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Traveling to Cuba

Cuban Law, Visas, & Security US Government Defense of Travel Rights
Travel Agents & Places to Stay Cuban Government Money & Excess Baggage

Traveling to Cuba can be one of those life transforming experiences.   Here we present some practical information to help make that a reality.  There are always two aspects of going to Cuba, the part having to do with the Cuban government, of course, and, especially in the case of the US, the part having to do with your country of residence.

For the Cuban government end, see Cuban Government sites in Cuba, Cuban Interests Section in Washington DC,  and Cuban Law, Visas, & Security.   If you are a Cuban American living in the US, see the very informative new site by the Cuban Interests Section in Washington, DC. You fall under a separate system than other Americans and must tend to those details.

For the US government end, see US Government.

If you are not subject to US law, skip this next section. If you are not a US national but are a resident of the US, you are still subject to these restrictions.

For US Citizens and Residents - US Lawtop

These regulations change but most have survived under Trump, see the State Department site.

Check out and

There are some categories which qualify for a treasury license: full time students, musicians, dancers, anyone going down for professional reasons, such as journalists, researchers, or folks arraning for informational materials under the Berman amendment. Cuban Americans. For these you just sign an affidavits prior to going down. Treasury tends to encourage group travel and frowns on individual tourism, which makes you wonder who is the collectivist here....
In all the years of the travel restrictions, up until the Bush 2 administration, very few people had been prosecuted. The Office of Foreign Assets Control in the Treasury Department said in 1999 that there were only 16 criminal prosecutions for nine violations since 1983. Since 2001, the number has  gone up, and prosecutions are more numerous, with hefty fines imposed of $6,000 to $10,000, though this halted under Obama and does not seem to have restarted under Trump. The penalties on record are stiff: $250,000 fine and up to 10 years in the pen, but it is not clear if the government can actually collect these fines. The situation has gotten to the point where people are getting together to create a legal defense organization to defend the right to travel.

Others who apply for a license that they need to receive in their hands are subject to resource scarcities within Treasury, the body that grants licenses. Unless of course you get one through your academic institution if they have had the foresight (perhaps with some help from you, dear reader!) to get a general license enabling them to issue licenses to their students, staff, and faculty.

Be warned that licenses from Treasury may not come or may come too late for travel if you don't give yourself plenty of lead time and put in for a date ahead of the one you need.  Also note a recent disturbing trend of denying more of these licenses than has been the case in the past, possibly due to pressure from a certain section of el Exilio, who get mad when Americans travel to Cuba.  These people have arrogated themselves the position of leaders even when many Cuban Americans do not agree with them -- they have a lot of money, some of it from dubious sources, and have bought or bullied a lot of people in the government, many of whom are still obsessing over the anticommunism of the cold war. Counterbalancing this is the new ability of universities and others to grant licenses: they receive a license from Treasury to do this.  It's not automatic and you will need to prod your institution into getting with this

We do not recommend going through the Bahamas. US Customs there have been known to confiscate religious objects. Also, as one reader reports: "Jamaica, Bermuda, and the Dominican Republic permit US Customs and CIA 'stations' in their major airports; Mexico does not."  Note that the CIA is probably more focused on spying than law enforcement, so the determining factor is more likely the presence of Customs.

When you travel via Cancun, you pass customs in the US. Via Canada, you pass US customs in Canada, but they seem more reasonable and less apt to 'tag' you. If you've been bad and have asked the Cubans and the Mexicans not to stamp your passport (bribing the Mexicans with $20 folded into your passport, although some say that is not necessary), then be sure to tell the truth if later on a US Customs agent asks you where you've been. It's a worse sin (a felony) to lie to a federal officer than to go to Cuba without a license, which is punished by fines. Be aware that you have to ask both the Cubans and the Mexicans to not stamp your passport or they will.  The Cubans will usually honor this request for free.

Note: there have been reports of people being fined even though they did not bring anything back with them from Cuba or give themselves away in an obvious manner.... This is true even through Mexico, where they have been known to give the US the passenger manifests...

When you come back from Cuba under a license, you are able to bring in items protected by the Berman amendment: books, CDs, videos, even works of art.

