In order to travel to Cuba, most foreign nationals need to have a Cuba visa. The visa for Cuba is known as a Cuba Tourist Card, and every visa-required national must be in possession of one before traveling to Cuba.
Cuba is a country located in the northern Caribbean, at the point where the Caribbean Sea, Gulf of Mexico and Atlantic Ocean meet. Cuba consists of the island of Cuba, the Isla de la Juventud, and other smaller archipelagos.
It is a popular travel destination for tourists seeking to enjoy its warm climate and golden beaches, but also for those interested in Cuba’s history and colonial architecture.
If you are wondering, “Can I travel to Cuba?”, the answer is, “Yes, you can but you will need to comply with the Cuban visa requirements”. However, there are some additional restrictions regarding traveling to Cuba from USA, due to the two countries’ rocky relationship.
This article is a guide on Cuba visas requirements, application, and other frequently asked questions.
Who Needs to Obtain a Cuba Visa?
Almost everyone who travels to Cuba must get a Cuba visa (tourist card) beforehand.
However, there are some countries whose nationals enjoy visa-free travel to Cuba, provided they have a visa-exemption agreement.
What Documents Do I Need to Collect for a Visa to Cuba?
When applying for a Cuba visa, you must have several documents which support your application, such as:
- A Cuba visa application form.
- Your valid passport.
- A return-flight airplane ticket.
Which are the Types of Cuba Visas?
Cuba visas are divided based on the purpose of your travel. As such, the most common types of visas for Cuba are:
- Cuba Tourist Visa (Tourist Card), which is issued to foreign nationals who wish to enter the country for tourism purposes.
- Cuba Family Visa (A-2), which is issued to foreign nationals who wish to enter Cuba in order to join a family member living there. This type of visa is only available for immediate family members (spouses or minor children) of Cubans.
- Cuba Journalist Visa (D-6), which, as the name suggests, is issued to foreign journalists travelling to Cuba for work-purposes. The journalist has to request authorization for this type of visa the press office at the Cuban Embassy. Once authorized, they may apply for the visa at the Cuban consulate.
- Cuba Business Visa, which is issued to foreign nationals who want to travel to Cuba to conduct business. As with the Journalist Visa, the applicants have to get authorization for a Business Visa from the commercial office at the Embassy of Cuba before applying for the visa itself at the consulate.
- Cuba Work Visa (D-1), which is issued to foreign nationals who have a work contact with a Cuban company or organization, such as technicians and scientists.
- Cuba Student Visa (D-2), which is issued to foreign nationals who have been accepted into a Cuban educational institution. To apply for this type of Cuban visa, you need the help of your Cuban educational institution as well.
- Cuba Medical Treatment Visa (D-10), which is issued to foreigners who need to receive treatment in a Cuban medical institution.
How to Apply for a Visa to Cuba?
You have to apply for a Cuba visa at the nearest Cuban representation abroad (consulate or embassy). You must apply by submitting the required documents directly to the consulate either in person or by post.
However, the Cuban authorities also allow applicants to get a Cuba visa online, through authorized visa application agencies or travel agencies.
Another method for getting a Cuba visa is getting it at the airport right before travelling. However in this case, it is a risk since not all airports offer this option.
What is a Cuba Tourist Card?
A Cuba Tourist Card (tarjeta turista), also known as a Cuba Tourist Visa, is issued to all visa-required foreign nationals who wish to enter the country for tourism purposes.
In many cases, you will see the process of obtaining a Cuba tourist visa referred to as “buying a tourist card.” This may be confusing, but it simply means that you are applying for a tourist visa and getting it, regardless of the method (at the consulate, online, airport, or a visa application agency).
What is the Difference Between a Green Cuba Tourist Card and a Pink Cuba Tourist Card?
A Cuba tourist card is issued in a light green color to all countries except the USA.
If you are from the US, you will receive a pink Tourist Card when you travel to Cuba. This is done due to the not-so-great relationship between Cuba and the USA (read more about traveling to Cuba from the US below).
So the difference between the green and pink Tourist Card is this
- Pink: for US nationals or anyone traveling from the US.
- Green: for all other nationals who are not from the US.
What is the Validity of a Cuba Visa?
A Cuba visa is valid for a maximum duration of 30 days of entering the country. You may only enter the country once.
