Americans traveling to Cuba?

edited September 2009 in - Cuba
Are Americans allowed to travel to Cuba on holiday? And if so, what is the reception like? Are American tourists safe and welcome in Cuba?
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Comments

  • edited 4:11PM
    I am American/Canadian and traveled to Cuba last Christmas/New Year's on my Canadian passport. The problem is not with Cubans but with the American gov't concerning travel to Cuba. Respect the people, learn from them and their different experiences of life and you will have a real treat. While they are a proud people, they also are problem-solvers and their problem is poverty especially with the world economy as it is. If you want a real taste of Cuba get away from the resort areas and stay in casa particulares (B&Bs) that way the money is infused into the local economies but the Cuban gov't is supported also - and it is legal too.
  • edited 4:11PM
    http://www.globalexchange.org/tours/1076.html

    These folks have been taking delegations to Cuba for the last 20 years.

    Check it out!
  • edited 4:11PM
    Cubans aren't thrilled with Americans, take a Canadian flag pin and say you are from Toronto.
  • edited 4:11PM
    American tourists are welcomed in Cuba. As Ookpikhill says the problem is with the US not the Cubans. They will treat you the same as any other tourist.
  • edited 4:11PM
    I've seen Cubans refuse to take money from Americans. When they find out you aren't from the US they are all smiles and can't do enough for you. Russians, Mexicans, Spanish, English, Canadians are treated with respect.
  • edited 4:11PM
    I traveled to Cuba 1 1/2 ago. The people are friendly and kind. I am waiting on my travel visa again. Is there a better way or quicker
  • edited 4:11PM
    Normally the travel visa is given to you on the plane just prior to entry to the country and you simply fill it out and hand it to customs when you go through the airport.
  • edited 4:11PM
    It's the American government who aren't promoting Cuban travel to American citizens, as they require you to get a license beforehand. To be specific, they have not such much restricted travel to Cuba, but spending money there (which is pretty much the same as saying no travel). I don't think the Americans receive a very good reception form the Cuban people, due to the complex history between the two countries, but I wouldn't let that put you off travelling to such a wonderful country!
  • edited 4:11PM
    Some incorrect/misinformed advice above. Here's the deal...

    =================================================

    Hundreds and hundreds upon thousands of American tourists have travelled to Cuba illegally. The most common gateway is Canada and Mexico. Here's a thumbnail sketch of the situation...

    1.) First of all, Americans are welcomed with open arms in Cuba and they always have been. The problem has always been with the US government, not the Cuban government nor the Cuban people.

    2.) The only way to legally visit Cuba from the US is under license from the US Treasury Department and tourist travel is NOT licensable under ANY circumstances. There are no loopholes or exceptions. The, "not illegal to travel there, it's only illegal to spend money" is an urban myth. There is no way for an American tourist to be fully hosted or for an American tourist to purchase an all-inclusive package outside of Cuba so they're not spending any money there.

    Bottom line: It is illegal for any American citizen - and in fact for anyone even residing in the US no matter what their citizenship - to visit Cuba as a tourist. You're breaking the law, period.

    3.) To get around the travel restriction American tourists visiting Cuba illegally must fly there via a third country. Direct non-stop gateways to Cuba from the Western Hemisphere include Canada, Mexico, Bahamas, Costa Rica, Dominican Republic, Grand Cayman, Guatemala, Jamaica, Nicaragua, Panama, Venezuela and wherever else I'm forgetting. There's a myriad of other choices that transit through Panama, etc. (In other words, compared to many other Caribbean island destinations Cuba is a very easy destination to reach.)

    This is common practise for tens upon thousands of Americans every year. If done properly the risks of getting caught are very low. The risk of getting into any real legal trouble for tourist travel is ZERO.

    4.) The US Congress has dried up funding for prosecution of illegal tourist travel so the OFAC (Office of Foreign Assets Control) ceased all active investigations regarding tourist travel several years ago.

