criteria for traveling to Cuba under your chosen category.
Confusing terminology aside, getting your Cuba general license is pretty easy. Take a look at our step-by-step section below.
5. Customs and health declaration forms
Cuba requires all travelers to bring a Sanitary Statement and a Customs Declaration form. We suggest you complete the documentation online at D’Viajeros, the government’s website for this purpose. You will save time and annoyance!
6. Cuba travel restrictions amid the COVID-19 pandemic
While in Cuba, you must comply with the restrictions imposed by the Cuban authorities to mitigate the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic:
- Social distancing (5 ft) and face masks may be required at some establishments.
- You may be subject to contact tracing questions or random temperature checks.
- There is limited capacity and operating hours at most tourist facilities.
- Large gatherings are not allowed.
- Travel within and between cities and provinces may be restricted.
- You can even receive fines for non-compliance! (Although that would be very rare)
Please, notice that as of April 4th, 2022, proof of COVID-19 vaccination or a negative PCR test is not required.
How to Travel to Cuba from the US (Legally): Planning a Trip to Cuba
There is so much confusion about exactly what you need to do to travel to Cuba as an American and the current Cuba travel restrictions. Let’s try to simplify the process of planning a trip to Cuba from the US:
- You’ll have to select the most appropriate category of authorized travel to Cuba according to your travel purpose.
- You’ll need to create a full-time itinerary covered by the selected authorized travel category to Cuba.
- You may have to book accommodation in Cuba depending on where you stay as part of your itinerary. Remember that you must not stay at any accommodation listed in the Cuba Prohibited Accommodations List.
- You must not spend money at certain businesses in Cuba.
- You’ll need to keep your records and receipts for five years.
Now, let’s go further on each step!
Step 1. Choose one of the 12 categories of authorized travel to Cuba
The only step in getting your Cuba general license is to declare the reason for your trip, according to the list of 12 categories of authorized travel to Cuba. You’re good to go if your trip falls into one of the 12 categories.
The twelve categories of legal travel under the Cuba General License are:
- Family visits
- Official business for the US government, foreign government, and certain intergovernmental organizations
- Professional research and professional meetings (NOTE: This travel category requires an actual license by OFAC)
- Educational activities (NOTE: This category grandfathered the once-popular People-to-People Travel “subcategory”, which is now prohibited.)
- Religious activities
- Public performances, clinics, workshops, athletic and other competitions, and exhibitions (NOTE: This travel category requires an actual license by OFAC)
- Support for the Cuban People
- Exportation, importation or transmission of information or informational materials
- Humanitarian projects
- Activities of private foundations or research or educational institutes
- Certain export transactions
At some point during your booking process, you’ll need to declare your category of authorized travel to Cuba.
The Support for the Cuban People Travel category
We’re giving this category its own section because it is the most popular for traveling to Cuba from the US. But also, because it may be really confusing!
Support for the Cuban People is the best license to use for Cuba solo trips when any other license does not cover your purpose of travel.
American travelers love this category because, as you probably already gleaned from the wording, it’s pretty vague. You have lots of wiggle room and can pretty much do many of the activities you would in any other Caribbean country.
However, you must demonstrate that you’ve participated in activities that “strengthen Cuban society.” Luckily, these activities tend to be fun, and many of them are things you’d probably do anyway.
- Visit museums and historical sites.
- Eat at locally-owned restaurants (paladares).
- Take Cuban cooking classes.
- Take salsa dancing lessons.
- Tour a tobacco farm and learn how to roll Cuban cigars.
- Volunteer with a local organization or non-profit.
But the OFAC itself offers the very best example of the type of activities that the Support for the Cuban People category may cover:
An individual plans to travel to Cuba, stay in a room at a rented accommodation in a private Cuban residence (casa particular), eat at privately-owned Cuban restaurants (paladares), and shop at privately-owned stores run by self-employed Cubans (cuentapropista) during his or her four-day trip.
