Visa Requirements for Your Diving Holiday in Cuba (US & Other Citizens)30th July 2016 | Sandro Lonardi
As the largest island in the Caribbean, Cuba holds some of the most fascinating dive sites in the region. Here you’ll find untouched archipelagos, caverns and coral reefs including the shark heaven known as the Jardines de la Reina.
But restrictions on traveling to Cuba have long confused scuba divers. Luckily, visiting Cuba is becoming easier every year. This is especially true for American citizens. Below you’ll find the requirements for travel to this island paradise.
Information for US Citizens
As you’re probably aware, regulations for Americans visiting Cuba have recently become much more relaxed. As evidence of this, US airlines can now fly directly to Cuba.
At the time of writing, six airlines have been approved to provide 155 combined weekly flights to 10 Cuban cities from Miami, Fort Lauderdale, Chicago, Minneapolis and Philadelphia. The American flight operators permitted to fly to Cuba are JetBlue Airways, Sun Country Airlines, American Airlines, Southwest Airlines, Frontier Airlines and Silver Airways. Current promotions list one-way flights for as little as $99 USD.
In addition to new direct flights, Americans now face far less paperwork for entry to Cuba. Only 4 travel documents are required:
Cuban Tourist Visa - The Cuban Tourist Visa or Tourist Card can now be purchased at "gateway airports" in the United States. These are airports with direct flights to Cuba. The cost (at the time of writing) was $50 per person. To purchase a tourist visa, you will need your passport, boarding pass and a major credit card.
A U.S. passport that's valid for the entire length of your stay in Cuba.
Cuban Health Insurance - The Cuban government requires all visitors to carry health insurance which covers the territory of Cuba. US citizens will need to buy local insurance, but flights departing from the United States often include this insurance in the price of the ticket.
A Travel Affidavit and Accompanying Paperwork - For all US citizens traveling to Cuba, the US government requires that travel falls into one of 12 qualifying categories. Travel under these categories is a self-qualifying process. So, you simply need to fill in the Travel Affidavit form, print out an itinerary and carry these with you during your trip.
So long as your travel falls within one of the 12 categories, you will be automatically authorized to visit Cuba legally. There’s no need to visit the Cuban consulate.
For your further information, the 12 OFAC categories for travel to Cuba are as follows:
- 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 (People to People)
- Humanitarian projects
- Activities of private foundations or research or educational institutes
- Exportation, importation, or transmission of information or information materials
- Certain authorized export transactions.
When you book a flight departing from the United States, you will be asked which of these 12 qualifications you are traveling under.
For a scuba diving trip, the most appropriate of the 12 categories would be “People to People”. If you intend to travel under "People to People" (selection 6b on the Travel Affidavit form), you will need to prepare a complete schedule describing how you will interact with locals at each point of the itinerary. This is in addition to the Travel Affidavit. For this itinerary, it is not enough to say that you will be on a beach with local people. Rather, you must say that you will go to meet the Cuban lifeguard at the beach.
Alternatively, if you intend to obtain a new diving certification in Cuba, you could also visit under “Workshop Clinic” (selection 8b on the Travel Affidavit form). The requirements for this category are a bit easier. There is no need to provide a step-by-step itinerary. You simply need to have a document displaying a general idea of an itinerary including your new skills acquisition.
Whether you intend to travel under "People to People" or "Workshop Clinic," you will need to carry both the Travel Affidavit and the document showing your itinerary with you at all times. Each person in the group should carry his or her own documentation. Furthermore, these documents should be kept on file after your return as there is an off-chance the American government may require you to provide the documents in the future.
Finally, it’s important to note that there is no limit to the money you can spend in Cuba, but US credit cards and debit cards do not yet work on the island. Make sure to take enough cash with you for your trip.
Additionally important are limits to the import of Cuban goods. US citizens are only permitted to import merchandise with a value of up to $400 USD as accompanying baggage so long as no more than $100 of the merchandise consists of alcohol and tobacco products. All of the imports must be for personal use only.
Information for Non-US Citizens
The first requirement for travel to Cuba is a valid passport. You’ll need this regardless of what country you come from. In addition to using your passport for entry to Cuba, you will be required to show your passport at all accommodations once in the country.
The second requirement for everyone who is traveling to Cuba is a Tourist Card or Visa. This visa can be obtained online when purchasing a plane ticket and is issued by the Cuban government instantly. It can also be obtained at the Cuban embassy. Alternatively, if you fly through Mexico, Panama, the Cayman Islands, Frankfurt or a handful of U.S. cities, the Tourist Visa is available for purchase at the airport.
The Tourist Visa or Tourist Card is only to be used for tourism to Cuba. It is valid for one entry into Cuba for up to 30 days and can be extended for an additional 30 days at a tourist hotel in Cuba or at the office of the immigration authority.
Minors must have their own Tourist Visa or Card even if they are traveling under the passport of their parents.
If you do not intend to purchase the visa online or at the airport, you’ll need to buy it at the Cuban Consulate. To obtain this visa in person at the Cuban Consulate, travelers need to prepare these documents:
- A Valid Passport
- A Plane Ticket (with entry and departure dates)
- Cash or Check (to cover the cost of the visa)
To obtain this visa by mail, travelers need to prepare and send these documents:
- A Photocopy of a Valid Passport
- A Photocopy of a Plane Ticket (with entry and departure dates)
- A Bank-Certified Check (to cover the cost of the visa)
- A Stamped, Self-Addressed Envelope (for the visa to be sent back)
At the time of writing, a visa for Cuba for citizens of most countries costs $25 USD. Note that an additional fee may be charged by the Cuban Consulate if the visa is applied for by a third party.
Typically this visa or tourist card is not a stamp in your passport. Rather, it’s a separate piece of paper. Keep the visa in a safe place as you will be required to show it when you depart.
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