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How Americans Can Finally Visit Cuba: A Step-by-Step Guide

How Americans Can Finally Visit Cuba: A Step-by-Step Guide

Wondering how Americans can travel to Cuba right now? Find out the 12 valid reasons for Cuban travel and see what documents you’ll need to go in this guide. 

Are Americans Allowed to Travel to Cuba?

  • Americans are allowed to visit Cuba under certain licenses
  • General tourism to Cuba is not allowed
  • You still need a Cuban visa if you meet the license requirements

Are Americans allowed to go to Cuba right now? The short answer is yes, but only if you fall under certain criteria for your visit.

There are lots of rules and regulations that determine exactly who is allowed to visit Cuba and for what reasons. Not everyone will meet these criteria. 

If your trip does fall under one of the 12 approved categories, you’ll still need to obtain a Cuban visa in order to enter the country legally. 

General American tourism to Cuba is not allowed right now. You need to have a different reason to visit Cuba, like visiting family or humanitarian efforts. 

We’ll outline the 12 different reasons you may be allowed to travel to Cuba in more detail in the next section.

Here’s How Americans Can Travel to Cuba

Street view in Havana, Cuba showing a blue 50s model car alone on a street lined with colorful buildings for a piece demonstrating how Americans can travel to Cuba


Americans can travel to Cuba  – but only when they have a valid reason outlined by the U.S. Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) for the trip and if they have a valid Cuban visa. 

While it might seem like visiting to tour the country is a good enough reason to go, the U.S. Department of State doesn’t authorize travel to Cuba for tourism right now. 

” Travel [to Cuba] for tourist activities is not permitted.” – U.S. Office of Foreign Assets Control

There are currently 12 general licenses Americans can travel to Cuba under without needing to apply for any additional licenses or approvals. 

The 12 general license categories for American travel to Cuba are:

  1. Family visits
  2. Official government business
  3. Journalistic activity
  4. Professional research and meetings
  5. Educational activities
  6. Religious activities
  7. Public performances, competitions, and workshops
  8. Support for the Cuban people
  9. Humanitarian projects
  10. Private foundation or educational institute research
  11. Informational material imports, exports, or transmission
  12. Certain authorized export transactions

If your trip doesn’t fall under one or more of these general license categories, you won’t be eligible for the general licensing and will need to either apply for an additional license from OFAC or hit pause on your trip to Cuba. 

How to Get a Cuban Visa

Visual concept of applying for a Cuban visa as an option for how Americans can travel to Cuba


If your trip does fall under one of the 12 general licensing categories, you’ll also need to obtain a Cuban visa before you travel to Cuba.

A Cuban visa is sometimes called a tourist card. It approves a one-time entry and up to a 30-day stay (you can extend by 30 days once you reach your hotel if needed) in Cuba.

You won’t be allowed into the country without one. 

To get a Cuban visa, you’ll need the following documents directly from the consulate:

  • Valid passport
  • Form
  • Plane ticket with arrival and return date
  • Consular fee paid in full (cash or bank transfer)

To get a Cuban visa through the mail, you’ll need the following documents:

  • Photocopy of your valid passport
  • Photocopy of your flight ticket (showing date of entry and return)
  • Paid consular fee (bank transfer)
  • Self-addressed, stamped envelope

You can also apply on the Consular Services website or by contacting the Cuban Embassy in Washington, D.C. at this address or phone number:

  • Embassy of the Republic of Cuba: 2630 16th Street, NW, Washington, D.C. 20009
  • Phone: (202) 797 8518 – Ext. 600

You can’t apply for a Cuban visa through the U.S. Embassy in Havana, Cuba or through the U.S. Department of State. 

12 Reasons Americans Can Travel to Cuba

Daughter visiting her mother in Cuba smiling on the beach shows one of the ways Americans can travel to Cuba legally – Yuri A/Shutterstock

Let’s take a closer look at each one of these 12 general license categories to get a better idea of what’s included under each one. 

1. Family Visits

You can travel to Cuba if it’s for a family visit. Family is considered anyone who is related to you by blood, marriage, or adoption and is no more than 3 generations removed from you. 

You might travel to Cuba to visit a relative who is a Cuban citizen or resides in Cuba. You can also travel when accompanying another relative who lives in or is traveling to Cuba. 

