How to Travel to Cuba Without a License

Travel Guide to Havana Cuba

UPDATED: JANUARY 16th 2015

Cuba is an amazing country with an amazing history of music, wonderful people, and beautiful beaches and cities. It is unfortunate Americans can’t travel there easily. This is a guide on how to travel there without a license issued by the United States, which is what I did before the major changes in January, 2015.

A Little Background about Cuba

It is legal to travel to Cuba but it is illegal to spend money there which is due to the trade embargo. The U.S. State Department will allow anyone to travel there legally but you will need to fall into certain categories such as being a journalist or traveling for educational purposes.

As of January 16th, 2015 Americans no longer need to apply for specific licenses if they fit the 12 categories. Previously any traveler headed to Cuba needed to apply for this license but now it is not necessary. Anyone can simply go if they are “authorized” and return without any issues. No license is needed.

See below for more info.

More of my Favorite Travel Photos from Cuba

Old Havana

More of my Favorite Travel Photos from Cuba

People-to-People Tours

People-to-people tours are very popular and basically allow you to skirt around the travel laws. They are tour companies that get you into Cuba for an organized tour with an agenda. There are a few set things and they arrange the flights and hotel. This allows anyone to side step the embargo. There are plenty of these companies online and they are not cheap. This guide will teach you how to do it without a visa issued by the US.

How to Travel to Cuba from the US Without a License

At this time nobody needs to apply for a license to travel to Cuba. However, airlines are not offering flights there just yet so you still need to fly through Canada, Mexico, the Caymans or any other country to get there without the help of a charter from the U.S.

Fly Through Another Country (A Gateway City)

Fly through another country such as Canada or Mexico. I recommend Mexico since flights from Cancun are cheaper and quick. You could also fly from any other Central American country or somewhere else in the Caribbean. Choose a gateway city that works best for your itinerary.

Purchase a Flight (Not on Kayak)

Purchase a flight to Havana from the U.S. Keep in mind sites such as Kayak and Orbitz will NOT have flights to Cuba (not yet at least). Many airlines will fly there such as AeroMexico and Cubana Air. There is no possible way to book a commercial flight to Cuba at this time with online travel agents in the United States.

However, you can book a flight online with non-US airlines.

Cubana.cu is a great place to start looking for flights. CubaJet originally booked me on AeroMexico but that flight was rescheduled on Cubana. Skyscanner.ca is a great resource as well.

Sites for Cuba Flights

Learn More About Booking Your Flight to Cuba Here

Cubana.cu

CubaJet

Skyscanner (Note: Change location on Skyscanner to Canada)

Skyscanner will not show flights from Mexico to Cuba while on the U.S. version of the site. Simply visit the Canadian site (skyscanner.ca) and flights to Cuba will be displayed. Just change the location in the top right corner.

Booking A flight to Cuba

Learn More About Booking Your Flight to Cuba Here

Cubana Air

Cubana Air

Flights range from $250-$375 round-trip from Cancun. Not cheap for a 1-hour flight but it’s worth it, trust me.

Flights to Havana From Cancun

You can fly from any country to Cuba (with the exception of a chartered U.S. flight). Canada and Mexico are very common exit/entry points for Cuba flights. However, book your gateway city through whichever country is most convenient for your itinerary.

Here is the flight schedule from Cancun to Havana:

AeroMexico

Cubana

  • Sun-Sat CUN-HAV: 3:05PM Depart CUN, Arrive HAV 5:25PM
  • Sun-Sat HAV-CUN: 1:45PM Depart HAV, Arrive CUN 2:05PM

Book Your Accommodation for Cuba

Pre-book your accommodation for Cuba. Some immigration officers in Cuba will ask where you are staying and you will have to fill it out on your customs sheet anyway so book ahead of time. If you want to save some money and have a more authentic stay book with a Casa Particular. They are private rooms in Cuban families homes and will run you $25-35/night.

On Arrival of Gateway City Airport

Before you leave the airport pre-purchase your Cuban visa. This ran me $25 at the Cancun airport and was easy to setup. Give yourself an extra 30 minutes to get this on arrival or between flights. There is a counter at most airports where these can be purchased before you head to Cuba.

Old Havana Cuba

Many forums will say Casas are not acceptable housing for visitors but this was not the case for me. I did not pre-book a hotel and had no issues at immigration. Just be honest with the officer. I told them I was staying in Old Havana in a Casa Particular. These are legal government guesthouses and a great option for accommodation.

See my guide for where to stay and how to book a casa particular.

Note: Some Casas will arrange an airport pickup if you ask. This makes life easier on arrival and will run you $20-25 USD to get downtown Havana.

Transportation in Havana on arrival. He spelled my name wrong but close enough.

Transportation in Havana on arrival. He spelled my name wrong but close enough.

Cuba Immigration

Cuba Immigration and customs is pretty straight forward. They may ask where you are staying, how long, and why. They are happy to welcome Americans so no need to lie. They stamped my visa (tourist card) on a separate piece of paper.

Will Cuba Stamp American Passports?

Pre-2014 Policy:

Cuba will stamp your tourist card and NOT your passport.

2014 Policy:

In April of 2014 many Americans have reported that Cuba starting stamping passports, which was a major shift in policy. This does not mean your passport will be stamped but means it could be. As you can see below in late 2014 that was no longer the case for this traveler.

Some have mentioned not being stamped in the comments (see below from the comments):

Arrived Dec. 8 2014 into Marti Airport (Havana) and no passport stamp. As expected, they stamped my tourist card (and asked whether I had been to Africa in the last 30 days). Maybe the stamp/no stamp policy varies. The embargo on rum and cigars is absolutely still in effect, though. Don’t smuggle. It’s not worth it. All information in this article is accurate based on my travels last month.- YZ

2015 Update:

With the major changes that took effect January 16th, 2015 this seems to be almost no concern.

Brian Kelly, The Points Guy, told me he was not stamped on his trip in January, 2015:

“They asked if I wanted an exit stamp today and I said no. They had no issues with that at all.”

It seemed really strange to me that 2014 was the year of the Cuba passport since it was previously a non-issue. This is only one report but it is the first report since the January 16th, 2015 changes. Coming from him it sounds like it was no problem at all and there was NO STAMPING in his US passport and it’s a non-issue.

The Points Guy is the first blogger to make the trip since the changes. Read his full report here.

How to Avoid the Cuban Passport Stamp as an American

Well it seems to back to normal in Havana with the stamping policy. That means no stamps for Americans. 2014 had a lot of Americans reporting stamps so make sure this is not you.

Without a lot of reports from 2015 you still want to be sure they do not stamp anything but your tourist card. It seems with recent changes it would not be a concern upon return but it will make life easier to avoid it.

Just remember to make sure they stamp your tourist card and NOT your passport. If you have to ask them not to or remind them make sure you do.

Applying for Global Entry

Applying for Global Entry might be your best way around an encounter with U.S. immigration officers. If you don’t know about Global Entry it is an automated passport control in the U.S. On return you simply scan your passport on your own and move through immigration with almost no encounters with officers. This means nobody is looking at stamps. Keep in mind you will lose your Global Entry membership if you are found to violate any of the trusted traveler rules. Traveling to Cuba would be a clear violation if not done legally. However, this would get you around the personal passport exchange upon reentry to the United States.

Cuba Immigration Forms

Official forms to fill out for customs and immigration in Cuba

Bring a lot of Cash

Your credit and debit cards will work in Cuba but you want to be prepared. This change took effect January 16th, 2015 so don’t assume your card will work everywhere. There are two currencies in Cuba, the Cuban convertible peso, for tourists, and the peso, for the Cubans. You will use the convertible (CUC) everywhere in Cuba so no need to exchange money for the Cuban peso unless you want to collect some unique currency (which I did to bring home).

It is very easy to exchange your cash but don’t expect a good rate. Basically the Cuban convertible is about 1:1 with the USD but there are fees to exchange it on top of the exchange fee. A nice hotel in town is an easy place to convert the cash just don’t expect a great rate. Some people recommend exchanging your USD to Euros before you leave to get a better rate.

Exchanging Money on Arrival

There is a CADECA at the airport. This is an official exchange house. So you can obtain CUC immediately upon arrival after you land in Havana.

Be sure to exchange your CUC before you leave. You cannot exchange this money back to USD in Mexico or at other currency exchanges. It will make a nice souvenir if you forget to exchange it back.

Old Havana

Leaving Cuba

It is just like any other international flight so no need to worry. Two hours prior to take off is plenty of time. They forced me to check my carry-on but was able to bring my backpack on the plane.

Cuba

The Mexican Death Stamp

*This is of little concern with recent changes in the travel policy but here is how it works:

If you read enough on the forums you may hear about the “Mexican death stamp.” This applies to any third party country but was named for Mexico since it is a common departure country for Cuba. This process can make anyone a bit nervous until you realize you have nothing to worry about.

