Cuba: How To Get a Cuban Tourist Visa, Entry Requirements, Medical Insurance

Old Havana - Habana Vieja

Trip Report Index
Who Can Fly To Cuba & When?
How to Book Award Flights To Havana, Cuba (fr United States NYC/EWR – HAV)
Our First Casa Particular Stay in Havana - Meh
Cuba: How To Get a Cuban Tourist Visa, Entry Requirements, Medical Insurance
How To Book a Casa Particular in Cuba Without the Hassle!
Cuba's Two Currencies (CUC vs CUP), Exchanging Money, Credit Cards, ATMs
Havana, Cuba Transportation, Taxis, Airport Transfers + Getting Around
Quick Havana Neighborhood Guide & Where to Stay
Havana, Cuba – Digital Detox Retreat From Internet & Phone (+ Where To Get It If You Really Need It)
I Loved Cuban Food...Until I Went To Cuba

Travel to Cuba for US Citizens has been restricted for a very long time. The rules have changed and you can now travel to Cuba for certain specific reasons. Tourism” is not allowed. Before you go, you'll need a few other things like a Tourist Visa Card, medical insurance, and travel affidavit. I just returned from a week in Cuba and will explain below.

Who can visit Cuba?

UPDATE 6/17/17: Recent changes now require anyone traveling under the “education activities” category below to travel as part of an organized group. See the FAQ. That means you can't design your own trip and go to Cuba on your own (under the educational category). This eliminates one of the easiest categories for people to go under.

If you are traveling directly from the US to Cuba, it seems the airlines will ask you for one of the following reasons for your visit, even if you are using a non-US passport. If you have a non-US passport and flying through another country to get to Cuba, you can probably avoid the requirements, though I believe if you are a dual citizen (US + another country) the rules probably still apply to you. If you only have a US Passport, your visit must be for one of the below 12 categories specified by the US Department of Treasury:

  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 (organized groups are allowed, “individual” educational activities are NOT allowed)
  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

The purpose of my visit was journalistic activity. I brought some documents as evidence just in case (business cards and a print out from my blog). I didn't see anyone checking this but that doesn't mean they won't if you go – remember that I flew through another country.

Do I need to submit a written request if my visit falls within the scope of a general license (the 12 categories above)?

No, but the US airline will probably have you fill out a OFAC certification form where you will select your reason/category for travel.

In the past, travel for the above purposes required a “specific license” which required an application and a case-by-case determination. That's no longer true. According to the US Dept of Treasury (pg 2), “No further permission from OFAC is required to engage in transactions by a person who meets all criteria in a general license.”

  • Alaska Airlines asks you to provide a travel affidavit where you will provide your reason for travel.
  • Delta's website states, “Yes, all passengers (U.S. and non-U.S.) traveling on a U.S. carrier must sign the OFAC certification.” They are working on an electronic form…until then, “Delta will provide a paper form at the gateway departure gate.” It also says passengers do not need to prove the reason for travel, but passengers are responsible for ensuring that they qualify.

Other airlines may require this as well but this was not required when I went (but that was before flights from the US were allowed to Cuba).

Can I travel to Cuba for tourism?

NO. No.

Your visit HAS to be for one of the above 12 reasons. According to Huffington Post's article, “Here’s How To Travel To Cuba Without Getting Fined,” you could get fined, though only one penalty was issued so far and it was for $89,775 against Red Bull. The easiest categories to travel under are probably “educational” or “religious”. The HuffPo article quotes Wayne Smith, a consultant at the Center for International Policy in Washington and a former chief of the U.S. Interests Section in Havana:

“As far as the educational trips go, all you have to do is sign a piece of paper saying you’re going to learn about some aspect of Cuban life,” Smith told HuffPost. “It’s very easy. Virtually anyone who wants to travel to Cuba now can do so.”

Do I need a Cuban Visa (Tourist Card)?

Yes.

United States citizens need one as do citizens of most countries. CubaVisas.com has a list of which countries require a visa. I do not see a similar list on the Cuba Embassy website, so I cannot confirm if their list is accurate.

How do I get a Cuban Visa (Tourist Card)?

