How to Visit Cuba as an American

McCabe David / March 06, 2021

It’s now easier than ever to visit Cuba as an American and this guide will show you how to do it! For almost 50 years, Americans had to apply for a special license and jump through hoops to visit Cuba, or fly there illegally via Canada or Mexico. In 2014, that all changed when Obama expanded the categories for American travel to Cuba.
In 2017, Trump made a few changes to the Cuba travel policy, most notably removing the broad “people-to-people” category that many travelers were claiming, and prohibiting Americans from patronizing military-owned business – here’s the list. (It’s mainly hotels and tourism companies you wouldn’t want to use anyway. More on that later.) Even with these changes it’s still very easy to visit Cuba as an American. I traveled to Cuba during summer 2017 right before these changes went into place, but this guide has been updated for 2019.
Visiting Cuba strictly for tourism is still prohibited, so the reason for your visit will need to fall under one of the twelve categories for authorized travel to Cuba, as defined by the State Department. The category that most travelers can cite for their visit is support for the Cuban people although it is unlikely that you’ll need to “prove” this at any point. However, you can technically be questioned about the details of your trip by the U.S. government for up to 5 years after you return. (Again, unlikely, but still important to note.)
You don’t need a special license from the U.S. anymore to visit Cuba (you will just self-declare your authorized travel category) but you DO need a Cuba Tourist Card. A Cuba Tourist Card is not a visa. There are Cuban visas, but only visitors from certain countries need to apply for one. Visitors from North America, South America, and Europe only need a Cuba Tourist Card. The Cuba Tourist Card gives you the ability to stay in Cuba for up to 30 days. They are really easy to obtain as the airline you’re flying with from the U.S. will provide them for you.
One of the biggest mistakes you can make on ANY trip is not getting travel insurance. Travel insurance gives you protection in case of any type of travel disaster: medical issues, stolen passport, lost luggage, cancelled trip, and so on. For this reason, I recommend that everyone gets travel insurance. It’s a small price to pay for peace of mind when you travel. The number one travel insurance provider is Allianz. Click here to get a free quote to see how much coverage would be on your trip to Cuba.
I highly recommend staying at a casa particular in Cuba. These are basically like homestays and they are amazing! You get to stay in a private residence and interact with your hosts in their home. At my casa particular in Havana, our host prepared a delicious breakfast for us every morning! (By far the best food I ate in Cuba.) Staying in a casa particular is much better than staying in a hotel. In Cuba, most of the hotels are military-owned or military-controlled (even the big chain hotels) and extremely expensive. (In Havana, upwards of $300+ a night.) You aren’t paying for quality though, because many of the hotels look like they haven’t been updated since the 1970s.