This January, I got to visit the beautiful and mysterious country of Cuba. While the borders have “opened up” kind of for Americans (#ThanksObama), you can’t just show up in Cuba and expect to get in. Oh no, there is definitely a visa needed and in the case for Americans, there are 12 reasons you can enter on to get into Cuba. It is illegal to visit for tourism, technically, but there are ways around it by engaging in one of the 12 ways/categories that allows Americans to travel into Cuba.
Go on a Tour
If you surf the internet, you can see more and more travel agents and websites offering ‘Tours to Cuba!‘ and things like ‘American? Want to go to Cuba? We can take you!‘ etc. And this definitely is a way to get into Cuba – however you might not be seeing Cuba as you really want it. You will be on pretty regimented schedules, visiting what the tour group is allowed to see, and not getting to explore on you own or interact with as many locals as you want. Sure, some of these tours are actually pretty awesome – but they come at a cost, and usually quite a hefty cost. If you are like my colleagues and I who really wanted to delve in deep into Cuban culture, explore, and meet and invest ourselves in the locals, we decided the tour was just not for us. You can do all of the above on your own, and for much cheaper than an organized tour with people you don’t know. (I’m not knocking tours, I have done them and really enjoy them!)
Anywho, many people have asked me HOW I was able to go to Cuba…and it is actually easier than you think!
People to People
This is probably the most common and easiest way Americans are currently traveling into Cuba. Again, Americans are not supposed to just go to Cuba and be tourists. Even if you are going with a tour group, you are more than likely on this ‘People to People‘ option. Big thing is, as mentioned above, you don’t have to be in a travel tour group to enter Cuba! The purpose of People to People is not for tourist activities, but to immerse yourself in Cuban culture and people. You are to talk with the locals, exchange information, tell them about life in the US and learn about life in Cuba. You are supposed to have an itinerary chalk full of activities that support the locals, gain insight of Cuban life, support civil society, etc. and overall engage in education activities that result in meaningful interactions for both tourists and Cubans. As you can see a tour would cover all of these bases.
A few weeks before our trip,my colleagues visited a Cuban restaurant in Chicago to plan our itinerary, and we had everything listed out – including naps on our itinerary. And guess what…we were never asked for this. Not once. Not ever. Not in Cuba OR when we left or came back to the states. Now, apparently we have to hold onto this for the next 5 years, as the US has the right to audit us for 5 years after our trip – so definitely something to keep in mind.
But, I can tell you wholeheartedly we learned SO much from this trip both for work and personally. We interacted with as many locals as possible, listened to their stories, what they went through, what there families went through, etc. We did tours, we gave gifts to our hosts, we visited off-the-beaten path and well-known establishments and my colleague even did salsa lessons! I may sound like a broken record, but I learned SO much from this trip to Cuba – maybe more than any other place I have been.
Other Ways to get in Cuba
There are also 11 other reasons you can enter Cuba on as an American, however they are much more specific ranging from visiting family in Cuba, to musicians and artists performing in Cuba, to official business of the US Government. You can see the full list of reasons you can visit Cuba here. Chances are you probably aren’t going to qualify for one of these unless your Beyonce, Obama, or Cuban, which is why most people do the People to People option.
As you can see it isn’t impossible to visit Cuba as an American! Before things drastically change in Cuba, now is definitely the time to go! In the next post I am going to explain What to do to get into Cuba as an American, meaning the steps for the flights, visa, and health insurance, now that you know how to get in!