The first step to Cuban Travel, is a Visa. Due to the fact there are still sanctions in place between the US and Cuba, obtaining a Cuban Visa is a little tricky. Your trip must fit into one of the 12 categories listed below.
- 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 informational materials; and
- Certain authorized export transactions.
We decided to fly on Southwest Airlines WWW.SOUTHWEST.COM because they have a program in place that makes the process of flying to Cuba simple. We bought our airline tickets online, and then went through a Southwest link, to apply for our Visa online at WWW.CUBAVISASERVICES.COM. This is where it got a little sketchy. I never received a confirmation that our Visa had been approved, but was told in a purchase receipt, to pick it up in Ft Lauderdale, at the airport. (To fly to Cuba on Southwest airlines, book a ticket departing from either Tampa, or Ft. Lauderdale. Both locations offer 1 to 2 non stop flights daily.) Due to the fact the flight to Cuba recommended that we check in 4 hours prior to departure, we flew into FT Lauderdale, spent the night, and went to the airport in the morning.
The process for checking in was easy. They had a separate area for Cuban travel in terminal 1, downstairs. First, we went to the Visa counter where we picked up our Visa. It was ready, and literally took 3 minutes. (there was a long line for everyone who didn’t apply ahead of time, but everyone was granted a Visa, and got on the plane)
Then we went to the Southwest counter for flight check in. The Southwest employee asked why we were traveling to Cuba, at which time we stated; “Support of the Cuban People”. After that, we processed through security as if we were normal passengers flying to anywhere in the US.
Upon landing in Cuba, we went through Customs. This was really simple. We were asked nothing, processed quickly, and headed to the taxi line to go to our hotel.
Then I started to have questions….
When I was doing my research on traveling to Cuba, I knew that travel had been opened for U.S. citizens. However, I found so many conflicting articles as to whether it was really ok to go.
After hours of deliberating we found nothing actually prohibiting travel , so we booked tickets, and went. Southwest really made it effortless, and gave me no reason to assume our travel was anything but routine.
As the days went on in Cuba, I saw very few, like 3 other Americans total during our stay in the city. I started to question my trip, and began to learn a few things…
Ultimately, there is still very little travel by US citizens to Cuba. Of the people I met from the US (all of which were at the airport traveling home, and had been all over the Havana, and outlying areas) they all were traveling in some sort of organized group. Every group had a visa under the category of “Support of the Cuban people”. These groups had a variety of organized activities that included; seminars , hospital visits, working on farms, and one group even had letters about a plane they were there to meet that did not come. (not sure on This one 🤔) Others were guests of clubs they belonged to in the States, and were there to help establish better interaction between the people and the Clubs. Everyone had a story, and documentation as to why they were in Cuba.
Jared and I, on the other hand did not. We spent our days in the city learning about the history, and touring all major attractions. We stayed at a hotel, and arranged our own tours, and travel. We were never asked to show our passports, and felt nothing but love from The Cuban people, especially when they found out we were Americans. One man, after seeing my shirt that said California on it, came to ask us about America. We were the 1st Americans he had ever met, and he was in his 30’s.
As the days went on, I realized that the hesitation is coming from the US. I then became worried about re-entry into the Country I call home. There was chatter in the airport, with lots of questions, and very few answers as to what customs would entail to get back into the US. I had 2 hours to process through customs, and make my flight to Phoenix. What will happen, and will I make it???
Tomorrow, the answers