    5.) Let's consider the worst case scenario... Imagine you completely lose your mind and upon returning home admit to US CBP (Customs and Border Protection) that you visited Cuba or that you were stupid enough to somehow give US CBP irrefutable proof that you went to Cuba. What would happen?... You'd negotiate an out-of-court settlement of $250 - $1,000 with the OFAC, pay the fine and forget about the entire episode. No trial. No prosecution. No criminal record. NOTHING.

    6.) By the way, regarding flying from Canada... there hasn't been one single OFAC legal investigation in history initiated by or supported by passenger manifests. I won't go into a detailed legal explanation here but this is a non-issue and completely immaterial for any American visiting Cuba as a tourist.

    Any American tourist planning to visit Cuba obviously needs to do their own research and figure this out for themselves. There's a multitude of resources on the Internet that address this insane legislation so it's simple for anyone to educate themselves and know all the facts before they knowingly break the law.

    I applaud all the Americans who travel to Cuba in spite of the ridiculous US Embargo. More power to them for ignoring this embarrassing and immoral piece of US foreign policy.

    Cheers,
    Terry

    By the way... there's no weird paperwork, visas, etc. for you to visit Cuba. All you require is your US Passport and a Tourist Card which will be provided at your point of departure from anywhere in the countries I mentioned above.
  • edited 4:11PM
    If you're an American, is there evidence stamped in your passport of travel to Cuba? Does the country originating the flight to Cuba make the difference?
    For example, would Bahamian authorities stamp my US passport as traveling from Bahamas to Cuba? Or, would Cuba do the same in return?
  • edited 4:11PM
    1.) Cuba does not stamp Passports, they stamp the piece of paper that is your Tourist Card instead.

    2.) Yes, most countries stamp your Passport but multiple entry/exit stamps in your Passport do not raise a red flag with US CBP. Thousands of Americans travel illegally through Mexico every year and the exit/entry stamps going to and returning from Cuba are never an issue.

    Basically the OFAC doesn't care anymore. As stated above they stopped actively pursuing illegal tourist travel years ago.

    Cheers,
    Terry
  • edited 4:11PM
    "2.) Yes, most countries stamp your Passport but multiple entry/exit stamps in your Passport do not raise a red flag with US CBP. Thousands of Americans travel illegally through Mexico every year and the exit/entry stamps going to and returning from Cuba are never an issue.

    Basically the OFAC doesn't care anymore. As stated above they stopped actively pursuing illegal tourist travel years ago.

    Cheers,
    Terry "

    That is good to know, many thanks. It just makes a total mockery of the fact that Cuba is a banned country. Honestly, one would have thought that the abject failure of Communism in the Soviet sphere, and the blatent Capitalist/Authoritarian regime in China would have meant that the American government would have relaxed their stance on Cuba. Its not like Khrushchev/Putin/Medvedev/Hu Jintao is about to plant some new nuclear missiles there...
  • edited 4:11PM
    It's a mindbogglingly stupid piece of American foreign policy kept in place by a handful of nutbars living in the past... Quite remarkable that this embarrassment has been allowed to last this long...

    Cheers,
    Terry
  • edited 4:11PM
    CheersTerry, you seem to really know your stuff. Thank you for taking the time to explain the details. One additional question. If you use your credit/debit card, will that cause any problems? Do you recommend paying with cash only? Thoughts????

    Thanks man!
  • edited 4:11PM
    LeavinginDec: What is your nationality?

    Cheers,
    Terry
  • edited 4:11PM
    I am a U.S. citizen and my wife is a permenant resident with a greencard (Mexican citizen).
  • edited 4:11PM
    As an American all your debit/credit cards are utterly useless in Cuba. Have a read through my long Reply #5 here, then come back with any further questions:

    http://www.wordtravels.com/forum/comments.php?DiscussionID=985&page=1#Item_0

    Have fun!

    Cheers,
    Terry
  • edited 4:11PM
    Actually, that link has become slightly out-of-date. Have a read through this one instead:

    http://debbiesreviews.proboards.com/index.cgi?board=cubageneral&action=display&thread=18675

    Cheers,
    Terry
  • edited 4:11PM
    Great site! Thanks Terry! So, travelers checks are the best way? We will be coming from Europe to Cuba. Do you think it's best to get the travelers checks in Europe or the U.S.?