While at the casa particular, the individual will have breakfast each morning with the Cuban host and engage with the Cuban host to learn about Cuban culture. In addition, the traveler will complete his or her full-time schedule by supporting Cuban entrepreneurs launching their privately-owned businesses. The traveler’s activities promote independent activity intended to strengthen civil society in Cuba.
Because the individual’s qualifying activities are not limited to staying in a room at a rented accommodation in a private Cuban residence (casa particular), eating at privately-owned Cuban restaurants (paladares), and shopping at privately owned stores run by self-employed Cubans (cuentapropista) and the traveler maintains a full-time schedule that enhances contact with the Cuban people, supports civil society in Cuba, and promotes the Cuban people’s independence from Cuban authorities, and that results in meaningful interaction between the traveler and Cuban individuals, the individual’s travel qualifies for the general license.
How does it sound?
When it comes to planning your daily schedule in Cuba, you’re technically supposed to spend about eight hours a day doing activities to support the Cuban people. That said, it’s not like an American official will call you daily to verify your schedule, so don’t stress about it.
Instead, pick out some of the activities mentioned above and immerse yourself in the beauty of Cuban culture and traditions. After you tackle the logistics of visiting Cuba as a US citizen, add lots of fun activities!
Step 2. Book a flight to Cuba
Can you fly to Cuba from the US? Yes, once you have declared your travel category, you can book your tickets to Cuba.
Step 3: Plan your itinerary in Cuba
Now the fun part begins!
Your travel category will determine your itinerary, even if you just want to be on your own backpacking Cuba.
For example, your itinerary is completely up to you if you travel under the “Support the Cuban People” category. But your schedule must include activities covered by this travel category, as explained above.
If you are renting a car in Cuba to stop by all the fantastic places in Cuba, avoid Via Rent A Car. The Cuban military owns this company.
You can also review the tours available on our website!
Step 4: Book accommodations in Cuba
Next, according to your itinerary, you’ll need to set up a place to stay. You may be able to stay in some hotels, resorts, and casas particulares.
However, we highly recommend renting a room in a casa particular because they give you an authentic Cuban experience at an affordable price. Check out Skyscanner for the latest listings.
IMPORTANT: Remember that you must not stay at certain accommodations listed in the Cuba Prohibited Accommodations List.
Step 5. Don’t spend money at restricted businesses
US-Cuba relations have improved over the last decade, but the US Treasury Department doesn’t like Americans spending money anywhere in Cuba.
In fact, the Treasury keeps a list of businesses to whom Americans must not give money. Most of these businesses are owned by the Cuban military or security services, with which the US still has a frosty relationship. You can see the full, updated list here.
If you need help understanding the super complicated dual currency system in Cuba, read our handy guide to Cuban money.
Step 6. Keep your receipts and records for five years
For up to 5 years after your Cuba trip, the US Government can ask you about your travel records and receipts.
This sounds spooky, but anecdotally, it doesn’t seem to happen very often. But it’s better to be safe than sorry, so keep your records safe for five years in case you’re questioned about your trip.
Bonus Tip for Americans Traveling to Cuba: Stick to Private
Book tours directly from local guides
Cuba is filled with tour guides ready to introduce you to the island, its culture, and its history. Plus, there are tours for everyone–from riding around Havana in a vintage car to horseback riding in rugged Viñales or hiking in the Sierra Maestra mountains.
However, keep in mind that not all tour guides are reputable. Cuba has only recently begun to experience a huge burst in tourism–especially from the US–, and there are lots of people looking to profit off tourists. To avoid getting scammed by fake or unprofessional guides, you should only book tours through legitimate local guides. And if they do a good job, don’t forget to tip them!
Tour Republic offers exciting adventures all over the island, led by skilled local guides. You’ll be in good hands!
Stay in casas particulares
Casas particulares (private houses) are like the Cuban version of bed and breakfasts.
