Are you feeling antsy and want to get to Cuba now instead of waiting until there are direct flights to the country? Read on. We’ll tell you how to go there before the droves of tourists and what to expect when direct flights to Cuba start later this year.
Cuba has long been the unvisited island in the Caribbean for Americans — a hot topic of history, foreign relations, and controversy, even today. President Barack Obama’s visit to Cuba last month was the first by a sitting U.S. president since Calvin Coolidge in 1928. Later this year, U.S. airlines will begin flights to Havana (HAV), Camagüey (CMW), Cienfuegos (CFG), Holguín (HOG) and Santa Clara (SNU), while Starwood Hotels and Marriott International will offer accommodations and Airbnb will expand services to visitors from all countries.
What you need to know if you want to go to Cuba NOW:
At the present time, Americans are still barred from traveling to Cuba as tourists, but there are 12 other legal travel categories that U.S. citizens may fit into, and all that is required is what’s called a “general license.”
If you can check the box for one of the following, then keep reading:
- Family visits (Relatives there? You’re in!)
- Official business of the U.S. government, foreign governments, and certain intergovernmental organizations (You might be a little more “special” than the average tourist if this is you.)
- Journalistic activity (Can you write? Keep a journal? A daily blog?)
- Professional research and professional meetings (Researcher? Writer? Business person? Check this one.)
- Educational activities (Teacher? Student? World explorer?)
- Religious activities (You probably don’t want to perform a rain dance in the streets, but hey, if you’re there on religious business, that works.)
- Public performances, clinics, workshops, athletic and other competitions, and exhibitions (This time, it may be appropriate to perform a dance or song in the street.)
- Support for the Cuban people (You’ll be buying their coffee, cigars, and food and loving it. Be a good guest when you’re there.)
- Humanitarian projects (You selfless person, you.)
- Activities of private foundations or research or educational institutes (Similar to some of the above, but you’re more private about it.)
- Exportation, importation, or transmission of information or information materials (This one might be tricky, so unless you know for certain that this is your category, refer to the right person.)
- Certain authorized export transactions (Same as above.)
The bottom line is that you should document everything you do there each day in a journal of some sort and take lots of pictures. Be sure to keep them all handy for the next 5 years should anyone from Uncle Sam come a-knockin’.
Next, get your legal documents in order. This includes an up-to-date passport with at least two empty pages and a visa. If you’re traveling with a tour group, most likely the organizers will prepare them for you. If you’re flying solo, the U.S. Government will refer you to the Cuban Interests Section. Look for the information on “consular services for foreigners.”
Lastly, book your flight. Easy enough? Well, it soon will be, but not quite yet. You have two options right now:
- Book flights to Cuba via another country. Yes, this will involve two transactions. No, it’s not difficult, just a little more time-consuming. For example, book a flight from your nearest airport to a city in Mexico, then book a second flight from Mexico to Cuba.
- Book flights to Cuba via air charters. More airlines are jumping on this route (pun intended). JetBlue is the latest, offering weekly charter flights form New York to Havana, while Sun Country also flies there. However, be aware that those airlines have only partnered with charters, and flights are still booked through the charter company, not the airline (at this time).
What you need to know if you want to go to Cuba later this year:
The U.S. has authorized 110 daily flights to Cuba in the coming year. The following airlines have submitted applications to fly there: JetBlue, United, Southwest, Delta, Alaska and American.
We should know more about the exact routes this summer. For your convenience, the U.S has made some embargo changes so you can eventually have U.S. dollar transactions there as well. Until then, you will have to deal with their dual-currency system of the CUC (1:1 ratio to the US dollar that fuels the tourist economy) and the CUP (the regular Cuban peso, which is what the locals use).