5 Tips For Traveling To Cuba Under Approved Categories


Traveling to Cuba doesn’t have to be difficult and I hope this post will help you to plan your own trip should you decide to go. I recently returned from Havana with my family and we didn’t have permission or any type of paperwork and we made it back without incident! However, our travel did follow under two of the 12 approved categories for travel to Cuba so make sure to do your research to verify your trip isn’t solely for tourism because that is illegal and not allowed.

When returning to USA I was not questioned if I had been to other countries other than Mexico but my mother was. My mother did not lie to the Customs Agent and my mother was let back into the country with no issues. I am not telling you what to do, just giving you our experience.

We traveled through Cancun so all of the info in this post relate solely to my experience in Cancun, I cannot tell you about entering Cuba from any other city except Cancun. Here are 5 tips for traveling to Cuba under the 12 categories.


1. Buy your ticket once in Cancun

My mother traveled to Cuba a few years ago and was able to purchase her ticket to Havana after she cleared security in Cancun. She had to pay cash and was on a flight to Havana a few hours later, there were no issues at all. That was NOT the case this trip.

We arrived in Cancun in the afternoon and tried to find the counter to buy our tickets to Havana (the counters are located in terminal 3).

NOTE: We took the free shuttle to Terminal 3 which is where the counters were located. The shuttle is air conditioned and comes every 20 minutes.  DO NOT let a taxi driver take you to Terminal 3, just wait for the free shuttle. They will charge you $15 for the 3 second ride. As if.

Unfortunately the Cubana Airline counter was closed and we were told at the AeroMexico counter that we had to go buy tickets from their office in the center of town.

This was the sign at the counter at Cubana Air
This was the sign at the counter at Cubana Air

At the airport in Cancun it seems to be a bit of a scam to get a taxi into town.  Don’t believe the price they quote, always talk them down because they start high. We ended up talking to a couple of Americans who were trying to find a flight to Havana as well so the 5 of us made a deal with the taxi driver to take us to the AeroMexico office in order to try and buy our tickets.

We agreed to pay $30 (the taxi driver started at $45 and I knew we weren’t paying that. Boy bye) and we soon arrived at what we thought was the Cubana office. Turns out it was an agency we had to deal with that sold Cubana tickets. Now this is where it got a bit tricky. At the Cubana office we weren’t able to buy tickets because they didn’t have the dates available that we needed so we had to make our way to the AeroMexico office.

We arrived to Cancun on a Tuesday and had planned to fly out that same day. That didn’t happen. We had two options which I will get into on the next tip.

where we bought our tickets. In CASH.
where we bought our tickets. In CASH.

2. Have plenty of cash on hand

You need cash. Period. From cancun you CANNOT pay for your tickets to Havana with a credit card. Do not even try it. We ended up buying roundtrip tickets for $350 per person (there were 3 of us) and our tickets were 1st class. Buying a ticket from the agency was great because the price of our tickets included Visas and all taxes.  However, we didn’t know we had 1st class until we got our boarding passes at the airport. We paid in dollars but you can pay in Mexican Pesos as well.

I do not know if you can pay in other currencies.



3. Be flexible with your travel plans

This is one of the most important points. If you buy your tickets to Havana once you get to Cancun you may not be able to leave on the same day. You may have to leave a day or two later and return from Havana a few days earlier or later than you planned. We arrived in Havana 2 days later than we wanted and had to leave 4 days before we wanted. The reason being flights aren’t always readily available and you may have to alter your plans in order to take the flight you can get on.


4. Have enough cash or a credit card for contingencies

We had to spend 2 nights in Mexico because we couldn’t fly out of Cancun until 2 days later than we thought. We stayed at a resort (nothing special, the food wasn’t good and I have no desire to give them any publicity) for $140 a night. We had two rooms for 2 nights for 3 people. In case your travel plans don’t go the way you want you need to make sure you have enough money on your credit card to stay in a hotel or whatever lodging you decide. However, the resort we stayed in didn’t accept credit cards so we had to pay in cash.


5. When you arrive in Havana change your money into CUC and Pesos

If you are using dollars as your currency please change your money before you get to Cuba. In Cuba there is an automatic 10% charge on exchanging dollars. It’s the same no matter what change place you use so save yourself the stress of trying to find a different rate. If you choose to change dollars in Cuba you will get about .86 for each dollar you change.

However, if you change your dollars into Euros, Mexican Pesos, or Pounds THEN change those into CUC when you enter Cuba you will get a better rate. Make sure to check xe.com before you travel to verify your rate.


There are 2 currencies in Cuba, Pesos and CUC. CUC is what is used in almost all hotels, restaurants, and tourist attractions. Pesos are what Cubans use amongst each other. During my stay in Havana 1 CUC=26 Pesos.

Pesos CANNOT be changed into anything else but CUC, but CUC can be changed into any currency. I would recommend having both currencies on you at all times. I used Pesos often and had no issues at all.  On another post (that I will have out in a day or two) I will show you how cheaply you can eat and get around in Havana with Pesos. To start I would change about $100 into Pesos which should last you a very long time, and I would personally change about $1,000 into CUC (or at least have with me to be able to change).

You may not use all of your CUC or Pesos because it can be really cheap to get around but there is NO POSSIBILITY to get cash from your ATM once you arrive in Cuba. I repeat, YOU WILL NOT BE ABLE TO GET CASH FROM YOUR ATM so please travel with enough cash for the duration of your stay.

If you look at the picture above both currencies look very similar. Each bill of each denomination is the same color so look carefully at your change to make sure you get the correct currency as your change. Here is a tip, the CUC have monuments and the Pesos have people.

So there you have it, 5 tips for traveling to Cuba without permission. Remember, the cost of our hotel is in no way how much each hotel costs. There are several different levels of hotels and you will have your choice as to how much you want to spend and where. There are also hostels in Cancun where you can stay for much cheaper, or if you can arrange to rent a room in someone’s home through airbnb. Also, we were traveling as a family of 3 yet I had my own room when we were at the resort so that was an additional cost.

Come back tomorrow because I will show you the apartment I stayed in for $20 a night! 

Was this helpful to you? Do you have any plans to go to Cuba?

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