So you want to travel to Cuba…

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For Washingtonians traveling to Cuba, its generally no different than traveling to any other foreign country where a person is required to apply for a Visa and have a US passport before departure.

You’ll need two blank pages in your passport for entry/exit stamps.  Traveling to Cuba is still prohibited by the US government, but Americans can obtain a license from the Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC), a department within the US Department of the Treasury.  This is the only way to travel unless you fall into one of 12 categories of authorized travel:

  1. Family visits;
  2. Official business of the US government, foreign governments, and certain intergovernmental organizations;
  3. Journalistic activity;
  4. Professional research and professional meetings;
  5. Educational activities;
  6. Religious activities;
  7. Public performances, clinics, workshops, athletic and other competitions, and exhibitions;
  8. Support for the Cuban people;
  9. Humanitarian projects;
  10. Activities of private foundations or research or educational institutes;
  11. Exportation, importation, or transmission of information or informational materials; and
  12. Certain authorized export transactions.

If you don’t fall into any of these areas, you’ll HAVE TO go through OFAC for authorization;  and failure to do so can land you in jail. The US government is very serious about this. In fact, the State Department lists this info clearly on their website:  See the Department of Treasury webpage. For travel-specific questions, please see 31 C.F.R. 515.560 and OFAC’s Frequently Asked Questions.

You can visit the Cuban Embassy website for visa requirements. But be advised the info may change without any official announcement, so keep checking out the site. Whatever you do, DO NOT try to circumvent the law getting to Cuba.  If you illegally make it there and you get caught, you can be arrested by Cuban officials and receive a prison term between 4-30 years. If you aren’t a fan of a Cuban jail/prison, I recommend just obeying the laws getting to Cuba, and being in Cuba.  But if you happen to get detained/arrested for any reason, request to speak to the US Embassy in Cuba IMMEDIATELY. Travelers can check out the STATE DEPARTMENT for more info.

As I’ve written before, Cuba has two currencies:  the Cuban convertible pesos (CUC) and the Cuban peso (CUP).  The average Cuban earns about $25 USD a month, and even doctors earn just $80 a month, but the country can become very pricey for a tourist. Doing things like buying a beer, (costing between 1 CUC and 4 CUC, depending on the brand and where you buy it) and having a typical meal (which ranges from 8 CUC to 19 CUC, again depending on where you go and what you order) is fairly inexpensive, but there’s a fee for pretty much everything; and the biggest thing I’d recommend is to be aware of where you’re headed in relation to where you might presently be because the taxi drivers are quite crafty when setting a price for travel. Most websites say it should cost you about 10 CUC to get around, but some taxi drivers were trying to charge up to 15 CUC and in some cases, even more.  I say to negotiate your price before you hop in.

Overall, the most important thing to do in preparing for Cuba is to be smart, and go through the proper channels.

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