Excess baggagetop

The regulations on this vary from airline to airline -- check with them. Cubana is among the strictest, and will even refuse to take on excess bags.  Check with your carrier ahead of time.  Their stated policies are sometimes stricter than what they do on the ground...

Cuban Law, Cuban Visas, & Security

The tourist visas for anyone, American or not, as long as you were not born in Cuba or are not visiting Cuban relatives, are easy to obtain and come as a part of your travel package when you buy your ticket or can be purchased at selected airports.  Visas for journalists and researchers declared as such are a separate matter and require an application to the Cuban Consulate in your country (Washington, DC for the US).  Cuban Americans born in Cuba also need to get special permission as they are viewed with somewhat more suspicion and have to be checked out... see Cuban Interests Section.

Be sure to understand some essentials of Cuban law.  You will need to have a hotel room/private house (casa particular) arranged in Cuba before you get there, or at least have one to declare to Imigracion when you arrive. You can stay at a friend's house or a licensed private boarding house, but we suggest you do that only if they have cleared the way for it.  Cuban citizens can be fined $1,000 (a fortune in Cuba) for having a foreigner as an overnight guest if they themselves don't

1) get permission from Imigracion or
2) pay $100/month or more for a license to do this on a commercial basis. 

This fine can be doubled if not paid in 30 days, after which they go to jail at the rate of $1/day.   Cubans can get permission to have a foreign friend stay at their house, but this requires that they go and declare you with Imigracion and you will need to go and show your passport.  As of spring, '99, this procedure has been simplified and anyone can have a foreign guest by paying for a $50 ($40?) stamp ahead of time with Imigracion, which gives one permission to have a foreign guest for a determined stay.

Once in Cuba, be aware that some Cubans are eager to hustle you and that this can be severely punished - prostitution can get the woman 5 years in jail and, under the new laws, 20 years or more for the pimp.  Informal street vending can be punished by fines and jail time.  Ordinary Cubans walking the streets with foreigners are automatically subject to a check on ID papers to the point where many Cubans refuse to walk with foreigners as they could be fined if their papers are not in order. This is even more the case for black cubans, who will be singled out when white cubans are let by.

In general, Cuban police lean over backwards not to molest tourists since Cuba is so dependent on tourism for income and since Cubans are basically very polite people and hospitable to strangers.

Personal security on the island is in general quite good.  Until recently, crime was little known.  That is changing with the continued economic hard times and we have seen a rise in crime which reached dangerous levels in '97 and '98 in certain areas such as Old Havana (Habana Vieja) and parts of Santiago, where purse snatchings and muggings were common.   Because of this, there is now extra vigilance by the police who have taken to asking  for IDs a lot more frequently and crime has gone down all over.  Such ID checks are common in tourist and high visibility areas such as the Malecon along the Havana shore.  It is less common in non-tourist areas.  The 2001 changes in the penal code  drastically increase prison sentences, though prisoners are eligible for parole after serving half of their sentences, unlike the US where parole is increasingly not part of the picture.  Already a Cuban can get a jail sentence of up to 70 years for fighting with or attacking a tourist. Even so, best to consult local Cubans on what are the safe areas and what aren't.  However, with the crackdown, folks report that foreigners feel they can walk the streets again...

The level of crime in the worst places is not even comparable to US levels, though hard numbers are not easy to come by.  Many Cubans are in fact supportive of the current crackdown as there is a tremendous personal fear triggered by a few murders.   They have nothing to compare this to and are unaware that their murder rate is far, far less than what can be experienced in any major US city.



The dollar is no longer recognized in Cuba. You will need to change them into Convertible (CUC).

Credit cards, including Visa/MasterCard,  are recognized in Cuba so long as they are not from a US bank.  People report mixed results with travelers' checks. Non-US based checks definitely work, as do checks bought in the US via companies such as Thomas Cook. Some have reported that US based CityBank traveler's checks work but American Express don't -- perhaps this is a result of some past dispute. Others say American Express checks work fine. However, we did get a note from an American Express employee who lost her checks in Cuba and was refused reimbursement.  So it may be the case that you can cash travelers checks bought in the US or from a US company, but you may not be able to get your money back if they are stolen!  Check on this matter with whoever you buy from...

