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How to Visit Cuba as an American Citizen

How to Visit Cuba as an American Citizen

I have to admit, I was nervous about traveling to Cuba. I went to college in Miami and had heard horrors about the regime and life for locals on the island.

In 2017, I decided to visit to see Cuba for myself. Restrictions had lessened for Americans and I was scared that I wouldn’t be able to get into country again in the future.

So, I booked a ticket to spend 2 days in Havana. I expected to have to save every receipt, potentially have agents following me on the ground, receive intense questioning upon my return back to the states.

But none of that happened. Traveling to Cuba was, dare I say it, easy.

Here’s everything you need to know to visit Cuba as an American citizen.


What are the travel restrictions to Cuba from the US?

Colorful building in Havana city center

Travel to Cuba from the US is prohibited by statute because of the longstanding embargo.

There are 12 exemptions in place to the embargo that allow general travel, as follows:

(1) Family visits (see §515.561);

(2) Official business of the U.S. government, foreign governments, and certain intergovernmental organizations (see §515.562);

(3) Journalistic activity (see §515.563);

(4) Professional research and professional meetings (see §515.564);

(5) Educational activities (see §515.565);

(6) Religious activities (see §515.566);

(7) Public performances, clinics, workshops, athletic and other competitions, and exhibitions (see §515.567);

(8) Support for the Cuban people (see §515.574);

(9) Humanitarian projects (see §515.575);

(10) Activities of private foundations or research or educational institutes (see §515.576);

(11) Exportation, importation, or transmission of information or informational materials (see §515.545); and

(12) Certain export transactions that may be considered for authorization under existing Department of Commerce regulations and guidelines with respect to Cuba or engaged in by U.S.-owned or -controlled foreign firms (see §§515.533 and 515.559).

What is the “Support for the Cuban People” exemption?

Woman dancing with maracas while man plays guitar

I went to Cuba under the “Support for the Cuban people” exemption. I visited Havana over Labor Day weekend, from September 2-4, 2017.

I flew directly into Havana, Cuba from Miami, Florida. The flight lasted less than an hour and I flew with Delta Airlines.

I stayed at an Airbnb and frequented businesses that were “particulares,” meaning they were not owned by the Cuban government.

The famous Floridita bar where Hemingway is rumored to have purchased his daiquiri, for instance, is actually a government-owned establishment.

You can plan a trip to Cuba on your own, with a commercial flight, to visit the island as a tourist under the Support for the Cuban people exemption.

While you’re there, aim to stay at AirBnB or casas particulares. Keep receipts from your travels so you can prove where your money went, just in case.

How to get a Cuba Tourist Visa as an American

Blue classic car parked on the street

You can chose which exemption you qualify for at the airport by checking a box on a form when you check in for your departure. There is no need to reserve a visa in advance.

The visa costs $75.

Keep your boarding pass since it serves as proof of mandatory health insurance when you get to Cuba, a price already included in your ticket with the airline.

Do you need to keep receipts from your trip to Cuba?

You’re encouraged to keep receipts in case anyone asks to see them. However, I will note that aside from checking a box noting which exemption I qualified for while waiting in line at the airport, there was no follow-up with me whatsoever.

No one asked to see my receipts. No asked to see anything as I was leaving Cuba or coming back to the states. No one has contacted me since.

It was just checking one box on one form, and I didn’t have to show any proof to support the box I checked.

This may not be the case for everyone so it’s better to be safe than sorry, but it you might be surprised to find it’s much easier to travel to Cuba than you expect.

Tips for visiting Cuba

Girl sipping frozen mojito

Communication here is tough, even with friends on the island.

If you have an American phone, it will not work here. You may still be able to make some calls if you pick up a signal, but I warn you, you will be charged outrageous roaming rates.

I had the AT&T international day pass but no US carriers offered data plans that covered Cuba, so I came back to $141 in roaming charges from a few calls I made on the island.

My advice? Keep your phone on airplane mode.

Internet in Cuba is accessed with prepaid WiFi cards, and only in designated areas like certain hotel lobbies and public parks.

Ask your host for more information on getting online so you can check-in with family upon arrival.

You will likely be communicating with your driver via the landline wherever you are staying (taking it back, old school) so be prepared to keep the number.

Taxi drivers are reliable here since the jobs are hard to find and they’re easy to lose for any minuscule infraction. They want to ensure that tourists have a safe and enjoyable time.

Havana is an easy city to walk in, day or night.

It’s much safer than I anticipated and I felt at ease the entire time I was there. I would recommend Havana for solo female travel.

If you’re looking for an affordable Airbnb with wifi, located in the city center and run by a local host, then check out Amarilis’ place here.

You can bring supplies into Cuba, and will find no shortage of people willing to take things off your hands.

Useful items include: toothbrushes, bandaids, peanut butter, candy that doesn’t melt easily like M&Ms, novelty games and toys for children. Pretty much make a run through the dollar store.

If you’re checking your bag, be aware that it takes about 2 hours to get it at the arrivals gate in Havana, and you’re waiting without A/C that whole time.

Also, make sure to have your checked bag wrapped in plastic before checking it at your point of departure.


If you have any questions, please comment below and I’m happy to answer them. Till next time, safe travels!

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Havana, Cuba is a beautiful city that is still accessible to US citizens despite the embargo or recent policy changes. Find out how you can get to Cuba as an American, and what you absolutely must do once you get there! Save to your travel board for future reference.

Havana, Cuba is a beautiful city that is still accessible to US citizens despite the embargo or recent policy changes. Find out how you can get to Cuba as an American, and what you absolutely must do once you get there! Save to your travel board for future reference.

Daiquiri Tours

Friday 27th of September 2019

Great post!


Wednesday 19th of June 2019

As a Canadian I have been freely able to visit Cuba at any whim. I love Cuba and frankly, if I had to choose Cuba or Mexico, Cuba would win hands down.

Havana, well let's say that i have walked the streets at 2am without a fear. In fact some of the best times and people I have met happened then.

I would not walk most USA City streets alone.

Jen on a Jet Plane

Thursday 20th of June 2019

Glad you enjoyed Cuba, and you're lucky you get to visit on a whim!


Monday 27th of November 2017

Love your comment about "listen more than you speak here" -- it's a wonderful reminder that as much as you think you know about a country, you don't know the full story. I'd love to get to Cuba someday! Thanks for the general tips - will try to take a carry on and not check my bag (but same question as someone above - why do you need to wrap it in plastic?).

Jen on a Jet Plane

Wednesday 29th of November 2017

I definitely recommend it! The plastic wrap is to discourage anyone opening the suitcase and removing the contents.


Tuesday 21st of November 2017

I have heard the music in Havana is definitely worth the while. My dad just returned from Cuba and went on about how great it was:)

Allison Wong

Wednesday 4th of October 2017

I hope to visit Havana too! Wondering also if there's any restrictions for Malaysian travelling to Cuba though. Why are they taking so long to get the checked luggage bags at arrival?