What do you need to travel to Cuba?
Cuba is a Caribbean paradise with incredible music, pure tobacco cigars and a plentiful supply of rum, but because of the country's history the entry requirements can sometimes be a bit tricky. Read this article to make sure you have all the paperwork and all the essential information you need to travel to Cuba and dance salsa all night long in La Habana and enjoy the island's beaches.
Requirements to visit Cuba
All travelers must have a valid passport with at least 6 months validity.
There are some countries that can travel to Cuba visa-free, for example, Russia, Montenegro, Serbia and Singapore, but citizens of most countries will require a visa which is officially known as Cuba Tourist Card.
Don't confuse the Cuba Tourist Card with a Cuban visa, as they are two separate things.
The Cuba Tourist Card allows you to stay for up to 30 days in Cuba if you are traveling for tourism. You can renew your Tourist Card if you decide to stay longer than 30 days, but it must be renewed before the initial one expires.
You can easily apply for the Tourist Card through visagov.com.
Make sure you keep your tourist card safe during your trip as you will need it to leave the country. If you lose it you will have to wait for immigration officers to clear you in order to leave.
When you travel to Cuba, unless you are arriving from outside the United States you will be given a green tourist card.
Anyone traveling from the United States will be given a pink tourist card, regardless of which passport they hold.
Make sure you apply for the right tourist card and check that you have the right color. If you have taken a connecting flight to the U.S. this will affect which card you should show. For example, if you traveled from Madrid to Miami and then took an onward flight to Havana you will need a pink tourist card as you are arriving from the United States
You will be asked for your tourist card when you get to Cuba, so make sure you keep it safe.
Travel License from the Office of Foreign Assets Control ("OFAC") H3
US passport holders traveling to Cuba will have to declare a travel category as well as applying for the tourist card. There are 12 travel categories that are authorized by the U.S. Government to travel to Cuba, so check the requirements carefully.
These are the 12 categories
- Official Business of the U.S. Government, Foreign Governments, and Certain Intergovernmental Organizations
- Professional Research and Meetings
- Religious Activities
- Public Performances, Clinics, Workshops, Exhibitions, Athletic and Other Competitions
- Humanitarian Projects
- Exportation, Importation, or Transmission of Information
- Family Visits
- Authorized Export Transactions
- Journalistic Activity
- Support for the Cuban People
- Educational activities/People to People Travel
- Activities of Private Foundations, or Research or Educational Institutes
All travelers must have compulsory travel insurance to visit Cuba, without exception, so make sure you book yours before you travel. Border authorities may also ask you for your travel itinerary.
Until recently there were two currencies in Cuba, one for tourists and another for locals, but in 2021 the Cuban government decided to unify both in order to simplify.
Cuban Pesos are now the only currency accepted in Cuba (C.U.P.) The exchange rate with USD is 1$ to 24 C.U.P. and as the government does not allow currency fluctuation, the exchange rate is always stable.
Visitors to Cuba can bring USD or EURO onto the island, but C.U.P. cannot technically be taken out of the country.
The official place to exchange currencies is CADECA, however, if you are staying in a casa particular and want to exchange unofficially, you may be able to get a better rate.
You can also use an ATM to withdraw C.U.P. but bear in mind that U.S. cards do not work in Cuba. There can also be extremely long lines at ATMs, so try to exchange previously whenever possible.
Things you need to know when traveling to Cuba
Is Cuba open for tourists?
Cuba opened up to tourists in November 2021, and currently travelers just need to show their vaccination status, but you may be tested at the airport. Face masks are still required on public transport in Cuba.
Do you need a transit visa in Cuba?
If you have a layover in the US to arrive in Cuba, you should apply for the pink card. You can get more information here
Although Cuba is now open, the CDC still categorizes the risk of Covid-19 as being Level 2 or Moderate. They recommend you should be up to date with your vaccines and take additional precautions if your immune system is weakened.
How to travel around Cuba
Cuba is a relatively small country and should be easy to travel around, but sometimes due to infrastructure your journey can be delayed. It is best to organize transport before your trip, so if you need more information on how to get around, check out our article on how to travel in Cuba.
Best time to travel
Cuba is a tropical island in the Caribbean, and as such it is at risk of Hurricanes and Cyclones during the months of May to November. If you’re wondering when the best time to travel to Cuba is, check out our guide to the best season to travel in Cuba.
Safety in Cuba
Cuba is quite a safe country to travel to, there is little crime, but travelers should always be aware as there might be pickpockets, muggings or scams, particularly in Havana.
The risks in Cuba are more related to unsafe water or insects, such as zika or dengue, so make sure you carry a first aid kit on your trip to Cuba.
- Avoid resorts and stay in a Casa Particular. These are authorized family homes where you will be provided with your own room, usually breakfast and sometimes dinner. By staying with locals you will have a much more authentic experience and can also save some money.
- Do not drink tap water in Cuba. There is a risk of contracting a waterborne disease as public water facilities are not properly sanitized. Make sure you buy bottled water or take water purifiers with you.
- Due to Cuba’s infrastructure, electricity blackouts are common and you can be left in the dark at a moment’s notice. Make sure you pack a flashlight just in case.
- When heading to Cuba it is best if you pack basic medicines and a first aid kit, as sometimes they can be in short supply.