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How to Prepare for Your Trip to Cuba

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There is a virtual stampede of travelers headed to Cuba now that commercial flights have started flying most of the 110 daily approved routes authorized by the U.S. and Cuban governments.

Cuba is different from most travel destination and is certainly different from the rest of the Caribbean: it is beautifully unspoiled. Despite having more beaches, historic architecture, dancers, singers, rum, art, cigars, protected ecosystems, coral reefs, UNESCO World Heritage Sites and history than any other island in the Caribbean, Cuba’s relative isolation from the U.S. has resulted in travelers having to plan and accommodate more than usual. But it’s worth it.

Compliance with U.S. Travel Rules

The first issue to consider is planning an itinerary that is fun and also compliant with U.S. rules (if you are a person of “U.S. jurisdiction”, meaning a citizen or resident of the U.S.). Travel to Cuba for “tourist” activities remains prohibited by statute, but there is a lot of flexibility to enjoy Cuba within the boundaries of existing U.S. rules.

We suggest traveling with a tour operator with experience in Cuba.

You do not have to fly to Cuba through Canada or Mexico as some people did years before the rules changed.

There are 12 categories of authorized travel to Cuba.  The Department of Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) has issued general licenses in all 12 categories of authorized travel, subject to appropriate conditions.  This means that individuals who meet the regulatory conditions of the respective general license they seek to travel under do not need to apply for a specific license (ie. time consuming process) from OFAC to travel to Cuba.

Required Cuban travel visas can be easily obtained from your airline or tour operator for about US$25-75.

Mandatory Cuban health insurance is typically included in your flight or tour purchase.

All you have to do is self-certify compliance within one the the approved 12 categories of authorized travel (ie. fill out a simple form typically given to you by your airline or tour operator).

The 12 categories of authorized 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 (this is the “people-to-people” category most travelers opt for); humanitarian projects; activities of private foundations or research or educational institutes; exportation, importation, or transmission of information or informational materials; and certain authorized export transactions.

Translation/Spanish Language

Many Cubans do not speak English, especially outside Havana. Since internet access is limited in Cuba, and your cell phone will not likely work for Internet or Google apps, we suggest you download Google’s translation app on your phone and use a little-known but super helpful tool called offline translation. This allows you to download a robust dictionary of words that will work for translation when the Internet is unavailable.

Use poetry to study Spanish

Poetry contains essential elements of culture and lots of vocabulary that is likely missing in structured language learning tools.  Plus, encoding foreign words and phrases through poetry is easier because the poetry adds an aspect of imagery and emotion. Here is some instruction on using poetry to study Spanish.

Cash/Credit Cards

Cash is king in Cuba. Nevertheless, Stonegate Bank pioneered the offering of U.S. credit and debit cards for use in Cuba. There are reports of transaction failures by users of these cards in Cuba. The likely culprit in Cuba’s antiquated Internet and technology. Try the card, but take a lot of cash too.

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How to Prepare for Your Trip to Cuba was last modified: October 17th, 2016 by Simons Chase