Despite New Cuba Policy, Traveling to Cuba with CAA is Still Easy!

Obtaining a visa for group travel to Cuba with an organization like CAA is much easier than the media makes it out to be. It only takes a few extra minutes and about $50 more than purchasing a regular airline ticket. Here is everything you need to know for a safe, fun, and adventurous trip!

While independent travel to Cuba is subject to more regulations from the US, group travel is still allowed. As a travel group, CAA provides the itinerary and documentation needed to comply with US and Cuban travel requirements. Our tours are small and down-to-earth with dynamic local guides and arts-themed activities, so we can offer a more authentic experience that many big tour companies can’t provide.

Obtaining a Travel Visa & Insurance:

When you book your flight online, the airline will prompt you to select your travel category from a list of 12 allowed travel purposes from the US to Cuba. As a CAA participant, you will check “Educational and Person-to-Person Travel.” If you’d like to learn more about what that means, here is a PDF of the official US FAQ sheet about traveling to Cuba.

At the gate in the US airport, you will purchase your Cuban Visa, payable by credit card (cash not accepted). JetBlue charges $50 — other airlines may charge different prices. If your flight has several legs, you will purchase your visa at the last point of exit from the US. Attempting to purchase the visa ahead of time is usually not effective, and at-gate purchases have never been a problem for any traveler we’ve worked with.  

Your airline ticket will also include travel insurance for 30 days. When you arrive in Cuba, the customs officer will stamp your ticket — this is the tangible proof of your travel insurance. Make sure to keep your Cuba Visa and your stamped airline ticket in your passport throughout your stay in Cuba — the visa will be collected when you exit the country, and travel insurance may be useful during your stay.

Travel Itinerary and Affidavit:

Before you leave the US, you will need to have a travel itinerary with you as proof that you are complying with all US laws regarding travel to Cuba. Airport personnel may ask you for this prior to your departure. CAA will provide you with this itinerary two-to-four weeks before your trip. The itinerary will include flexibility and the exact times of activities may vary, but while in Cuba you should plan to stick to the basic elements of the itinerary.

You will also need a Travel Affidavit when you return to the US. The affidavit is a written statement indicating with which of the US-allowed travel categories you comply, any organization with which you’re traveling, and your itinerary of activities while in Cuba. If you’re ever audited by the US government about your trip to Cuba, this is the key document you would want as evidence. At the end of your trip, CAA will provide you with a complete Travel Affadavit, signed by your CAA group leader.

Expectations of both the US and Cuban governments:

Both governments are especially interested that US people stick to cultural activities and politically-neutral support of the Cuban people, and avoid political activism in Cuba. This refers especially to speaking out about political leaders and institutions in Cuba and/or the US, organizing rallies, holding meetings about politics, passing out literature with a strong opinion, meeting with dissidents, or filming with a political agenda. Travelers are encouraged to engage in activities in support of Cuban culture and people, in compliance with their travel program.

Personal identity and belief are respected in Cuba, and the values of social, economic, racial, and gender equality are strong values in Cuban culture and political tradition. Travelers do not have to worry about being seen as politically transgressive for expression such as wearing a Black Lives Matter shirt or presenting as gender non-conforming.

Certain laws are enforced strictly in Cuba, including customs laws against bringing illegal weapons and drugs into the country, illegal currency activity, buying and selling illegal drugs, and engaging in/with sex work. Travelers should remember that breaking these laws could have a serious impact for them, and potentially an even more serious impact on the Cubans with whom they have connection.

If you follow the laws and stick to your itinerary, you will almost definitely have no problem during your stay in Cuba!

A bit more about being (and not being) a “Tourist” in Cuba:

The legal and social uses of the term “Tourist” can be confusing for many travelers — here’s a little more background on what to expect.

The US government is clear about not wanting its citizens to engage in independent/unregulated “tourism” in Cuba, and prohibits travelers from staying at certain hotels or engaging tourism services that have a connection to the Cuban military. US citizens must have a clear purpose for travel under some type of organization. In addition to “Educational and Person-to-Person” purposes for travel, some of the other allowed categories include professional work, academic research, religious missions, and public cultural exhibits and performances. To comply with your visa category, you must show a full-time itinerary of activities, and you cannot engage in full-time sitting-on-the-beach-and-drinking-mojitos!

Unlike the US, the Cuban government does not have a problem with tourism by US or any other citizens in Cuba. Unless you are enrolled at a university, on an official mission, or have Cuban residency, the visa card that you will be issued by the Cuban government says “Tourist Visa.” From the perspective of the Cuban government you will be a “tourist,” welcomed for supporting the country’s culture and people.

Informally, Cuban people also often use the term “tourist” to refer to anyone who appears to be non-Cuban and doesn’t speak Spanish well. This isn’t meant to be a derogatory term, it’s used positively for people who appear to be enjoying Cuba without having residence or permanent ties there. Cubans are very warm to visitors from all over the world, and excited to build friendships with US people, regardless of designation.

Sonny Oram