    Thanks again Terry!
  • edited 4:11PM
    It depends on how you are travelling... if you're going to a resort then the amount of cash you require is small... if you're travelling independently then you need access to a lot more funds but then again it depends on how long you're planning to be there and where you will be visiting - finding banks to cash American Express Traveller Cheques outside of large cities is difficult.

    Lastly, with common sense carrying cash in Cuba is not an issue.

    Lots of options to consider...

    Cheers,
    Terry
  • edited 4:11PM
    Thanks for the advice Terry!
  • edited 4:11PM
    I do not know how to address this problem. My daughter & grandchildren live in Canada, they are involved in a professional
    childrens group that is going to cuba in July to both perform and volunteer at an orphange in Havana. My daughter has both a US
    & Canadian passprt, and the grandchildren have a Canadian one. I however have an US passport, and have to figure out how to
    figure out which paperwork I need to apply for so that I can go and do not have any problems. All arrangements are thru a travel
    agency, and all meals are included during the stay. We would fly out of Toronto on a charter. Do not say just forget the paperwork,
    and go, because I am the 1 person out of the 100 that everything goes wrong for. I would get caught, and I cannot ruin this
    for my family or pay the huge fine that this would cost. Please advise me on how to do this legally. I look forward to your reply,
    and Thank You for your time.

    karen
  • edited 4:11PM
    Dear Karen,

    1.) First of all, read my very long, detailed Reply #9 above. There are NO "huge fines" for illegal tourist travel to Cuba and there hasn't been for years and years. There is no way that "getting caught" can ruining anything for your family. It's a moot point - a big speeding ticket is more of a hassle and way more expensive.

    2.) Which Travel Agency are you using?

    Cheers,
    Terry
  • edited 4:11PM
    I'm a Canadian and have travelled to Cuba several times in the 21st century including having the marriage of my daughter in Cuba. For us Canadians,which I understand constitutes 80% of the tourists in Cuba, the trip is a non plus as far as hassles go. On landing at the airport you are given a tourist's visa which you will turn in at the departure airpor and a pay 25 CUCs fee,about $25 Cdn. They do not stamp your passport. I simply keep the visa in my passport which I lockup in the safe they provide in each room at the resort. None of us have had any hassles while there and i've been from Moron in the east to Havanna and to Cayo Largo on the Island of the Youth off the southern coast. The place is a mess and is 3rd world. Most of the resorts are good but some are terrible. Don't drink the water. They provide bottled water to every room every day anyways. THIS is the only stuff you drink or clean your teeth with. DON'T rent a car or motorcycle because if you break any part of it you PAY for it. NOW! They do not accept U.S. money or plastic and if they somehow end up with some, they go up and down the passenger line at the airports and at the buses at the resorts trying to get Canadian money in exchange. It's 240v 50 hz. the same as the U.K. but they provide hairdryers and tvs,even cassete players, in the rooms free of charge. So don't take anything that you plug in. Unless it has a 120/240 switch on it. For the most part tv programming is Cuban Spanish but they sneak in some U.S. movies channels like Bravo. The nightly entertainment is top notch but is all Cuban. Some of the workers do not speak ANY English while some are very fluent. The food even at the best of the resorts is not up to our standards in Canada or the U.S.,the steaks are horrible. Most meat is fish or chicken. Beer and liquor is free at the resorts but not up to ur Canadian standards. You can buy a Coke/gum or other American/Canadian products at the resorts but you do so in a special little shop and the cost is high. Most of the beaches are fantastic but watch for the crushed coral beaches. They look like sand but are NOT. They cut right into your feet. They spray the resorts with what appeers to be old time DDT every morning at sunrise with a huge noisey machine. Hence no bugs to speak of. The water is populated by all many of things that sting but I only saw one woman stung on hers leg in all the time I've been going there. The daily trips/tours are a must,are cheap, and fun. You tip with the CUC. This is the money that looks like the Canadian $1 coin,the loonie. (I believe they're coined here at the national mint in Ottawa.) You cannot use the Cuban peso. You must exchange all your Canadian cash for this CUC coin. From then on anything you buy you do so in CUCs. Including any side trips which you can pay with your VISA plastic,Canadian only, but it is priced out in CUCs. I keep a pocket of CUCs for tips. My wife and I leave 2 CUCs after each meal for the waiters. I've been know to hand out a few CUCs to the musicians and cooks and bar people and pool guys and girls. At the end of my week's stay I just give away the remaining CUCs except for the 25,50 for both of us, I'll need at the airport. All Cubans make the same amount of money. Doctors are paid the same cabies. About 120 of their pesos a month or 5 CUCs. So you can see what you are doing when you give them a CUC. We take toothpaste,gum,perfume,crayons,children's drawing books,lots and lots of ball point pens and leave them on the bed at the rersort for the workers. My wife and I were in Havanna walking out of a museum and a young guard motioned towards my pen in my pocket. He was obviously asking if I would give up the pen. My wife and I looked at each other and nearly broke out laughing because we had several packes of pens in her purse and were wondering who the next person was we would give a package to. My wife took out a package of about 30 pens and gave it to he kid. We just walked away because it appeared he was going to pass out. He just stood and held the package and stared at it. We're going back down in the Fall and can't wait.--------Bob and Pat
  • edited 4:11PM
    Dear Bob,

