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traveling to cuba

Heading back home from the airport in Havana.

Traveling to Cuba

Cuba travel laws have recently changed in 2016, and you no longer need a license from the Office of Foreign Assets (OFAC) to visit. With these new laws traveling to Cuba has become much easier for Americans due to new direct flight routes recently opening up. It is now possible to fly directly to Cuba from the USA. However, traveling to Cuba for tourism is still not allowed at this time. Read on to see how you can still visit.

To visit Cuba, you must fall within one of these categories of authorized travel:

1. Cuban National and resident of Cuba

2. Educational activities, including people-to-people exchanges, open to everyone (This has been approved for a while, but you will have to stay on a strict itinerary and won’t have very much freedom on your trip.)

3. Professional research and professional meetings

4. Public performances, clinics, workshops, athletic and other competitions and exhibitions

5. Religious activities

6. Humanitarian projects

7. Journalistic activities

8. Family visits

9. Activities in Cuba by private foundations, or research or educational institutes

10. Support for the Cuban people (This can offer a valid reason for your travel, and anyone can offer support. More on this later.)

11. Exportation, importation, or transmission of information technologies or materials

12. Certain authorized export transactions including agricultural and medical products, and tools, equipment and construction supplies for private use

13. Official business of the US government, foreign governments and certain intergovernmental organizations

14. Specific license

Havana Cuba

The streets of Havana, Cuba.

Be Prepared to State Your Reason For Travel to Cuba

You must specify your reason for travel to Cuba at the time of purchasing your flight so you will ned to be prepared to answer this question appropriately. Your answer must remain the same throughout the entire process, from booking the flight to returning home through customs. Stay consistent.

I chose the option: professional research and professional meetings. I am part of a startup mentorship program in San Diego that is focused on global entrepreneurship, so this was my true reason for traveling to Cuba, in addition to writing a series of articles. I had to choose one and stick with it, and since I had printed emails as proof of meetings, I chose that option. During my trip, I met with several entrepreneurs who are part of Cuba’s growing startup community.

Hackerette in Havana, Cuba.

The Hackerette in Havana.

Purchasing Your Visa

You can purchase your visa for travel to Cuba at the airport when you check in for your flight. The cost is $50 at the check in desk. I have read elsewhere that you can wait to buy your visa in Cuba for $20, but I didn’t want to take the chance of having any issues by not obtaining it before my arrival. You do not need a license from the OFAC anymore according to the new laws.

Upon check-in, you will be asked again about your reason for travel to Cuba. Do not mention anything about tourism or vacationing there. This is against the law, and you will not be allowed to board the flight. State the reason you chose for your travel to Cuba and stick with it. At the check-in desk, we were cheerfully asked if we were going on vacation, with which we answered, “No.” Do not fall for this. They may try to trick you.

Providing Support Can Be Your Ticket to Legal Entry

I met a couple on my flight and asked them what their reason was for traveling to Cuba. They said that they stated it was to provide support to the Cuban people (reason #10 listed above). This is an authorized category and their request was approved. They brought a full suitcase of toiletries to hand out as support to those in need.

Due to trade restrictions, Cuba has restricted access to many basic items we take for granted. If you don’t fall into any other category on the list, you can easily choose this option and give what you can. Your old clothes, shoes, and towels that you would probably donate to Goodwill anyway, can help someone in need and allow you valid entry into Cuba. You can then use the empty suitcase for your new souvenirs. The Obama administration has lifted restrictions on Cuban rum and cigars this year, so feel free to indulge.

Since I went for a professional meeting, I brought the printed emails with me to show proof of the scheduled meeting. At the end of the meeting, I also took the business card of each person that was present and kept it for further validation. No one asked me for any proof of anything at any time during my entire trip to and from Cuba, but I had the evidence on me at all times just in case. By law, it is required to keep this evidence for 5 years after traveling to Cuba to be provided upon request.

traveling to cuba

Sunrise in Havana, Cuba.

Going Off The Grid

The Internet and cellular reception are very scarce in Cuba, and they are one of the least connected countries in the world. I was surprised at how even major hotels and businesses do not have wifi or any other type of internet connection available. It’s a good idea to print out copies of any important documents you may need such as your passport, visa, and credit card information. If these documents are lost during your visit, you most likely won’t be able to retrieve them online or through email very easily.

JetBlue has several options for direct flights to Cuba from the East Coast. From Orlando, it was a quick and easy flight that lasted just over an hour. As of today, fares are as low as $54 each way. Jet Blue offers free wifi and movies so you’ll be able to get your entertainment fix before going off the grid.

Check hotel prices for Havana by clicking here.

This is the 2nd article of a 4 part series I wrote on Traveling to Cuba.

You can read the rest of the articles here:

1. The Lucky Peso

2. How to Hack Your Way Into Cuba, Legally

3. How to Deal With Currency Exchange

4. 5 Places in Havana You Must Visit

Get help planning your trip to Cuba HERE!

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Get tips for how to legally visit Cuba as a US citizen. If you want to travel to Cuba from the US, here is what you need to know to plan your trip to Cuba.

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