Here is how it works:

When you fly into Mexico you receive an entry stamp in your passport as you would in most countries. You then proceed to Cuba where you get no stamps at all. You then fly back to Mexico and receive another entry stamp. This means you now have two entry stamps into one country(Mexico) with no exit/entries to any other country. If you were to line up the dates of the stamps in your passport it would be clear you were somewhere for a period of time with no record of it. A curious US immigration officer may notice this or question it but most likely will not care at all. Seems like this could be a problem right?

My Experience:

I read on most of the forums when I was doing research that this was a non-issue but just based on the name of the it I was slightly concerned. Some suggested bribing the Mexican officer with a $20 and politely asking for no stamp but I didn’t take that route.

When I first entered Mexico I asked in Spanish for the officer not to stamp my passport at all and failed. My Spanish is ok but the officer could not have cared less and stamped where he pleased.

Old Havana Cars

I then tried again when I entered the second time. This time he responded in English that he has to stamp it by law. Of course I knew this, but so many border officials around the world will look the other way and have for me in the past. I then asked if he could please stamp a different page from the first stamp to separate the two. The officer nodded (what seemed like a yes) but put the stamp right next to the first one (just doing his job I guess).

My passport was 100% full with new pages sewn in. I was hoping a couple stamps mixed in with all the other stamps would be hard to notice. He found one of my brand new pages I just put in and put them side by side.

At U.S. immigration in Atlanta I didn’t mention Cuba or write it on my form at all. The officer looked at the stamps and said welcome back. There you go. Don’t worry about it. It was like any other return home. Where did you go? How long were you there? Thank you, stamp, move on.

What to Remember For Your First Trip

Relax. Thousands of people travel to Cuba every year illegally and have no issues at all. There are reports of people being fined up to $10,000 or more or lesser fines of $2,500. This is rare and I wouldn’t worry about a fine. Also, if you don’t speak Spanish make sure your Casa Particular owner speaks English or you may find life difficult in Cuba. All of the major hotels will speak English but be sure to establish communication in English with your Casa before you leave. This way when you arrive you won’t have any communication problems. My casa owner spoke 100% Spanish but that just made it more fun and allowed me to practice my Spanish.

With the recent changes these fines seem like a thing of the past. I wouldn’t let this stress you out especially if you fall under the categories below.

Important Updates for Americans Traveling to Cuba (Updated Jan. 16, 2015)

In a historic announcement, President Obama announced Cuba and the United States are restoring diplomatic relations (Dec. 2014).

Previously, Americans wanting to travel to Cuba had to justify their travel by qualifying for one of the categories below and apply for a license through OFAC. Many traveled under a general license but this has just become a lot easier.

According to OFAC this is what it used to take to qualify for a license:

To the extent your proposed travel to Cuba is not generally authorized, as noted in the Cuban Assets Control Regulations, 31 C.F.R. Part 515, use this form to apply for licenses to travel to Cuba in the following categories of travel:

  1. Journalistic Activities
  2. Professional Research and Professional Meetings
  3. Religious Activities
  4. Support for the Cuban People
  5. Humanitarian Projects
  6. Activities of Private Foundations or Research or Educational Institutes
  7. Exportation, Importation, or Transmission of Information or Informational Materials
  8. Licensed Exportations
  9. Family Visits
  10. Educational Activities
  11. Public Performances, Clinics, Workshops, Athletic and Other Competitions, and Exhibitions
  12. General license

As of January 16th, 2015

Is It Legal to Travel to Cuba Now?

Now there is NO need to apply for a license through OFAC. Under new regulations (taking effect January 16th, 2015) Americans will no longer need to certify that they fall into one of these categories.

Who is legally authorized to travel to Cuba has not changed at all. The major change is that those people who were required to apply for a license no longer need to. These leaves the door wide open for the “illegal” travelers since no paperwork is required on your return.

This means you could essentially travel to Cuba by saying you fall into one of those categories. “Educational activities” can go a long way. Since you don’t need to apply there is an easier way to travel to Cuba without worrying about problems on reentry to the U.S. but that still doesn’t make it legal.

Remember that it is still not legal to travel there if you do not fall into one of those categories. If you would’ve been denied a license (before there was a need to apply) then you are not authorized to go now, making your trip illegal. However, since there are no more applications or paperwork it is going to be a lot harder to prevent anyone from going. It is essentially an invitation to allow anyone to to travel to Cuba.

Travel is still not normalized but this is another big step to ease travel to Cuba for everyone.

From the New York Times:

While formally the new rules do not allow basic tourism, they are written in such a way that experts said they may have that effect. “This is basically the end of the travel ban once they work out the kinks,” said Julia E. Sweig, a longtime scholar and author on Cuba.

“At first glance the new regulations look to allow most Americans to travel to Cuba without having to ask for permission in advance and by booking air travel directly rather than through authorized groups and agencies,” she said. “Next move will have to be a civil aviation agreement to allow commercial, not just charter, air travel.”

What does this mean for U.S. Travelers to Cuba?

General tourist travel is still prohibited to Cuba. But Americans authorized to visit Cuba no longer need to apply for a license (see categories above).

I read this as the following:

The US government is not requiring any of us to apply for a license so it is essentially a system that they cannot enforce. If you return to Cuba under the “Educational Activities” category who are they to argue. No license is required.

Put it this way if I am flying to Cuba tomorrow I am not worrying about passport stamps or US immigration. I still would fly through Mexico but only because I can’t fly from New York on a regular flight yet.

Almost anyone could fall under one of those categories.

Will My Debit Card or Credit Card Work in Cuba?

Yes. U.S. debit and credit cards will work in Cuba.

Update: As of the first trip report since this announcement credit cards do NOT work yet. This will change but if you are traveling soon be sure to check for updates to this. They will work eventually but clearly this is not an instant change (h/t The Points Guy).

Will Credit Cards Work in Cuba

(h/t The Points Guy)

Previously U.S. credit and debit cards did not work on the island. With the changes today American credit and debit cards will work in Cuba. This is big news for travelers because they no longer need to rely on cash for their trip.

I had to rely on cash during my time in Cuba. This can be dangerous for many reasons and you run out of cash in Cuba (while there illegally) it can be a problem. Even for legal travelers this will make life easier.

Will Airlines from the U.S. Fly to Cuba Now?

Not quite but it’s getting close. Obama announced his goal is to make travel to Cuba easier and make it easier for Cuban families to connect with relatives. However, it seems they will be moving in that direction soon. Flying by way of Mexico is likely to be the easiest way at the moment without the help of a chartered flight from the U.S. Many airlines have already reported that they are working on it and it is in development.

What Can I Bring Home From Cuba

This is one of the biggest changes. Cuban cigars are no longer banned!

Cuban contraband

Now all authorized American travelers to Cuba will now will be able to bring back $400 in Cuban goods to the U.S. This includes tobacco and alcohol products worth less than $100 combined. The ban on cigars is over and great news for cigar aficionados.

What’s Next for Cuba Travel?

While Delta, American, and other major carriers haven’t opened up airfare online just yet this does give us hope that they will soon. It would be nice to travel there freely, just as we do to any destination in the Caribbean. The next few months will be exciting to watch as diplomatic relations hopefully continue to improve.

Go to Cuba before the US invades (with tourists) and have fun! Drink where Hemingway sat, watch a Cuban béisbol game, and smoke cigars on the Malecón! It is a beautiful country and now one of my favorites. It is not to be missed!

  • http://www.insightcuba.com Ryan

    In regards to max expenses between legal vs illegal travel to Cuba. If you take into account the time value and cost of having to travel to a different country before flying to Cuba / the risks of traveling with only cash/ and the ages of the general demographic that’s looking to travel there… would you say that maybe trade off might be a little more favorable to traveling legally?

    • http://triphackr.com Clint Johnston

      Thats a great question. In my experience I used miles to get to Cancun (which is generally an affordable flight anyway) and from there flew over for less than $300 RT. I had no time restrictions in Cuba and was able to stay with a Cuban family which is also very cheap. If you were to take the people to people tour, which is gaining popularity, you have a more fixed schedule and limited time in the country. P2P tours usually start at $1000 and go up from there. Personally, I would choose the “illegal” way since you have more freedom and I think could spend less money over a longer period of time with careful planning. However, it all depends on what you are looking to do there and your comfort level.

  • http://none F. Olmo-Pandiella

    I will love to go to Cuba, my grand parents are (ware) from la Havana, I born in Spain, became (mistake number one) US citizen, would love to go, I know a Cuban family (sure could stay with them) would rather do it legally.
    Question: Is religious reason good for the Department of Treasure?
    Can I get a ‘visa’ or ‘permit’ under that category?
    any suggestion are welcome

    olmo47

    • http://triphackr.com Clint

      There are a lot of great legal options with people-to-people tours. You can google these to find some options. If you want to go without a tour then you will need a license as you mentioned. You can travel there for religious reasons but it is not as simple as just saying that. You will need to apply and it can be difficult for them to accept. Another option is a “general license” but you will still need to prove why you are going for a valid reason. You can apply with OFAC and see if you can get a license the legal way. Go to their site here and it will give you more information on how to apply. Good luck with your trip!