    You have many misconceptions about Cuba.

    Canadians are not 80% of Cuba's tourists, they're about 30%. You are not responsible for break-downs on a rental vehicle, it works the same as anywhere. You can not rent motorcycles in Cuba, only scooters. Same as many other major currencies US currency is accepted for exchange as all Banks and Cadecas but it does suffer a 10% surcharge. You absolutely can use the Cuban Peso (CUP) with no restrictions whatsoever. All Cubans do not make the same wage and no one makes only 5 CUC/month, even old age pensions are higher than that now. Bringing all that dollar store junk for your maid - who with tips is already one of the highest paid people in Cuba - is ridiculous, you're only fuelling the black market. Instead, tip in CUC for good service, gift only to friends/acquaintances and direct donations through the proper channels like a church or charity organization.

    Here's a few links with accurate, up-to-date-info...

    1.) Car Rental:

    http://www.tripadvisor.ca/ShowTopic-g147270-i91-k3817263-Rental_Cars_in_Cuba_My_Favourite_Way_to_Travel-Cuba.html

    2.) Money Exchange:

    http://www.tripadvisor.ca/Travel-g147270-c109329/Cuba:Caribbean:Money.Exchange.html

    3.) Gift Giving:

    http://www.tripadvisor.ca/Travel-g147270-c129786/Cuba:Caribbean:Think.Before.You.Gift.html
    http://www.wordtravels.com/forum/comments.php?DiscussionID=672&page=1#Item_0

    Have fun in Cuba.

    Cheers,
    Terry
  • edited 4:11PM
    I am a US citizen, my girlfriend (Mexican, living in Mexico City) would like me to go to Cuba for a week with her. She wants to rent a car to see as much of the country as we can in 6 or 7 days. First, if she pays for everything, would I still be breaking the law? Don't really care, just wondering. Second, would it make any sense to hire a taxi driver for a week, pay all expenses, fuel/hotel/meals etc. then give him the equivalent of a couple hundred US, instead of renting a car. I did this in Cusco, Peru for 2 days, gave the guy $40 more than we agreed on, and he started to cry (so did I when I saw his reaction).
  • edited 4:11PM
    1.) "... First, if she pays for everything, would I still be breaking the law?..."

    Yes, you're still illegal. Read my reply above from Oct. 22 for a full explanation.

    2.) "... Second, would it make any sense to hire a taxi driver for a week, pay all expenses, fuel/hotel/meals etc. then give him the equivalent of a couple hundred US, instead of renting a car..."

    You can rent a dedicated car/driver for the week, but it's going to be expensive. Any of the guys I know with decent cars will be at least 100 CUC/day.

    Lastly, where are you planning to go? A week isn't much time so unless you're trying to cover a lot of ground then why worry about a rental car or a dedicated traveller? Taxis are cheap for short trips...