2. Official Government Business

You can go to Cuba if the trip involves official business of the U.S. government, a foreign government, or certain intergovernmental organizations. 

Your government organization or office will be able to offer advice on any additional licensing you may need for your trip if it applies. 

3. Journalistic Activity

Full-time and freelance journalists, broadcasters, and supporting technical personnel may travel to Cuba as long as the work is considered full-time. 

The OFAC notes that excess recreation or free time is not allowed. If you’re part of a journalist or broadcasting team, everyone in the group must meet these full-time requirements. 

4. Professional Research and Meetings

Taking part in professional research or meetings related to your profession or area of expertise is a valid reason to travel to Cuba. 

You may also travel to Cuba to attend or organize a professional conference or meeting in Cuba since the OFAC amended their rules in June 2022. 

5. Educational Activities

You can travel to Cuba for educational activities, which can include U.S. school faculty, staff, and students who are engaging in educational activities in Cuba. 

Field trips, study abroad programs, and foreign exchange students may fall under this category. If the time spent in Cuba will be longer than 30-60 days, you may need a different visa. 

Old church in El Cobre Village, Cuba with green mountains and clouds in the background for a piece showing how Americans can legally visit Cuba

Matyas Rehak/Shutterstock

6. Religious Activities

You may travel to Cuba for religious activities that occur in the country. You can travel as part of a religious organization as a member or staff member.

 This can include missionary work, attending or holding religious services in Cuba, and volunteering with a religious organization. The religious activities must be consistent with a full-time schedule. 

7. Public Performances, Competitions, and Workshops

There has been a general license in place for people holding, participating in, or marketing public performances, clinics, workshops, competitions (athletic and non-athletic), and exhibitions. 

However, the general authorization was removed in September 2020 and now requires specific licenses issued on a case-by-case basis for trips to Cuba for these purposes. 

8. Support for the Cuban People

You can travel to Cuba if the purpose of your trip is providing support for the Cuban people. This is a broad category, but there are certain activities that fall under it. 

Working with recognized human rights organizations, organizations whose purpose is promoting a peaceful shift to democracy in Cuba, and promoting independent activity meant to strengthen Cuba’s civil society or encourage the people’s independence from Cuban authorities are approved reasons to visit under this category. 

9. Humanitarian Projects

Taking part in humanitarian projects is an approved reason to travel to Cuba for Americans. The humanitarian projects need to fall under specific categories to be considered a valid reason for entry. 

Medical and health, construction, disaster preparation and response, historical preservation, environmental, community, agricultural, rural development, micro financing (except loans and credit), and basic human needs projects are valid reasons to visit Cuba. 

Offering educational training on business, journalism, advocacy, literacy for adults, and job skills are also permitted reasons to visit Cuba under this license category. 

Man gets ready to distribute medicine for hurricane relief after Irma in Havana Cuba as one of the valid reasons Americans can visit the country

Members of Caritas participates on the relief of Havana, Cuba after Hurricane Irma in 2017/Kako Escalona/Shutterstock

10. Private Foundation or Educational Institute Research 

Working with a private foundation or educational institute to research or collect information on Cuba and its citizens is one reason Americans can travel to Cuba. 

International relations must be the reason for the research, not commercial purposes (like collecting audience demographics and research for a company). 

11. Informational Material Imports, Exports, or Transmission

Americans may visit Cuba for the purposes of importing, exporting, or transmitting information. It’s another broad category, but there are limitations to consider. 

Professional media and art productions like filming or producing media programs (movies and TV shows), recording music, and creating artwork in Cuba is allowed as long as you have professional experience in the field. 

12. Certain Authorized Export Transactions

This category is pretty vague, and the OFAC doesn’t offer any additional information on what exactly the specific authorized export transactions may be. 

Export transactions are contracts for selling services, goods, or raw materials that are to be shipped to or provided in Cuba. You’ll want to contact the OFAC to see if your trip purpose may fall under this category if you plan to export products or services to Cuba. 

More Things to Consider

Aerial view of Trinidad, Cuba in the Sancti Spiritus province for a piece explaining how Americans can travel to Cuba

Oksana Rossi/Shutterstock

We’ve covered everything you need to know to see if you’re eligible to travel to Cuba, plus the documents and licenses you might need. 