US travelers frequently either pay in cash or use travelers checks from Thomas Cook.   One easy way is to establish Canadian card is Transcard, a debit card where you can deposit funds before your trip, even if you do not live in Canada. If you travel through a third country, you can buy travelers' checks in that country (not American Express!) before getting into Cuba, and they will be recognized in Cuba as well as reimbursed if lost.

US dollars in Cuba are known as "fula" and Cuban pesos, "nacional"

Sending money to Cuba: see  Money Transfers and Package Delivery

Travel Agents

Location Name Phone
Email/Web site
Cuba Cuba Linda:  originally started by former CIA agent 
Phillip Agee, still active
+53-7-553980, fax +53-7-553686.
  Cuba Travel Network    
Olivia King Center Not a travel agent, but organize itineraries around the religion and the culture. Based in Havana
Europe Cuba Linda France Reserve a private house in Cuba, "casa particular."
Cuba-Junky Netherlands
Mexico Cuba Travel Corporation
Cancun, Mexico
Roberto Paneque
FAX (98) 48-0175
CEL (98) 74-2822

USA Marazul Tours: New Jersey and Florida 800 223-5334
Common Ground Travel 413 203-1125
  Cinnamon Traveler
  Cuba Educational Travel

Caribbean Tropical Tours: Cancun, Mexicotop

Visit their web site, Roberto Paneque is Cuban and knows his island well. He can fix you up with a variety of deals. Cancun is a flexible departure point, with many flights to Havana. AeroMexico is among the most lenient airlines for excess weight, charging only $1 pound as of 6/99 (double check!).

Common Ground Travel

Highly rated.

Common Ground Travel 413 203-1125

USA - Marazul Tours

The grand-dady of the Cuban tour operators. Many tours covering a variety of subjects. Like any US group, they must insure compliance with licensing requirements. Departures via Miami and other points.  See:  

Cuban Government top

Cuban Government Web Sites (esp) (eng)


Cuban Interests Section
Washington, DC

A little piece of Havana in DC!    202 797-8518 and 8519
For the consulate: 202 797-8609, 8610 (frequently busy, you may have to redial 50 times)
See also our page on them, where we list events we hear about: Cuban Interests Section

For travel to Cuba, the visa is given directly by the travel agency/tour operator so you don't need to contact the Section.  Only Cuban Americans, journalists and researchers need to clear their visas through the Cuban Interests Section. 

Their sites:


Government top

Obama regulations:

Treasury Department, Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC)   202 622-2000

State Department, Cuba Desk: 202 647-4000

US Embassy, Havana:  011 53 7 33.35.50 through 59
                                                     011 53 7 33.37.00 fax

There are two pieces on efforts to defend the right to travel to Cuba:

Wall of Lawyer to Defend Travel Right

Global Exchange mounts challenge to Treasury's control of travel rights

State Department Sitetop

Web Site Informs on Cuban Issues

To help Americans understand the rules and regulations governing travel to Cuba, the U.S. embargo against the island and other issues, the State Department has unveiled a special Web site, reports The Associated Press.

The Web site address is:

For the first time since the early 1960s, there are direct passenger flights between New York and Cuba starting Friday Dec 17, 1999. The flights by Marazul Charters go from Kennedy Airport to Havana. The round-trip fare will be $629, about $300 less than from New York to Havana via Miami.

Weather in Cubatop

At Jose Marti Airport, Havana

By boat from Jamaica

We have heard that from Montego Bay you can take a boat to Santiago de Cuba in Oriente for $40.00.  Seems like a nice way of getting there without an automated passenger manifest...  That's all we know, folks.  For further details, consult a travel agent.  

Other Links

Lonely Planet

Travel to Cuba


Places to stay in Cuba

Besides hotels, there are private houses ("casas particulares"), which, under license, can rent rooms or apartments. Note that without a license, the Cuban runs a risk of up to a $1,000 fine.



According to the only information we have about the meeting, published by, Cuban representatives underlined the fact that mutual protection of brands and patents will be a key aspect of improving bilateral relations. This took place just a year after Sony and EGREM signed a music distribution agreement, the terms of which we also have no knowledge about.


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