cuba visa requirements

So You Want to Go to Cuba? Visa Requirements

President Obama made a historic visit to Cuba earlier this year, and since that time, the relaxing of tensions between the U.S. and Cuba have sparked new interest in the country amongst travelers. Commercial flights are starting from various airports across the U.S., and the first Starwood property has opened its doors in Havana. But can just anybody hop a plane to Cuba? Before you book your ticket, it’s best that you learn about the Cuba visa requirements for travelers.

Those commercial flights, the fact that travelers are allowed to travel solo to Cuba rather than in groups, and even AirBNB being open for bookings for Americans traveling to Cuba, are all factors that have made travel to Cuba much easier and more accessible. But can just anyone visit Cuba for any reason?

In short: no. Leisure and tourism travel is still prohibited for citizens and permanent residents of the United States, according to the State Department. If you wish to visit Cuba legally, then you have to fall under one of 12 exemptions. As set forth by the Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control, the 12 categories that allow for legally permitted travel to Cuba are:

  • 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.


Close relatives of authorized travelers are now also allowed to travel to Cuba as well. So general tourism and wanting to see this country—which seems to be like the land time forgot—is not a good enough reason to get into the country. And if you are caught violating the law, you could face still sanctions and fines.

Will these restrictions be lifted and economic relations restored between the countries? Yes, probably at some point. But for right now, these are the restrictions as set forth for U.S. travelers. So make sure you know the rules of Cuba visa requirements before you book your plane ticket to Cuba, at least for the time being.

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I am a lawyer. I am a journalist. I am a writer. I am a photographer. And I love to travel.

13 comments on “So You Want to Go to Cuba? Visa Requirements”

  1. Wow! I had no idea. I wonder what people have been doing to get to visit as it seems everyone has been or is on the way 🙂 . I understand cruise ships will be allowed soon too, so l imagine they would have to lift the restrictions. I can’t imagine thousands of people on a ship would fall into one of the 12 categories. Thanks for sharing this. Cuba is on my list, but far down, so hopefully it will be okay to visit by that time. 🙂

    1. Kemkem, you could probably go under journalism exemption? Yeah, I had the same question about the cruise but come to find out it is a volunteer cruise I think. I am not sure how that works.

    1. Thanks Jay! I am an amateur compared to some I know. Last year was a super busy year. I had three international trips and nine or 10 domestic flights (including family and holiday travel). But I’ve got a lot of world to see still!

  2. Obama’s recent visit to Cuba lit a fire under my butt for Cuba. It’s always been one of my dream destinations, but now I realize the urgency of going before things start to change. Thanks for these tips!

  3. Very resourceful post. I’m sure that many people are making plans to visit Cuba. Thanks for sharing this important info.

  4. Wow, I didn’t know tourism wasn’t allowed yet. I saw announcements about cruises to Cuba too so now I’ll have to do some research. Everyone in my timeline’s been Cuba crazy and may have to pump the brakes. I will volunteer and use my media credentials in a heartbeat though, haha.

  5. I was hoping you would do something on Cuba! Thanks so much for these tips. I’m sure a lot of people will want to consider going now.

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