Why hello, Castro.
October 21, 2007 8:13 AM   Subscribe

A friend of mine has a sibling who is studying in Cuba. How can said friend get to Havana from NYC for a visit?

Or should one not post such intentions on a public site? Anyhow, suggestions appreciated either way.

More info: my friend is a US citizen living in New York City. Sometime in November, they would like to spend about a week in Cuba. What are the best routes to make the trip? Fly to Canada first? Or the Caribbean? Are there any ways to book such a trip from the US, or do you simply have to do it in stages, getting a flight to Havana once you've arrived in a more Cuba-friendly nation?

Cost is somewhat of an issue, so any information about relative expenses for different ways to go would be much appreciated.

We've read some recommendations about how to handle the return into the States, but any additional tips would be also appreciated.

If I'm asking a question too sensitive to be answered publicly, you can e-mail me at maybecuba at yahoo dot cawm.

Many thanks in advance. My friend would really love to be able to visit their sib in such an unusual (for USians) country.
posted by otolith to Travel & Transportation around New York, NY (27 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
To legally travel to Cuba, your friend has to obtain the proper licenses. Such licenses may be available if your friend's sibling is a Cuban national and your friend hasn't been in Cuba for three years.

If you're asking how to illegally travel to Cuba, your question isn't appropriate for AskMe.
posted by Mr. President Dr. Steve Elvis America at 8:24 AM on October 21, 2007

The embargo on Cuba may not be the most appalling international atrocity, but it's certainly the most hilarious.

A return ticket from Montreal to Havana, with all taxes and surcharges included, is about $750 CAD (~$775 USD) on Air Canada. A round-trip train ticket from NYC to Montreal is $125 USD (taxes included). So $900 all in.

I don't know how much it costs to fly through a Caribbean country. You might be able to find better deals.
posted by limon at 8:27 AM on October 21, 2007

I'm pretty sure people also go via Cancun.
posted by triggerfinger at 8:31 AM on October 21, 2007

boat to Jamaica or alternative caribean island...
posted by stratastar at 8:37 AM on October 21, 2007

If you do manage to get there, make sure to only use cash. No credit/debit cards.
posted by spec80 at 8:37 AM on October 21, 2007 [1 favorite]

A friend took a direct flight from Nassau, Bahamas once.
posted by kuujjuarapik at 8:46 AM on October 21, 2007

According to this page, return flights from Cancun to Havana are between $300 to $325 on Cubana or Click Mexicana. Both airlines fly daily. According to their FAQ, Cuban officials won't stamp your passport.
posted by limon at 8:57 AM on October 21, 2007

This could help. Ex Nassau, Cancun and Santa Domingo.
Oh and Mr. President etc fuck the US Cuban Embargo; OK.
posted by adamvasco at 8:59 AM on October 21, 2007 [1 favorite]

Since your friend has a relative in Cuba, I believe (and could easily be wrong) that they could go legally on one of the direct flights from the US.

Or... fly to Canada, then Cubana to Cuba. A Canadian travel agent can set it up for your friend, who can buy all the tickets while still in the US. Ah, or so I've been told.
posted by The corpse in the library at 9:14 AM on October 21, 2007

Mod note: this question has a thread open in MeTa. Anything you have to say about Cuba that is not directly answering the OPs question shoudl go there. thank you.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 9:19 AM on October 21, 2007 [1 favorite]

Here ya go: "Travelers wishing to visit an immediate family member in Cuba who is authorized to be in Cuba, but is not a national of Cuba, may be granted a specific license in exigent circumstances provided that the U.S. Interests Section in Havana concurs in the issuance of such a license."
posted by The corpse in the library at 9:20 AM on October 21, 2007

Cost is somewhat of an issue, so any information about relative expenses for different ways to go would be much appreciated.

Last year, several U.S. citizens who visited Cuba without the proper clearance were fined $10,000 apiece upon their return - it made the NY Times. It's an interesting amount, because it would bankrupt the ordinary sort of person who looks around to find a $350 instead of a $700 plane itinerary, but to a really wealthy person it's not even a slap on the wrist.
posted by ikkyu2 at 9:39 AM on October 21, 2007

Go over to LonelyPlanet.com and visit the discussion board on Cuba travel. There are tons of people there who make the trip on a regular basis. Use the search function because you will find your questions have been asked and answered many times before.

