Every moment before we landed in Cuba was a travel planning stress fest. From the moment we touched down, it was bliss.
In our experience traveling to Cuba, the majority of our energy was spent in the days leading up to the trip, not so much on the trip itself.
This pre-departure checklist has major, important updates for 2023 and some clarifications around long-standing requirements based on our experience in December 2022.
IMPORTANT 2023 Update: Health and Customs Declaration Form
In past years, this form could be filled out on your flight to Cuba or even at Havana airport.
Now, it must be filled out online BEFORE you check in for your flight. Access it at D’Viajeros, available in multiple languages at the top right.
The airline agent checking you in will request to see it before they will give you a boarding pass.
It is all digital, including when you present it to the Cuban authorities. You can show it on your phone at both the check-in desk and Cuban immigration.
This is a very recent change that was different from everything I’d read online. Imagine the surprise we had at 3:30 in the morning!
Thankfully, the form is very quick and easy to fill out. If you mess up, you can edit it as many times as you want.
On the customs section, you only must declare items you will leave in Cuba. If you’re traveling with a personal laptop, phone, etc. and are taking them out of the country when you leave, those are NOT declared to customs.
In the past, Cuban airport security would sometimes note the passport information of visitors bringing in a personal laptop, but that didn’t happen to us.
Cuba Tourist Visa
To enter Cuba as a foreigner, the Cuban government requires all visitors to have a tourist visa.
If you’re entering from a US airport, it will be a pink card. From anywhere else in the world, it will be green.
Fill out both sides, and keep both sides for your entire stay. You’ll give it back to Cuban immigration when you fly out of the country.
If you lose your card, you can buy another one in the country. But they can charge whatever they want for it and I have no idea how much that would cost. So I recommend holding on to yours!
Sometimes, visas are supposed to be filled out in all caps—it depends on the country. When I asked about this one, I was told it doesn’t matter to the Cuban government.
How to get a Pink Card (Cuba Tourist Visa)
I do not recommend buying your visa online. The fees are ridiculous.
Instead, buy it from your departure gate or follow the directions from your airline.
We flew with JetBlue, and they made it very easy to buy our Pink Cards from them in Ft. Lauderdale airport.
At first, I worried we’d have to leave security on the layover to buy it. We had no problems getting it on the secure side of the airport, and had plenty of time on our layover.
There’s a reason most Cuba departures are scheduled with long connections!
JetBlue is also one of the cheapest airlines to buy this from at $50 per card. You will need your passport, boarding pass, and a major credit card to buy it from them.
For reference, the more common online services charge about $125 once you add shipping!
If a website tells you to buy it online, they’re getting commission from the online service.
One look at online reviews told me passengers were angry at the extra fees and felt cheated when they saw people buying visas for 50 bucks at the airport.
Most major U.S.-based airlines have Cuba-specific travel info on their websites. Here are those links:
- Delta (Delta doesn’t have a page on their site, so I linked ViaHero. Their info is updated regularly.)
- Southwest (Southwest doesn’t sell pink cards, but instead sends their passengers to an online service.)
If you are not flying with that airline, they won’t sell you a pink card. You have to buy it from your airline or online (which, again, I don’t recommend).
Just in Case: Email showing Pink Card policy from your airline
When I arrived to my departure airport check-in counter in Nashville, the friendly agent wanted to see my pink card then.
But JetBlue sells those cards at your gateway airport, not your departure airport.
In my case, that was Ft. Lauderdale.
In the system on her end, it showed you were supposed to have all your documents, including the pink card, at the departure airport.
She was just doing her job and I don’t blame her at all. This was clearly a lack of internal communication within the airline.
She did allow me to check in once I showed the email FROM JetBlue with their instructions to purchase the pink card from them, at the Ft. Lauderdale departure gate.
If the same thing happens to you, keep that email they send 24 hours before departure to show the agent.
OFAC General License and Itinerary
- Family visits
- Official business of the U.S. government, foreign governments and certain intergovernmental organizations
- Journalistic activities
- Professional research or professional meetings
- Educational academic activities
- Religious activities
- Public performance, clinics, workshops, athletic or other competitions and exhibitions
- Support for the Cuban people
- Humanitarian projects
- Activities of private foundations or research or educational institutes
- Exportation, importation, or transmission of information or informational materials
- Travel related to certain authorized export transactions
When you buy your plane ticket, the airline will ask for your OFAC category. When I bought my JetBlue and American tickets, they used a dropdown for this question.
You need to know in advance which one of the above applies to your trip, and you want to have an itinerary already in place under Support for the Cuban People.
No one asked to see ours, but the U.S. government reserves the right to ask for it for 5 years following your trip.
Plenty of USD in Cash
For weeks, I stressed about how much cash I should take to Cuba. I hate carrying cash around—I feel like such a target and credit cards can be cancelled if they’re stolen. With cash, once it’s gone, it’s gone.
Like I mentioned in my Cuba travel guide, this country is the safest out of all 26 I’ve been to. I never worried about being robbed, so I feel silly for worrying about that in hindsight.
For a one-week trip with two destinations, we took about $650 in cash per person. We ended up using about $500 of that each.
Two of our accommodations and one tour were booked online before we left for Cuba; everything else came out of our cash.
You can definitely spend more money in Cuba than we did, but we weren’t on a shoestring budget either. I’d say we followed a more middle-of-the-road budget. We splurged on some things, and saved on others.
Health Insurance Accepted in Cuba
The Cuban government requires all visitors to have a health insurance policy they will accept.
However, you (probably) don’t need to purchase a separate policy.
Most major U.S.-based airlines include this health insurance in your airfare. Check those links above to be sure yours is included, but it should be.
Your proof of insurance is your boarding pass, so make sure you keep it the entire trip. You cannot check in online for travel to Cuba, so you’ll have a paper boarding pass anyway.
Proof of a Return or Onward Plane Ticket
You can buy separate one-way tickets. I did, to save money.
JetBlue asked me for proof of a return ticket on two occasions on my departure day, so I showed them my confirmation on the American Airlines app.
Obviously, it’s easier to book a roundtrip with the same airline. But they won’t give you a hard time if you don’t.
Just make sure you have either a return or onward plane ticket to show the Cuban authorities you are, in fact, going to leave within the dates of your visa.
I hope this information-dense post was helpful. Planning a trip to Cuba is difficult, and not without good reason. If there’s anything else I can do to help you, comment below and I’ll do my best! Buen viaje. 😊
Read more Cuba travel guides:
- Cuba Travel Guide for U.S. Citizens: What to Know Before You Go
- What to See and Do in Cuba (Havana and Viñales)
- At Dusk in Havana, I Fell in Love
- Havana, the Art Sanctuary
- When It Destroys, It Starts with Us
- The Elephant in the Room: Socialism in Cuba