Updated: May 16, 2022
Is it hard to visit Cuba as an American? This is the number one question I got asked when I booked my flight to Cuba. Long story short – no. Does it take some planning? Yes. You can and should visit Cuba as an American.
I honestly thought the same thing before I went but thanks to some internet research and chatting with a few friends who have gone, I learned it really isn’t.
So why do people say it is difficult for Americans to visit? Well I think it’s probably because you need a visa. Americans are used to not needing a visa to get into many countries and are often worried by this. You also can’t visit Cuba officially for tourism so people think it’s not really possible to visit. Here is the thing – it totally is!
I’m going to take you step by step into how to do it based on my personal experience. Always check the official travel site of the US Government as well.
1. Have an official reason to visit.
There are 11 reasons Americans can visit Cuba and you have to have one in order to buy a ticket. You need to pick one of the twelve before you book your plane ticket and lodging. I chose the support of the Cuban people visa. You have to commit to 6 hours spent directly with Cuban people each day you are there in support of their culture and well-being.
Guess what? With AirBnB I spent 6 hours each day with Cuban people supporting their small businesses. It was really easy. Similarly, you can go on educational activities which means you spend 6 hours learning about Cuba and its people. Pick one and stick to it. It is that simple.
Note: I had no one ask me about this besides when I was purchasing things online. You do need to have it prepared though because you could be asked for it any time within the next five years after you visit.
2. Buy your plane ticket.
Once you have the reason you want to visit, buy your ticket. They’ll ask you for the reason for your visit (that’s one of the 11 you’ve already chosen). Then you buy your flight! I flew American and had a layover in Miami. Many flights will have layovers because you must purchase a visa so space is limited.
3. Book your stay.
This is one you need to be careful with. It’s easy as someone who is not from the US because you can book your stay anywhere. However, there are hotels forbidden for Americans to visit. I found it was safer (and went with my purpose for visiting – support of the Cuban People) to book a Casa Familiar. These are homes in Cuba where you stay with a family and again support a local.
I loved my stay at Miriam’s house. The location was perfect – right in Old Havana close to everything. She was so kind and was ready to help me with whatever I needed. The home had a great view (which meant walking up 4 flights of stairs) and she offered breakfast for $5 CUC which was a great start to the day. She does not speak English which is why Jesus is on the listing on AirBnB. It was helpful to have him as a host.
4. Make your itinerary.
Americans need an itinerary in order to visit Cuba. Your itinerary has to show that came for a reason. Remember, you chose a reason to visit Cuba already when purchasing a plane ticket, so your itinerary should match.
I chose support of the Cuban people so I did activities supporting small businesses. I did a photo shoot with a photographer, I went to rooftops with an economist, I road bikes seeing the historic places with teachers. Supporting local people directly!
If you want to see what I did while there, check out my post that will be coming soon! I made sure I was supporting locals for more than 6 hours a day.
5. But your travel card/visa
I say travel card/visa because technically it’s not a visa but everyone calls it that. You can buy your visa ahead of time but you really don’t need to. Most if not all, airlines flying to Cuba will have a place to purchase the visas right by check-in. I flew American and all I had to do was give them my boarding pass and passport. $100 and 5 minutes later I had my travel card and was good to go.
6. Exchange your money into Euros.
This is an important step! In Cuba, they will not even take American credit cards/debit cards. You need to bring cash. This is also why it’s good to pre-book tours and your stay (even though you can get it for cheaper when you arrive in Cuba) because you won’t have to worry about carrying more cash.
Okay so why Euros? In Cuba, to exchange US currency, you’ll pay a 10% tax. That’s a lot of money you’ll lose if you convert straight from dollars to CUC (Cuban dollars).
It will save you money to have Euros because the conversion fee is better. I should have done this at my bank before leaving, so I’m telling you – do it! You won’t pay a fee like you would at the airport.
7. Have fun!
The logistics are not crazy and it does take some planning but it will pay off. You’ll have a great time and love seeing this unique country.
I hope that I’ve answered the question and given you some helpful steps to take in planning your amazing trip to Cuba! Now you know, it’s really not hard to visit Cuba as an American and you’ll love visiting this amazing country. Make sure you don’t skip visiting Havana while there! It’s going to be a blast and you shouldn’t be afraid to go! I know you’ll have fun.