Tips for Traveling to Cuba Independently

by Joanna E
5 Tips for Planning a Trip to Cuba

If you haven’t noticed, Cuba is one of the most popular travel destinations in the Caribbean. Since taking a Caribbean Music course in college and being a lover of history, I’ve always wanted to visit. I’ve asked friends, read several blog posts and even joined Facebook travel groups to be informed of what to do, where to stay and what to eat if I ever got a chance to travel to Cuba independently. Since it’s much easier now than in years past, here are five tips if you’re planning on traveling to Cuba independently.

Traveling to Cuba Independently? Check Entry Requirements!

First things first, as an American citizen, traveling to Cuba independently for tourism is not allowed. Before planning check to see if you fit in one of the 12 categories of authorized travel to Cuba issued by the Department of Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC). As a travel writer, I had the ability to select ‘journalistic activity’, but since my cousin was coming, we chose the “people-to-people” category. In addition to our personal belongings, we brought clothing and household items to give to our hosts and danced salsa with locals in Old Havana. You can view the full list of categories & current facts about visiting Cuba on the Travel.State.Gov website.

As of June 16, 2017, the current US Administration announced individual “People to People travel” would no longer be allowed. Per the Treasury Dept/OFAC, changes will not be effective until it issues new regulations in the coming months. Individual travel under the support for the Cuban people and other categories will still be allowed.

Get a Visa (Cuban Tourist Card) & Health Insurance

After determining you’re eligible to travel to Cuba, you would need to buy a visa aka a Cuban Tourist Card. A Cuban Tourist Card can be purchased at your departure airport for around $50. When filling out your Cuban Tourist card, make sure to not make any mistakes lest you purchase a new one.

Cuban Health Insurance guarantees your visit to a doctor in the event of sickness or injury. For our flight with Delta, there was a stamp on our boarding pass showing proof of the Cuban health insurance.

The Government of Cuba treats U.S. citizens born in Cuba as Cuban citizens. If you are born in Cuba after January 1, 1971, you must travel with a US passport AND Cuban passport to gain entry.

Spending Money in Cuba

When planning your trip spending money in Cuba is cash only so make sure you know how to budget. Your U.S. credit and/or debit cards WILL NOT WORK. Depending on the market, you can exchange your dollars to Euros or CAD (Canadian dollars) to avoid the 10 percent fee for U.S. dollar conversions.

Getting to Cuba from the US

Great news! You don’t have to travel to Canada, Mexico or other Caribbean islands to travel to Cuba anymore. If you’re already in these locations, travel from there, but commercial flights with US airlines available. Here’s a list of US Airlines providing services to the island and the destinations:

  • Camaguey – American Airlines, Jet Blue
  • Cayo Coco – American Airlines
  • Cienfuegos – American Airlines
  • Havana – Delta, Alaska Airlines, American Airlines, Southwest, Jet Blue, United
  • Holguin – American Airlines, Jet Blue
  • Santa Clara – American Airlines, Southwest, Jet Blue
  • Varadero – American Airlines, Southwest, United

Below are cruise lines leaving from the US to Havana and other ports of call.

Phone Service and WiFi in Cuba

If you need to connect to the internet, wifi in Cuba is available at specific hotspots and hotels. You need to buy wifi cards and they cost between 1.5 and 5 CUC depending on the length of time purchased. Calling home or abroad is very expensive and it is not possible to use Skype or FaceTime. Instead, use Facebook Messenger and Whatsapp. Another popular messenger service is IMO that runs well with the slow connection. If I traveled to Cuba alone I would’ve purchased a wifi card, but my cousin and I accounted for each other well.

Over the Memorial Day weekend, my cousin and I traveled to Cuba independently for 6 days in Havana and Varadero. Make sure to check back next week as I share more about planning a trip to Cuba including casa particular and transportation options.

5 Tips for Planning a Trip to Cuba

Are you planning on Traveling to Cuba independently or with a tour?

 

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58 comments

Alice Gerard June 3, 2017 - 1:29 AM

Looks like it could be an interesting trip. Thank you for all of the helpful hints about visas, currency, etc. I’d like to go to Cuba some time. I am a journalist so that could work.

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Joanna E June 3, 2017 - 1:31 AM

Glad it helped. I hope you do get to go. With the recent news, it seems like it may go back to what it was. I really hope not.