What else should you keep in mind to help you trip to Cuba go as smoothly as possible?

  • If you meet any of the 12 categories, you’re good to go. The Office of Foreign Assets Control says “no further permission from OFAC is required” if you meet all criteria for at least one general license to travel to Cuba. You won’t need to make a written request or apply for additional licenses if you meet the criteria for one of the 12 general licenses. 
  • If you don’t qualify for a general license, you can apply for one. The OFAC allows you to apply for specific licenses if your travel doesn’t fall under one of the 12 approved general license categories. Note that tourism is not a valid reason for travel and there’s no license you can get to approve tourism travel.
  • Don’t try to sneak tourism into the trip. Most general license categories require you to maintain a full-time schedule doing what your trip is centered around – visiting family, professional research, etc. Don’t think that you can do a day or two of work or intended activities and tour the country the rest of the trip – stick with your full-time schedule, but you can always try restaurants, swim, dance, drink, and shop in the evenings. 
  • You can buy your tickets directly from a U.S. airline. As long as you’re authorized to travel under one of the general categories, you can buy your flight ticket from a U.S.-based airline. They’ll keep records of your Cuban flight purchase for 5 years, minimum.
  • There’s no spending limit while you’re in Cuba. The U.S. government doesn’t set a dollar limit on how much you can spend while in Cuba, but it does want to ensure that your expenses are typical and only cover what’s required (like living expenses or purchase of goods for personal consumption while you’re there).
  • You can’t bring home Cuban cigars. It’s been a trope in pop culture for years, but it’s worth mentioning that Cuban cigars (and alcohol) are illegal to bring back into the United States. If the products are of Cuban origin, use them while you’re in Cuba and don’t try to bring them into the states. 

Frequently Asked Questions

Havana street view with colorful buildings lining the street with archways in Cuba, where Americans can sometimes travel legally


A lot of questions surround how Americans can travel to Cuba. Take a look at the most frequently asked questions on the topic to learn more. 

Can Americans travel to Cuba in 2023?

Yes, Americans can travel to Cuba right now as long as the purpose of the trip falls under one of the 12 general licenses. Trips to Cuba for tourism are not currently allowed.

The 12 categories are listed above in this guide and range from educational and religious activities to visiting family or exporting goods and services.

What are the requirements for US citizens to enter Cuba?

U.S. citizens who want to enter Cuba must be visiting for one of 12 approved reasons and obtain a Cuban tourist visa that is valid for 30 days. A valid passport is required to obtain the visa.

U.S. citizens may not currently enter Cuba for tourism purposes. Instead, you must be there to participate full-time in one of the 12 approved trip categories.

Can Americans go to resorts in Cuba?

Right now, visiting all-inclusive beach resorts in Cuba is prohibited as it falls under general tourism. Americans can't stay in hotels or resorts owned by the Cuban government, either.

Americans must stay in private-owned hotels and resorts if their purpose for visiting Cuba meets the guidelines of one of the 12 general licenses.

Why are US citizens not allowed to travel to Cuba?

The short answer is that the U.S. government doesn't want American citizens supporting the Cuban government through tourism dollars. The only approved reasons to visit are for non-tourism purposes that won't directly support the Cuban government.

When could Americans start going to Cuba?

There's no definitive answer on when Americans could start going to Cuba without restrictions on the reason for travel. If relations between the two countries improved substantially, the travel restrictions could be lifted.

Until then, Americans can visit if their trip falls under one of the 12 general license categories for approved Cuban travel.

So, How Can Americans Travel to Cuba?

Learning how Americans can travel to Cuba will ensure that you don’t plan a trip outside of the current laws and regulations on Cuban travel. 

While you can’t visit Cuba strictly as a tourist, there are 12 approved reasons to visit the country as an American. 

These categories include family visits, government business, journalism, professional research, educational and religious activities, performances and competitions (may need additional licensing).

Other reasons to visit Cuba are supporting the Cuban people, humanitarian projects, research for private foundations or educational institutions, informational material transmission or import/export, and some export transactions. 

As long as your trip falls under one or more of these general license categories, you will be able to visit Cuba for up to 30 days (with a possible 30-day extension after arriving). 

Just make sure to apply for and obtain a Cuban visa for tourists through the channels linked and listed above in our guide. Happy travels!