It’s surprising to a lot of Americans to learn how easy it is to travel to Cuba. It’s actually really no harder than it is to travel anywhere else. In most cases, you just buy your ticket, fill out a form at the airport, and enjoy your time in this complex but beautiful country.
No rigid planning or tour group is needed – when you put a little thought into what you want to do with your time in Cuba before you depart, you can have a trip pretty much like any other with the Support for the Cuban People category of approved travel to Cuba.
Keep reading and we’ll show you how.
This post contains affiliate links that will 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.
Cuba General License for Travel
According to U.S. policy, every citizen of the United States needs a “license” to travel to Cuba.
However, this doesn’t necessarily mean you need prior permission or approval by the government for your travel plans to Cuba…in nearly all cases, you won’t.
Instead, when President Obama began to thaw diplomatic relations with Cuba in 2014, Americas were allowed for the first time in many years to travel to Cuba without requesting permission from the U.S. government in advance. This is because Americans were now able to travel under a “General License.”
This “General License” means if the trip you’ve planned to Cuba aligns with one of 12 pre-approved types of travel – called 12 authorized categories of travel to Cuba – you don’t need to request permission from the U.S. government to travel to Cuba.
The easiest and broadest category of the 12 authorized categories is the Support for the Cuban People category. When you say that you’re planning to travel to Cuba “in support of the Cuban people,” it means you plan to support small businesses while there – shopping, eating, touring, etc.
You also don’t need any documentation or a printed “license” as the idea of having a license may seem. You just need to know what category of authorized travel you meet the criteria to travel under – the Support for the Cuban People category of authorized travel!
You may be asked when booking flights and accommodations, and when you enter and exit the United States.
What to Pack for Cuba
Check out our Ultimate Cuba Packing List to help you pack for your trip – we’re sharing exactly what to bring to Cuba and what we never travel without.
12 Categories of Authorized Travel to Cuba
The Obama administration’s policy changes for travel to Cuba outlined 12 Categories of Authorized Travel to Cuba, and while the Trump administration made some changes to these criteria, these categories remain largely unchanged.
These types of travel are approved by the U.S. government for travel to Cuba:
- Family visits;
- Official government business;
- Professional research and professional meetings;
- Educational activities;
- Religious activities;
- Public performances, workshops, competitions, and exhibitions;
- Support for the Cuban People;
- Humanitarian projects;
- Activities of private foundations or institutes;
- Import and export activities;
- Authorized export transactions.
The category most commonly sighted for travel to Cuba by those who don’t have a family member in Cuba is the Support for the Cuban People category.
This covers most activities that visitors would normally be interested in doing on any trip, and the flexible criteria of simply supporting private businesses rather than state-owned ones in Cuba makes for easy criteria for anyone to travel with.
As long as your trip meets the criteria for one of the 12 Categories of Approved Travel to Cuba, by consisting of certain activities, all you need to do is book your ticket and go – you do not need to apply for permission from the U.S. government in advance.
Support for the Cuban People Travel
The Support for the Cuban People category allows travelers to engage in activities on a trip that…you guessed it… support the Cuban people. It’s really a catch-all type of travel that is for travelers that want to see and know Cuba and enjoy time there.
This comes with a reminder, however, to spend your time and money while in Cuba with Cuban small businesses rather than government-run ones.
A true Support for the Cuban People trip has to center around activities that support the Cuban people – you can’t justify a trip to Cuba just because one thing you’re planning to do will support the Cuban people.
Your trip has to be consistent with a “full-time” schedule of these activities, defined as about six hours per weekday of time.
No, no one is going to be timing you exactly – 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 these activities, and not too much “free” time.
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 anyways!
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. I know I can’t.
Support for the Cuban People Itinerary
What kinds of things can you do on a Support for the Cuban People trip to Cuba?
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, and there are rather few restrictions.
Things to Do in Cuba
Given that the criteria that must be met for a Support for the Cuban People travel experience are that your travel encourage and support price business over government-run enterprise, there is a lot of freedom to do what you want.
We wrote an entire article sharing our favorite recommendations for Support for the Cuban People compliant activities in Cuba for the most detailed guide to things you might want to do. However, here are just a few ideas :
- Take a salsa class
- Stay in an Airbnb or other privately-owned rental apartment or home
- 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 you could engage in that count towards this category of travel, but leaves it open to interpretation.
This means that you’ll be able to largely create the trip you’d want to, restrictions or not.
Don’t think about traveling 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, at home or abroad.
Where To Stay in Cuba
One crucial aspect of making sure your trip follows U.S. travel regulations is being intentional with where you’re planning to stay.
Part of the Trump administration’s changes to travel regulations singled out a number of hotels owned entirely or partially by the Cuban government as ones that are off-limits to Americans travelers.
While not all hotels are off-limits to travelers from the United States, many are, and with that in mind, I recommend looking at some of the many other accommodation options that Cuba has to offer!
If you’ve never stayed in a private apartment or home rental like an Airbnb before, Cuba is the perfect place to try one out for the first time.
Long before Airbnb existed in Cuba, there was a long tradition of private rentals, and they have been the top accommodation choice in Cuba for many years – hotel restriction or not!
Not only can you find private accommodations of all types – from the most basic to those that will blow away even the fanciest hotel – but you’ll get a more local experience and support a small business owner in the process.
Make sure to check out our ultimate guide to accommodation in Havana for our favorite recommendations for every type of accommodation you can imagine, from colonial mansions with private pools to dorm beds in hostels. There is something for everyone in Havana and throughout Cuba.
How do you document all this?
It is important to have some type of itinerary or proof of the way you spend your time on your trip – you will likely never be asked for it, but you do need to have it.
In all of our travel to Cuba, we have never been asked specifically, by anyone, upon returning to the United States what we actually did while we were there. The same has been true for our friends and family that have visited in Cuba.
Simply saying that you traveled under the “Support for the Cuban People” category has always been good enough when passing through immigration on the trip home.
Regulations state that you need to hold on to proof of what you did during your trip for five years. Save a copy on your computer or your email and forget about it, but you can pretty much forget about it.
Yes, You Can Travel to Cuba.
At the end of the day, planning a trip to Cuba is no more challenging than planning a trip anywhere else – you just need to remember these important details as you draw up your plan for your incredible adventure.