  1. Buy a Visa at the airport. Airports in the United States that connect to Cuba should have them available for $50 USD depending on your airline, or less outside the US. DOUBLE CHECK WITH YOUR AIRLINE! I've checked some airlines and provided the evidence below, but I don't want you to go there and get stuck (and the airline won't care what is written here).
    • JetBlue + United sell Tourist Visas at the “gateway airport” (the final airport before departing the US for $50 USD per person. [Links: Jetblue + screen shot; United]. Strangely, United says “An additional $25 USD service charge will also be collected per person by Cuba Travel Services (CTS)”
    • Alaska Airlines told me they “are not responsible for visas” and to check with the airport (LAX had no idea when I called). Alaska Airline's website suggests passengers to get a Tourist Visa card from their partner Cuba Travel Services. [see screen shot]. Cuba Travel Services charges $85 for the Tourist Card ($50 + $35 processing fee).
    • Delta sells $50 at the gateway departure gate, prior to boarding, and accepts credit and debit cards according to Delta.com. [See screen shot].
    • Frontier also links to Cuba Travel Services for the $85 Tourist Card ($50 + $35 processing fee).
    • AeroMexico sells Tourist Cards, according to their website, “Cancun and Mexico City airports, at both the check-in desk and the customer service desk near the departure gates — no need to obtain this document in advance!” The price was 361 Mexican Pesos (~$18 USD) according to comments from Bo.
  2. Buy it online. I found these options online but haven't tried any of them yet. If anyone has any experience with these, please let me know.
  3. We bought our visa (tourist card) when we connected in Panama (PTY) airport. It was not available to purchase during any flights. There was a booth near the gate for the Havana flight but there were no signs. We paid $20 USD each (cash only!) and they handed us the Tourist Card below. No questions asked…it took 2 seconds. No passports or anything else was required other than a $20 dollar bill.
  4. There are some other agencies who will sell you one online but they require lots of paperwork and lots of fees. I think $50 is already too much so I would hesitate paying more.

There may be some questions when leaving your US based airport without the card. The United agent at Newark Airport asked about the visa when she tried to check us in all the way to Cuba (through Panama). Online check-in was not available. I explained that we were going to get the visa in Panama but she still had trouble checking me in only to Panama. This is where a second passport comes in handy to speed up the process – and that may have been the key to allowing her to check us in all the way.

Cuba Visa Tourist Card $20 USD Cuban Tourist Visa)

 

Do I need to have non-US medical insurance?

Yes.

  • It is likely included with your fare on a US airline. Keep reading to find out.
  • “Cuba requires visitors to have non-U.S. medical insurance, and sells a temporary policy to those who do not have it.” (Source: US Department of State).
  • “The Government of Cuba decided last February 16, that all travelers, foreign and Cubans living abroad, coming to the island from May 1, 2010 and thereafter shall take out a medical insurance policy.” (Source: Embassy of Cuba in Canada)

No one asked me for proof or tried to sell me any insurance. Note that I did not directly from US to Cuba. Since it's required, I was prepared with two insurances, just in case:

  1. I brought my work insurance card and made sure to call in advance to confirm that I'm covered outside of the US and specifically in Cuba. They said yes!
  2. In addition, I bought travel insurance from SquareMouth, a comparison site I've been using for years to buy some minimum coverage for my trips. Never buy the trip insurance offered when you are booking flights before checking SquareMouth first – it's always been better and cheaper. The plan I got this time was $45 for two people and included 'emergency medical' and many other coverages.

Credit Cards: If you paid for your flights with a credit card, you might have medical insurance. If you want to rely on this, I would suggest asking for a letter stating that the coverage is valid in Cuba.

Does US medical insurance count?

Good question! My medical insurance confirmed I'm covered in Cuba. The Cuban Embassy contradicts this: “US insurance companies do not provide coverage in the Cuban national territory,” and says you should buy insurance through their government owned provider, Havantur-Celimar Company or Asistur insurance company.

How do I buy Cuban medical insurance?

US Airlines have made this very easy. Many of them include a fee to cover your Cuban medical insurance in your fare. Check before you go. I found many of the links to help you:

If you want to play it safe, and follow the Cuban's embassy's instructions, you can buy insurance from the Cuban insurance company, Asistur. It's reasonably priced between 2.50-3.00 CUC (~$2.50-$3 USD) per person per day, if you buy it before you leaveaccording to the Cuban Embassy.

Buying medical insurance at the airport, according to these old posts (tripadvisor and lonely planet), can cost 3.50 CUC per person per day.

Contact info for Asistur Insurance Company: Phones (53 7) 866-8527, 866-8339, 867-1315. Fax (53 7) 8-66-80, e-mail: asisten@asistur.cu; seguros@asistur.cu
Cuba Medical Insurance

Will Cuban immigration stamp my passport?

Yes.

Our passports were stamped both on the way in and out. The stamps are the usual small ones that don't take up much space (see pic). It seems that they did not stamp US Passports in the past but now are stamping all of them.

Cuba Passport Stamp

Can I use Global Entry when coming home from Cuba?

Yes.

And when you come back, they probably know you went to Cuba even if you didn't fly directly from the US or use your US Passport to enter.

How long is the Immigration process in Cuba?

It took at least 30-45 minutes. Despite choosing shortest line, every other line went faster and when it was our turn, almost the entire hall was empty. I guess some how I chose the slowest agent. After you get your passport stamped, there is second stopping point. The woman asked how long we are staying and then let us through. There was a large crowd building up there and I'm still not sure what this was for. Just get used to waiting on lines – welcome to Cuba!

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My Cameras: These photos were taken using either my Canon S110 (newer model is S120) or my Sony a6000 (with this wide angle lens).  The Canon is fits in my pocket and takes amazing pictures. The Sony packs the power of a full size DSLR while being small enough that I'm still willing to bring it!

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Comments

    • I saw that they do sell it in the US at almost double the price I paid in panama. Not sure if every airport has it but the last stop before Cuba should have it. They did give me a little hassle in Newark airport because I didn’t have one. You can also order it ahead of time and get it delivered by mail.

  1. Please tell me how to order the Cuban tourist card in the US and have it sent to my home. A phone number would help. Somewhere other than the Cuban Embassy.

    Thanks,
    Dianne

  2. Mile High Visas, L.L.C. in Lakewood Colorado is now doing Cuban visas through the embassy in Washington, D.C. You can read about this on our Cuba page: milehighvisas dot com/ Cuba dot htm

    • Visa/tourist cards are $50 USD at US Airports + require ZERO effort (everyone should double check with their airlines and not rely solely on my article!). Not sure why someone would want to pay your company $171 + time/hassle of filling out forms, providing photos and passport information. Seems like a waste of time + money and I would NOT recommend it.

      Also, I checked out your website, it says “This is a service that saves you time by standing in government submission lines for you” but that is NOT required since you just get the visa card at the airport.

        • Carl – I updated the comment. It’s US Airports. Since you are connecting at Ft Lauderdale, they should have Cuban tourist cards. Which airline are you flying- JetBlue? If so, they told me the connecting airports will have them but you should check with the airline yourself to confirm this (and please reply with what they tell you).

      • Just to clarify, our courier actually submits Cuban visa requests to the Embassy in Washington, DC and does wait in line. We are unsure of the Cuban “visa cards” being sold online by several companies. No way to tell if they are real/valid or not. The embassy does charge a consulate fee of $70.00 per card. We are a visa and passport expediting company and our current clients like this service as it is hard to find reliable information online about Cuba. Way too much conflicting information out there! Thank you for your reply and input!

        • ok, but it seems most people are able to buy it at the airport for $50 USD. Its not yet clear to me why someone would need to go through the embassy (perhaps if you need a special visa). Some of the online providers have very strong reviews on Tripadvisor… if they were not valid, I think some people would complain.

          • You are a very experienced and adventurous traveler, most others are not. You found that you could get your visa for Cuba on the fly in Panama. Most people that plan family trips start months before and have put out a lot of money on flights and hotels and are too nervous to wait until day of travel to secure their visas. They want to make sure they are “all set” ahead of time. These are the people that will use our services and pay our fees. Also, not all airlines provide visas and will tell you to go buy a card. These are also the people that find us and use our services. I have been in this business for over 20 years and not everyone thinks the same way.

          • Yes, I agree many people will pay extra to have everything set before they leave while many others are budget travelers. It seems quick, fairly inexpensive and painless to follow the airlines instructions (whether they sell it themselves or refer to an agency). Well, there are many options so everyone will decide for themselves.

  3. I’m flying LAX to HAV on Alaska. I’ve been to Havana before, but directly from Panama and I bought my visa at the Panama airport. Does LAX also sell the visas at the gate? Thank you!

    • Looks like Alaska does not sell visas (Jetblue does). I have updated the section above on how to get visas – there are some online options you can use, though I have not tried these, so I cannot vouch for them.

