the ultimate step-by-step guide to entry into Cuba for Americans

The day after I arrived in Cuba, America's relationship with the country changed. I would love to rant here. Get all political and feisty. But, instead, I think I'll save my energy. I have said that I wrote down everything in my notebook. I meant it. I wrote down every single step in the detailed process for visiting Cuba as an American, prior to Trump's policy changes. It's going to be difficult {impossible, even} for Americans to visit anyway other than by cruise {docking for a day or two with a guide leading you to the tourist hotspots} or other such organised tour groups.

Adventuring on your own terms at your own time, like I got to do, may look different now. I don't think anyone is sure. But I've outlined the process based on my experience as of June 2017 in full detail. 

1. Buy your plane ticket

Duh, right? I put this here, however, because when you go to purchase your ticket online a pop-up screen will appear prompting you to select one of twelve reasons for visiting. After reading online, I selected 'Support the Cuban People.' It seemed the most straightforward to me. Anytime you are visiting a country you are boosting its economy. I also brought a number of pencils with me and donated them to a local school. Select the reason that makes the most sense for you and finish purchasing your ticket. 

2. Get travel insurance

You may have read that travel insurance is required for travel to Cuba. As you read through this post, you might notice that no one ever asked to see confirmation of my insurance. I always recommend getting insurance, since I've had issues without it on other trips... I suggest using World Nomads. They are recommended by my favourite travel bloggers, provide good coverage, and seem to fit into a variety of budgets. 

3. Print + sign the affidavit e-mailed to you by your airline

Shortly after your ticket has been confirmed, you should receive an affidavit from the airline to print and sign. If for whatever reason you don't receive this e-mail, don't freak out. You may either call your airline and have them send the e-mail or proceed to step #4 where the gate attendant has copies of affidavits for each passenger. 

4. Arrive at your gate + purchase your visa on the day of your flight

After getting through security and checking in {you will not be allowed to use the self-check-in kiosks}, go to the gate of your flight. The gate attendant will ask to see your affidavit. If you need a copy, they will have you sign the affidavit and will then process your visa. You will need a credit or debit card for the $50 visa cost. You will also need to present your passport with at least 6 months validity {they will check} and your boarding pass {which will be stamped}.

Once you've paid for your visa and completed the affidavit, you will be given all your documents back and a slip of loose paper. This is your visa! Do. Not. Lose. This. The attendant told a few of us who arrived at the gate early that people lose them all the time. Cuban customs will check this upon entry and will collect it upon your exit.

5. Complete both the Declaration of Health + Immigration forms in flight

You will get two slips of paper once you've taken off: a white form and a blue form. The white form is your "Delaracion de Sanidad del Viajero", which is a declaration of health. The blue form is your "Delaracion de Aduanas Para Pasajeros", or a standard immigration form. Both are in Spanish with English translations. On your declaration of health form, it will ask you what your purpose for travel in Cuba is. The options are 'business', 'events', 'tourism', or 'other.' I marked the box for 'tourism' because I like honesty. Also, I read online that that was the best box to mark. 

6 Clear customs

The Jose Marti Airport in Havana is small, so it's easy to navigate. The whole place smells like petrol that has been trapped in humid air for a long while. You'll follow the stairs down to what seems to be a basement that's poorly lit. Stand in line with your forms and passport until you are called to an officer. 

Present your visa {that loose slip of paper you're supposed to hold onto super tightly} and your passport. You'll be asked {likely in Spanish until you looked confused, at which time they'll repeat it for you in English} if you've been to Africa in the last 30 days. Your passport will be stamped and you'll go through a gate. 

7. Have your bags scanned

Now you'll have your bag run through a scanner just like walking back through airport security.  As you pass through, you may be selected to hand over your declaration of health to ladies in white coats sitting at an old table fanning themselves. Maybe they're doctors? Maybe it's just their uniform? I'm also not sure how they determine who they select...but I wasn't, so I walked through and continued to the next step. 

8. Exchange money

Most of Cuba won't accept U.S. credit or debit cards, not even the street ATMs you'll see around the city. Bring cash with you to exchange into Cuban Convertible Pesos {CUC} upon arrival. Knowing your budget will significantly help you know how much you'll want to exchange. 

Walking past the women in white coats, you'll enter the arrivals terminal where taxi drivers will stand with signs and you'll see tour booths. Exit the terminal into the Havana heat and you'll find two currency exchange places. You won't be able to miss the people waiting in long lines to your right and left. 

BONUS TIP:  to avoid the long lines, you can flag down a taxi driver and ask him to take you to a bank en route to your accommodation. This saved me a solid hour of just waiting in the heat, doing nothing. The taxi driver took me to a bank where I walked right in and exchanged my money in 2 quick minutes. 

9. Take a yellow taxi to your accommodation

You don't have to catch one of the official yellow taxi cabs, but taking a classic car 30 minutes into the city may be a bit more expensive {or so I was told}. A taxi from the airport into the city should cost you no more than 30 CUC. 

Honestly, I was anxious about going to Cuba. I worried about the visa process being tricky or being allowed into the country without a tour group. In fact, I was nervous for no reason. I wasn't questioned coming back from Cuba and I was never asked about my reasons for visiting.

If you have any question, feel free to shoot me an e-mail, flick me a DM on Instagram, or leave a comment in the questions below!