  • http://none F. Olmo-Pandiella

    Thanks Clint

  • Leon

    Great post! I’m considering going to visit Cuba this month and your post really covered all my concerns. Much appreciated! By the way what would you say is a cant miss experience there?

    • http://triphackr.com Clint

      Thanks, Leon. The highlight of my trip was staying in a casa particular instead of a hotel. I stayed with a wonderful family and they recommended all of their favorite spots in the city. I mentioned some favorites on the Huffington post recently if you want to take a look at it there. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/clint-johnston/breaking-into-cuba_b_2442537.html

  • Judy Lagoa

    Hello! I just stumbled across your post while researching and wanted to ask you a question… I am not from the US but from Germany and I have to write a paper on the US/Cuba travel restrictions. Weren’t the travel restrictions put in place because of political reasons such as not wanting to support the Cuban regime? Is it not unethical to travel there illegally just to please oneself’s desire for travel, not particularly caring for the Cuban people’s situation in the long run or at all? I am not asking this to offend you but often the information to be found online is very… one-sided and I was hoping you had a different point of view on this and could offer me a new insight! I would really appreciate it if you took the time to reply!

    • http://triphackr.com Clint

      Hi Judy, great question. Well this ban been in place since Fidel came to power in 1960. And yet 400,000 Americans traveled there last year alone. The US is second behind Canada in visitors to Cuba. Travel has always been permitted to Americans who applied as journalists, academics, those with family members on the island and government officials. And now the people-to-people tours allow all americans to travel there with these programs. Traveling there illegally is no different than traveling there on one of these tours except that you have more freedom and lower costs. You may even help more locals by staying in homestays and not the mega-resorts Canadians and Europeans fly to every year.

      In my opinion is not selfish to travel to a country like Cuba out of curiosity for travel and simply due to an embargo most Americans want lifted. You could make a case for countries all over the world that we could not travel to. Should we also avoid China based on their human rights record, Saudi Arabia on their views towards women? There are problems are found all all over the world. Maybe the best way to make a change is to bring more attention to the problem by exposing ourselves to it.

      Hopefully that helps and feel free to ask me anything else. Thanks

    • L Cavendish

      Curious if the figures count multiple trips by one person as one American or the number of trips. Also…wonder if US residents (Green Card Holders) are considered as Americans when they arrive there.Say a Cuban with a green card? Just curious.
      When a legal charter flight from US arrives…are all people on board counted as Americans since they arrived from America? Not as crazy as it sounds.If so…150 people/flight…73 flights per day…365 days…not impossible.
      Saudi does not have tourist visas, BTW.

    • http://triphackr.com/ Clint Johnston

      That’s a great question. I pulled that from an article on the topic and I will try to locate it or find another one. It does seem very high now that you point that out. My best guess it that figure was meant to represent the number of the past x-amount of years.

    • http://triphackr.com/ Clint Johnston

      Here is another article with some stats:

      “Just over 98,000 U.S. citizens visited Cuba in 2012″

      “The numbers do not include more than 350,000
      Cuban Americans estimated by travel agents and U.S. diplomats to have visited the island last year. Because Cuba considers them nationals, they are not listed in its tourism statistics.”

      I guess it depends how you categorize the US tourists?

      http://www.reuters.com/article/2013/10/18/us-cuba-usa-tourism-idUSBRE99H0J320131018

  • Kelly

    Thanks for this helpful article. What would you have said to Immigration if they asked you why you had 2 Mexican departure stamps?

    • Kelly

      I’m sorry – I meant to say two Mexican ARRIVAL stamps. Not departure.

    • http://triphackr.com Clint

      I would probably have been honest with them. I have read of people who were completely honest and told them they went and had no issues. However, you could be stopped for questioning or even face fines. That said, thousands of Americans travel to Cuba like this every year so the risk is low.

  • Jhorner

    I read this and all is good, however, there is one more thing. I was born in Cuba. I am an American citizen. My passport has Cuba as my place of birth. Is there any danger of Cuba not letting me out? Or any other things I should worry abnout?

    • http://triphackr.com Clint

      You can legally go to Cuba to visit family. You would qualify for a license and wouldn’t need to travel there illegally. It states, “a person with family in Cuba can visit their family for an unrestricted period of time” and you can read more about that here. Hopefully that helps and good luck.

  • jhorner

    Clint,
    No family, I was born from Americans working overseas.

    • http://triphackr.com Clint

      Ok, misunderstood sorry. That is a bit more complicated I suppose. I would have to look into this more but since you were born to Americans overseas I don’t think you would have issues. However, it only takes one confused immigration officer to pull you aside in Cuba. I would inquire with a people-to-people tour. Even if you do not intend to use their legal services simply explain your situation and they should be able to help.

  • Ken

    Thanks for the great article, Clint.

    I’m a U.S. citizen now living in Korea. Recently been planning to fly from Seoul to LA to Mexico City to Havana (that’s the fastest way!). I’ve had the same concerns as you all along, whether to travel there with or without a license, and searched all possible options. But quite honestly, the way to get the license is way too complicated, and takes too much time to take risk for.

    A couple of questions on going to Cuba from Mexico City (although I read you went through Cancun, I was wondering if you could shed some light).
    1. Do they have U.S. customs preclearance at MEX airport? Based on my research, most likely there ISN’T one.
    2. Can you buy your travel visa directly from MEX airport?

    Thanks for lifting worries of so many of us.

    Regards,
    Ken

    • http://triphackr.com Clint

      Thanks, Ken.

      I agree, acquiring a license is difficult and most of us would not qualify for them anyway meaning we would have to pay for the overpriced people-to-people tour (only other legal option) to get in unless of course you plan to go in from Mexico City as planned.

      I don’t think Mexico City has preclearance based on my research either.

      However, you should be able to buy the visa on arrival to MEX. That shouldn’t be a problem. Just ask your airline at check-in and they can help you out.

      But sounds like a great trip and is is definitely worth it. Let me know if you have any other questions.

  • Arya

    Thanks for all your insightful information. It has been great help planning out a trip to go this summer. I have become comfortable with the situations explained by you and other blogs ive read across the internet. My only issue is I’m not sure how to go about going to Cancun and immediately leaving to Cuba. I will most likely go on one of the daily Cubana flights that leave at around 1:10 PM each day and will surely buy my ticket in advance through one of the sites you mentioned. I would fly straight to Cancun (arriving on a flight somewhere between 10am to 12pm. My question for you is would this be enough time to transfer flights within Cancuns international airport?? I want to spend a few days in Cancun on my way back, but want to immediately go to Cuba on arrival. Would it be a better idea to spend at least a day in Cancun in case of a possible flight delay?? I have read on some places the Cubana flight to Havana is almost always delayed, so if I get in on a flight that arrives in Cancun at 10am i should have ample time to catch my flight, buy a visa from the airline, etc. Another question, would it be smart to only bring a carry on for quick transport from flight to flight?? sorry i am asking so much, any info and knowledge is appreciated!!

    • http://triphackr.com Clint

      There is always a chance your first flight is delayed and I would recommend at least two hours between flights. You will have to go through customs in Mexico and probably switch terminals so the more time the better. If you arrived at 10am you shouldn’t have any issues catching a 1:10PM flight that same day. Even at 11AM you should be ok but any delays on the first flight could really cut it close. Three hours is probably best between flights if you want to be safe. I think you should be fine with a same day departure to Cuba when you arrive in Cancun. Just be sure to try to get in as early as possible.

      I only brought carry-ons into Mexico which will save a bit of time but not too much. The longest wait is going through immigration and getting to the front of the line. That line has taken me 45 mins in many cases but as little as 15 mins other times. Once you pick up your luggage to go through customs it is pretty fast. However, the Cancun airport has the red light/green light button that you press when you leave. The rare red light simply means they search all of your luggage and it will add another 5-10 mins to your transfer time. Depending what terminal you arrive in it may take about 15 mins to get to the other terminal. I always recommend carrying on your luggage, however Cubana forced me to check a very small carry on and only allowed my backpack on the flight.

      Good luck and feel free to ask any other questions!

    • delia

      I will never forget the time that I missed xmas day with my family in NJ because I was coming back on xmas eve from Cuba. My flight from Havana to Cancun was originating in Santiago and wound up being 8h delayed. I missed my connection in Mexico and wound up not being able to get back until 24h later. :-( Now I make sure to ALWAYS book an extra night in Cancun on my way back home. Cubana flights are notoriously late, so at least make sure you have a huge buffer.

  • Ken

    Hey there Clint.