Can You Extend a Cuba Visa?
Yes, after your 30 days in Cuba are up, you may apply for a Tourist Card extension from the hotel in which you are staying or from the Cuba immigration authorities.
If accepted, the extension is issued for an additional 30 days, which means you can stay in Cuba for a maximum of 60 days, while on a visa.
How Long Does it Take to Get a Cuba Visa?
The Cuba visa processing time depends on several factors, such as the consulate where you submit your application, the time of year, and your own specific case. However, a Cuba visa is processed within 30 days, give or take. As such, you are advised to apply for a visa 1-2 months before the time you intend to travel to Cuba.
If you apply through application agencies, you may be able to get this time shortened, but it will also cost you more.
How Can You Apply for a Long-term Cuba Visa?
The requirements for applying for a long-term Cuba visa differ from country to country. As such, if you want to travel to Cuba for employment or studying purposes, you must contact the nearest Cuban consulate and request information on how to proceed. To receive a long-stay Cuba visa, you must have the following documents when applying to the Cuba consulate:
- A certificate of police clearance from your country, issued in the past three months and legalized.
- Medical screening, including blood tests, AIDS test, and radiographic examinations of the thorax. The results cannot be older than six months, and must be legalized.
- A letter which states what is the reason that you are applying.
- Any documents which support your request, such as marriage certificates, birth certificates, etc.
- A passport-size picture.
- A photocopy of your passport.
Foreigners who are family members (spouse and/or child) of a Cuban citizen are eligible for Permanent Residence in Cuba.
All other categories (employment, studying) fall under Temporary Residence.
Do I have to pay a Cuba visa fee?
Yes, everyone who applies for a Cuba visa has to pay a non-refundable Cuba visa fee upfront.
The cost of the fee changes depending on the method you are applying in.
If you apply in person at a Cuba consular office, you only have to pay the fee, which can range from $25 to $75. If you’re applying by mail, you must pay the additional postal fees.
If you apply online through a visa application agency, you must also pay for the service fees in addition to the visa fee itself.
Do I Need a Cuba Visa if I am Travelling by Sea?
Yes, you do. If you normally need to have a visa to enter Cuba, you must apply for one regardless of the method through which you are entering.
Can US Citizens Travel to Cuba?
Yes, they can. However, travel to Cuba is much more restricted for US citizens than it is for the rest of the world.
If you are a US citizen, you cannot technically travel to Cuba just for tourism purposes. Your travel purpose must fall under one of the 12 categories of authorized travel to Cuba (see them below).
That’s the result of a trade ban that the US placed in Cuba back in the 1960s due to the latter nationalizing American-owned oil refineries and not giving compensation. This ban has not been lifted ever since, only modified.
As such, when US nationals travel to Cuba, they get a pink Tourist Card, rather than a green one. Additionally, the pink Tourist card costs more than a regular green one, though they both have the same validity.
Another method that US nationals use to travel to Cuba is by travelling to another country first, and getting a tourist card from there. That’s because the card’s color changes depending on the country you are travelling from, not your nationality.
That means that even if you are not a citizen of the US, you will still get a pink Tourist Card if you travel to Cuba from the US.
12 categories of authorized travel to Cuba
The 12 categories of authorized travel to Cuba are now the 11 categories of authorized travel, after the Trump administration removed the People to People category in June 2019. Now, US citizens may only travel to Cuba if their reason of travel falls under one of these 11 categories:
- Support for the Cuban people
- Humanitarian activities/projects
- Educational activities (teachers, students, etc)
- Family visits
- Professional research and professional meetings
- Certain authorized export transactions
- Activities of private foundations/research/educational institutes
- Public performances, workshops, clinics, athletic competitions, and exhibitions
- Religious activities
- Exportation, importation, or transmission of information or informative materials
If your reason for travel is one of those aforementioned ones, then you will have a general license to travel to Cuba – which is nothing more than you declaring that your purpose of travel falls under one of those categories. There is no actual physical “license” that you receive.
Previously, the People to People category served as a loophole for Americans to travel to Cuba. However, as of June 5th, 2019, that category was removed. Only People to People trips that were booked before June 5th, 2019 are allowed to carry on.
The categories of authorized travel to Cuba from the US are imposed by the Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC).