A tourist visa (visa de tarjeta del turista) is required for travellers from most nations. This visa, which is little more than a piece of paper on which you write your personal details, costs between 15 and 25 CUC (or €15-25), depending on where it is purchased. It can be purchased on arrival at the Cuban airport, but it should be noted that many airlines require a valid tourist visa card before boarding. The visa is usually valid for 30 days and can be extended once for a further 30 days at any immigration office in Cuba (for 25 CUC) – beyond this you must fly out of Cuba during the visa extension period. Canadians are the exception: you get 90 days on arrival and can apply for a 90-day extension. Your passport must be valid for at least six months beyond the end of your planned return journey. Canadian passports must be valid for at least one month after the planned departure date ([www]).
From Canada, the tourist card is usually handed out on the flight. It can also be purchased at most Latin American airports if you are departing from there (Cancun: MXN 250, Mexico City: USD 25). Please note that if you are departing from Europe (this may also apply to other countries), you will need the visa before boarding the plane. Sometimes the airline provides these at the airport, but check beforehand if this is the case. Without a valid visa, you will be refused boarding (the airline would otherwise be fined $1,000 by the Cuban immigration authorities).
- UNITED KINGDOM: Applying for a visa is a very simple process that can be done by post or in person at the Cuban Embassy in London. If you go to the Cuban Consulate by post, there is a new fee introduced in 2011 which is £25 for a non-personal transaction. If you can’t get to the Cuban consulate, consider using VisaCuba as it can be cheaper. Through them, the total cost is £20 per person. If you go to the Cuban consulate in person, you will get the visa immediately. You can also go through online agencies as mentioned above, although these are a little more expensive (usually £15 + £15 additional administration and postage costs).
- Germany: You can obtain the tourist card from the Cuban embassy in your country. However, travel agencies often offer cheaper and faster services.
Regular tourists who extend their 30-day visa can leave the country (to any destination) and return immediately with an additional 60 days (30 days plus a 30-day extension). Only two consecutive stays are allowed in this way.
If you want to stay with friends or family in Cuba, you must go to a migration office with your prospective host within two days of your arrival and pay 40 CUC for a 30-day family visa.
Citizens of Antigua and Barbuda (28 days), Barbados (28 days), Benin, Bosnia and Herzegovina, CIS (except Ukraine and Uzbekistan), Dominica, Grenada (60 days), Liechtenstein (90 days), Macedonia Malaysia (90 days), Mongolia, Montenegro (90 days), Namibia, Singapore, Slovakia, St. Kitts and Nevis, St Lucia, St Vincent and the Grenadines, Serbia (90 days) and Turkmenistan, which can stay 30 days without a visa. (The source of the previous sentence is unknown. Aeromexico staff at Cancun airport say that only citizens from China and Russia do not need a visa).
It should be noted that when leaving Cuba by plane, an exit tax of 25 CUC must be paid in cash; when leaving by boat, this tax is not required. This tax is not well known, but it is important to remember it. You will encounter great difficulties if you do not have enough cash to pay this tax when you leave the country. There is an ATM and exchange office at Havana airport, but these facilities are not as reliable in Cuba as in other places.
Cuban customs can be strict, but they are sometimes lenient with tourists.
Born in Cuba
To enter Cuba, Cuban citizens who are permanent residents of another country must have a valid Cuban passport and the appropriate authorisation. This authorisation is called the “habilitación” of the passport. To obtain this authorisation, the Cuban citizen must be recognised as a migrant by the Cuban government.
Most people born in Cuba who are citizens of other countries still need a valid Cuban passport to enter Cuba. The Cuban government does not recognise citizenships acquired by someone born in Cuba. This means that all Cubans are considered Cuban citizens by birth, even if they have another nationality.
An exception to this rule are Cubans who were born before 1 January 1971 and emigrated from Cuba. In this case, they can enter Cuba with a non-Cuban passport and the appropriate visa. It should be noted, however, that some consulates have been known to disregard this exception and require travellers to purchase a Cuban passport at considerable cost. The Cuban consulate in Sydney, Australia, is one such consulate that has reportedly done this.
For more information, see the Cuban government’s “Nación y Immigración” website (in Spanish): http://www.nacionyemigracion.cu/InfConsular/TramitesConsulares_NuevoProcedimientoEntradaPais.html.
Americans in Cuba
Although the Cuban government allows US citizens to travel there, the US itself prohibits its citizens from travelling there unless they have a licence issued by the Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control. The specific restriction is not to spend money in Cuba. However, the US authorities consider any visit of more than one day as sufficient evidence that money has been spent in Cuba. In addition, OFAC considers that US citizens may not receive goods or services free of charge from a Cuban national, so any attempt to circumvent the regulations on this premise is precluded.
With a license
All American citizens are required to have a permit in the USA, even if they are travelling through a third country.
Licenses for US persons to spend money in Cuba are granted to certain categories of persons for certain purposes.
A general authorization does not require any administrative formalities and can be applied for the following activities
- Professional journalists on assignment in Cuba
- Full-time professionals who conduct academic research or participate in professional conferences.
- Persons in an official government function
A specific license requires paperwork and approval from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs on a case-by-case basis. You may be approved for a specific licence if you belong to a specific group of people. Note that a specific licence may be granted to an institution (e.g. university, church) under whose auspices a person may then travel without making a separate application to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, or a specific licence may be applied for and granted to an individual. Some of the categories of persons to whom a special licence may be issued are:
- People visiting their immediate family in Cuba
- Full-time graduate students conducting academic research that counts towards a graduate degree.
- Students or graduates participating in a study abroad programme lasting at least 10 weeks
- Professors/teachers employed by a US institution who travel to Cuba to teach.
- Persons engaged in religious activities
- Freelance journalists
- People involved in humanitarian projects
- Persons participating in non-commercial cultural exhibitions
You may not travel to Cuba for tourism purposes. However, US citizens whose primary interest is tourism may be granted permission to travel as part of a programme whose activities are sufficiently religious, educational, cultural or otherwise exempt to qualify for a permit. It is even possible for a person with credible experience, such as in freelance journalism or teaching, to develop a “mission statement” for their visit that would allow them to obtain a permit. Further details and forms are available from the US Department of State.
Instead, many US citizens travel without permits and travel through other countries (many of which have routine flights to and from Cuba) to avoid detection. These countries include the Bahamas, Canada and Mexico. However, many airports in the Bahamas, Canada, Costa Rica and Jamaica now have US Customs pre-clearance facilities.
About the Bahamas
From Nassau, Cubana flies to Havana every day except Saturday. Bahamasair offers flights on Thursdays and Sundays. This is the cheapest and fastest route to Havana, especially for those living in the South Florida area.
A common practice for US citizens travelling to Cuba via Canada is to fly in two legs: a reservation for a flight to (and from) Canada and then a separate reservation for the flight to (and from) Cuba. The two legs must be booked separately, as airlines such as Air Canada prohibit booking passengers from the US to Cuba. It is also possible to drive across the border by car or to be driven and dropped off in a Canadian city and continue from there. Those living near Detroit or Buffalo have an easier time, as non-stop flights to Havana leave from Montreal or Toronto.
Mexico is considered safer and is probably the most popular. However, there is still some risk: if you travel from Mexico to Cuba (where your passport is not stamped) and then return to Mexico, you will have two Mexican entry stamps; having two consecutive Mexican entry stamps could raise suspicion if your passport is checked carefully. If you decide to re-enter Mexico from Cuba, you can try to convince the Mexican immigration officer not to stamp your passport a second time.
In the past, you could try to enter Mexico a second time with a birth certificate + U.S. ID so that you only had one stamp in your passport. This was allowed under Mexican law for U.S. citizens, but since 1 March 2010, all U.S. citizens – including children – must present a valid passport or ID to travel beyond the “border zone” within Mexico.
Another safe option would be to buy an open-jaw ticket (e.g. Cancun-Havana and then Havana-Guatemala). Mexico does not stamp passports on exit, and in this case your passport would show that you flew from Cancun to Guatemala City (or whichever city is your final destination from Havana).
Cancún is one of the easiest gateways, with several airlines offering daily flights to Havana. While it can be a little disconcerting to show up there not knowing what to expect, if you arrive earlier in the day, it’s usually possible to go to one of the airline counters and buy a ticket for the same day, as flights on this route are rarely full. Try Cubana. Aeromexico offers two flights a week.
US citizens also travel through countries without US customs offices (Guatemala, Venezuela, Panama, Cayman Islands, Dominican Republic, Costa Rica, Haiti, etc.) to reduce the risk of being caught. Many take the risk and hope they will not be questioned. Cuban travel agents advise US citizens not to bring anything identifiable as Cuban (including tickets and receipts) before returning to the country.