Cuba FAQ for Travelers from the United States
Is it legal for Americans to travel to Cuba?
The Cuban government has no restrictions on Americans traveling to, or within, Cuba. The United States embargo against Cuba clearly states that for the average American citizen it is illegal to travel to Cuba without very specific licenses and/or visas.
What does this mean?
This means quite simply that under Cuban law Americans are more than welcome to visit Cuba. Under the current laws of the United States it is technically illegal for an American citizen to enter Cuba without proper authoritative approval.
Then how are Americans traveling to Cuba?
Quite simply, they bypass the law. Americans have been traveling to and from Cuba since the time the embargo was first put in place. There are three main issues in regards to travel to Cuba in which this 'bypass' is done so as to reduce the possibility of issues on your return to the United States.
- Using a non-US based agency to arrange flights, insurance and Cuban travel itinerary.
- Since there are no direct flights from the United States, flights are arranged from an airport hub such as Toronto or Cancun. Flights are not arranged on the same ticket.
example: Flying from Atlanta to Havana would involve a flight from Atlanta to Cancun and then another from Cancun to Havana. Each flight would be on their own, separate ticket.
- Upon arrival and departure from Cuba, do not get your passport stamped.
But this is against the law!
It is breaking the laws implemented under the United States embargo with Cuba. If you are morally against this then you should not consider traveling to Cuba until the embargo is lifted and travel rights are reinstated for US citizens by your government. Many citizens of the United States however disagree with this travel restriction and take matters into their own hands. They question the harm in a simple vacation that has no negative impact on society in either country. In comparison with other non-law abiding acts, the ramifications are really non-existent and the benefits of a great vacation outweigh any implications from, what was called by one of our clients, "the stupid and Draconian travel restrictions imposed by the US Government".
I'm not sure I agree with this.
We respect your opinion and you have every right to personally be either for or against travel to Cuba under current restrictions. That said, if you are against it and feel the need to express your feelings in an argumentative method you will find more open ears elsewhere rather than contacting ElderTreks. We respect your opinion, please respect those who may not share your views. Also note that ElderTreks is not here to make decisions for our clients. It is 100% up to each individual to make personal decisions based on them knowing the facts and weighing the pros and cons.
All travel arrangements for Americans who wish to travel to Cuba must be done from a company outside of the US. ElderTreks, being a Canadian company, can arrange all aspects of these arrangements such as flights and insurance.
There are no direct flights from the United States to Cuba for the typical American citizen. Therefore flights into Havana are arranged from an international airport that is conveniently located to the travelers origin city. In most cases the flight to Havana will be from Cancun, Mexico, others leave from Toronto, Canada. Cancun is the recommended airport of choice for the simple reason that, upon return to the United States, it raises suspicion to be nicely tanned coming from Toronto in mid-February.
Currency, Credit Cards and Travelers Cheques:
United States dollars are not accepted in Cuba. Cuba has two official currencies; the Cuban Peso and the Cuban Convertible Peso. For tourists exchanging foreign currency they will receive, and make all purchases with the Cuban Convertible Peso. The Cuban Convertible Peso is a closed currency and therefore you cannot get Cuban Convertible Pesos outside of Cuba. Nor can you exchange them once you leave Cuba. At time of writing the Convertible Peso was nearly a 1:1 exchange rate with the United States dollar.
Americans must bring a currency other than US dollars into Cuba for exchange. It is recommended to bring either Canadian Dollars or Euros, both of which are recognized and conveniently exchangeable throughout the country, as well as being easy to attain from US banks. It's always a good idea to contact your local US bank branch to order any foreign currency ahead of time.
No credit card issued by a bank that has any connection with the United States will be accepted in Cuba. If you're American and have a credit card you would be best to leave it at home. The same principals for American credit cards also apply to American Debit cards. Purchases within Cuba cannot be done with the use of foreign debit cards because of the closed currency of the Cuban Convertible Peso. No debit card affiliated with an American institution will work in the ATM machines within Cuba.
Travelers Cheques that are not issued from a United States institution, and are in a non-US dollar currency, are accepted in Cuba. However this is definitely not recommended for travelers from the US as, in the case of loss, there can be frustrations when contacting the issuer and notifying them of loss within Cuba.
Summary: Cash is King. It's best to bring the proper amount of either Canadian Dollars or Euros for your spending money while in Cuba. Small denomination bills of 20 or less are best as well as having nice, crisp bills to avoid any hassles when exchanging. Remember that once you leave Cuba you cannot exchange your Cuban Convertible Pesos for another currency. So try and plan to only exchange what you will require for your duration.
A valid US passport is required. There are no Visa requirements.
With regards to the passport, it is of the utmost importance that you do not get your passport stamped upon entry into Cuba. This is a definite red flag for customs when returning to the United States. Upon arrival in Cuba simply make it very clear to the customs agent who verifies your passport that you do not wish to have your passport stamped. The Customs personnel are accustomed to American travelers entering Cuba and not having your passport stamped is not an issue.
Do not contact your State Department before departure to enquire about necessary visas to Cuba. First, there are no necessary visas for entering Cuba as a tourist as far as the Cuban government is concerned. Second, by contacting your State Department and telling them your plans to travel to Cuba there is a higher chance of being questioned when returning to the United States after your trip. By contacting the State Department there is a chance at having your passport red-flagged. Even though you will not be entering back into the United States directly from Cuba, and there should be no proof that you were in Cuba, it would be best to avoid any unnecessary hassles.
When you arrive in Cuba for your ElderTreks tour, you will be greeted at the Airport by ElderTreks and escorted to our Havana hotel.
Do not bring back items in your luggage that are obviously from Cuba. This includes Cuban cigars, rum, postcards, etc. Anything that says "Cuba" on it has a very large chance of resulting in you being questioned by customs if they happen to inspect your luggage. It would be best to avoid possibility of this by simply avoiding the temptation of bringing back a lot of these typical souvenirs unfortunately.