    • I added the links for Delta – see above. Delta’s website says they include the insurance for $25 in the fare and will sell you a visa at the gateway departure gate for $50 if you don’t have the visa already.

  4. How practical is using the authorized ca​tegory “educational activity” and being able to get away with it? Will they be asking for any type of proof when booking? I am thinking about checking that one off but I am not sure if it’s practical or not.

    • No one was checking but I came prepared with some documentation to evidence my journalistic activity, just in case. I did’t fly directly from the US so it may be different but I think the people who would ask this question is the border/customs people in Cuba and they did not ask. Things could have changed since the US started flying direct to Cuba.

      I’ve added links to each of the categories to show how the government defines them.

      Take another look at the section “Can I travel to Cuba for tourism?”

  5. My flight is originating in Denver, connecting in Miami to Havana. Has anyone purchased their visa in Miami? Frontier charges $85 on their website which seems ridiculous since others are paying $50.

    Another question since we have to take all of the cash we need for the trip, any tips on keeping it safe. We will be staying at homes through Airbnb.

    • Looks like Frontier refers to a third party agency to handle visas so of course they have to charge a fee for their services.

      Yes, the cash is an uncomfortable problem. We also stayed at an airbnb (private apartment) which had so many locks it made think I was staying in a dangerous area (it was a very safe area). My suggestions are don’t carry too much with you (a bit more than enough for the day) and hide the rest. The owners’ hospitality made us feel much safer. I would probably get a room in a bigger casa particular next time but still with a private room+bath.

  6. We just got back from Havana a couple of days ago. We travelled through Mexico City where Aeromexico sold us visas at the airport for 361 Mexican pesos each. (About $18). It was quick and easy. Not sure if they would have accepted a credit card. We paid cash.

  7. Soy argentino con pasaporte argentino y con visa de residente permanente en USA, quiero viajar a Cuba y en mismo viaje visitar a mi hijo que es ciudadano americano y vive en Miami. La idea es volar mesde EZE a CCC el 6 de marzo, estar con unos amigos hasta el 15 y volar SNU/MIA y visitar a mi hijo. El 25 viajaria MIA/HAV y el 26 HAV/EZE. Puedo hacer este viaje? Que documentacion necesito? En caso de necesitar una Visa para entrar a CUBA, necesito otra para entrar de nuevo? Muchas gracias

    • Hello, I think you should contact a visa specialist for help. I have listed a few above that sell cuban visas. Some visas may allow re-entry but I haven’t looked into that. Its also cheaper to buy them from Argentina.

  8. I’m flying United Airlines. I’m so confused because their website states you can get an entry permit at the airport for a fee. I called the customer service line and the lady told me I needed to obtain a visa via the consulate in DC. I’m a US citizen, I meet the requirements to travel under a general license, and I will only be there for 6 days. My main concern is do I need to do anything i.e. fill out paperwork, apply for a visa before arriving at the airport?

    • I added the following United/Cuba Travel link to the post above. It says

      In Houston and New York/Newark, we sell Cuban entry permits at the departure gate and collect payment before you board. You will need your passport, boarding pass and a major credit card to make your purchase. A Cuban entry permit costs $50 USD per person and is not included in the price of your airline ticket. An additional $25 USD service charge will also be collected per person by Cuba Travel Services (CTS), which administers the distribution of the entry permits.

  9. Hello! Some friends and I are flying on Copa Airlines connecting to Panama City to get to Havana. Do you think we would be able to get the visas in Panama on the way to Havana? I read that you was able to buy them from the Panama Airport for $20 but I don’t know if that’s still the case now. Also, would it be better to use Asistur Insurance Company before we get there for medical insurance? Thank you!

    • I don’t see the info on Copa’s website to see if you can still buy the Cuban visa for $20, so it’s worth calling them to be sure. Also ask if they include the insurance in the ticket. I did find this Copa page which will tells you your specific immigration requirements. Take a look at the insurance section above. I didn’t get it but they can check and force you to buy insurance if you don’t have it. Just make sure you know for sure before you go.

  10. Hi – Thanks so much for this information; SO helpful. We plan to travel to Cuba from Washington DC in mid-July. Question: Can I go to the airport NOW to purchase the $50 visa (so I can have peace of mind) for travel in July, or are these visas all purchased immediately before you fly? And what if the airport that connects to Cuba is not the airport where you live? We live in DC, but will be flying direct from Newark.
    And what’s the difference between buying a visa at the airport vs. going through the hassle of going to the consulate?