    Thanks for the reply and additional insight.

    I seem to need your opinion once again:
    What do you think about flying to Havana from somewhere that DOES have US preclearance? Like Nassau (Bahamas) for example. Would they grill you with questions? How would you answer them? Would you avoid going via such place at all?

    Thanks always, and hope you have some meaningful trips this year as well.

    Ken

    • http://triphackr.com Clint

      Hey Ken,

      Third party countries really don’t have an interest in where you travel as an American. However, it is always best to eliminate additional encounters with officials. I do not think you would be grilled with questions but I am only speculating. In the research I have done the only immigration officer you should worry about at all is the first one you meet in the US and even then they don’t ask many questions. The questions are always basic no matter where you are returning from and you shouldn’t expect it to be a much different experience returning from Cuba. Hope the helps.

  • Ellen

    Hi Clint,

    Thanks for the great info. I am planning to go to Cuba with a friend for her birthday from May 20 – May 25 (next month). We have reservations to Cancun as well as a place to stay in Havana. I planned my flight around getting to and from Cancun based on the timing of the Cubana flights, leaving a lot of time inbetween. I am still trying to reserve the flight from Cancun to Havana on Cubana Airlines and on their info page, you have to put your passport number. I’m nervous about doing this so I haven’t reserved yet. Do you think it’s a problem to write down our passport numbers? Also, I was just gonna do it on line on their website. Do you know if it will be ok to do it that way and pay with a U.S. credit card? I contacted a travel agency and it’s more expensive (of course) to go through them. Thanks a lot. Any info would be appreciated since I want to get the Mexico – Havana flight secured.

    • http://triphackr.com Clint

      Hi Ellen,

      I booked my flight directly through Cubana Air on their site as well. I used all of my real info when booking the flight without any issues. I also used a US credit card without any problems. You could work around the US credit card problem by using a prepaid card under another name (a friend or family perhaps) but I don’t think it is necessary.

      I would recommend simply booking with your info and card. If that makes you feel uncomfortable simply use a friends card, who is not traveling, and book with their card. You could always order a prepaid card card and use that but I wouldn’t stress about it too much.

      Feel free to email me with any follow up questions and have a great trip!

  • Coleen

    Great information! I was wondering if you have to worry about any repercussions about traveling to Cuba after you’ve returned to the US without incident. What I mean is that you’re posting an article stating that you, an American citizen, traveled recently to Cuba and have posted pictures proving it. Is it possible to be charged/fined after the fact based on a blog post/ pictures on the internet?

    I’m contemplating going to Cuba in August and while I can leave pictures off the internet, I do like to share travel photos with friends.

    • http://triphackr.com Clint

      Hi Coleen, I haven’t had any issues with my travel to Cuba. Americans can legally travel to Cuba if they choose to pay for a people-to-people tour. If you were to travel there illegally and then post photos from your trip when you return it would probably be difficult to determine how you traveled there simply by the photos. If you are just sharing them online with family and friends I wouldn’t worry too much about it.

      It is definitely worth the effort and if you don’t feel comfortable going illegally there are legal options you can explore.

  • Alison

    Hi Clint!

    Just stumbled across your site. Thanks for sharing your experiences – I’ll be following you.

    For other readers interested in Cuba travel, I’ve been there several times, including 8 weeks last summer w/ my then 5 and 8 year olds! I usually book the Mexico-Cuba portion of my travel through rumbo.es or edreams.es with no trouble and pay w/my credit card. i have found the prices to be reasonable, not that much more than I pay if I purchase my ticket cash at the nearest mexican border airport. I do have to scan and send them some documents however since I don’t have a European credit card. I fly through Mexico City which is easier for me than Cancun. I have also found AeroMexico to be cheaper than Cubana. There is a new Mexican company, Interjet, that also flies to Havana. AM still works better for my situation however. I spend the night in Mexico City since I don’t have much of a layover to get the visas, and if the flight is late, I’m screwed anyway! I try to simplify a bit w/the kids.

    I have never had any trouble with my return to the US, but I admit to having a certain level of anxiety, which I might have travelling with kids anyway! I now fly back to a Mexican border city and cross the border to the US since I live very close to Mexico and it’s actually cheaper than the other options. .

    I love Cuba, as do my kids! The logistics of getting there can be stressful, but definitely worth it. It is not always easy, but we have had incredibly moving experiences. Taking off end of June for a four week stay! We can’t wait!

    • http://triphackr.com Clint

      Hey Alison, Thanks for sharing your positive experience. It sounds like you have this method down and are doing it with kids too! AeroMexico was cheaper I agree with you but last year they cancelled many of their routes to Havana from Cancun. My flight was actually cancelled and I was put on a Cubana. Flight was still reasonably priced in my opinion compared to tour operators.

      A agree that logistics can be stressful but its people like you who put others at ease. Thanks for sharing and hopefully we can encourage more people to go to Cuba. It is a beautiful country!

    • Alison

      I’ll see if I can drop you a line from Havana! They just started faster & cheaper (4.5 CUC) internet access. Looking forward to your newsletter and seeing how I can adapt your strategies for travel w/kids. At least we all accumulate frequent flyer miles! (on AM kids accumulate MORE than adults!)

      By the way, your pictures are beautiful. Thank you!

  • jordan

    Hello,

    Just wondering if there could be any issues getting the visa in Mexico City or in Cancun with an American Passport? Would there be any chance of them denying me?

    Thanks!

    • triphackr

      Hey Jordan, there are no issues getting a visa in Mexico with an American passport. It is not a concern of theirs and they won’t deny you one so don’t worry. They actually were pretty helpful in directing me to the right counter to purchase it.

    • jordan

      Thank you!!

  • Jonathan Cummings

    Clint: Thanks for the post, it’s really helpful. Quick question: how did you PAY for your flight. I’m assuming my US based credit card would not be accepted by a Cuban airline. Or.. is there a way to pay for my flight without the electronic trail? I know it probably doesn’t matter, but why risk it if you have a better idea?

    Thanks!

    Jonathan

    • triphackr

      Hey, Johnathan. I had the same thoughts as you and did not want to leave a trail. However, I used a US credit card to book the flight without issues and there was nothing to worry about. Originally my flight was on Aeromexico until they cancelled my flight and put my on Cubanan where I had to rebook. Again, there were no issues using my card. Cubana actually has many offices and perhaps you could contact the Canadian office and work out the details if it is a concern (http://www.cubana.cu/guide/?article=of_america) but I would not worry too much about it. I worried about a lot of things that ended up not making a difference in the end but let me know if you have any other questions.

    • Greg

      The flight to Grand Cayman on Cayman was the cheapest route for me from Miami and they book from Grand Cayman to Havana right on their site.

    • Kokopelli203

      Hi Greg, I’m considering going through Grand Cayman. Did the passport stamp cause you any problems? Did you write that you visited Cuba on your forms? Thanks!

    • GJ

      Hi there. The stamp hasn’t caused problems. I also just came back into LAX without problems. The form says “countries visited” not “all countries visited.” Best to use your judgement. Through Miami it’s a machine, not an immigration officer.

    • GJ

      *from China.

    • Kokopelli203

      great thank you!

    • Alex

      Hi. I’m looking into booking a trip to Havana while in the Bahamas, and I’m trying to find the safest route. Has anyone been to Cuba recently (in the last few months)? I read online they’re now stamping US passports as policy. Wondering if anyone has run into this? Also, anyone know if Caymans stamp passports upon re-entry? Thanks!

    • http://triphackr.com/ Clint Johnston

      Alex, as I mentioned I think they will be stamping all US passports. Mexico does stamp as I am sure you read which could but doesn’t usually lead to any issues. I don’t know the Caymans stamping policy but I have read the Bahamas will not lead to a double entry stamp.

    • Ryan

      What if someone is an U.S. citizen but also has a foreign passport? Would it be wise when leaving Mexico for Cuba use the foreign passport rather than U.S.? I am assuming you need visa for Mexico when entering back to Mexico from Cuba on your foreign passport.

  • Lucy Schaich

    My tour guide – from Australia – when asked if I could book my own flight from Cancun to Havana (saving $100 in booking fees through their company) said this: “You cannot purchase flights to Cuba directly through the airline as this contravenes the OFAC restrictions on supporting a blocked country – namely Cuba. Cubana airline is Cuban State run and owed airline so you will be billed to them which will immediately alert the US OFAC of this, and you will then be fined.”

    This seems different than your experience. I would rather book them on my own, but of course avoid the fine. Can you request that Cubana Air not list their company on your credit card bill? How did it appear on your statement?

    • triphackr

      Hi Lucy, your guide is correct in terms of OFAC restrictions, however, you don’t need to apply through OFAC to travel to Cuba. That application would get you a legal license to travel there if accepted.

