Frequently Asked Questions
1) What do I need to know about the legality of travel to Cuba?
Travel to Cuba is legal but complicated. Tourism is still strictly prohibited. Travel must fall into one of twelve (12) categories authorized by the US Treasury Department. If your purpose for travel falls into one of these categories, you are automatically approved to travel by general license. You do not need a specific license or any written permission.
The twelve (12) categories are: (1) family visits, (2) official government business, (3) journalistic activity, (4) professional research or meetings, (5) educational activities, including people-to-people travel, (6) religious activities, (7) public performances, clinics, workshops, athletic and other competitions and exhibitions, (8) support for the Cuban people, (9) humanitarian projects, (10) activities of private foundations, research, or educational institutes, (11) transmission of information materials, and (12) certain authorized export transactions.
2) What constitutes approved people-to-people travel?
Travelers must maintain a full-time schedule of educational exchange activities intended to enhance contact with the Cuban people and that will result in meaningful interaction between the traveler and individuals in Cuba. Additionally, travelers must retain records related to authorized travel transactions, including records demonstrating a full-time schedule of authorized activities, for five (5) years. In the past, US law required that people-to-people travel was conducted through a sponsoring organization to ensure compliance. Typically, this has been done through group tours led by US companies.
3) Do I still have to go on a group tour?
No, not anymore. As of March 2016, self-guided US travelers are permitted to visit Cuba, without a sponsoring organization, and certify that their travel is compliant.
4) How do individuals certify that their travel is compliant?
Travelers must have a full time schedule of authorized activities in one of the twelve (12) approved categories and retain travel records proving compliance for five (5) years.
5) What can I bring back?
Effective October 17, 2016, the prior limitations on the value of imports, including alcohol and tobacco products, has been removed! You may now legally bring back Cuban cigars and alcohol products without specific monetary limits, provided that they are for personal consumption and not for commercial resale.
6) Where can I read official information from the US government to do my own research on the legality?
The best resource is the Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) document regularly updated by the US Treasury Department. Here is a link to the latest, updated as of October 14th, 2016.
7) What's this I hear about needing health insurance in Cuba?
The Cuban government requires all travelers to have valid health insurance while in Cuba. Your ticketing airline likely includes the cost of health insurance in your ticket -- double check with your airline to confirm.
To find out more about travel warnings, restrictions and guidelines
visit the U.S Department of State's website at:
1) Why is individual self-guided travel to Cuba challenging?
Travel to Cuba has frustrated even the most seasoned travelers for many years. Here are some of the challenges of navigating Cuba on your own.
Legal: US law related to Cuba travel is not entirely clear, enforcement is questionable, and record keeping requirements are burdensome.
Hotel Accommodation: Hotels are government run, difficult to book and expensive. Overbookings can and do happen, and service is not comparable to that of the US.
Tourism: US travel to Cuba increased 125% in January 2017. It is now harder than ever to get off the beaten path in Cuba.
Casas: Private homestays or Casas are a great option but can be difficult to vet and rely on for most travelers.
Transportation: Taxi options (new, classic, shared, unofficial, etc) and prices vary widely. Lack of spoken English and lack of mobile internet (Google maps) complicate matters.
Money: US credit and debit cards do not yet work in Cuba. Bring cash.
Communication: Internet in Cuba is very limited due to slow speeds and few modes of access. US carriers offer roaming at prohibitively expensive rates ($2+ per MB of data).
Essentials: Finding essentials like bottled water can be a challenge due to shortages. Unexpected inconveniences happen on every single trip.
2) Why is travel to Cuba so expensive?
Cuba is seeing extraordinary demand due to the easing of US travel restrictions. Hotel supply is limited and prices have risen across the board, significantly in many cases.
To put this demand in perspective–161,000 Americans (excluding Cuban-Americans) visited Cuba in 2015, while 1.2 million Canadians visit the island annually. Despite sending six (6) times the number of travelers, Canada's population is just one-tenth that of the US (35 million vs. 320 million), suggesting that up to 10 million Americans may ultimately visit Cuba every single year. Cuban hotels are already sold out many months in advance, and it will take years if not decades to build additional capacity to satisfy US travel demand.
Additionally, Cuba places a 10% penalty on the conversion of US dollars, in addition to a standard 3% foreign exchange fee. Fees for online payment transfers can be as high as 20%. These high transaction costs impact all travelers using US dollars.
3) Is Cuba safe?
Yes. Cuba is among the safest countries in the world to visit, and crimes against tourists are virtually unheard of. However, as you would anywhere in the world (including the United States), take sensible precautions and recognize that petty crime (such as pick-pocketing) does happen in Cuba.