If you’re an American citizen looking to travel to Cuba, you might be surprised – it’s so much easier to travel to Cuba than you might think! However, there are some very important things to keep in mind as you plan your trip.
As an American who frequently visited Cuba before it became a true home away from home, I’ve become an expert in all things related to American travel to Cuba. Read on for our detailed guide to the Support for the Cuban People category of approved travel to Cuba, which makes it possible for almost everyone to travel to Cuba – legally!
This post contains affiliate links that may reward me monetarily or otherwise when you use them to make qualifying purchases – at no cost to you. As an Amazon Associate, I earn from qualifying purchases. For more information, please read our disclosure policy.
Legal Travel to Cuba
Since President Obama began to thaw diplomatic relations with Cuba in 2014, American citizens were allowed – for the first time in many years – to travel to Cuba without having to request permission from the U.S. government in advance.
So long as the trip aligns with one of 12 pre-approved types of travel – called 12 Categories of Approved Travel to Cuba – American citizens do need to request permission from the U.S. government to travel to Cuba.
These types of travel are approved by the U.S. government for travel to Cuba:
- Support for the Cuban People;
- Family visits;
- Official government business;
- Professional research and professional meetings;
- Educational activities;
- Religious activities;
- Public performances, workshops, competitions, and exhibitions;
- Humanitarian projects;
- Activities of private foundations or institutes;
- Import and export activities;
- Authorized export transactions.
The easiest and broadest category of these categories of travel is the Support for the Cuban People category. For most travelers from the United States, simply stating that they are traveling to Cuba in “Support for the Cuban People” is all it takes for legal travel to Cuba.
Americans are not allowed in Cuba for tourism per se – but activities that support the Cuban people are essentially what you would be doing on most trips anyway! While technically travel under the Support for the Cuban People category of authorized travel is not supposed to be tourism, it is so similar you won’t be able to tell the difference.
Support for the Cuban People
What does a Support for the Cuban People trip look like, logistically speaking? It simply means that travelers will be using their time and money while in Cuba to engage with local people and support local small businesses like boutique hotels, local restaurants, and the like.
Avoiding spending money at government-run institutions, a Support for the Cuban People trip can look like a trip would to almost any other destination!
Support for the Cuban People Itinerary
What kinds of things can you do when traveling to Cuba on a Support for the Cuban People trip? You might be surprised to learn that you can actually do most things you’d want to do on any other vacation anywhere in the world.
We wrote an entire article sharing our recommendations for Support for the Cuban People compliant activities in Cuba for the most detailed guide to things you might want to do. However, these are a few of the most common things to do in Cuba on a Support for the Cuban People trip:
- Take a salsa class;
- Stay in a casa particular guest house like an Airbnb or other privately-owned boutique hotel;
- Eat in a privately owned restaurant;
- Take a tour of the city with a private tour guide;
- Shop for souvenirs;
- Visit an art gallery.
This list is not exhaustive by any means. Official U.S. travel regulations give some examples of activities that correspond with a Support for the Cuban People trip itinerary but leave the matter open to interpretation. This means that you’ll be able to largely create the trip you’d want to, restrictions or not.
Cuba requires that all travelers have proof of a comprehensive travel insurance policy in order to enter the country. Check out our guide to travel insurance for Cuba for more details. We recommend these brands for Cuba travel insurance:
Support for the Cuban People Schedule
A Support for the Cuban People trip to Cuba doesn’t require a rigid schedule or traveling with an organized group. However, technically the trip should include a “full-time schedule” of things that support the Cuban people. Legally, this is defined as about six hours each weekday spent in Cuba engaging in these activities.
No, no one is going to be timing you exactly, not by a long shot. The idea of spending at least six hours a day in a way that supports the Cuban people is meant to imply that your trip mostly consists of things that support Cuban people and businesses rather than simply time spent on the beach.
Support for the Cuban People Trip Documentation
One of the important details required for a Support for the Cuban People trip is relevant documentation of time spent in Cuba. Official U.S. travel regulations state that travelers must keep a copy of their itinerary and any relevant documentation of their trip for five years after they travel.
To do this, we recommend making a file on your computer containing flight information, accommodation confirmations, and any receipts of tours, dining, or other relevant experiences in Cuba to show what you did during your time there. It’s as easy as that!
No need to be overly concerned about this aspect of the Support for the Cuban People trip! In all of the occasions I’ve traveled back and forth between Cuba and the United States, I have never been asked specifically for any sort of documentation about how I spend my time there. I’ve only heard second-hand stories of a handful of travelers who have ever been asked about how they spent their time in Cuba.
When passing through immigration on the way back to the United States, you can simply state that you traveled under the “Support for the Cuban People” category of approved travel to Cuba, and that will likely be the last you’ll ever think about it.
Don’t think about traveling to Cuba without a good VPN (Virtual Private Network). Using a VPN while connecting to the internet is an easy way to keep your personal information safe from hackers and trackers. We’ve used NordVPN for years and couldn’t recommend it more – it’s a must for safety online, especially in Cuba.
Restriction on Travel to Cuba
Hotel Restrictions in Cuba
For a Support for the Cuban People trip to Cuba, it’s important to choose your accommodations wisely. Part of the Cuba-related policy changes made by the Trump administration included creating a list of hotels – entirely or partially owned by the Cuban government – that are off-limits to American travelers.
Make sure to avoid these hotels as you plan a trip to Cuba, especially if you’re traveling under the Support for the Cuban People general license.
Where should you stay? While there are plenty of locally-owned boutique hotels to choose from in Cuba, we often recommend that travelers consider staying in a casa particular guest house. These private room, apartment, or home rentals have existed in Cuba long before the Airbnb concept took off and have been the top accommodation choice in Cuba for many years.
Banking Restrictions in Cuba
All travelers to Cuba should be aware of the current currency situation in Cuba. Due to the decades-long economic embargo of Cuba imposed by the United States, debit cards and credit cards connected to U.S.-based banks will not work from Cuba. This means that travelers need to travel with cash to Cuba – all the cash they’ll need for their trip!
Once in Cuba, you can exchange your U.S. dollars (or other foreign currency) for Cuban pesos. Financial restrictions make it challenging to send money between Cuba and the United States, meaning that you’ll want to have all the money you’ll need for your entire trip when you arrive.
Internet Restrictions in Cuba
While very few websites in Cuba are outright blocked from view in Cuba, we always recommend that travelers inform themselves about using the internet in Cuba before arriving. Make sure to sign up for a VPN (Virtual Private Network) service to make sure you travel to Cuba to continue to use the internet as you normally would, and with an added level of safety and protection.
Guides to Using the Internet in Cuba
Carley Rojas Avila is a bilingual travel writer, editor, content marketer, and the founder of the digital travel publications Home to Havana and Explorers Away. She is a serial expat and traveler, having visited 40+ countries and counting. Carley has written for publications like Travel + Leisure, MSN, Associated Press, Weather Channel, Wealth of Geeks, and more. Find her front row at a Bad Bunny concert, befriending street cats, and taste-testing every pizza in Havana.