      I booked my flight my flight through CubaJet.com and booked a flight through Cubana de Aviacion directly through the site. I have not heard of anyone getting fined through purchasing a flight. People are rarely stopped when traveling to Cuba and thousands of Americans do it annually.

      This alert seems very unlikely to me but I can’t confirm it. However, I booked my flight through that site with a Cuban airline and have yet to be fined. You may be able to contact them to see what shows up on a credit card or perhaps use a pre-loaded card to make the payment under another name.

      Also, you could try to fly a different airline. It looks like AeroMexico is flying from Mexico City and Cancun again and there should not be a problem booking a flight on a Mexican airline. Let me know if you have any other questions.

  • Mike Loekle

    What a helpful article, seriously one of the most comprehensive posts/blogs/articles I’ve seen thus far.

    I was curious, do have any other resources that you could recommend regarding planning off-the-books travel to Cuba. Your article was awesome, but I figure more resources the better.

    Thanks!

    Mike

    • triphackr

      Thanks, Mike. One of my favorite sites I used researching this trip was Cuba-Junky: http://www.cuba-junky.com/

      Other than that I just read a lot of travel forums.

      Feel free to email me with any questions.

    • delia

      Lonely planet’s Thorntree forum on Cuba is a fantastic resource for tons of information (though there are a lot of jerks who will make you feel bad for asking questions if they’ve already been asked before. Make sure to use the search function to at least try to find the answer before asking (and then let them know that you’ve done so if you don’t want to be flamed). I can’t think of any question that hasn’t been asked there!

  • L Cavendish

    Bahamas is also a good place to go from…if you really have to…
    Just don’t bring back:rum,cigars,animals,foods,drugs(legal or illegal)

    • http://triphackr.com/ Clint Johnston

      I agree. Anywhere in the Caribbean is a good place to fly from. Just depends on airfare and travel schedule. I know a lot of people use Panama City as well. I would agree it is not wise to bring anything back.

  • L Cavendish

    Yellow is a terrible color for this background…hard to see link titles, etc.

    • http://triphackr.com/ Clint Johnston

      Not sure what you’re seeing but links are blue and titles are black. Probably because you are using an outdated browser such as IE.

  • http://www.tripmark.com/travel-guide Travel Guides

    What a great story! Thanks so much for sharing this! Would love to hear more from you.

    • http://triphackr.com/ Clint Johnston

      Thanks for checking it out!

  • http://missyracho.com Missy Racho

    Clint! Amazing post, thank you! A friend and I are planning a trip in May. Purchasing a ticket from Cancun to Havana online, and thus using my card (even with a non U.S. airline, and particularly with a Cuban airline), makes me nervous. What do you think about paying cash for one once we arrive in Cancun? thanks :-)

    • http://triphackr.com/ Clint Johnston

      Hey Missy, that crossed my mind as well and I couldn’t find a lot of information about it. I went ahead and booked the flight with my card online. You may be able to purchase a ticket in cash in Cancun but you also run the risk of the flight being sold out on arrival. My flight from Cancun to Havana was very full. Knowing thousands of people make the flight every year as well doing the same method gave me the confidence to purchase the flight. You could, however, pickup a temporary VISA to make the purchase or just use a friends card who is not making the trip. Based on my research you shouldn’t have anything to worry about using your card to buy the flight online but I had the same questions as you before making the trip. Let me know if you have any other questions and have a great trip!

    • http://missyracho.com Missy Racho

      I purchased the tickets! yay :-) I purchased international travel insurance (health insurance) for the dates of the entire trip through Frontier (the airline I’m taking to and from Cancun). Will this suffice for the “mandatory” insurance!? thanks

    • http://triphackr.com/ Clint Johnston

      Nice work! They do claim to require insurance and may ask for proof but I chose not to buy it. It was a risk but next time I go I will purchase insurance to be safe. That should work for their insurance requirements. They may not ask for it but I think it was a wise decision to buy it.

    • http://missyracho.com Missy Racho

      Perfecto, gracias!

    • delia

      Aloha, Missy. I’m not sure, but I think what they want you to buy is THEIR health insurance, but from my experience, it seems that if you push it and insist that yours will cover you, they have to accept it in the end. You might want to check with Frontier’s insurance company that they actually WOULD cover you in Cuba.

  • http://missyracho.com Missy Racho

    Perfect, thank you Clint! Two more things…. first, will it be fine to purchase the tickets in advance but the tourist visa once we’re at the Cancun airport!? And second… wanna come with!? We’ll need a good tour guide :-)

    • http://triphackr.com/ Clint Johnston

      No problem. Yes, you can purchase the flight in advance. I picked up my visa on arrival at the Cancun airport. It was a very simply process and you can simply ask where the visa on arrival desk is when you are checking in for your flight to Cuba.

      And I would love to tag along! However, I am not sure I can swing it until later in the year. I am considering a November trip since the first half of 2014 is filling up fast. I am sure you will have an amazing time!

    • http://missyracho.com Missy Racho

      Great, thank you – I really appreciate the blog and your help! Cheers!

  • MiamiNice57

    Too Bad I’m Cuban… it is costing me $230 (2/08/2014) just for the Cuban Visa. No air fare or Hotel. To make matters worse the Cuban interest office in Washington closed down on 2/14/2014 because of the B&T bank issue although the bank said it would honor transactions through 3/2014. Guess I’m screwed!

    • http://triphackr.com/ Clint Johnston

      Wow. That is expensive for a visa. I know they aren’t cheap but have you considered the legal people-to-people tour option?

    • MiamiNice57

      Thank you for responding, not sure what “people to people tour” is about (but I will find out). My situation is that I was born in Cuba and we expats are considered worms “gusanos” my mother and I left in 61. My father whom died in 1976 left in 1959. We have huge restrictions from the Cuban government. Trust me if it weren’t necessary I would use any means possible to see my uncle before he passes on. He’s been in and out of the “hospital” since December of 2013, so far he’s spent the entire month of February in the hospital. We Cuban born and US born of Cuban parents are considered Cubans and stripped of our US Citizenship as soon as we reach Cuban jurisdiction (Air, Land or Sea). We had a really though time leaving the island because of the regime, now that we want to return to see my uncle we are experiencing the same difficulties.

    • http://triphackr.com/ Clint Johnston

      Wow this is something I know very little about thanks for sharing. I completely can understand why you would want to return but it seems very difficult with the way things are now. I hope you have the chance to see your Uncle again and perhaps there is a legal way for you to return with a particular application or license. I don’t know much about this situation but I will see if I can find any forums dedicated to the subject and send them to you. Good luck and hope all is well with your Uncle.

  • Otaibi

    If I fly from US to Cancun spend few days and then to Havana for couple of days and then to Nassau for also a couple of days before returning to US from Nassau would be a problem? I am trying to avoid the double stamps and this sound a bliss is disguised to visit 3 countries.

  • Stan

    Hey Clint i have a question recently i found out that the Cuban interest office in Washington closed down on 2/14/2014 so im still deciding whether what to do since my father ( born in cuba,is now an american citizen, his required visa is PE-11 which unfortunately isn’t available) im thinking of going through Canada and wanted to know what you would reccomend to do since I’m from New York .

  • stan

    Hey Clint i have a question recently i found out that the Cuban interest office in Washington closed down on 2/14/2014 so im still deciding whether what to do since my father ( born in cuba,is now an american citizen, his required visa is PE-11 which unfortunately isn’t available) im thinking of going through Canada and wanted to know what you would reccomend to do since I’m from New York .

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    BucketlistBackpacker.com

  • BucketlistBackpacker

    Thanks for the great post Clint! I have read that if you want to visit Cuba that you need to have health insurance and that US health insurance will not work. Did you have a problem with that or did you need to buy Cuba government health insurance? Thanks!

    • http://triphackr.com/ Clint Johnston

      Thanks and great question. I read the same thing before I went but decided to ignore it. They did not ask for proof or insurance or proof of a hotel (another forum post I read) so perhaps I got lucky but I don’t think it is a top priority at immigration. Companies like World Nomads won’t cover you either so I decided to just go with none and it worked out just fine.

  • delia

    Aloha, Clint! You seem really nice and so I’m wondering if you or any of your readers might be able to help me with this one. I have been taking small groups of friends to Cuba for years for the most awesome life-changing dance workshops with my friends down there who are all professional dancers. The groups have always been under 10 people and really, it’s just about a group of friends traveling together and I happen to be the one who knows la Habana and the language (I even speak “Cuban” by now ;-)) In a couple of months I am planning another group, and by chance it turns out that a lot of friends of friends want to go (ie. people I don’t know so well). I’m a little nervous about liability, but I can’t imagine any American company insuring a “tour guide” who is taking people to Cuba illegally. What are your thoughts on this? If anything WERE to happen to anyone down there, would THEY even have a recourse to sue me since they have traveled there illegally?

