Traveling to Cuba as an American directly from the United States has been off limits since 1961, until recently. Crazy right? It all began when the diplomatic relations with the United States and Cuba began to deteriorate in 1959. Fidel Castro seized power of the island after he nationalized more than $1 billion in American assets on the island. The United States began imposing sanctions on Cuba, which eventually led President John F. Kennedy to make the embargo official in 1962.
WHAT IS THIS EMBARGO YOU SPEAK OF?
To put it simply, an embargo prohibits American companies from doing business in Cuba. This includes any other countries that exchange business with the United States. It also restricts Americans from traveling directly to Cuba or spending money as tourists, until now (late 2016). With policy changes and pushes in the White House under President Obama’s Administration, Americans can now travel directly to Cuba without facing any penalties.
Although the travel restrictions have been lifted, the embargo is still in effect as US companies are not fully able to do business with Cuba. It’s been a slow movement, but the fact the Cuban Embassies have opened up in both countries is a step in the right direction, so we can hope.
HOW DO I GET MY VISA?
Major airlines have opened up their gates to flying to various parts of Cuba. Some of these airlines include American Airlines, Delta, JetBlue and more. Each airline has different policies and procedures on how to obtain your visa. All of which is explained thoroughly in my The Beginner’s Guide: Traveling to Havana, Cuba E-Book. If you are flying JetBlue from NYC, check out my step-by-step instruction on how to book your flight and obtain your visa.
Other airlines will either provide you with the visa the day of your flight at the gate or you will have to obtain it yourself through a third-party company called Cuban Visa Services or go through the Cuban Embassy. Again, it all depends on which airline you decide to fly with.
HELP ME WITH SELECTING A VISA CATEGORY
If you’re stressing out about what category to select when obtaining your Cuban Visa, stop right now. I’m going to be completely honest with you and tell you, it really doesn’t matter as long as you choose something that really pertains to you. Let’s be clear that even though you are able to fly directly, as a US Citizen, you are not allowed to go to Cuba as a “Tourist.” You will have to choose from one of the following categories:
- Educational activities; people to people exchange
- Professional research and meetings
- Public performances, clinics, workshops, athletic and other competitions, and exhibitions
- Religious activities
- Humanitarian projects
- Journalistic activities
- Family visits to close relatives
- Support for the Cuban people
- Activities in Cuba by private foundations, or research or educational institutes
- Exportation, importation, or transmission of information technologies or materials
- Certain authorized export transactions including agricultural and medical products, and tools, equipment, and construction supplies for private use
- Official business of the US government, foreign governments, and certain intergovernmental organizations
The most popular reason to select is educational activities; people to people exchange. This is the reason myself and many other travelers chose. Technically you are educating yourself by going to museums, visiting historical sites and having person to person interaction etc. No one is really going to ask you what you are doing there. If they do, tell the truth, you’re there for education.
GO BOOK YOUR FLIGHT
Cuba by far is one of the most beautiful and unique countries I’ve visited. It’s like stepping into the 1960’s and seeing all of the simple yet beautiful things in life. During your visit, I highly suggest that you immerse yourself in Cuban culture by embracing the food, music and everything about the country. Most importantly take the opportunity to speak and interact with the locals. They are so rich in spirit, knowledge, and pride of their country. You’d be surprised at how much you can learn from them.