How to Travel to Cuba If You Are an American

Bicitaxi down a backstreet in Havana at dusk
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  • 01 of 05

    All Americans Can Now Travel Legally to Cuba

    Good news, Caribbean travelers and explorers! All Americans can now travel legally to Cuba -- with some limitations.

    The longstanding ban on Cuba travel has been amended to allow all U.S. citizens to take part in tours to Cuba that encourage “people to people” contact. Previously, only religious, educational, and cultural groups could legally travel to Cuba, and then only with specific permission from the U.S. State Department.

    Americans still cannot not simply book a flight and head to Cuba, although that should be possible by the end of 2016. Most U.S. citizens still travel with a Cuba travel organization that has an official license from the U.S. State Department, like Insight Cuba and Central Holidays. Legal individual travel to Cuba is now possible if you fall under one of the 12 categories of permitted travel to Cuba, but remains (practically) difficult: you'll need to document your activities, and booking a hotel room -- while now legal -- can be a challenge due to high demand...MORE and low supply. (Tour groups, on the other hand, have big blocks of hotel rooms reserved in advance.

    There are plans in place to allow Americans to take commercial flights from the U.S. to Cuba for the first time in over 50 years. However, travelers still must fall into one of those 12 categories of permitted travel: compliance is more or less on the honor system, but still carries the force of the law: you can expect to be questioned about your activities by Customs upon returning to the U.S., and if you're not with an authorized group you'll be expected to explain how your travel complied with the law.

    Book Cuba Travel at TripAdvisor

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  • 02 of 05

    Going Solo to Cuba

    Authorized tour groups arrange hotels, transportation, meals, and an itinerary that complies with federal regulations mandating that such tours have a cultural-exchange focus, so they remain the single most popular way for U.S. citizens to get to Cuba. However, the door is slowly opening to individual travel: the fact is that if you can get there -- and travel via a non-U.S. destination like Canada, Cancun, and the Cayman Islands with scheduled service to Cuba is not hard to do -- you can travel solo in Cuba right now.

    You'll need a passport and a tourist card (which can be obtained at your departure airport), and you'll need to make your own hotel and transport arrangements once in Cuba, of course. A working knowledge of Spanish can help, too, but remember that the island nation already has experience handling international tourists, so there is more than minimal tourist help already in place. 

    The changes in U.S. – Cuba policy don't apply to travelers from elsewhere in the...MORE world, and Cuba is among the most popular Caribbean destinations for travelers from Canada and Europe. A number of international hotel companies, such as RiuIberostar, and Melia, have built large resorts in Cuban destinations like Varadero that meet the expectations of savvy global travelers. More than two million tourists now visit Cuba annually.

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  • 03 of 05

    U.S. Commercial Airline and Ferry Travel Will Soon Be a Reality

    Top U.S. airlines are now bidding over the right to fly to Cuba, which means that U.S. travelers can hope to see new air travel options into Cuba as soon as late 2016, with the expectation that up to 110 different flights to different airports around Cuba will be available. 

    However, until commercial service is established, charter flights will remain travelers' only option for getting to Cuba by air from the U.S.; these largely originate in Miami, Ft. Lauderdale, and Tampa. Less likely is the prospect of Cuba's airlines beginning flights to the U.S. anytime soon, as they would have to overcome significant regulatory hurdles in order to do so.

    Direct ferry service between Florida and Havana might also soon be a reality: the legal process for making that happen is well underway. And Carnival Cruise Lines announced in March 2016 that it has received approval to start cruising from Miami to Cuba.

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  • 04 of 05

    Fly to Cuba from Canada, Cancun, Grand Cayman, and Jamaica

    If you don't want to wait for U.S. airlines to start flying to Cuba, or you want to combine a visit to Cuba with a trip to a different Caribbean island, you have options, and not just to Havana but also a wide range of Cuba destinations.

    Currently, Air Canada flies daily between Toronto and Havana and Varadero, Cuba, while Cubana -- Cuba's national airline - has service between Toronto and Montreal and Havana, Varadero, Cienfuegos, Santa Clara and Holguín. COPA Airlines also has daily Toronto-Havana flights.

    Cancun has long been the gateway of choice for Americans looking to visit Cuba without attracting the attention of U.S. Customs officials, and now that restrictions have loosened you can still fly Cubana from Cancun to Havana. Cayman Airways also has flights to Havana from Grand Cayman and Jamaica.

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  • 05 of 05

    U.S. Visitors Now Have the Havana Embassy at Their Service

    The U.S. Embassy in Havana reopened in August 2015, as full diplomatic relations between Cuba and the United States have been restored. The embassy can help travelers to Cuba with: 

    • applications for new U.S. passports or replacing stolen U.S. passports
    • renewing expired U.S. passports
    • registering U.S. citizens living in, traveling to, or born in Cuba
    • assisting U.S. citizens with voter registration and voting
    • providing federal income tax forms
    • providing services to notarize documents to be used in the United States
    • providing limited assistance to U.S. citizen prisoners in Cuba
    • assisting in the shipment of remains of deceased U.S. citizens to the United States
    • assisting with money wires to U.S. citizens in cases of emergency
    • helping coordinate medical evacuations

    For more information on U.S. travel to Cuba and creating your itinerary for your Cuban vacation, check out: 

    How to Fly To Cuba from the U.S. 

    Cuba Travel Guide