It is legal for an individual from the United States to travel to Cuba, with the exception of just for tourist purposes. An individual traveling to Cuba will have to meet certain requirements.

An individual will be required to obtain:

  • A Cuban Tourist Card, or Cuban Visa;
  • Travel insurance; and
  • A self-certification of one of the 12 travel categories individuals are authorized to use to travel to Cuba.

There are certain businesses which individuals are not permitted to spend their money at. In addition, an individual is required to keep their travel receipts for 5 years.

At the current time, there are also travel restrictions in Cuba due to the COVID-19 pandemic. An individual will be required to have proof of a COVID-19 vaccine as well as having a negative PCR test taken within 72 hours prior to arrival, regardless of the individual’s vaccination status.

An individual may also be required to complete the Sanitary Statement for Travelers, which documents where an individual has recently traveled and whether they have physical symptoms.

There are also further restrictions which are imposed by Cuba to help mitigate the spread of COVID-19, including:

  • Social distancing of 5 feet and requiring masks everywhere;
  • Individuals may be subject to contact tracing questions or random temperature checks;
  • Most tourist facilities are operating at limited capacity and hours;
  • Large gatherings are not permitted; and
  • Travel between some cities and provinces may be restricted.

Although rare, an individual may face a fine for not complying with these regulations. In November 2017, President Trump made changes to travel to Cuba from the United States.

Individuals are no longer permitted to travel under the category of “People to People.” Because individuals are not permitted to travel under this category, an individual from the United States is not permitted to spend money at a military-owned business.

As previously noted, travel to Cuba only for tourism is prohibited. An individual must obtain a license from the Department of Treasury or the individual’s travel must fall into one of the 12 authorized travel categories.

How Can I Travel to Cuba From the United States?

Even if an individual has a United States passport, they are not permitted to legally travel to Cuba for tourist or entertainment purposes. Group people-to-people tours in Cuba have been acceptable.

However, if a United States citizen wishes to travel from the U.S. to Cuba alone, they are required to obtain a license from the Department of Treasury or their trip must fall into one of the following 12 categories:

  • A family visit;
  • Official business of:
    • the U.S. Government;
    • foreign governments; and
    • certain intergovernmental organizations;
  • Journalistic activities;
  • Professional research or meetings;
  • Educational activities and exchanges;
  • Religious activities;
  • Competitions and exhibitions, including:
    • public performances;
    • clinics; workshops; and
    • athletic or other competitions and exhibitions;
  • Humanitarian projects;
  • Support for the Cuban people;
  • Activities of:
    • private foundations;
    • research; or
    • educational institutes;
  • Exportation, importation, or transmission of information or information material; and/or
  • Certain authorized export transactions.

Why was Travel to Cuba Banned?

The beginning of the ban on travel to Cuba was in 1962 when President Kennedy issued an executive order which imposed a trade embargo against Cuba. Since then, this order has been solidified in the form of United States federal regulations and statutes.

Generally, United States citizens are prohibited from engaging in any economic relations with Cuba nationals or the Cuban government. As a result of these laws, the majority or forms of travel to Cuba are prohibited.

Can I Get a Cuban Visa to Travel to Cuba?

It is important to note that the United States Embassy in Havana and the United States Department of State in Washington, D.C. do not process Cuban visa applications. If an individual needs to apply for a Cuban visa or if they have any questions regarding Cuban consular services, they may contact the Cuban Embassy in Washington, D.C.

The contact information for this Embassy is as follows:

Embassy of the Republic of Cuba
2630 16th Street, NW
Washington, D.C. 20009
Phone: (202) 797 8518 – Ext. 600

Can I Travel to Cuba if I am a Dual Citizen of the United States and Cuba?

If an individual is a dual citizen of both the United States and Cuba, the Cuban government treats United States citizens who were born in Cuba as Cuban citizens. The Cuban government may subject these individuals to a series of restrictions and responsibilities.

The government of Cuba requires that dual citizens of the United States and Cuba who departed Cuba on or after January 1, 1971, to enter and leave Cuba using a Cuban passport. If an individual uses a Cuban passport for this purpose, it does not endanger their U.S. citizenship.

The individual is required to use their United States passport to enter and depart the United States. If a Cuban-American left Cuba prior to January 1, 1971, they can travel to Cuba using their United States passport but they must also apply for an HE-11 visa from the Cuban Embassy.

What is the Penalty for Traveling to Cuba Without a Permit?

It is important to note that United States credit cards and debit cards do not work in Cuba. Therefore, individuals who are traveling to Cuba must bring enough cash with them to cover their stay.

The Cuban government requires that a traveler declare any case amounts they have over $5,000 USD. It is also important for travelers to be aware that the Cuban government charges a 10% fee for any U.S. dollar cash conversions.

This fee does not apply to electronic transactions or cash conversions in other currencies. There are also other travel issues which may arise surrounding Cuba.

For example, the United States Department of Homeland Security warned Florida boaters who intended to enter Cuban territorial waters that they must obtain permission from the United States Coast Guard. Those who do not obtain permission risk facing a fine of $25,000 and 10 years in prison.

It is against the laws for a boater to depart with the intent to travel to Cuba for any purpose without a permit. Individuals who bring foreign nationals to the United States illegally may face a fine of up to $250,000 per day and 5 years in prison.

Can I Bring Any Souvenirs Back?

Yes, an individual may still bring back souvenirs under the new travel restrictions. The rules regarding the importation of Cuban rum and cigars did not change under the new restrictions.

Although there are restrictions on what an individual is permitted to bring back to the United States from Cuba, there is a limit of $400 on imports from Cuba and alcohol or tobacco products cannot account for more than $100 of that $400 limit.

Do I Need Health Insurance to Travel to Cuba?

Yes, all individuals who are traveling to Cuba are required to have health insurance which is accepted in Cuba. In many instances, health or travel insurance policies including Kaiser or Blue Cross that are issued in the United States are not accepted at medical facilities in Cuba.

Certain airlines also include specific health insurance in the total cost of the airline ticket. Cuban health insurance is provided by ESICUBA and remains valid for 30 days.

If an individual is staying in Cuba for more than 30 days, they will be required to purchase additional insurance to cover the remainder of their stay.

Do I Need a Lawyer for Travel to Cuba?

It is essential to have the assistance of an immigration attorney for any issues, questions, or concerns you may have regarding traveling to Cuba. Your attorney will help you plan your trip to Cuba, especially if the trip is an extended one.

It is also important to consult with an attorney if you have recently returned from an illegal trip to Cuba and you are facing sanctions.