Want to Visit Cuba? Read This First

Read our FAQ to learn exactly what you need to know before planning a Cuba trip.

Following the December announcement regarding loosened travel restrictions to Cuba, new rules take effect today that will make it a lot easier to visit the Caribbean nation.

But, while Cuba travel is getting easier, it’s still not as simple as booking a flight and getting a cab to the airport. Tourism remains restricted, and you’ll need to follow the rules. Here’s what you need to know before you start planning a vacation to Cuba.

Can I plan a Cuba vacation right now?

It depends. There are still travel restrictions in place. Cuba isn’t open for regular tourism. You have to fall under one of 12 categories of travel in order to visit. According to the White House public fact sheet on Cuba, these categories are:

  • Family visits
  • Official business of the U.S. government, foreign governments, and certain intergovernmental organizations
  • Journalistic activity
  • Professional research and professional meetings
  • Educational activities
  • Religious activities
  • Public performances, clinics, workshops, athletic and other competitions, and exhibitions
  • Support for the Cuban people
  • Humanitarian projects
  • Activities of private foundations or research or educational institutes
  • Exportation, importation, or transmission of information or information materials
  • Certain export transactions that may be considered for authorization under existing regulations and guidelines

Before the new rules took effect, travelers had to go through a pretty time-consuming and complicated process to apply to visit Cuba under one of the abovementioned categories. You no longer need a government license; this is a big change. You just a “general license,” which means you simply need to put together a getaway that falls under one of these categories. There are lots of Cuba tour companies that offer the kinds of trips that qualify for one or more of the 12 categories.

How do I book a flight to Cuba?

For now, you’ll have to go through a tour operator. U.S. carriers that want to fly to Cuba have to apply for regulatory approval from agencies like the Department of Transportation (DOT) and the Federal Aviation Agency (FAA) before service can begin. Eventually, we expect some major U.S. carriers to offer service to Cuba.

Lots of airlines have expressed interest in setting up Cuba service, including American, JetBlue, and Delta; these carriers already run chartered flights to the country. A few Canadian airlines offer flights to Cuba, so U.S. travelers may be able to connect through Canada in the near future.

Can I buy things in Cuba and bring them home?

Yes you can. Thanks to the eased rules, Americans can use credit cards and spend money in Cuba. You can spend as much money as you want while there, but there are some restrictions regarding what you can bring home. Travelers can return to the States with up to $400 in goods, including up to $100 in alcohol or tobacco.

Can I buy Cuban cigars?

Yes you can. But only in Cuba, and only up to one hundred bucks’ worth. You can’t order them online.

Can I buy travel insurance for my trip to Cuba?

Yes you can. Insurers are permitted by the U.S. government to cover trips to Cuba.

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(Photo: Philip M Walker/Getty Images)

By Caroline Costello

Caroline Costello's travel accomplishments include surviving a 2 a.m. whitewater rafting excursion in the Canadian wilderness, successfully biking from Dusseldorf to Cologne without a map, and gaining access to a covert pizza speakeasy in New Orleans.

Caroline is an active member of the Society of American Travel Writers (SATW). Her work has appeared on USA Today, the Boston Globe, AOL.com, MSNBC.com, ABC News, TODAY Travel, and CruiseCritic.com, among other publications.

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