Travel to Cuba
August 31, 2016 8:20 AM   Subscribe

My friends and I want to take advantage of new flights Cuba opening up in November. You still have to fit into an approved travel category. How do we go about this without travel agency or agent? Is that even possible just yet?
posted by mrfuga0 to Travel & Transportation around Cuba (13 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
Go to or or or and book a flight and resort leaving from your nearest Canadian city. Book a flight to your nearest Canadian city or drive there.
posted by If only I had a penguin... at 8:38 AM on August 31, 2016

To be clear: flights from Miami and surrounding areas start in November. I live in Miami and want to take advantage of them. The airlines all say you must still fit into an approved travel category to get a visa.
posted by mrfuga0 at 9:01 AM on August 31, 2016 [1 favorite]

At this point if you don't fit into any of the 11 categories (of 12), for run of the mill tourism educational activities you'd have to go through the educational category via a travel agency, who will arrange tours and sites to meet the educational requirement.

You can find the FAQ here.
posted by Karaage at 9:07 AM on August 31, 2016

The latest Treasury Dept FQAs on Cuba are here. Straight-up tourism remains forbidden, although as noted you can always just go to Canada and got on a plane there. For now I think the only option is to join a tour - unless you have business meetings or direct family in Cuba you can't really fly there yourself yet.
posted by GuyZero at 9:12 AM on August 31, 2016

Maybe this is a derail, but, what is your objection to using a travel agent/agency? I assume you can book a flight to Mexico and then fly to Cuba from there, but until the banking situation is ironed out, you're not going to be able to use a US-bank-based credit card/ATM in Cuba, so you are much better off getting your hotel (which will likely include meals as part of the package) paid for via the agency than having to bring enough cash with you to cover all of the trip costs. You can get by doing regular tourist stuff on the cheap, but it's best to get your accommodations and red tape taken care of from the US.

I've been to Cuba 3 times as part of a sanctioned trip (bicycle competition), But I'm sure every authorized 'educational' tour package is set up knowing perfectly well that it's just glorified tourism, I doubt the schedules are strict.
posted by oh yeah! at 9:20 AM on August 31, 2016

Cuba Explorer runs "person-to-person educational tours" which look like $1600 and up for a week, not including airfare.
posted by GuyZero at 9:25 AM on August 31, 2016 [1 favorite]

get a visa

You don't need a visa. Cuba will let you as an American come and go as you please. They will not stamp your passport but will instead give you a little piece of paper that they stamp, so this doesn't show up in your passport. They also do this for non-Americans so we don't get hassled when entering the US with cuban travel stamps in our passports.

If you want permission from your government to travel to cuba, I was just reading an article saying that the categories are so vague (e.g. people interested in learning about the culture) that it basically boils down to "do you want to go to Cuba?"

If you want to fly from Miama I would just call the airline running the commercial flights and ask what you need to book a seat on the flight.
posted by If only I had a penguin... at 9:26 AM on August 31, 2016 [1 favorite] do need a visa...I've entered multiple times without one, though. And I've known of Americans doing the same. Maybe the policy has changed.
posted by If only I had a penguin... at 9:36 AM on August 31, 2016

We're landing in Havana on 9/2. We are departing Miami for Havana on an extant scheduled charter flight - there are and have been many such flights on a variety of regional charter airlines for many years. Weirdly, our carrier is identified as "Eastern" on our confirmations and so forth, presumably not the defunct American megacarrier of yore. Any carrier (including Jet Blue) includes some addon fees that cover both the Cuban entry visa and a mandatory payment that provides for Cuban health care insurance for the traveler while in Cuba. Our understanding is that the various documentation needs of both governments are to be met at the point of departure as the traveler fills out forms and so forth which have been wrangled by the carrier.

We looked at the Jet Blue services, but they are doing a staged rollout and initiation with three flights weekly from Miami to the Matanzas province airfield that serves Varadero Beach rather than Havana, and our trip and return schedule did not meet theirs.

We're going under the education travel exemption for an international academic conference to be held in Havana with and under the auspices of my father, an academic. Our understanding of the current status of the exemptions is basically that if you can understand and effectively demonstrate that your trip fits into one of the categories, you are good to go. A planned schedule has been (and apparently remains) one of the ways that one demonstrates the purpose and intent of the trip. What is different now as opposed to a year or two ago is that the American traveler no longer needs to seek a written license from the State Department.

What we have found so far is that it has been impossible to finalize many aspects of our travel plans in the ways that we would expect on a trip to, say, London. This is primarily due to the lack of American financial services in Cuba: the embargo remains in effect with regard to banks, and therefore our US-based cards will not work on the Island and we have not been able to pay Cuban service providers in advance.

In general, while we are happy to take the opportunity to be going, planning this trip has been quite challenging without a dedicated Cuban-oriented travel services professional. In addition, we have been advised at many junctures in the process that waiting a while would considerably ease the administrative confusion, currently is widespread, as well as reducing flight costs as American carriers come on line.
posted by mwhybark at 10:22 AM on August 31, 2016 [4 favorites]

There's some pertinent info in this NYT's article from yesterday, How to Go to Cuba Now.
posted by Short Attention Sp at 4:19 AM on September 1, 2016

errata and a promise of more info. The initial Jet Blue flights were into Santa Clara, to the east of both Havana and Matanzas. We met a guy who,had been in that first flight. We did pick up Cuban sims and minutes in Varadero ($21 total daily activation fee, $3/day, and 19 minutes at $1/min) at the Cubatel office. However, they never worked correctly. we could text each other but calling either number produced a guy answering "dige me" ("talk to me") and no ringthrough to the intended handset, both of which texted showing the expected voice number.

We had the chance to use three wifi provider networks including that from Etesca, for which one buys a one-or-two-hour card and logs in to a browseer window
posted by mwhybark at 3:02 AM on September 12, 2016 [1 favorite]

I braindumped a bunch of info about our trip into my Cuban cell-service AskMe thread.
posted by mwhybark at 8:23 AM on September 13, 2016

Regarding the visa issue above: our visas were issued by the airline in Miami and we were asked for them at Cuban customs on arrival at Havana. They were in the form of two identical forms printed side by side on administrative safety paper with a serial number. The forms were in English and were for our personal information such as name and address. The procedure was to fill out the form, present both completed forms at entry, the customs official took the forms and verified it against our passports, stamped at least one side, stamped the passport, and tore the visa in half, returning one of the forms to us. the form was to be kept with the passport.

on exit, the visa was removed from the passport.

On check in in Miami (for a scheduled charter, so ymmv for the new commercial flights coming on line) we paid an entry tax of $25 plus freightage charges on overweight bags which totaled $54 for both of us, in cash, cash-only. I also paid for my parents' entry fees and freightage which totaled about $96, so bottom line, there was an undisclosed cash-only set of fees totaling $50 each at check in. The check-in personnel were wearing Havana Air uniforms and were clearly Cuban, some without English at all. There were a total,of three lines at the counter that we went through: checkin and ticketing issue, bag check and weighing, and cashier. All told the check-in procedure took about an hour, and then we were off to TSA, which took another hour.
posted by mwhybark at 8:34 AM on September 13, 2016

« Older How can I be kind to my liver and kidneys?   |   Can you help this coffee lover make better cold... Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.