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Can a non-US citizen fly to Cuba through the US?

by WNC

With Florida being very close to Cuba, traveling to the island from the US has been an appealing option not only for Americans, but for people from any other country.

Often people will fly to Miami from Europe, and from Miami to Cuba.

Warning

As of October 2019 President Trump banned all flights from the US to all Cuban cities but Havana. Fortunately most visitors fly into Havana. Airlines will cease operations to other cities (Holguin, Santiago, …) within 45 days.

Fortunately, it is possible to travel to Cuba through the US. However, foreigners must also follow US law when travelling to Cuba through the US. The rules that you must follow apply equally to foreigners as to American citizens:

  1. You must travel under one of the 12 approved travel categories allowed by the US government.
  2. You must buy a tourist card in the US, even if you have a passport that doesn’t need it.

12 approved travel categories

If you want to travel to Cuba from or through the US, you must choose between one of the allowed reasons for visiting the island.

Due to the travel restrictions applied by the US government traveling to Cuba for tourism from or through the US is officially not allowed, regardless of the nationality and citizenship of the traveler. However, the 12 approved travel categories are quite broad, and most travellers will fit in them.

These 12 reasons are the following:

  • Family visits
  • Official business of the U.S. government, foreign governments, and certain intergovernmental organizations
  • Journalistic activity
  • Professional research and professional meetings
  • Educational activities
  • Religious activities
  • Public performances, clinics, workshops, athletic and 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 information materials
  • Certain export transactions that may be considered for authorization under existing regulations and guidelines.

You do not have to prove that you are eligible for any of these categories before you travel to Cuba: you only have to state it when you leave the US.

It is possible (although this never happens in practice) that the US Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) will question you about your visit after you return, which is why you are recommended to keep evidence of complying with the rules for your category for five years after you travel to Cuba.

Again, according to the travellers who have visited Cuba under the OFAC licenses, this hasn’t happened for decades.

The category that is most often chosen by individual travelers is the “Support for the Cuban people category”. Basically, anybody is eligible for this category if they agree to spend their time in the island engaging in activities that benefit Cubans. These activities are as simple as lodging in Casas Particulares, eating at Paladares, and taking private lessons from the locals. Read the answers to frequently asked questions about travelling in “Support for the Cuban People”.

Tourist card and other requirements

Apart from qualifying for one of the 12 categories mentioned above, you will also need:

Travel insurance is relatively simple. The airline will add $25 US dollars to the cost of your plane ticket and that will be your insurance.

Everyone entering Cuba must have a visa and health insurance with coverage in the area. For insurance, a $25 fee is added to your ticket price.

American Airlines

The tourist card should be bought in the USA. Even if you have one from your country or have a passport that allows you tourist card free travel to Cuba (e.g. Serbian passport), you will not be able to leave from the US without buying a tourist card.

Travel cards may be purchased online or at the airport before you fly to Cuba and usually cost between $50 and $100 US dollars.

Travelling to Cuba through the US is not impossible: actually, it is very easy as long as you agree to follow the requirements of your category. Moreover, to fully comply with US law you must not to spend money on military-owned business. Find out more about this restriction in our guide for how to travel to Cuba legally as an American.

So, do not miss your chance to visit this beautiful country and enjoy the unique Cuban culture and lifestyle.

Will a Cuban passport stamp be a problem when going to the USA?

When entering the USA, having a passport stamp that shows you have been to Cuba is not an issue. Every year, millions of Americans travel to Cuba. Travelling to Cuba is legal and will not get you into trouble, as long as you follow the rules described above.

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