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reflectionofdes June 3, 2017 - 10:23 AM

Wow, I learned a lot of information I didn’t know. Thanks for the tips!!

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Joanna E June 7, 2017 - 10:25 AM

Glad it was informative. 🙂

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Shania June 3, 2017 - 10:26 AM

Very informative!

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Joanna E June 3, 2017 - 11:23 AM

Thank you for stopping by Shania. Glad it was useful.

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BehindTheSchmile June 3, 2017 - 4:05 PM

This was a very interesting post! Some points to consider that i had never thought about before. Thanks for sharing!

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Joanna E June 7, 2017 - 10:17 AM

Thanks for reading.

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Cathaleen Montgomery June 3, 2017 - 6:07 PM

Thank you for these tips very helpful !!

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Joanna E June 7, 2017 - 10:14 AM

No problem. Thanks for reading

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arielsaysnow June 5, 2017 - 10:55 AM

Seeeeee! I would’ve never thought or known about the insurance part. I haven’t traveled internationally yet, so this is great to know. Thanks for all this!

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Joanna E June 5, 2017 - 11:00 AM

No problem. The insurance is usually a stamp on your boarding pass. Just make sure to keep it with you on the duration of your trip, otherwise it’s about 10 CUC a day.

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Autum Love June 5, 2017 - 11:07 AM

This is so informative!! I’ve been wanting to go to Cuba! I will be revisiting this post in the future thanks for sharing!

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Joanna E June 5, 2017 - 11:15 AM

Glad it helped. It was definitely a great experience to go.

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Tanay Michele June 5, 2017 - 9:51 PM

Hopefully things don’t go back to the way they were! I’d love to visit and I would’ve never thought about getting health insurance.

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Joanna E June 5, 2017 - 10:26 PM

Yeah it’s good that it’s included in your ticket too.

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TC Mason June 5, 2017 - 10:25 PM

I always hear good things about Cuba, I am more interested now. Thanks for sharing!

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Joanna E June 7, 2017 - 10:13 AM

You’re welcome TC. I hope you get to visit.

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CJ | Thirty30Courtney.com June 5, 2017 - 10:27 PM

I have heard a lot of mixed reviews about Cuba. I am still definitely interested in going, but I’m wayyy too spontaneous and don’t trust myself yet. If I can get through my next two trips and stick to the itinerary and budget, maybe I’ll allow myself to plan for Cuba. lol

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Joanna E June 5, 2017 - 10:29 PM

I thought I’d be bad with the budget, but with local drinks between 1 and 3 CUC’s plus lodging already paid for, we did pretty good with money. Some tours, transportation and if you want wifi is the big expense imo

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ejnosillA June 6, 2017 - 2:33 AM

A friend of mines is going to Cuba in September and I was really concerned about her going… but she said the same great things you have written and I think I might get me a ticket to go too… Don’t want to miss out on a mission!

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Joanna E June 7, 2017 - 10:12 AM

Do it! It was an awesome experience.

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Drea Day June 6, 2017 - 4:19 PM

You’re right! It looks like Cuba is the travel destination of the year! I have had concerns about visiting, but with your tips and experience I am def willing to reconsider. I think it’s cool that you can now fly from the US instead of having to travel through Mexico (or a Caribbean island) to get there now.

Thank you for sharing so much helpful information, JoAnne! You’ve covered ALL the bases! Such great tips, love.

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Joanna E June 7, 2017 - 10:11 AM

Thanks Drea. Since my trip I’ve gotten so many questions. Glad it was informative.

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Kita June 6, 2017 - 5:59 PM

Great tips. I see so many people taking trips to Cuba. I hope this tourism increase is beneficial for the regular population.

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Joanna E June 7, 2017 - 10:10 AM

It was definitely an eye-opener for me. They get a lot of European & Canadian tourism though.

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MJ June 6, 2017 - 6:00 PM

I hope to visit Cuba to trace my family history. We are from Jamaica but we have ancestors from Cuba. Thanks for the tips.

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Joanna E June 6, 2017 - 6:09 PM

That would be an awesome experience

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Mimi Green June 6, 2017 - 7:01 PM

I keep seeing recaps of Cuba trips and now I want to go. 45 is trying block that so I guess I need to hurry up before it is nolonger a thing. These tips are helpful as I had no idea where to start.

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Joanna E June 6, 2017 - 8:53 PM

Glad it was informative. He needs to stop playing games. These four years taking way too long. lol

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kimblekristin09 June 6, 2017 - 9:36 PM

this was very helpful! I look forward to adding to my trip list next year! Thanks for sharing!