(Cuba is an amazing destination--have fun!)
posted by LarryC at 9:58 AM on October 21, 2007

Fly out of Canada, make sure the don't stamp your passport in Cuba, they'll put a piece of paper in the passport and stamp that instead, usually without even asking. Cuba has no problems with Americans visiting Cuba... it's America that has problems. But be sure to do it before the Yanks start asking for Canadian flight manifests.
posted by furtive at 10:48 AM on October 21, 2007

they'll put a piece of paper in the passport and stamp that instead

Or not. Even if you ask nicely, there's a chance the guy at the counter will wave his finger in the universal "na na na!" gesture and stamp your passport. Trust me on this one.
posted by The corpse in the library at 10:59 AM on October 21, 2007

I have been told that Cuba is accommodating to Americans. They will give you a temporary passport or visa or something like that so that they will not have to stamp your American passport and you won't get in trouble when you go through customs once you return.
posted by HotPatatta at 11:13 AM on October 21, 2007

Yes, I heard that too. But my passport tells a different tale.
posted by The corpse in the library at 11:15 AM on October 21, 2007

Corpse, curious: has that caused you any problems since? Wondering how it plays out on your return if that happens.
posted by John Kenneth Fisher at 12:06 PM on October 21, 2007

FWIW, it's quite easy (and cheap) to do from Costa Rica. At least it was a few years ago when I did it. (I'm a US citizen, and my passport tells no tales.)
posted by trip and a half at 12:10 PM on October 21, 2007

No problems here so far, JKF, not even when I sent my passport in to get renewed. Not that I'm admitting to anything.
posted by The corpse in the library at 2:28 PM on October 21, 2007

Do not go to Cuba from Canada

Aside from the obvious - that it is highly unlikely that you will get a tan while in Canada, especially in November this being a HUGE red flag to our local Customs agents, you should generally avoid any place where US customs does pre-clearance, like Canada and the Bahamas. INS (or ICE) or whatever they are called now look for people getting off the Cubana flight and will be very interested if said people show up in pre-clearance. I don't think the US has a pre-clearance agreement with Mexico so you'd be safe there.

it used to be pretty easy before Bush and as long as you weren't blatant about it Customs usually looked the other way. I wouldn't risk it now, or if I would, would be very careful about covering my tracks.

As others have said, you might legitimately qualify for a license.

PS Not only should you use only cash, but you will probably have to since US credit cards and ATM cards won't work in Cuba, they're not allowed to. (By US law)
posted by xetere at 2:29 PM on October 21, 2007

My favorite part: Cuba is the only country described as a "totalitarian state" in the consular information sheet.. That has to really upset the despotic rulers of places like North Korea.
posted by Deathalicious at 3:55 PM on October 21, 2007

Response by poster: Thanks very much, all. Great information and good places for my friend to start looking at options. Seems like I should probably give a little halloo at MeTa now.....
posted by otolith at 4:19 PM on October 21, 2007

You can get there from Grand Cayman Island for about $300 round trip. You might want to um...kindly request that your passport stamp be...neglected.
posted by notjustfoxybrown at 4:53 PM on October 21, 2007

I haven't done it, but know people who fly from Grand Cayman to Cuba frequently.
posted by vronsky at 5:03 PM on October 21, 2007

But be sure to do it before the Yanks start asking for Canadian flight manifests.

Indeed. The cynic in me thinks that's the real reason they want that passenger information. If it is, you will get caught at that point. You may get caught before then anyway if you are traveling to Toronto (or, more likely, back from Toronto, going through U.S. customs and immigration) with weather-inappropriate clothing.
posted by oaf at 6:50 AM on October 22, 2007

There is also the issue of your declarations card when you re-enter the U.S. It specifically asks you to list all of the foreign countries you have visited during your trip.

Making a false statement or omitting information on the declarations card might also carry a fine or potential jail time.
posted by jsonic at 7:09 AM on October 22, 2007

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