The most common question I’ve been getting when telling people about my upcoming trip to Cuba is, “How are you allowed to go there?” While it’s now easier for Americans to travel to Cuba, you’re still not allowed to go there for tourism purposes. There are ways around that, though. Here’s how to get a visa for Cuba.
There are 12 different categories of visas that you can apply for if you want to visit Cuba. These include 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’re probably thinking you don’t apply for any of those, but they’re a little easier to understand once they’re broken down. Here are a few of the most common visas Americans are applying for:
Most people are assuming I applied for this one as a travel writer, but this isn’t for your average writer. You’ll most likely need to be sponsored by a huge publication to qualify for this one. Even then, the government may deny you if they don’t like the article you’ll be writing about. If you do get approved, they might try to charge you fees for taking pictures. Unless your employer is covering this, I wouldn’t bother applying for it due to the hassle.
Like art? You may qualify for an exhibitions visa if you make your trip to Cuba all about art. Schedule trips to local art galleries to support the Cuban art. Write up an itinerary to bring with and include the names and addresses of where you’re going so they’ll know you did your research.
This is the one I’m using. I’ll be with a group from Fit Life Creation doing workshops each day working on our brand and overall wellness. We’ll also be interacting with the locals every day and educating ourselves on how they live. This can easily be considered visiting for educational purposes. I have a printed itinerary for each day that I’m bringing, which they most likely will want to see for proof. They don’t want to see that you’re just sitting on the beach, which is technically not allowed.
You can visit Cuba by organizing a visit to a local organization such as a charity. You’ll have to contact them first to let them know your plans, after which they can “sponsor” your visit. A donation will most likely need to be made for them to be willing to sponsor you, but it’s going to a good cause. You’ll need proof, such as emails back and forth, and an itinerary in case you get questioned.
Going Through Another Country
People have been traveling to years to Cuba without a visa, and it’s as simple as going to another country first. Mexico City is popular spot to head to first and then go to Cuba from. I’d recommend it if you already planned on spending time in that country first, but it might be a hassle to go there first just to get to Cuba.
Where to Apply
You can buy a visa from some airlines at the airport, but you’ll need to check with your individual airline. I’m flying with Alaska Airlines and they referred me to Cuba Travel Services. You just apply online and they’ll mail the visa to you before you leave. Just make sure you allow plenty of time between ordering it and your departure date.
I’ve had several friends visit Cuba in the past year and they said it actually wasn’t difficult at all. None of them got questioned past the normal customs questions. They didn’t even have to show their itineraries, but I still highly recommend having yours printed off in case you’re that lucky one who gets pulled aside. I’ll update this once I actually go in a few weeks and experience the process myself, but I’m not too concerned about getting through.
Is Cuba on your list for 2017?
This post is in partnership with Fit Life Creation, but all opinions are my own. If you’re interested in joining, use the code “MARISSA” for 10% off.
Looking for more travel tips?
Sign up for my weekly newsletter to get travel tips, plus enter to win travel contests!