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Joanna E June 6, 2017 - 9:42 PM

Awesome! I’m sure you’ll have a great time

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cleverlychanging June 7, 2017 - 9:33 AM

Once the Cuban ban lifted several of my friends have traveled there and loved it. I would love to visit Cuba one day too.

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Joanna E June 7, 2017 - 9:49 AM

So much culture there. They don’t have much, but they’re happy.

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Adeola Naomi June 7, 2017 - 9:52 AM

Cuba is definitely on my list and this is a great and informative post.

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Joanna E June 7, 2017 - 10:08 AM

Thanks for reading Adeola. Glad it was helpful.

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Cali June 7, 2017 - 3:38 PM

I was just in Cuba for the month of April! I loved it! As an American your tips are very helpful, but I ended up avoiding all of that because I was in Mexico prior to flying to Cuba!

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Joanna E June 7, 2017 - 3:40 PM

Thanks. Before the ban was lifted a lot of people I knew went through Mexico or Canada.

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Ana Sofia June 7, 2017 - 4:04 PM

This was so helpful! I’ve been throwing around the idea of going to Cuba for awhile, but haven’t actually looked too much into it. I feel like this is a sign. Thanks for the info!

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JC June 7, 2017 - 4:07 PM

I would love to eventually travel to Cuba; I have an aunt from there who has always talked about how beautiful it is! Thank you for the compilation of information; definitely saved me a lot of Googling!

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Joanna E June 7, 2017 - 4:22 PM

You’re welcome. You can definitely use family as your category if you choose to go.

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tessajuliette June 7, 2017 - 4:24 PM

I went to Cuba as well and almost wrote the exact same article haha! These are great tips!!

xo
Tessa
http://travelwheretonext.com

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Joanna E June 7, 2017 - 4:27 PM

Lol great minds 🙂

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Thewanderingdarlings June 7, 2017 - 5:40 PM

Cuba looks amazing! I’ve been wanderlusting after so many gorgeous photos and your post has just added to this. I had no idea it was so hard for an American to get into Cuba and that even your cards won’t work! I wonder if this is the same for other countries.

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Joanna E June 7, 2017 - 5:42 PM

It doesn’t work because of the embargo. You would’ve thought that after the ban was lifted it would. There’s no restriction on other countries cards.

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Thewanderingdarlings June 7, 2017 - 6:02 PM

So crazy! Nice that there is still ways around it so that you get explore the country.

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Thewanderingdarlings June 11, 2017 - 5:26 PM

Ahh right! I never knew that.

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Angel Jackson June 7, 2017 - 7:34 PM

This is great information! I wasn’t aware of the airlines that went to specific spots. I am planning on visiting Cuba in the future. Thanks for sharing

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Joanna E June 7, 2017 - 8:06 PM

Some airlines have stopped going because the demand wasn’t high, but it’s good that there are alternatives

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alexisrae13 June 8, 2017 - 2:43 AM

SO excited it will be easier to get to Cuba next year. I know the tourist visas are still limited, but I can’t wait!

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Joanna E June 8, 2017 - 8:22 AM

I’ll definitely be back to visit the other cities. It was a great experience

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Sue Reddel June 8, 2017 - 12:27 PM

We visited Cuba before the sanctions were lifted. It was a wonderful trip but you really do need to have great tips like these to ensure a good trip. All of your tips are spot on.

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Danique June 8, 2017 - 6:57 PM

Cuba is really a place I would love to visit soon. I had no idea how the visa works for Americans. Sounds a bit like an odd system 😉.

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Ivelisse Estes June 8, 2017 - 7:19 PM

I would love to go one day! I am sure it is such a beautiful country. Great tips!

Love,
Ivelisse | CarnationDreams.com

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Nina Tekwani June 9, 2017 - 12:40 AM

Thanks for these tips! They are really helpful. I’d love to visit Cuba sometime!

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Joanna E June 9, 2017 - 11:15 AM

you’re welcome Nina. It was a very nice trip and I can’t wait to go back

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J. Smith June 28, 2017 - 9:52 PM

Wow, this was very informative. I may have to refer back to this if I get the chance to visit Cuba.

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Joanna E June 29, 2017 - 7:21 AM

Thanks! I can’t wait to go back. It was an awesome experience

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