They’re owned by Cuban families who rent out rooms for a daily fee. Not only are they more affordable than staying in a hotel, but they also offer a much more authentic Cuban experience.
Plus, many casas even offer home-cooked breakfast in the morning. You can stay in a casa for around 20-50 USD/night.
As a precaution, please review the latest Cuba Prohibited Accommodations List to ensure that your casa particular is not on the list of prohibited accommodations.
Eat at paladares
Paladares are private restaurants owned by Cubans with a passion and talent for fine Cuban food.
Menus at paladares have more variety and better service than Cuba’s government-owned restaurants. The cost of dining in a paladar varies depending on how fancy or down-to-earth the place is. But generally speaking, you can expect to pay between 10-30 USD per meal. By the way, check out our full breakdown of a realistic trip to Cuba cost.
At home, you’re probably used to using websites like Yelp to help you decide where to eat next, but the Internet is limited in Cuba. Thus, we recommend bringing a travel guide like this one from Lonely Planet instead.
Please, check out our food safety guide for more information on how to stay healthy in Cuba and save some bucks on your trip.
Ride in private taxis
When you flag down a taxi in Cuba, you’ll notice two different taxis: state and private taxis (almendrones).
The Cuban government owns and operates state taxis, while private taxi drivers run private taxis. Chances are, the almendrones will catch your eye because many of them are the colorful, beautifully restored vintage American cars that have become synonymous with Cuba.
Support the local businesses
If you travel to Cuba under the Support for the Cuban People category, you’ll need to support local Cuban businesses during your trip.
Supporting local businesses includes staying in casas particulares, eating at paladares, attending a performance by a local musician or artist, or taking a cooking or salsa dancing class.
FAQs About Traveling to Cuba from the US
Here is a list of the most common questions on how to travel to Cuba from the US. We want to keep this article updated, so please let us know if you have another question!
Is there a Cuba travel ban?
Do you need a password to go to Cuba?
Can I travel to Cuba independently as a US citizen?
How do I obtain an OFAC general license to Cuba?
However, this recently changed for two travel categories that now require an actual license by OFAC:
- Professional research and professional meetings.
- Public performances, clinics, workshops, athletic and other competitions, and exhibitions.
What represents a full-time schedule of activities under a category of authorized travel to Cuba?
Can I stay at Cuban hotels?
Is there any requirement to how you spend your evening in Cuba?
Are you allowed to do only typical tourist activities, like swimming at a beach in Cuba?
Unfortunately, the answer is no. You can’t go to Cuba just for its beautiful beaches. The OFAC is very explicit: you must not engage in mere tourist experiences. Here is an example of a trip that is NOT considered by the Support for the Cuban People category:
“An individual plans to travel to Cuba, rent a bicycle to explore the neighborhoods and beaches, and engage in brief exchanges with local beach vendors. The individual intends to stay at a hotel that does not appear on the Cuba Restricted List.
The traveler’s trip does not qualify for this general license because none of these activities promote independent activity intended to strengthen civil society in Cuba”
How can you spend your money as a US citizen traveling to Cuba?
Is there any restriction on what you can bring back from Cuba?
For a vetted list of things to bring to Cuba, check out our updated packing list for Cuba!
What about the sonic attacks against Americans in Cuba?
As of the writing of this article, no American visitors to Cuba have been targeted by sonic attacks, so you should be just fine during your trip.
Overall, Cuba is an extremely safe country to visit, especially compared to other neighboring countries in the Caribbean.
The Final Step
Once you overcome some challenges of traveling to Cuba, you’ll discover that the island is a fascinating, one-of-a-kind place to visit.
Keep this handy guide open while planning a trip to Cuba, and don’t forget to read our 58 travel tips to Cuba. Cuba is an exciting, unforgettable (and perfectly legal!) destination for Americans. You will have a smooth, seamless trip if you follow the guidelines outlined in this article.
And now that we’ve put those rumors about a Cuba travel ban to rest, it’s time to get packing!