Cuban Visa and Entry Requirements Explained

A quiet morning near Havana's cathedral.
Having just completed a trip to Cuba and doing quite a bit of research beforehand, I've decided to simplify and share what I learned. If you search for Cuban entry requirements or anything about Cuban visas, you're likely to get hundreds of results all saying mostly the same thing with some slight variations. Some articles were written 12 years ago and are hardly applicable now. This article should save you the hassle of visiting 25 different websites to compile the information you'd need to feel comfortable booking a trip. In the following sections, I'll summarize exactly what citizens of the USA need to know before making the journey to Cuba.

Pick a Reason
Before you can get to Cuba, you'll need to have an 'official' reason to visit the island nation. You'll actually be asked for your reason of visit when you begin the process of purchasing your airfare. The US government has come up with a list of 12 reasons that will allow you to visit Cuba legally. You'll notice that tourism isn't one of the options. No worries, though - it's completely fine! No one in Cuba will care about why you're there. These 12 reasons are solely required by the American government and seem far more intimidating than they actually are. Education or support of the Cuban people are safe choices which no one will really question.

Tourist Card
Exploring El Morro, a beautiful fortress in Havana Bay
In addition to having a reason to visit the country to appease the American bureaucrats, Cuba also requires visitors to have a tourist card. It's not a visa per se. It's just a sheet of paper that isn't attached to your passport. One part of it will get stamped upon arrival, and the other on departure. These tourist cards can typically be purchased through the airline that you're flying with and range in price from $50-100. I recommend purchasing in advance, rather than at the gate, as this will most likely save you a bit of cash. Guard this paper like you would your passport - do NOT lose it. The card is good for 30 days, but can be extended once if necessary.

As a side note, don't be afraid to let the Cuban immigration people stamp your passport - in the past Americans opted to have them stamp the tourist card instead but with the new rules, a Cuban stamp in your passport is not only legal, but pretty cool to have. Finally, there is NOT any additional departure tax charged to you at the airport (despite what you may read on the web) as this was dropped a couple years ago now.
A view from the cathedral's bell tower.
Health Insurance
The Cuban government requires all travelers to have health insurance while in the country. Since they don't recognize American insurance carriers yet, you'll need to have a form of Cuban health insurance. Seems like a big deal, but it's quite simple and cheap and some of the US airlines flying to Havana even include the insurance in your ticket price (look at the price breakdown to be sure). Spirit Air tagged on 25 bucks/person for health insurance for our four day trip. They gave us a small leaflet as documentation that we were covered by insurance, otherwise just take a screen shot on your phone of something indicating that you have proper insurance. You can also pick up some insurance at the airport in Havana for just a few dollars a day, however, be advised that you do not need to purchase any additional insurance if you have it through your airline no matter what anyone says to you at the aeropuerto.

Prepare for Lines
A final word of advice, the lines to go through immigration at arrival or departure from Havana can range from a breeze of a walk-through to a labyrinth of chaos when a half dozen international flights are coming or going at the same time so be like a Boy Scout and be prepared! Especially when leaving the country, arrive a bit earlier than you would normally, just in case. I'm not recommending showing up and camping at the airport for 6+ hours, but I'd definitely leave close to three hours just to remain on the safe side.

That's really it. It is THAT simple. Any questions? Feel free to ask. Cuba is so close to the lower 48 and is still pretty cheap to get to. Go while you can, as some airlines are already cutting back their service to Havana or canceling it altogether. As of writing this, Spirit Air is canceling their service entirely June 1 of 2017 but other carriers will continue service on a more limited basis. 

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