With the recent change in the United State’s relationship with Cuba (thanks, Obama!), it’s now a possibility for those from the US to visit this once forbidden country. Tourism is relatively new, so you can’t expect to book a flight and have the same type of vacation you would in other countries. Getting around Cuba is very possible, but there are a few factors to consider before booking your trip. Here’s what you need to know about traveling to Cuba.
In 1961, the relationship between Cuba and the United States was cut off during the Cold War. Thus began an economic, commercial, and financial embargo, making it unlawful for US companies to conduct business with Cuba. All those brightly colored cars you see from the 1950s that are really awesome? It’s not because that’s the country’s car of choice – they haven’t been able to have any new cars imported in for decades. In July 2015, President Obama was able to restore the United State’s relationship with Cuba and put an end to the embargo.
This is probably the most confusing issue when visiting Cuba. Americans need visas to visit, but it’s not as easy as getting a tourist visa like some countries have. According to the official government website, you can only qualify for a visa if it falls under one of these 12 categories: family visits; official business of the U.S. government, foreign governments, and certain intergovernmental organizations; journalistic activity; professional research and professional meetings; educational activities; religious activities; public performances, clinics, workshops, athletic and other competitions, and exhibitions; support for the Cuban people; humanitarian projects; activities of private foundations or research or educational institutes; exportation, importation, or transmission of information or information materials; and certain authorized export transactions.
You may be thinking you don’t qualify for any of these, but it just takes some creativity to figure out how you can apply this to your trip. For example, on my trip, I’ll be volunteering at an organization, so I could technically apply for the humanitarian projects. I’ll also be interacting with the locals to educate myself on how they live, so could apply for the educational activities instead. I heard they don’t check into this very thoroughly, but I would recommend having a printed itinerary in case they do ask.
As far as where to apply for your visa, some airlines allow you to buy them at the airport, such as Southwest. However, this is only at the Fort Lauderdale and Tampa airports. Check with your airline to see how they recommend getting your visa, but most will refer you to Cuba Travel Services. They make it really easy to apply online and receive your visa before you leave. Just make sure you give yourself at least a month, if not more, to ensure you get it in time.
In this day and age, not having wi-fi is almost unheard of. We’re obsessed with documenting everything we do on vacation and plastering it all over social media multiple times a day. If we don’t post it, it didn’t happen, right? You can’t depend too much on it in Cuba, though.
There are internet cafes available if you need to log in to their computers. If you need to use your own laptop, you can purchase the internet in the form of prepaid wi-fi cards from ETECSA, the country’s telecom company. These will give you the log in information for wi-fi networks around the area, which might be at a nearby hotel or even some of the parks. Some hotels will also let you purchase wi-fi for an hour when you purchase a drink, but don’t count on it to be fast or even working half the time. I work online so completely understand the importance of being online every day, but I’d recommend doing as much as you can in advance in case the internet isn’t working well when you’re there.
Cell Phone Coverage
American cell phone companies didn’t cover Cuba in the past, but that’s slowly starting to expand. I have AT&T and as of October of this year, they now allow roaming in Cuba. I’ll still be turning my data roaming off while I’m there to prevent extra fees, but knowing I can call or text in an emergency is nice. Check with your company before you go to see if they cover Cuba.
There are plenty of hotels in Cuba, but most of them aren’t cheap. If you’re on a budget or traveling alone, I recommend looking into a casa particular. It’s similar to Air B&B where you’ll rent out a private room in a local’s house, and you can even find some of these directly on Air B&B now. Many of the homeowners are excited to have Americans visiting their country once again and can give you recommendations on where the best shopping is or where to find their favorite Cuban restaurant.
You need to get cash before you land in Cuba. Debit and credit cards don’t work, so you’re not going to be able to head to the ATM when you get there. Get as much cash as you’ll need, and head to the currency exchange once you land (I heard the airport has decent rates compared to other places around town). When you leave, you can get it exchanged back, although you’ll be losing some money.
It’s important to note Cuba actually has two currencies. Americans will be using the Cuban Convertible Peso (CUC), while the locals use the Cuban Peso (CUP). When making a purchase, make sure to ask which currency it’s in. As of this post, the exchange rate is 1 USD = 1 CUC and 1 USD = 26 CUP. You can see why it matters which currency you’re paying in now. Also note that it’s illegal to leave Cuba with any CUPs, so make sure to use them up if you get any.
Cuba requires you to buy their health insurance while you’re in their country. Check with your airline first, as Alaska Airlines actually includes this in the cost of their plane ticket. I wouldn’t be surprised if more US airlines now include it as well. You need to keep a printed record of your paid ticket to show as proof when going through customs or they’ll make you buy their policy.
For my trip to Cuba, I’ll be going with Fit Life Creation to explore this amazing country from February 16th-20th. You may remember I went on the wellness retreat with them to Costa Rica, so I’m back again to participate in workshops that will better help me focus on myself and building my brand.
This time is a bit different, though – I’m opening up this retreat to you, my readers! That’s right, you now have the chance to come with me to Cuba to build your brand or business, all while having the beautiful Havana as the backdrop! If you’re an influencer interested in coming or just someone who hasn’t yet started their brand, but wants to, send me a message. I’d love to have my readers or fellow influencers come with me. When you use the code “MARISSA,” you even get $195 off! Contact me to find out how to book this trip that will make your friends jealous.
What’s one activity you would love to do in Cuba?
This post is in partnership with Fit Life Creation, but all opinions are my own.
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