How To Visit Cuba as an American cover with a picture of a statue and a Cuban flag

How To Visit Cuba as an American [A Guide]

Written By: author image Kyle Cash
author image Kyle Cash
Kyle is the writer behind The Travel Runner. He’s a full-time traveler and adventurer who’s visited over 20 countries, including places like Thailand, Mexico, Vietnam, and Albania.


Want to visit Cuba in 2024? Get all the legal travel info to know how to visit Cuba as an American. From restrictions to resources, this guide has you covered.

So, you’re ready to make the jump and visit Cuba as an American, eh?

I know what you’re thinking. Is this even legal? Looking at government laws and blog posts only confuses you more. One thing says to fly to Cuba like any other trip, while others make it seem like you can’t go unless you have family or work in Cuba.

I know because that’s what it was like as I researched for my three days in Havana.

I’m here to simplify things so that you can travel to Cuba and enjoy everything this beautiful island country offers (and there’s plenty!). To be clear, this guide is for anyone traveling to Cuba on a tourist Cuban visa. This isn’t for anyone who isn’t traveling for strictly tourism purposes.

So, if that’s you and you’re ready to visit Cuba as an American, let’s jump in.

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Can Americans travel to Cuba?

Yes, Americans can travel to Cuba.

The Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) set 12 categories for Americans to travel to Cuba (though most don’t apply to everyday citizens). I’ll cover these in more depth in the next section.

A Cuban statue sits in a small park and points out with the Capitol building sitting in the background with its golden roof.

But there are ways you can still visit Cuba as an American.

And one thing to clear up: Most travel restrictions are not set by the Cuban government. The U.S. government sets the laws, so traveling to Cuba requires a bit of hoop-jumping. The Cuban government largely views you like any other foreign tourist.

Cuban travel visas for Americans

Upon your arrival in Cuba, you’ll be asked to declare which of the 12 travel categories you will travel under during your stay in Cuba.

The 12 permitted categories for Cuba travel are:

  1. Family visits
  2. Official business of the U.S. government, foreign governments, and some intergovernmental organizations
  3. Journalistic activity
  4. Professional research and 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 authorized export transactions

If you’re like me, you look at these and think, “Well, that’s super vague.”

And that’s why most people give up on the trip or say Americans cannot travel to Cuba.

But the focus of this list is #8, Support for the Cuban People.

What is the support for the Cuban people entry requirement?

Like the rest of this process, the legal text surrounding this category will put you to sleep quickly.

In layman’s terms, this category allows Americans to visit Cuba in a way that directly benefits the Cuban people. It’s similar to the people-to-people category of travel before Trump ended it. Luckily, Biden reinstated this Cuba visa so we can all enjoy supporting the Cuban people.

But what does it mean in practice?

The author rides in a classic car with a local Cuban driver

Basically, instead of lining the pockets of the government, you support private businesses and interact with locals. When you eat, you eat at local restaurants — not government-owned ones. Staying somewhere? Then stay in a locally owned place (casas particulares) — not a government-run hotel. When you go on tours…well, I think you get it.

Anything that grows the relationship between American and Cuban people is okay with Uncle Sam!

And that includes many Cuba tour operators as well!

Which is great because the Cuban people are one of the best parts of Cuba! Warm, friendly, and eager to talk to foreigners (especially Americans), this entry requirement is the best for everyone involved.

One thing to remember is to keep a detailed record of your experiences for five years. You likely won’t need it if you follow the law and avoid government-owned places, but it’s good to have it on hand just in case the U.S. government comes knockin’.

Don’t have medical insurance for Cuba yet?

Cuban scenery

I recommend using Visitors Coverage. It’s one of the few insurance plans you can find that covers Cuba (which is HUGE!). Here’s what it covers:

  • New illnesses and injuries
  • Emergency services (including hospitalization and surgery)
  • Emergency medical evacuation
  • Lost luggage
  • And more!

And the best part? Their plans are super affordable.

So, if you’re planning a trip to Cuba, check out Visitors Coverage right now!

Disclaimer: This is an affiliate link, and I may make a small commission if you buy. But I only recommend products I’ve used!

How to get a tourist card for Cuba travel

The Tourist Card is your ticket to visit Cuba as an American.

Without it, there’s zero chance you’re getting into Cuba. And it’s needed for every travel category.

The Cuban tourist card partially filled out by the author of the post, which is required to visit Cuba as an American

So, where can you get it? There are a few options:

  • Through your airline: Many airlines flying to Cuba from the US offer the Tourist Card and often even include mandatory health insurance in the ticket price.
  • Online agencies: Companies specializing in travel to Cuba sell Tourist Cards. A quick search for “Cuba Tourist Card” should turn up several options.
  • Flying from outside the US: You can find cheaper Tourist Cards when flying to Cuba from outside the US. I got mine for $20 at the Panama City Airport!

