Before Jules and I bought our tickets to Cuba I’d spent hours searching the Internet for information on traveling to Cuba as an American. I knew it was technically illegal, but just how illegal was it? There were few articles of Americans traveling to Cuba who had written about their experiences.
I read a lot of conflicting information. Some bloggers encouraging me to go, others warning of the heavy fines and possible prison time for breaking the law. I was so confused I almost gave up and didn’t go. The myths of Cuba were almost enough to put me off!
Thank God Jules talked me into it because Cuba ended up being one of my all-time favorite countries. And now I love the fact that I went illegally, because seriously, the travel restriction is so antiquated and ridiculous. So here I am, proudly announcing to the world that I, Christine, have traveled to Cuba illegally. And here’s how you can too:
Isn’t it illegal?
Yes, but under the Obama administration the US government is easing up on restrictions for visiting Cuba. Certain organizations likes school groups, choirs, religious orgs, etc may be granted special visas to visit. This is how Jay-Z and Beyonce went legally. They went with a Museum Foundation and their trip was tailored to meet certain education requirements.
Person to person tourist groups are also being allowed access, but for the average traveler these options are pricey and often inaccessible. As far as the Cuban government is concerned, come one and come all! They welcome all American tourists and hold no grudges.
Click here! A Must Read For All Americans!
But can’t you be fined thousands of dollars and get thrown into jail?
Theoretically it is not illegal to go to Cuba, but it is illegal to spend money in Cuba. But since you have to pay an airport tax the minute you enter Cuba, you’re screwed from the beginning. Technically you could face a $250,000 fine and 10 years in jail for violating the law. Okay, that’s enough to make anyone sweat during customs, but in reality the law is rarely enforced. In fact, no American has been fined for traveling to Cuba in the past 10 years, and believe me there are a lot of American illegals making the trip every year.
But won’t I have a Cuban stamp in my passport?
Not necessarily, but it is possible. When you arrive in Cuba (and this goes for everyone, not just Americans) the customs officer can stamp a small piece of paper and staple it into your passport. When you leave they simply take it out and your passport is clear of all Cuban evidence.
The only catch is that when you return to Mexico, or wherever you flew from, you will now have two entry stamps in your passport from that country. If you are super paranoid, I’ve heard of people asking the customs official to not re-stamp your passport, but I think that’s a bit over the top. When you get back to the States immigration would have to examine your passport, check each stamp and compare dates. And let’s face it, they don’t really care that much.
Also, even if you do get your passport stamped, because Cuba travel is becoming more legalized it really isn’t an issue. On our second trip to Cuba in 2016 I actually got my passport stamped on the way through to the US… immigration didn’t even bat an eyelid. Read more about it by clicking our How to Legally Travel to Cuba as an American graphic above.
How Does the Money Work?
Unsurprisingly, the US government has a block on any US debit and credit cards, so don’t show up with just your MasterCard or Visa. We traveled from Cancun to Cuba, so before leaving I withdrew a large amount of Mexican pesos and exchanged them in Havana. The exchange rate is decent, but Euros, Pounds or Canadian dollars are better. You can bring American money, but they tack on an extra 10% charge when exchanging American dollars, so it works out at a terrible rate.
How Can You Buy a Plane Ticket?
Buying flights to Cuba has never been easier now that the US is starting to reduce their restrictions for travel. But it wasn’t always this easy. Back when we first went in 2013 it was more difficult and we had divert through Mexico to buy the tickets in cash. Now it’s much more simple, but still requires some essential information. To get the full story click the graphic below.
Cuba Flight Booking Guide
Do Cubans Like Americans?
Cuba & the US have a rocky history, and a shaky present for that matter. The history is long and complicated (for a quick summary I suggest Wikipedia) and I won’t get into my personal views on our diplomatic relations in Cuba, but I can tell you from personal experience that I felt very welcome in Cuba. Locals were very interested to hear about life in the States and I never felt a prejudice for being American. And the bottom line is that American tourists bring in money, so they welcome us with open arms.
Internet Censorship in Cuba
One thing that is difficult about traveling to Cuba is not only accessing the Internet, but also being able to access your content and data securely and unrestricted. According to Reporters Without Borders, Cuba has some of the tightest Internet restrictions and censorship around the world, particularly for the local population. During our time in Cuba we didn’t experience too many instances where our Internet was restricted, but we were heavily concerned about the use and security of our private data that is heavily monitored by the Cuban government. To bypass any potential censorship issues, and concerns about data security and privacy, we always ensure we have a good VPN service to help bypass Internet censorship and ensure safe data encryption when accessing private information like online banking and social media accounts. We’d recommend a company like ExpressVPN for helping you get set up with a simple VPN service to ensure your data stays your own when visiting Cuba.
But isn’t Cuba an oppressive communist country ran by a tyrannical dictator and aren’t you a traitor to America for traveling there??
Well, I suppose this is a personal decision you have to make before traveling to Cuba. I won’t speak of the pros and cons of a communist state but I will say that it was easily one of my favorite countries I’ve ever visited. The people are incredibly friendly, I felt safer there than anywhere in Central America, and it would be a loss to avoid Cuba only because of the biased stereotypes depicted in American media.
Side Note: For the sake of clarity in my writing and making this article easy to search in Google I have used the term “American” to reference US travelers. Cuba is, of course, part of the Americas and I apologize if I have offended anyone by limiting this term.