Some of the most common questions I received after returning from Cuba was: wait, isn’t it illegal for Americans to travel there? How did you get the visa? Many myths are present regarding whether or not Americans can legally travel to Cuba. The short answer: yes you can, and it’s pretty simple. To visit Cuba when traveling from the United States, you need a visa (or tourist card - they’re the same thing). This allows for Americans traveling to Cuba to enter and exit the country safely, and can be procured multiple different ways. Americans in Cuba are becoming much more popular, so to plan a trip to Cuba, read on!
So, why do you need a visa to travel to the island of Cuba? Well, it has to do with the relationship between the United States and Cuban government, and the history between the two nations. This tumultuous pairing has been at odds for decades, and the news about Cuban travel can further discourage Americans from visiting. But don’t fear - it is safe to travel to Cuba, beautiful, and they’re eager to welcome American travelers.
As of January 2019, US travelers, cruises, airlines, and tour groups can legally visit the island with a visa that is valid for 30 days. The visa can be purchased a few different ways, but the important item to note is the question about your reason for traveling. Americans can no longer mark their visit as “tourism,” under current regulations. Now, you must indicate that your visit is based in “support for the Cuban people.” Basically, you are claiming that your vacation in Cuba is intended to enhance contact with the locals that will be a meaningful interaction for both you and the Cuban people. This explanation is vague enough to cover Americans who want to visit Cuba to educate themselves on the history and culture, experience Havana, and have a fantastic, authentic vacation.
Purchasing the visa is not complicated. In fact, the easiest way to obtain one is to buy it when you buy your flight. Contrary to popular belief, you can buy flights direct from the United States to Havana. You don’t have to stop over in Mexico or Panama. When I travelled to Cuba in November of 2018, I purchased a Southwest ticket from Tampa International Airport to Havana’s international airport. I immediately received an email with visa instructions, and the cost was included in my flight. When I arrived at the airport, filling out the paperwork was simple and timely. In Tampa, Southwest has an entire area dedicated to Americans traveling to Cuba. I believe that this is the easiest way to get a Cuban visa, but you can also book with a tour group or a cruise.
Another easy way to go about entering Cuba is to book your trip through cruise lines. Cruises from Tampa and Miami to Havana are popular, convenient, and a lot of fun. You don’t have to worry about checking all the necessary boxes because the cruise takes care of the logistics for you. Havana is an incredible city and the port in Cuba for most large cruise lines. You’ll be able to hop off the ship and immediately grab a churro, then return to your room on the boat at the end of the day. For cruise enthusiasts, the proximity of Cuba to Florida is a large draw, as Havana is an easy stop to add for most Caribbean cruises. If you’re considering a cruise in this sea, look out for one that has Cuba on the itinerary - you won’t regret it.
As previously stated, many Americans believe that it is necessary to fly to Cuba from Mexico or Panama. You could create a multi-national vacation by staying in these countries as well, but it is completely possible to fly from the United States directly to Havana. When I was planning my trip, an international layover seemed like too much of a hassle just to avoid some questions at the airport. It turns out I was right, and I was not questioned at all in either airport I visited. If you’re in Mexico or Panama and hop on over to Cuba, more power to you! You’ll probably have a little less paperwork. Yet, with so many easy ways to get a Cuban visa, an international stop just isn’t necessary anymore.
These are the simplest methods to obtain a Cuban visa. Travel requirements to Cuba are not that complicated and you have options! Visa complications are one of the most rampant Cuba travel myths, but the rumors you hear are to discourage travel to this stunning island. The sooner you book your trip, the sooner you can be sipping daiquiris and mojitos on the beach. Ready to go?
x, Grace Poulos, @chasinggracee