Whilst it is prohibited for Americans to travel to Cuba for tourist activities, independent travel to Cuba is still legal. Here are the essential things you need to know if you are traveling to Cuba with an American passport.

So you do not need a pre-approved license as long as your travel fits within one of the 12 valid travel categories.

12 Approved travel categories

First, you need to chose valid travel category. Americans can pick one of the 12 approved travel categories:

  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;
  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 informational materials;
  12. and certain authorized export transactions.

The most commonly chosen category by independent travellers is called ‘support for the Cuban people.’ This means you need to have an itinerary with meaningful local interactions and engaging with private Cuban businesses. This can include staying at casas particulares, eating at local restaurants, taking salsa lessons at a dance school etc. This is a general license, meaning that no pre-approval is needed. 

Travel companies like Cubaism Ltd run Cuba tours for Americans which make it straightforward for you to comply with the “Support for the Cuban People category”.

Travel documents

You will need the following travel documents for your trip to Cuba:

  • Passport that will be valid for at least six months after the date of your travel to Cuba.
  • Travel Card / Visa
    The travel card grants you to stay in Cuba for a period of up to 30 days and can be extended once during your stay. If you are are flying directly from the US to Cuba, you can arrange your travel card through your airline. You can buy them online or at the airline desk at the airport before you go through security. This can range from $50 to $85 depending on which airline you fly.
  • Flight / Cruise tickets
    Since 2016, many major airlines operate commercial flights to Cuba and it is easy to find direct flights from the US to Cuba. Southwest, JetBlue, Delta, United and American all offer direct flights from the US to Cuba. Despite changing political relations, the number of American visitors traveling to the Caribbean island is on the rise and airlines are increasing their services to meet demand.
  • Health Insurance
    You are required to have travel insurance in Cuba. Make sure to read the fine print to see if the policy covers any activities you may be planning to do, for example scuba diving. It is also recommended you get full coverage for theft and medical problems, as well as ambulances and an emergency flight home.


Extract from: Why Not Cuba