  • Amandae Baey

    Hi, is it true i can buy tickets to Havana at the Cancun airport itself? My friend and i are flying via Cancun…CubJet is quoting ridiculous prices and routes like Cancun-Panama- Havana.Is there a reliable tour operator i can speak with?

    • http://triphackr.com/ Clint Johnston

      It is possible to buy tickets at the airport but you run the risk of them being sold out or very expensive. I would only recommend trying that if you’re in the Cancun area for a while and in no rush to depart. Try flying through other cities and check Cuba-Junky for other resources.

  • http://leaveyourdailyhell.com Robert Schrader

    Thanks for this article, Clint! A friend and I are planning a trip to Cuba in March, and while I knew a lot of this information in generalities, it is nice to have it laid out so plainly.

    • http://triphackr.com/ Clint Johnston

      I’m jealous you’re going so soon! I’m hoping to go back this year as well but not sure when just yet. Have a great trip and can’t wait to see the photos!

  • Kat

    Thanks for helpful tips Clint. One question: I am already booked going through Cancun to Havana. I can probably kind of fake a general license (I am a university professor specializing in global politics) even though I am going to Cuba for pleasure mostly and will hit the beaches after Havana. But how likely is it that any US official will ever check my itinerary (I’ll visit some museums etc but no academic conferences or tours)–especially given the recent Obama thaw? SHould I just go illegally, or go under a shaky general license?

    • http://triphackr.com/ Clint Johnston

      Hi Kat,

      It is very unlikely your itinerary will be questioned on your return from Cuba though Mexico. Thousands of people travel there illegally year after year with no issues. However, if you can acquire a general license it would offer some peace of mind and your travel would might be less stressful. I have never applied through OFAC so I can’t say how long it will take or the odds of being issued a license. You shouldn’t have any issues just going through Mexico (or other country) and the license might be more work that than it’s worth. It’s completely up to you but the illegal method is pretty simple.

    • Kat

      For a “general license” to go legally, you don’t have to apply for anything from OFAC. You just have to have a letter from your institution and document your itinerary according to your stated purpose (education, research etc) and keep the records. This is all relatively easy to do, but how I will explain trips to beaches etc that clearly aren’t part of an educational junket …. if I am audited at some point? It’s unlikely a general license would ever be scrutinized, but going illegally sounds like it’s even safer since there will be no trail whatsoever to question.

    • http://triphackr.com/ Clint Johnston

      Ok yes for the “general license” it is the sort of do-it-yourself license. I was thinking you wanted to apply. I believe you would be eligible but you truly have to prove and verify your intentions. It’s possible they audit your trip and ask for details. OFAC has info on this as well with the complete guidelines. I think it would be hard to explain the beach or other stops along the way. If you went legally you would need to list Cuba as a visited country and would most likely lead to showing paperwork and a lot of questions.

      At least going illegally it’s clear what your intentions are and you don’t have to stretch the use of a general license.

    • Kat

      Clint can you delete my comment above just to be on the safe side? While I see that my other comments can be edited and deleted, this one gives me no option to delete. Thanks!

    • http://triphackr.com/ Clint Johnston

      No problem. Strange you weren’t able to edit/delete.

  • http://www.joaoleitao.com/ João Leitão

    Cuba is indeed a great destination. hug from Morocco!

  • Jack

    Clint, when is the last time you went to Cuba? According to every a source I can find, Cuba started stamping all US passports on arrival and departure in May. Your post is absolutely correct for travel before late May 2014. But now they stamp the visa paper and the passport for all US Citizens. Apparently this has not caused much of a problem for people returning to the US. Customs seems to overlook it. People actually list Cuba as a country visited despite the fact that the do not have a license to do, because the stamps are obvious. But nothing happens to them. Still I would be very stressed out.

    • http://triphackr.com/ Clint Johnston

      I’ve read similar things, jack but haven’t been this year to confirm this. From what I’ve seen those who are stamped aren’t having any issues but I haven’t confirmed if the stamp can still be issued on a separate document as it was before. I’ll make an update to this post once I can confirm from the most current situation. Thanks for your update.

    • Alex

      I would love to know as well! Just saw your post with the same question. I’m thinking of going next month, but read the same that things have changed recently with stamping passports. Do you think US customs overlook it now because of the recent announcement?

    • http://triphackr.com/ Clint Johnston

      Hey Alex, I wish I knew for sure but I don’t. It looks like they are definitely stamping all passports now but it’s hard to say how the U.S. will look at it on your return. I wouldn’t recommending lying to an immigration officer but you might be able to pass through as normal without them noticing. We will have to wait for more people to send back trip reports on the forums. I’ll update as I hear more and I have some friends traveling over the next few months I plan to ask as well.

    • Jack

      Hey Clint, great job updating this since the changes and 19 days ago when I asked!! I would say absolutely do not lie about it. Write it down. My question, how do I just declare that I am going there for one of the reasons above? It always used to be that a person had to be well established as an Academic or Artist. I’m going to try to figure a way.

    • http://triphackr.com/ Clint Johnston

      Hey Jack, there have been a lot of changes lately trying to keep up! I agree do not lie about it. That would only make things worse when traveling under one of the authorized categories. I agree you couldn’t start a blog and say you’re a journalist but that is what some travel bloggers already did. I know one there right now traveling under “journalism” and I’m guessing he will return next week no problem (he has been posting very publicly while there and is a big blogger). I know plenty of artists who applied for licenses in the past and were always accepted. Now they would not need to apply which means you could do the same for either category. That would be my approach. If there is no paperwork involved its going to be hard for them to prove otherwise. If you are going for a reason you see fit I don’t see a problem being honest and making the trip at this point.

  • Kat

    Clint: what currency did you use to pay for your Cuban visa at Cancun airport? Also can you get CUCs at the Cancun airport exchanged for Euros or USD? Or do I have to wait until I get to Havana airport, or to the city proper? I need cash for a taxi to my hotel, so I want to get some CUCS as soon as I can. Thanks.

    • http://triphackr.com/ Clint Johnston

      I paid with USD in Cancun. If anything has changed you can always use the ATM to get Mexican pesos for the visa. I could not get CUCs in Cancun and they wouldn’t take my extras on the way home either (I had about $25 worth leftover). I waited until I was downtown Havana to exchange USD for CUC. I asked my casa owner to cover the taxi and paid them later. I bet your hotel might offer the same to make it a little easier.

    • Kat

      Thanks. My hotel (Palacio O’Farrell) does not offer airport transport, and I just can’t figure out (after several days of perusing various websites on money exchange) how you pay for a taxi at the airport BEFORE you hit a bank to exchange money. Will the taxi take USD or Euros? I’m thinking of bringing Euros to get a slightly better exchange rate at a bank. Thanks!

    • http://triphackr.com/ Clint Johnston

      Yes, there is a CADECA (official exchange house) at the airport. So you can obtain CUC immediately upon arrival in Cuba. I didn’t attempt to pay with USD at all while in Cuba. I know it is widely accepted worldwide but the exchange rate is so bad I am not sure a taxi driver would want it. Like you said Euros offer a better deal.

  • yz

    Arrived Dec. 8 2014 into Marti Airport and no passport stamp. As expected, they stamped my tourist card (and asked whether I had been to Africa in the last 30 days). Maybe the stamp/no stamp policy varies. The embargo on rum and cigars is absolutely still in effect, though. Don’t smuggle. It’s not worth it. All information in this article is accurate based on my travels last month.

    • http://triphackr.com/ Clint Johnston

      Thanks for this info. I have read about a lot more people being stamped but good to know this is not always the case. Hopefully we will receive additional trip reports as people travel there in 2015.

    • RickGregory

      Been to Cuba a couple of times. I don’t think it’s an issue w/ the new rules but regardless, they never stamped my passport. (Even if they did, immigration in US never looked anyway).

    • John

      What is this tourist card? Heading to Cuba in a month. Wasn’t expecting them to stamp passports though…

    • http://triphackr.com/ Clint Johnston

      The tourist card is just what they typically stamp on your way in. Its the same as the visa you would pick up at the airport before you leave. Hopefully they stamp that and not your passport!

  • Janine

    Hi All! I am American citizen (travelling solo) presently in Mexico City looking up info on how to visit Cuba within the next week or so. I do not have a specific itinerary as I am presently doing the “Eat, Pray, Love” or “fly by the seat of my pants” thing- I guess that’s what some newly-single, 40-something women sometimes do. Sadly, I do not speak Spanish which may present some challenges once I arrive in Cuba. As I understand it, I would do the following…1) book my airfare to Havana (MEX to HAV) with US credit card OK. 2) Book hotel via internet beforehand (is this ok?) Would like hotel recommendations (moderate to upscale) if anyone has any. 3) Obtain travel card from MEX airport before departing for HAV (add additional :30 mins before flight to do this). 4) Upon arrival at HAV, stop at CADECA to exchange USD to CUC. 5) Taxi to hotel… In addition to the aforementioned, I have several other questions: when leaving MEX for HAV, do I surrender my immigration card (the one I received when entering Mexico from US)? I am thinking of flying to Panama from Cuba (bypassing Mexico altogether); will this present any passport problems for me? or do you recommend I fly back to MEX ? Lastly, does anyone have any recommendations on where to meet people (English speaking) that are also touring Cuba? Lastly, Clint, thank you and the others for your post. -Janine

  • Michelle Bennett

    Awesome post! Thanks for all the great info. I Really want to go in March before we Americans go and destroy it.