    Cheers,
    Terry
  • edited 4:11PM
    Thanks Terry; it is truly a treat to have found this blog and your dedication to it. Receiving information without agenda (other than to promote travel and relations with Cuba) is invaluable. You are to be applauded.

    I have traveled extensively through South America and Mexico. I almost always travel in the non-tourist areas using mass transit and local taxis. I eat where the locals eat, take my morning jog around the parks or Zocalo's. I have never been treated with anything but respect and appreciation. It is not about the passport you carry. It is about your demeanor when meeting and dealing with the locals. You don't walk around with your passport out. Look them in the eyes and smile with your eyes, treat them all with respect.

    The problems exist when Americans think they are entitled to respect, and they are going to be ripped off. Tips (even to police) should be considered part of you vacation/travel expense. Remember; Police don't make enough to pay rent in most latin american countries. Bribes are the only way they have to provide for their families, and they have to pay a portion of their bribe income to their superiors.

    They could learn something from how we provide provide for our public security and we could learn something from them about taking care of ourselves. Latin america is not perfect, but then neither are we. Someone trips walking up your driveway and they sue your insurance for a boat load of money. In Latin america they simply say; "watch your step next time".

    Last time I traveled to Mexico I sat with two young men from Canada who were on their way to Acapulco. One of them mentioned they have the best passport in the world. Meaning they are not hated anywhere because of their nationality. I pointed out a large part of that is because they share a continent and friendship with the most powerful military in the world. They have an assumed protection without having to pay for it, while suffering non of the negetive publicity associated with our status. The US has done plenty to deserve our world wide reputation. I have had plenty of discussions about that in my travels. Never once did anybody feel they should hold me personally responsible for the actions of the US, regardless of my stance on any particular issue. The opposite, however was very true. They did have a different view of the US after meeting me, in a small way, hopefully for the better. We are all ambassadors for our different countries and we leave a lasting impression on people we meet especially when we get out of the tourists traps.

    Also, do what you can to get your travel dollars into the hands of family proprietors as opposed to world conglomerates.

    I plan to go to Cuba sometime next winter. I can hardly wait! thanks for reading, I'm done babbling.
  • edited 4:11PM
    If you're an experienced traveller in developing countries and you've stayed in inexpensive hostels/hotels elsewhere then Cuba will hold no surprises. Travelling independently in Cuba will be easy.

    1.) Cuba is no longer an exotic destination... there are loads of excellent guide books like Moon, Rough Guide, Lonely Planet, etc... there are several Internet forums/blogs (like this one, Lonely Planet, Trip Advisor, etc.) that make it an easy place to research... the whole country is very safe and non-threatening... it has a very defined Gringo Trail with decent transport and accommodation options... tourist scams are simple and no big deal, almost to the point of being naively innocent (compared to some other developing countries)... if you're still nervous it's easy to have a local guide/resolver/travel agent give you a really nice comfort zone by setting you up with a semi-arranged itinerary so you're not completely on your own... etc.

    2.) A few thoughts about rental cars and public transport:

    http://www.tripadvisor.ca/ShowTopic-g147270-i91-k3817263-Rental_Cars_in_Cuba_My_Favourite_Way_to_Travel-Cuba.html

    3.) Crime and scams:

    http://www.tripadvisor.ca/Travel-g147270-c140774/Cuba:Caribbean:Crimes.And.Scams.In.Cuba.html

    4.) Money Exchange:

    http://www.tripadvisor.ca/Travel-g147270-c109329/Cuba:Caribbean:Money.Exchange.html

    5.) Casa Particulars:

    http://www.cuba-junky.com/cuba/cuba-casa-particulares.htm

    ===========================

    For a first time visitor who wishes to travel independently a guide book is BY FAR your most important (and cheapest/easiest) investment to start your research.

    Cheers,
    Terry
  • edited 4:11PM
    hi terry. i am an american who bought a roundtrip ticket to havana from san jose costa rica. when i tried to ask taca about obtaining a tourist visa to cuba, they told me to contact embassy. so i was wondering if you know exact procedure of obtaining tourist visa to cuba from san jose costa rica. is this a straightforward simple affair that is handled at airport or do i have to do any other paperwork ahead of time. thanks so much
    steve

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