Frequently Asked Questions: How to travel to Cuba
The New York Times
The United States is continuing to pave the way for tourism to Cuba, announcing on Tuesday that domestic carriers could enter previously blocked airspace, and enter into code-sharing and leasing agreements with Cuban airlines. The move comes a month after the United States said it agreed to restore nonstop commercial flights between the two countries. In addition, the requirements that travelers must meet before going have been tweaked ever so slightly, expanding the reasons for which people can visit the island under a general license, which requires no advance paperwork. Here is what you need to know before you go:
Q. Can I fly to Cuba now?
Previous predictions that U.S. airlines may begin offering regularly scheduled flights to Cuba in the coming months appear to be on track. The new rules simply make it easier to partner with the Cuban aviation industry. They are pending the approval of the Cuban government. Commercial flights would eliminate the expensive charter flights that currently take travelers from Miami, New York and elsewhere to Cuba.
New regulations have also expanded the reasons for which people can travel to Cuba. Now, crews can travel there and engage in other transactions to help serve flights and vessels. Regulations issued by the Department of Commerce in September already allowed American companies to establish offices and premises in Cuba and airline crews to stay overnight on the island. They also allow the sale of equipment related to aviation safety to Cuba.
Of course, non-American commercial airlines fly to Cuba from many destinations. Americans who meet Treasury Department requirements can fly through a third country, such as Mexico, Panama, Grand Cayman or Canada — an option that can be less expensive and more convenient than taking charter flights.
Can any American citizen visit Cuba now?
Americans still can only go to Cuba so long as the trip falls within one of 12 purposes, including visits to close relatives, academic programs for which students receive credits, professional research, journalistic or religious activities and participation in public performances or sports competitions. However, people can now go to simply organize a professional event or competition; they do not have to wait for the event itself. In addition, travelers can go to film and produce television programs and movies, record music and create art there as long as they have experience in the relevant field.
Still, ordinary tourism remains off limits, and travelers have to mark a box to denote the purpose of their trip, and they are required to keep travel receipts for five years after they return. In most cases, they are also expected to have a full-time schedule of activities related to their category of travel.
What are people-to-people trips?
People-to-people trips are educational programs that fall into one of the 12 categories of general-license travel. They’re one of the most popular ways to go to Cuba because anybody can join a trip and your itinerary is worked out for you. Because they are organized trips with full schedules of meetings, lectures and visits to artists’ studios or small businesses or community projects, they are pricey — about $2,500 to $4,000 per week including accommodations and flights.
Will cruise ships sail to Cuba?
Owners of cruise ships and passenger ferries can operate between the United States and Cuba without a license, so long as the people they are carrying are licensed to travel there. The infrastructure to accommodate a cruise ship is available since ships owned by non-American companies, though usually smaller than American ones, have been sailing to Cuba in recent years.
The government had awarded licenses to a handful of ferry and cruise companies in 2015 including Carnival Corporation, which said in July that it would begin sailing to Havana in April.
Who will keep track of what I do in Cuba?
Good question. Senior officials at the departments of Treasury and Commerce said the government continues to take restrictions on travel to Cuba seriously. If you sign an affidavit saying you are going to Cuba for a particular purpose and, in fact, spend a week at the beach, you would be breaking the law.
Where would I stay?
Cuba has a shortage of high-end hotels, and that will become more acute if the number of American visitors rises significantly. There are about 61,000 hotel rooms in Cuba, according to the tourism ministry, of which 65 percent carry four- and five-star ratings. Bed-and-breakfasts are an attractive alternative to hotels, as they include the chance to make contact with Cuban families and often provide good meals. There are hundreds of bed-and-breakfasts, known as casas particulares, in Havana and popular tourist towns like Trinidad, Viñales and Cienfuegos. Searching for casas on the Internet is not easy, but you can book them through travel agents like Cubania Travel or look on TripAdvisor. Airbnb started offering its service on the island in April. The company, which lets users list their homes and apartments for short-term rentals, said payments to the Cuban hosts are deposited into their bank accounts by intermediaries or any other manner they select, including door-to-door payments.
Can I use credit cards?
American travelers to Cuba may open a bank account there and pay for expenses with an American credit card. In reality, few people who take the short trip abroad have cause to open a bank account. But A.T.M.s are few and far between in Cuba, and many establishments do not have the means to process credit card payments. So, cash will be king for some time to come. It may be a good idea to take British pounds or euros, which get a better exchange rate in Cuba than the United States dollar.
How do I call home?
Calls on the Etecsa network, the Cuban state-owned telecommunications company, are expensive, and getting a phone can involve long lines. But Verizon Wireless announced in September that it would allow its users to make voice calls, send text messages and use data services through the company’s pay-as-you-go International Travel option. At $2.99 a minute, you will not linger on the line.
What can American citizens bring back?
Americans can now bring back up to $400 in souvenirs, including $100 worth of cigars. John Kavulich, president of the U.S.-Cuba Trade and Economic Council, notes that, according to State Department records, Secretary of State John Kerry, who inaugurated the embassy in Havana in August, brought back an $80 humidor, $80 worth of cigars and a bottle of rum.
Elaine Glusac and Victoria Burnett contributed reporting.
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