    • You should be able to get the visa in Newark – the airport that connects to Cuba. I asked a friend who just flew on JetBlue to Cuba. They say to arrive early then you present your passport and credit card ($50) to get your visa before security. That was similar to when I went and we connected in Panama, the difference was I bought the Visa near the gate (after security) for only $20, and I don’t think they checked for it until I got to Cuba.

      I’m not sure about the consulate process but I think some people have different needs other than the standard visa. For example, if you want to stay longer.

      To put it simple, check with your airline what they suggest. If they sell it at the airport, then just do that.

  11. Hi. I have some confusion regarding the travel card, which I believe you refer to as the travel visa.
    1. Please clarify if the travel visa is a requirement to have on your person PRIOR to arriving in Havana, or if an air traveler can arrive in Havana Airport and purchase such a travel visa after landing.
    2. Do you recommend or suggest traveling indirectly to Havana by air [from the United States] via another nation, such as some folks on this Q&A section have done, as well as yourself? Ex. LA to Mexico City, then to Havana? Or Newark to Panama City to Havana? If yes, please provide some degree of reasoning or material travel advantage for such an option.

    Thanks tremendously, since you are obviously very diligent in replying to these email inquiries, as well as providing a very thorough and thoughtful blog on travel to Cuba.

    Gracias, Bon Voyage, and Safe Travels Everywhere

    • 1. In the US, at first they would not let me get my ticket without the Visa until I informed them I would get it in Panama. I would expect them to NOT let you board direct to Cuba without it. I explained above the ways how to get your Visa.
      2. Go as DIRECT as possible. I would not go again indirectly… unless it was the only way. It wasn’t fun. If I would return, it will only be on a direct flight.

  12. Besides from the visa, medical insurance, and the charge of 25 CUC you have to pay before you leave, are there any other fees you can be charged for (other than for luggage)

  13. Hello, I’m confused over this US to Cuba banned. Please do enlighten me… We are not US citizens and I am traveling to US with my family for holiday and we will go to Cuba from Miami airport. We have already the Cuba pass/Visa card, but somehow we are confused because the embassy of Cuba here in Beijing, China told me that we might need to go to other countries like: Bahamas or Mexico before entering Cuba and probably we cannot go directly from Miami to Cuba with this pass or they won’t allow us to go to Cuba? Was the law of travel banned is applicable to us although also even though we are not US citizens? Please! Please! I need some answer we will go to US on 31st of May. I hope to fix this issue before then… Thank you!

    • When we went in early 2016, we had to fly through another country. There were no direct flights from the US. Now there are PLENTY of direct flights from the US. I’m not why they would not allow you to fly from the US but you should contact the airline you plan to fly with. In this post you will find many of the airlines that do fly to Cuba directly. It would be strange for any Cuban embassy not to know this, but considering most of Cuba does not have access to the internet, I guess anything is possible. Or perhaps there is some other policy I’m not aware of. In any case, when I went to Cuba, I met many Europeans. I also found out that Canadians and Europeans have been visiting Cuba for a long time now — of course they would not fly through the US.

  14. This is one of the most comprehensive sources of information I have found regarding traveling there. Thank you!
    I am curious about the dual passport situation: are you saying that it is possible to fly on the US airlines straight to Cuba and avoid the US requirements as long as you enter Cuba with a non-US passport? I cannot seem to get a hold of the embassy to answer this question.

    • I just tried booking a flight to Cuba on Jetblue and entering that I have a non-US passport. It still asked me to select the approved reason for travel from a drop down. It seems that if you are traveling direct from the US, then they will ask even if you are using a non-US passport. If you are not flying direct to Cuba, then perhaps then the rules of the foreign country (that issued your passport) apply. I have NOT verified this.

  15. If I took a cruise to Cuba and bought a visa in July 2017, do I need to get another visa if I travel August 2017

    • Depends if you have a multiple entry visa. If you have a regular tourist card, I believe they are single entry only.

  16. I have South African passport holders that would like to travel to Havana directly from Key West. We can reserve on HavanaAir but are also asked to give a reason other than tourism when we reserve on the website. What do you recommend in this case?

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