    • http://triphackr.com/ Clint Johnston

      Haha, you should go for sure! Hopefully we don’t ruin anything once it’s open to us all :)

  • John

    I booked a flight to Cuba for this winter prior to Obama’s announcement. I was told they weren’t stamping passports, but reading this is worrying me… I’ll be driving into Canada and flying direct to Cuba. A close family friend is studying in Cuba. I’m planning on visiting her, but that’s the only plan at this point. Any thoughts? Do I apply for a license? Do I just fly down and hope for the best?

    • http://triphackr.com/ Clint Johnston

      Hi John,

      This change apparently took place around April of 2014, long before Obama’s announcement. As reported by some recent travelers they were not stamped while others were. I can’t say what you should expect in terms of stamps at Havana. I know plenty of people are still going down without a license and not worrying about it. Hopefully we will have more info soon.

  • Carrieann1

    Hi Clint — just wondering if you would know how a Cuban citizen can get a ticket to the US or Canada in Cuba? I tried to find flights from Cuba to the US, but they aren’t available — only US to Cuba. Also, do you know if Canada has the same policy for Cubans that the US does — (once they get here — they have special protections and can stay)?

    • http://triphackr.com/ Clint Johnston

      I don’t much about traveling from Cuba to the U.S. as a Cuban citizen. I do know in 2013 it became easier for Cuban citizens to travel to the US: ‘The Cuban government eliminated the much-detested “white card” needed to
      leave. And the U.S. government has begun issuing multiple-entry visas
      good for five years.’

      I am sure you know best if it is truly easier to travel here but I don’t know how you would book a direct flight. I would follow the same path as US citizens traveling to Cuba and travel through Mexico. Of course, first apply for the proper legal paperwork in Cuba and just travel that way.

      And I can’t say for protections Canada offers but best of luck in your research and please let me know what you discover.

  • Joel

    1/15/15 Update for you and also from my experience a COMPLETELY different one. I have traveled to Cuba since 2005. 1 time thru Cancun and 2x thru caribbean alternate countries……I have no stamps in my passport from Cuban Immigration, never have asked “not” to stamp my passport. They stamp the visa card, the same one you give the Casa Particular for proof of legal entry. I would strongly suggest you amend your advice and comment about “expect to have a stamp from now on……” and the other info you provided, because its simply incorrect. Additionally, one of your last paragraphs talks about “will airline fly from US direct to Cuba” the answer is YES…not no. Call Bahamasair as just one example. Looks like you spent a lot of time on this site, but its frustrating reading this as a seasoned traveler with so much erroneous info.

    • http://triphackr.com/ Clint Johnston

      Hey Joel,

      I do not have a stamp from Cuba and that is true for likely anyone who traveled there pre-2014. Many forums have trip reports from travelers reporting stamps in 2014 and many “how to travel to Cuba” articles have reported the same. Asking not to stamp is for the gateway country (such as Mexico) so you won’t end up with two entry stamps from Mexico and no stamp in the middle. That can complicate things with immigration if inspected in detail. Many people reported stamps in their passports in 2014 and not just on the tourist card. So yes, it might be useful to ask moving forward but of little concern with recent policy changes.

      “While in the past Cuba did not stamp US passports, allowing US travelers to visit Cuba without detection from their government, Cuba recently started stamping US passports as a matter of policy.”

      As of now US airlines do NOT fly to Cuba in the manner we are used to booking flights (Kayak, Orbitz, etc). There are have been chartered flights for years but that is not what I am describing or regular travelers are looking for. US airlines are reporting their plans to fly there with recent changes.

      Many travelers have different experiences traveling to Cuba and this is a report of their experiences and mine not just yours. Do some people have stamps? Yes. Did they used to stamp? No. BahamasAir offers Havana as a destination but flight results from US destinations show “Chosen flight route does not exist.” It is also based in the Bahamas, not the US so doesn’t fit my description.

    • http://triphackr.com/ Clint Johnston

      Hey Joel,

      I do not have a stamp from Cuba and that is true for likely anyone who traveled there pre-2014. Many forums have trip reports from travelers reporting stamps in 2014 and many “how to travel to Cuba” articles have reported the same. Asking not to stamp is for the gateway country (such as Mexico) so you won’t end up with two entry stamps from Mexico and no stamp in the middle. That can complicate things with immigration if inspected in detail. Many people reported stamps in their passports in 2014 and not just on the tourist card. So yes, it might be useful to ask moving forward but of little concern with recent policy changes.

      “While in the past Cuba did not stamp US passports, allowing US travelers to visit Cuba without detection from their government, Cuba recently started stamping US passports as a matter of policy.”

      As of now US airlines do NOT fly to Cuba in the manner we are used to booking flights (Kayak, Orbitz, etc). There are have been chartered flights for years but that is not what I am describing or regular travelers are looking for. US airlines are reporting their plans to fly there with recent changes.

      Many travelers have different experiences traveling to Cuba and this is a report of their experiences and mine not just yours. Do some people have stamps? Yes. Did they used to stamp? No. BahamasAir offers Havana as a destination but flight results from US destinations show “Chosen flight route does not exist.” It is also based in the Bahamas, not the US so doesn’t fit my description.

  • Cy d

    I’ma bit confused. Why exactly wouldn’t you want your passport to be stamped?

  • Jack

    You are correct on, ‘just saying you belong in one of the categories. No paperwork is required for a General License. There is nothing on paper to show to US Boarder people. It’s being described as a ‘good faith’ thing. See below…

    This is from The Washington Post Article January 15th entitled: “This is what the new U.S.-Cuba travel rules mean for Americans hoping to visit Cuba”

    -But—and this is a huge but—prospective travelers will no longer have to obtain a specialized license from the government, which seems to pave the way for a future in which leisure travel is more common, if not completely legal. As part of the updated regulations, those hoping to travel to Havana will only need a general license, which they can declare as individuals. In practice, this will effectively mean that people can claim they are traveling under one of the dozen approved categories, and then book a flight. Airlines and travel agents will no longer need specialized licenses to provide service to Cuba.

    “A general license is not a physical piece of paper, like the specialized license is—it’s basically a presumption that you fit one of those categories,” said Julia Sweig, a longtime expert and author on Cuba. “It’s like the government is giving citizens the benefit of the doubt from now on.”-

    • http://triphackr.com/ Clint Johnston

      Completely agree with you, Jack. If you consider yourself authorized to visit Cuba now of before the changes it is legal. The biggest difference now is nobody needs any paperwork for non-general licenses. I think that leaves it pretty wide open for travel now.

  • Johnny

    What if I took a trip with a non-American friend? If she paid for everything on the trip from the moment we land in the airport, I wouldn’t even be in breach of the embargo, right?

    Also, I’m a little surprised you advise to start listing Cuba when returning through US Customs. Even if you think all your bases are covered, that seems like asking for an uncomfortable experience with some scary threats at the least. What if they then ask you if you went to any beaches or did any scubadiving? You don’t think they’ll harass you for that?

    Will be interesting to see in coming months how far you can take the “Educational Activities” clause, as you said, but as long as the fines are still technically in place I wonder if it’s still more prudent to at least *try* to slip under the radar and avoid the brouhaha.

    • http://triphackr.com/ Clint Johnston

      Hey Johnny, that is certainly an interesting way around the law! I’m not sure it would go over well but it’s not a bad idea. It is essentially the same as paying a tour company to do all the spending for you so I see where you are coming from. I think they have the legal right to make those transactions on your behalf but I’m not sure about the law around a friend doing the spending. That’s up to you.

      I don’t advise lying to an immigration officer in the US but I would still leave Cuba off my “countries visited” section. If you feel you are authorized to travel to Cuba than there is no need to hide this on any forms is my point. I think they certainly would ask you about the purpose of your visit but to what extent it’s hard to know for sure.

      So far a blogger has already traveled under the “journalism” category which is a big stretch but he had no issues at all. The same will probably happen for the other categories as well. I’m looking forward to reading about more trip reports and if anyone encounters any problems on their return home. Hopefully not but we will have to see.

  • Reuel

    This is one of the most informational post on Travel to Cuba I’ve come across. And from first hand experience. Very helpful. Thank you!

    • http://triphackr.com/ Clint Johnston

      Thanks! Glad it was able to help you!

  • Mya

    Did you pay your airplane tickets at Cubajet.com with an American credit card?

