Getting to Havana – How Americans Can Travel To Cuba
For decades, Cuba was a distant dream, a curious Communist mystery. Since the trade embargo way back in the sixties , it’s been practically impossible for American citizens to enjoy Havana – or even get there in the first place.
But it’s all changed now. Kind of. Travel for tourism is still technically illegal, but Americans can now obtain visas to travel to Cuba legally, as long as they fall into one of 12 categories of authorized travel. Some of these 12 categories are pretty vague, like “support for the Cuban people” and “public performances” and that’s exactly where American travelers have found their loophole.
Cuban tour guides have leapt on the chance to sell tourism in Cuba, without technically selling tourist activities. They call it ‘people-to-people traveling’ and it means that the client is fully involved with educational pursuits and getting to know the people of Cuba.
People-to-people traveling makes a point of creating a packed schedule for visitors that gets them involved with local schools, artists and community projects. This way, no one can accuse the visitor of visiting the country purely for tourism, as they’ve got a reliable company that’s kept track of their very supportive, educational and sometimes public actions.
Bear in mind, when they say a full schedule, they mean it – it’s required by law. The government isn’t messing around when it says no tourism – if you take a day off to go to the beach in Cuba, you’d actually be breaking the law.
If having a jam-packed schedule without the freedom to go to the beach doesn’t necessarily appeal, Americans may consider traveling via a so-called “gateway city”. Tourism in Cuba is only restricted for Americans jetting off from American soil; if you’re happy taking a longer route, you can quite easily fly to Cuba with a standard tourist visa.
The most popular gateway city is Cancun , which operates many flights to Havana. Flights from Mexico are the cheapest option, which is why more travelers choose Cancun as their gateway, but you could pick any main airport in Central America to make the journey. You could also go northwards to Canada, where flights to Cuba are similarly unrestricted, but more expensive.
According to Expert Vagabond, you can pick up a 30-day tourist visa from the airport in Cancun on the day of travel for as little as $20. Using a gateway city removes the immediate threat of getting in trouble and many travelers have testified that it works, totally hassle-free.
Whilst, technically, it is still illegal for Americans to enter Cuba purely for tourism purposes, there is no evidence that authorities have any interest in chasing down those who do.
Getting a Visa from the States
If you’d rather fly from the comfort of American soil, you’ll need to obtain a valid visa and prove that you’re not visiting the island purely for tourist reasons. That’s no easy task – the only place you can obtain one of these visas is at the Cuban Embassy in Washington DC, which can be tiresome and complicated.
However, now that travel restrictions are becoming less strict, tour companies and some airlines are offering to guide potential travelers through the visa application process – for a fee, of course. InsightCuba, the main company offering people-to-people traveling, is one of these.
The simplest option, if looking to take off from the US, is to hire a company to do the hard work for you – not just because it minimizes the hassle of applying for a visa, but tour companies like InsightCuba, who are licensed by the US State Department, ensure that you’re viable for a visa in the first place.
What if it Goes Wrong?
So, what if you accidentally break the law by sampling one too many mojitos, or indulging in a beach trip on a whim? Well, since the Obama administration came into play… nothing.
According to several online sources, no penalty has fallen upon any American who ‘fessed up to having too much of a good time in Cuba and some sources claim that there isn’t even any real budget or infrastructure in place to take down fun-loving American tourists anyway.
That being said, traveling to Cuba is legal under certain, fairly lenient regulations now. If you’re looking to visit and experience the country, person-to-person tours make for excellent, if busy, 100% legal vacations.