Do you understand the rules for traveling to Cuba? If you are an US traveler and you want to visit the Caribbean Island you need to read this post that Bed and Breakfast in Cuba has prepare for you. Relationship between United States and Cuba improved and now the restrictions are not as harsh as before. So you can start planning your trip. But first, you must know how to do it legally.
In 2015 the relationship between United States and Cuba started to improved. And that led to lifting some of the restrictions that citizens and residents of the North American country had to travel to Cuba. Now they can think about the island as a travel destination, but only if they fit in one of 12 categories approved by the US government.
Because of the trade embargo that US imposed against Cuba in 1960, traveling to the island and commercial transactions there was forbidden. There were only two ways to visit the island: with a special license or a people to people tour organized by a sponsoring organization.
Some citizens took the risk of going through a gateway country. That meant traveling to another country first (Canada or Mexico) and taking a flight from there to Cuba. It was a risky decision that many decided to take it to enjoy the island.
Now, is not that complicated. Trips can be organized by the traveler himself or by a tour company, that’s your decision. You also can decide which of the 12 categories fit your trip and there are direct flights to and from Cuba.
But tourism is not one of the categories. So it’s still illegal traveling to the island just for pleasure. This mean, you can visit cuban beaches, but you can’t stay all day long sunbathing. You will be asked for an itinerary with activities according to the purpose of your trip. You will enjoy the island anyway!
To explain the new US rules, we’ll have the help of an AC/COA infographic which clearly summarizes the legal information travelers should know.
Since August 2016 commercial airlines are traveling to Cuba. The Department of Transportation approved flights and now travel agents and airlines can provide travel and air carrier service without a license.
Before that date there were not commercial flights to Cuba from US, just charters and they needed a special license. In 2015 were added daily charter flights from several cities in the United States.
There are ten international airports in Cuba, where these commercial flights can land; including the Aeropuerto Internacional José Martí in Havana. The airlines that provide the service are American, Frontier, JetBlue, Silver, Southwest and Sun Country.
Be aware that even when you don’t need a license, a visa is required to US citizens to entering Cuba. Travelers can process the visa online before the trip, using Cuba Travel Services or purchase the visa at the gate, before the fly. It costs US$ 50, but the prize and the process can change depending on the airline. So, ask in advance to the company you are flying with.
During the trade embargo was forbidden the use of US credit and debit cards in Cuba. Now, in theory, travelers are allowed to use them. In practice, the story is different. They are not accepted in Cuba still, so you need to take money in cash to your trip.
The website Creditcards.com explains that “although it is legal to use U.S. cards in Cuba, U.S. companies have not yet put together deals with Cuban counterparts that would allow U.S. cards to actually work there”.
There are only two American credit card accepted in Cuba. These are Stonegate Bank and Banco Popular de Puerto Rico. But even if have one of these is better to take precautions and take enough cash money for your trip.
Credit cards from other countries are accepted, but not everywhere, only in big hotels and major tourist attractions. The internet is full of stories of tourists who had try to pay services such as the car rental with cards and it has not been possible.
Also, authorized travelers have no longer a per-diem limit on spending in Cuba. When U.S. citizens traveled to Cuba with a license, the spending were limited to the US General Service Administration per diem rates.
This means that there was a spending limit for hotels, meals and incidents while staying in the island. And the amount changed for every city.
Now, the U.S Department of Treasure says: “There is no specific dollar limit on authorized expenses. Authorized travelers may engage in transactions ordinarily incident to travel within Cuba, including payment of living expenses and the acquisition in Cuba of goods for personal consumption there.”
As travelers cannot use their credit cards, they have to calculate the amount of cash they will carry. It is recommended to calculate between 50 and 100 dollars per day. Keep the money in a safe place.
When arriving in Cuba you’ll need to exchange US dollars for CUC. This transaction has a 10 % fee that does not apply to other currencies. To avoid the fee, travelers change the U.S. dollars for Canadian dollars, Mexican pesos or euros before arriving to the island.
Traveler who fit one of the 12 categories authorized by the government can expend up top $400 worth of souvenirs and goods for personal use. And “personal use” means for your own use or as a gift. But not to give it away in exchange for money.
This rule also apply to alcohol and tobacco, we’ll talk more about it at the next item.
Before the new rules were established travelers from U.S. could only buy cigars and alcohol with a worth up to $100 to take home. Now they can bring more than that to the United States.
So, you could enjoy a trip to the tobacco fields in Viñales and also take the best of Cuban Cigar home. It’s always recommended to buy cigars in legal stores and keep the receipt with you.
Also, it was forbidden to buy Cuban cigars and alcohol in a third country and then bring it to United States. This restriction was also lifted.
Are you still wondering how to travel Cuba legally? We already said the you need to fit in one of the 12 categories regulated by the Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC). You can find more about these requirements on their website, but in BandBCuba we want you to know all these categories:
It’s true that you don’t need a license anymore to travel to Cuba if your trip fit in one of the categories above. If it doesn’t, then you have to ask OFAC for a license.
Travelers can decide by themselves the most appropriate category. Before boarding the flight you will be asked the purpose of the trip, but you don’t have to show your itinerary at that moment.
Another important change is the fact that travelers can organized their own trips and they no longer need to be accompanied by an organizator.
Travelers can take family members to Cuba, even if they don’t qualify in any category. A family member is defined as: an individual related to a person by blood, marriage, live-in or adoption who is no more than three generations removed.
Still it’s unclear how the U.S. government will verify that travelers comply with these regulations. But they have five years to ask you for proof. It’s important to keep your itinerary, all the receipts and everything and everything with which you can demonstrate the purpose of the trip. There are legal penalties for travelers who fail to comply with regulations.
The most common category chosen for travelers is educational trips. This type of trip allows knowing Cuban culture in depth and sharing with local people.
With this information you can start planning your trip to Cuba. If you are looking for accommodation, check out our website and contact us. Now you know the rules for traveling to Cuba. Share this post with other travelers, so they can understand how to travel to the Caribbean island.