    • Mya

      Can I use my US credit card if I buy from Cubana.cu??

  • Shipmaster

    Clint thanks much for the post, very helpful. My wife and I are going to Toronto to attend a wedding and have decided to fly to Cuba from there. Do you know if I can obtain the Visa document you talk about at the airport there ? Thanks.

    • http://triphackr.com/ Clint Johnston

      You should be able to get your tourist card at the airport or it will handed out on your flight. I am not familiar with the process with Canada but from what I have heard it is pretty straight forward. Give your airline a call but I am sure they will make sure you have it before you arrive in Cuba.

  • Naima Sanowar

    Thanks Clint, such an informative post. I plan to travel with my Husband and nine year old son. He is an adventurer just like his folks :). I was hoping to fly through Kingston , Jamaica. Is there any sites you can suggest to book travel online ? I saw something but it was so very expensive for the three of us for that trip, did not seem right ? Do you suggest this route to take our son , or wait till it all opens up ? Best, Naima

    • http://triphackr.com/ Clint Johnston

      Hi Naima,

      Flying through Jamaica is not a problem but I am sure those fares vary greatly. If your schedule is flexible I would check other islands to use as your gateway city to Havana. They might have cheaper flights. I spoke to a few companies at the New York Times Travel Show last weekend and they will be offering chartered flights are still pretty expensive from the US but that is an option as well. You can look up flights from various places on SkyScanner.ca and see if there are cheaper flights available. Those short flights aren’t as cheap as you would think which is why it is probably expensive to book 3 flights.

  • aksfco

    Does anyone have any recommendations on conversions? Would CADs be preferable over Euros or is there no difference? Thank you

  • Bradley Frank

    First of all, I wanted to thank you for posting your experience and advice about Cuba trip. Me and my friends are planning to go to Cuba “illegally” this Summer by flying to Toronto or Cancun then fly to Havana.
    I have few question, is cubana.cu is now accept US credit/debit card to book online after Obama announcement?
    After getting a tourist visa card from either in Canada or Cancun airport, I don’t need a general license which it mean I can explore and go anywhere I want in Cuba?

  • Alan Louganis

    Let’s go together! How can you use miles to travel? Would you use UA miles and travel on Air Canada? What is the best way to book a hotel?
    So, if I go as a Travel journalist I can have a stamp in my passport and no problem? Can I also book a flight directly from USA via Mexico with my miles? AlanLouganis@yahoo.com
    Where did you stay and what did you do throughout your stay? Thanks!

    • http://triphackr.com/ Clint Johnston

      Hey Alan, can’t wait to go back! Use the miles that are most convenient for you. I flew down to Cancun with SkyMiles and booked a second flight from there on Cubana. You shouldn’t receive a stamp no matter what you go down as since there is no need to apply now anyway. I stayed at a Casa Particlar and there are plenty to choose from in Havana. Just run a quick search to see plenty of options of places to stay. I have some posts coming out on tings to do in Havana so be on the look out for those.

  • nycalgal

    Hi there, not sure where you got your info that it’s legal now for Americans to travel there (“The U.S. State Department will allow anyone to travel there legally but you will need to fall into certain categories such as being a journalist or traveling for educational purposes”), The US State Department and it unequivocally states that tourist travel there is still prohibited as of Jan 27, 2015. It’s a shame, I was really hoping you were right. Thanks for the location change trick on the website! http://travel.state.gov/content/passports/english/country/cuba.html

    • http://triphackr.com/ Clint Johnston

      Hi, Americans who fall into certain categories and applied under the previous requirements with OFAC absolutely could travel there legally with a license and many people did and do for reasons such as journalism, education, and other reasons. Previously this was a formal application for a travel license though the government.

      The other legal way is people to people tours that have operated for years. Both completely legal for Americans.

      Now there is no need to apply for a license as long as you fall under the categories listed. They are the same now as before.

      It is still illegal to travel there as an American if they do not fulfill the requirements.

      So there absolutely legal ways to travel there and have been.

  • Sam

    Any recent updates on the american credit/debit card situation?

    • http://triphackr.com/ Clint Johnston

      None from any bloggers I know yet, Sam. I’ll update as soon as someone reports them working. I know some going down next month and will update here when I find out.

      My only update was from the points guy last month and his cards didn’t work. He had to use a friends Euro bank card.

  • Pauline

    Hi Clint, thank you so much for the info and update. I’m planning to go to Cuba from Cancun in June2015 with my family, 2 of us are US citizen. I wonder if we can go from Cuba from Cancun, and then return from Cuba to Vancouver.

  • Guest Hackr

    I just made the trip this week through Cancun. I did receive two Mexican stamps. I did not say anything in Cuba and I received no stamps either way. However, I did get something unusual. In the airport at Havana, a customs officer stopped me at the bottom of the steps before the counters, and grilled me on my profession and asked me if I worked for the government. I don’t and said I don’t and he let me go on to the immigration counter. My friend traveling with me who has been several times had the same thing happen but he has never had it happen before. Of the Americans on the flight, we were the only ones who got this “special” treatment.

    I bought some cigars and based on my research avoided printing that I had been to Cuba on my customs form. Upon return, DFW has an automated check-in through immigration for US and Canada Citizens. You talk to a live person at the second stop after baggage claim. I was asked if I was bringing any gifts back. I showed him my bottle of tequila and Mexican M&Ms I got at the duty free. He let me go and that was the end of it. I did however buy stuff at the duty-free on purpose to appear more like a typical Cancun tourist and avoid suspicion. It seemed to work.

    As a side note, the same friend I traveled with went with other friends of mine back in July of last year. Two of them got through and the third of them was so nervous he started having trouble completing sentences. His baggage was immediately searched. He had a domino set with a giant cuban flag carved into it and several other obviously Cuban souvenirs. The customs officers looked at all of it, and then let him go.

    • http://triphackr.com/ Clint Johnston

      Thanks for this detailed trip report!. This is really helpful for anyone planning to travel there soon. Interesting you got grilled on your way in to Cuba but that could just be a random stop.

      Great to hear everyone went well.

  • MamaB

    I just returned from a quick trip to Cuba Feb. 11- 14th (I’m a U.S. Citizen). I traveled via Nassau Bahamas on Bahamasair and was able to book my trip on their website. I had already been in the Bahamas and decided since I was so close I might as well visit. It was an hour flight and I was given the travelers visa upon check in at Bahamasair. I was asked if I wanted my passport stamped when arriving in Cuba of which I declined. Arrival and departure were uneventful for me. Upon return to the U.S. immigration I did decline to mention I had been in Cuba. I grabbed my luggage and because I have Global Entry was able to whip though immigration with no questions and the savvy beagle and german shepherd didn’t bother seeking my luggage out for the 3 cigars I had in my suitcase. I was a little nervous stowing those. All in all it was a smooth trip.

    • http://triphackr.com/ Clint Johnston

      Thanks for sharing. Sounds like everything went very smooth which is great!

    • sahi04

      Hi MamaB – good to read about your smooth trip to & from Cuba. Planning to do a similar journey in a few months and wondered – did you see/ is there a place a Havana airport to get a tourist card on arrival? I am having a lot of trouble sourcing one in advance from where I live (Singapore)… Thanks in advance for any advice. Cheers

  • Marcya Rodrigues

    I am planning on going to Cuba In may , I used cubajet as you suggested to buy my ticket and it worked just fine. But I have a question Where do I buy the Tourist cuban Visa? is there a specific store at the airport?? and What if they don’t have the card??

  • ecowriter

    Hi I’m a professional US musician and going to be traveling to Cuba soon with the intention of studying and researching Cuban music, but not as part of a graduate degree. When I first heard about the “Educational Activities” section of the general license, I thought I wouldn’t have any problem going under the general license and letting them stamp my passport in Cuba. Upon a very close read of the official rules, I’m now unsure if this trip qualifies under the general license or not. I really would rather not pretend that I didn’t visit Cuba upon return to the US. I’m going to fly out of Montreal on Air Canada, and take a bus back to the States. Has anyone been in this situation – going under the general license and then entering the US via bus from Canada? Did you have any issues with US immigration? Thanks for your help.

  • Vanessa

    I am a US citizen living in The Netherlands (I am a Dutch Resident – I have a 2 year visa here). If I travel to Cuba will I need to purchase the Cuban Visa that you mentioned is $25? I would be traveling from The Netherlands to Cuba with a US Passport along with my boyfriend who has a Dutch Passport. All the information on traveling there is limited to flying from Mexico and Canada and back into the US. However I would be flying from Amsterdam to Cuba and back to Amsterdam. Any information would be nice.

    Additional info: I am a 1st generation Cuban-American – My parents were both born in Cuba but came to the US at a very young age. They have never gone back to Cuba but of course still have family there so I can fall under the “Family Visit” category or possibly “Journalism” as a blogger.