As a very privileged American, I will admit that my mindset was simple: If a country requires a visa, I am probably not going there. Rules for traveling to Cuba and Cuban visas specifically are always changing and complicated.
Here's the latest information on how to get a Cuban Tourist Card and what the difference between Cuban Visas or Cuban Tourist Cards are. By the way, the new Cuba travel policies for Americans do not affect the Tourist Card.
Cuban Tourist Card Vs. Cuban Visa
First, Cuban Tourist Cards and Cuban Visas are different documents. Unfortunately, both words are used interchangeably on the web. If you're coming from North America, South America, or Europe you need a Cuban Tourist Card, not a Cuban Visa.
Cuban Tourist Cards grant a traveler a maximum stay of 30 days. If you are Canadian you are granted a 90 day stay. It also can be extended once for the same period. If you are flying direct to Cuba from the US your card will be pink in color and are more expensive. If you are a US citizen flying through another country besides the US, the typical green tourist card will suffice for travel to Cuba.
How to get a Cuban Tourist Card in the US
You may have seen direct flights to Cuba being advertised to the US. This is because airlines are now allowed to help get you a Tourist Card, making the process so much easier. The cost of the visa depends on which airline you're traveling on. You will not be able to board (and most of the time check in) without your pink tourist card.
I traveled with United and detailed my experience below. But here are some of the most popular airlines and how you get your Cuban Tourist Card with each:
- Southwest: $50, purchased online and delivered at the gate.
- JetBlue: $50, purchase at gate.
- Delta: $50, purchase at gate or through mail.
- United: $75 ($50 visa + $25 processing fee), purchase at gate.
- American: $85 ($50 visa + $35 processing fee), purchase online and sent via mail. AA will send instructions.
- Chartered Flight or Organized Tour: will be included with your package but you should double check.
Can Americans Travel to Cuba?
According to The White House, in order to gain entry into Cuba, you must pick from the below list of 12 reasons to explain why you are visiting the country.
1. Family visits
2. Official business of the U.S. government, foreign governments, and certain intergovernmental organizations
3. Journalistic activity
4. Professional research and professional meetings
5. Educational activities
6. Religious activities
7. Public performances, clinics, workshops, athletic and other competitions, and exhibitions
8. Support for the Cuban people
9. Humanitarian projects
10. Activities of private foundations or research or educational institutes
11. Exportation, importation, or transmission of information or information materials
12. Certain export transactions that may be considered for authorization under existing regulations and guidelines.
Again, you need to pick one of those reasons.
Which reason should you pick for travel to Cuba?
While in Cuba, we asked other Americans what reason they traveled to Cuba on. Many other American tourists went under religious activities (6), educational services (5) or public performances (7). None of them were questioned or asked to provide proof.
We picked #8 - Support for the Cuban People - mostly because it is vague, and this is what online research told me to do. Also, many of Matt's colleagues have traveled to Cuba using #8 as well. They said it was a good reason and was never really questioned.
A couple people in Matt's office did suggest signing a simple affidavit before leaving. Just in case we were asked for one by the visa agency. We did, and near the bottom I have attached the exact wording we used for our affidavit. Matt works at a law firm, so we simply spent lunch the day before we left signing and notarizing it in his office. You can go to you local bank and easily get your own notarized.
Our experience getting a Visa for Cuba
We arrived at the airport with plenty of time to spare. We entered the terminal and were happy to find an entire side was dedicated to United’s Cuba bound flights.
The first guard/employee asked if we already had a visa, we told her no and she gave us a small laminated card that said 'No Visa' and sent us to another line. In that line, they directed us to the Visa desk and we handed over our passports. The worker - who looked to work for a travel agency - filled out our name and address in the computer and also hand-wrote our info on a physical list. She asked what our reason for going to Cuba was. We both said support for the Cuban people with our affidavits in hand ready to be presented. She simply said “Ok, and are you paying cash or credit?” We handed over our credit cards (even if you are flying together you have to pay separate) and paid the $75 fee each for a visa. We then were given a small square slip of paper and she explained we had to fill this out very carefully before debarking the plane in Cuba. If we messed up we could not get another one.
From there we took a small step over to the check in counter and got our boarding passes from a friendly United agent.
All in all, it was a very easy process and took a total of 15 minutes from start to finish. At least for now it seems like a very straightforward process to travel to Cuba directly from the US.
Wording for an affidavit to Cuba
TRAVEL AFFIDAVIT- General/Specific Licenses
I understand that travel transactions related to Cuba must be directly incident to one of the self-authorizing general license purposeful travel categories or travel authorized under the auspice of a specific license granted on a case-by-case basis. Under current US travel restrictions with respect to Cuba, travel-related transactions are prohibited except for the following categories & that by signing my name at the bottom of this Affidavit, I declare that I fall under the category I have described below.
9. SUPPORT FOR THE CUBAN PEOPLE
515.574. I am a person whose travel to Cuba is directly incident to promoting independent activity intended to strengthen civil society in Cuba and the schedule of activities does not include free time or recreation in excess of that consistent with a full time schedule.
I declare under penalty of perjury that the foregoing is true and correct.
Even though researching ahead of time is great, I definitely recommend bringing a guidebook along with you. Here are some books I recommend...
Also, a super common question I get asked constantly is what camera do I use for my travels. The body is a Nikon D3300 and I mostly use this wide angle lens made by Sigma. It's awesome for travel photography - I am seriously obsessed with it.