Cuba is a place like none other. A holiday in Havana makes you feel a bit like you have traveled back in time with classic American cars, crumbling old architecture, and a slow, uncommercialized feel. Since Cuba was closed off from the United States more than 50 years ago, little has changed and that is the appeal to many Americans hoping to visit the small island country.
It can seem like Cuba has been untouched by in reality, tourism here is flourishing and has been for many years. While the United States has restricted travel, Canadians, European, Australians, and citizens from many other countries around the world have been visiting in large numbers. All-inclusive resorts, like though you find in Mexico, have even been popping up.
So, if people from all over the world are visiting Cuba, can you? While Cuba doesn’t have any travel restrictions, if you are a US citizen, things are still going to be a bit difficult.
How Can You Visit?
The myth is that US citizens are restricted from visiting Cuba at all but in reality, there are a number of way to legally visit. If you have family in Cuba you want to visit or are visiting on a religious mission, you can easily obtain permission to visit. Educators, humanitarians, students conducting research, and journalists are also all eligible for travel permits.
If you are hoping to travel just on vacation though and not for work or with a volunteer program, there is still legal ways to get into Cuba. The US government has approved vacation travel to Cuba as long as you are visiting as part of a “people to people” tour. Basically, if you are going to Cuba for a cultural exchange and with an approved tour provider, you are all set. Guidelines are strict though and require all your time to be spend on intellectual or cultural exchange meaning museums, workshops, and historic tours… and definitely no days for relaxing on the beach.
Problems You Might Run Into…
Even if you get the correct travel permits, book with an approved tour, and make it to Cuba you still might run into some problems. Your US credit cards and debit cards will definitely not work here and US traveler’s checks aren’t going to be much help either. Taking cash is your best bet but make sure you get a good exchange rate and it might be smart to bring some Euros to exchange too, just in case.
Not having access to money might not be much of an issue anyways since you are also restricted to what you are allowed to buy and bring back to the US as a souvenir. Anything “educational” or “information” is allowed which can include things ranging from books to art. However, forget about bring home Cuba cigars, rum, or anything else you can’t prove is “educational or informational.”
One last note is to mention that despite all the US travel restrictions, people have in fact been visiting Cuba independently for many years. While technically illegal, traveling to Cuba this way is quite easy with tour companies in both Canada and Mexico specializing in “unofficial” trips by US citizens to Cuba. With travel restrictions continuing to be reduced, this option has become less and less appealing but if you are still interested, a Google search will give you all the information you need to pull it off.