So, whether you get it in advance or at the last minute, ensure you have it. Otherwise, you won’t get on your flight! Also, it’s not the only thing you need to get into Cuba.

What you need to visit Cuba as an American citizen

Okay, you’re excited to experience Cuba firsthand, but hold on. US travel regulations mean we need to cover some essentials before you create your Cuba packing list. It’s not as easy for travelers to Cuba to simply get a Cuba tourist visa and enter.

Here’s everything you need to cover yourself:

  1. Passport: Must be valid for at least six months past trip dates.
  2. Tourist card: I covered this above, but this is arguably the most important document to visit Cuba as an American.
  3. Travel category: “Support for the Cuban People” is the usual choice for most tourists.
  4. D’Viajeros formThe Cuban government requires this form for Cuban tourists. Your airline usually provides this; you must complete it within 48 hours of your trip.
  5. Travel medical insurance: Some US airlines include it in the ticket price. I wasn’t asked for it, but having some insurance is good, and it’s technically required.
  6. Affidavit for travel to Cuba: Another to print and fill out after booking your flight. You can print this close to your travel day. This is for airline staff pre-boarding.
  7. Itinerary: Just a basic outline of your daily plans showing support for local businesses. Again, I wasn’t asked, but it’s good to have on hand.
  8. Cash: Your cards won’t work in Cuba (check next section), so you must have all the money you’ll exchange for your trip. US dollars are fine but check with your Casa particular host about exchanging.

Now that we’ve got the critical details out of the way, let’s jump into some things you should know.

What to know before you travel to Cuba

Your credit and debit cards will not work

Because of the relationship between the US and the government of Cuba, the Cuba sanctions don’t allow US companies to operate in Cuba.

So, you MUST take out all the money you plan to spend while you legally visit Cuba as an American. It’s often difficult to calculate for independent travel beforehand, but this is a reason I recommend using Airbnb to book a lot of your things. For example, I booked the casa particular and two experiences through Airbnb. If you want more info, check out my guide on getting a discount on Airbnb.

I did this for two reasons:

  1. Convenience
  2. Easy records

I use Airbnb to book many of my stays everywhere I go. It’s super convenient to find tons of casas particulares throughout the city. I stayed right in the middle of Old Havana, which was perfect.

A row of classic cars sits on a main avenue in Havana

Also, I have easy records if I need to show the US government where I stayed in Cuba.

It’s the same for two of the tours I went on. One was a tour with a local named Carlos, who showed me the daily life of Cubans. The second was playing basketball with locals a bit outside of Havana. (I highly recommend both of these, by the way!) But, whichever option you choose, gauge how much cash you need beforehand and have it ready to exchange.

This leads me to…

Avoid exchanging cash on the street

Not only is this also generally unsafe, you’ll get ripped off.

My host and blogs I read warned me about this beforehand, so I want to pass that information on. The best option is to know the exchange rate (generally) before you arrive and then exchange it with your casa particular host. They give you the best rates, so your money goes as far as it should.

Many people ask if you need to exchange on the street, but tell them no and keep walking.

The internet in Cuba isn’t the greatest

I was curious to see how exaggerated this was when I visited.

It isn’t.

The internet is exactly what you expect it would be when the US has had measures against Cuba for over 50 years. My casa particular’s internet would stay on briefly — about enough to get a message off — then cut out completely. The last day I was there, it worked fine, albeit slowly.

But that’s okay! It just means you get to experience the trip completely disconnected. And I loved that, personally.

Get Cuba-friendly medical insurance

Not all medical insurance plans work in Cuba.

As I mentioned above, many flight tickets to Cuba from the United States come with it included in the price. But it’s best to check.

I didn’t have it since I was flying from Panama, so I bought it separately. If you’re in that same boat, I recommend checking out Visitors Coverage. I used it during my time in Cuba. The process was easy to sign up and relatively cheap.

So, if you’re going to visit Cuba as an American, make sure you’re covered.

Ready to visit Cuba?

Hopefully, this quick guide on how to visit Cuba as an American helped out!

I loved my time in Cuba and can’t recommend it enough. The people are amazing, there’s tons of history and beautiful sights, and I feel everyone needs to see it. And, if you’re ready to start planning, I have a 3-day Havana itinerary ready to help you get started! Sign up below and get it sent to your inbox in minutes!

author avatar
Kyle Cash Owner
Kyle is the writer behind The Travel Runner. He’s a full-time traveler and adventurer who’s visited over 20 countries, including places like Thailand, Mexico, Vietnam, and Albania.