Traveling to Cuba is nothing new for those of us from Switzerland, but American’s are pretty excited to finally be able to visit thanks to the recent diplomatic relations that have been restored. U.S. domestic carriers can now enter what was previously considered blocked airspace and enter into business relationships with Cuban airlines. This is an addition to the month-old announcement that nonstop commercial flights will be restored between Cuba and the United States. As these two countries continue to expand their relationship, here’s a list of things you should know before making your way to the island of Cuba:
How can you fly to Cuba now?
It looks like U.S. airlines are on track to begin offering regularly scheduled flights to Cuba in the next several months. The additional new rules will make it easier for U.S. airlines to partner with Cuban airlines. Once the Cuban government approves, commercial flights will eliminate the need for expensive charter flights.
Can any U.S. citizen visit Cuba now?
U.S. citizens can only travel to Cuba as long as the trip qualifies under one of the 12 purposes of travel including visiting close relatives, enrolling in academic programs that offer school credit, working on professional research, journalistic and religious activities, and participating in public performances or sports competitions. One newly developed allowance is that people can now visit Cuba to organize a professional event or competition instead of actually having to wait for the event to take place. Travelers can also go to shoot film and television projects, record music, and create any sort of art as long as they can prove they have experience in the relevant field.
Therefore, regular tourism remains off limits for U.S. citizens. Travelers are required to document the purpose of their trip, they must organize a full-time schedule of their activities while in Cuba, and they must keep travel receipts for five years after they return.
Who keeps track of what you do in Cuba?
Senior officials at the departments of Treasury and Commerce confirm that the Cuban government takes the traveling restrictions very seriously. Technically, if a traveler signs an affidavit saying he/she is going to Cuba for a specific purpose but in fact spends his/her time at the beach, said traveler would be breaking the law.
Where do you stay?
Because Cuba has a shortage of high-end hotels, bed-and-breakfasts tend to be the way to go. These usually entail making contact with Cuban families and having access to good meals. These kinds of bed-and-breakfasts are called “casas particulares” in Cuba. They are very popular in Havana, Trinidad, Viñales, and Cienfuegos. You can usually book a stay in a casa particular though a travel agency.
Can you use credit cards?
A.T.M.s are very limited in Cuba, and many businesses don’t have the ability to take credit card payments. Cash is usually the way to go. Also, British pounds or euros can offer a better exchange rate in Cuba than the U.S. dollar.
What can U.S. citizens bring back from Cuba?
U.S. citizens are allowed to bring up to $400 in souvenirs with a limit of $100 in cigars.
So you still can’t travel like a normal tourist, yet, but at least the relationship is warming a bit after decades of diplomatic distance. Hopefully as the relationship improves, so will American’s ability to travel to and from Cuba more freely, so they can truly explore all the amazing food, culture, and beautiful scenery Cuba has to offer.