Understanding Legal Travel to Cuba: Q&A – Volunteer Vacations | Discover Corps

Understanding Legal Travel to Cuba: Q&A

Cuba Travel FAQs

There’s been a lot of news lately about loosening of regulations to travel to Cuba. Some of it is true, and some of it is speculation. We’re here to help you make sense of everything.

Q: Why is it now possible for me to travel legally to Cuba?

A: On January 16, 2015, the U.S. Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) amended the regulations governing travel to Cuba to allow organizations that operate people-to-people exchanges to automatically be approved under a blanket “general license.” Since Discover Corps specializes in “Support for the Cuban People” trips, our trips to Cuba automatically fall into this category of approved travel.


Q: Is travel to Cuba unrestricted? 

A: No. Travel to Cuba is still restricted. “Tourist” travel to Cuba is still not permitted by the new US regulations — no matter your citizenship. Only travel that falls within one of the 12 categories approved by the US State Department is permitted. Discover Corps trips to Cuba fall within the permitted categories (specifically “Support for the Cuban People”) and are approved by the US State Department.


Q: How is this different from before?

A: Before January 2015, people who wanted to travel to Cuba for certain approved reasons needed to apply for a specific license for their trip. The application process with the U.S. Department of State could take many months. Today, you just need to fill out a form certifying you’re traveling on a program that contains a full-time schedule of people-to-people activities.


Q: Do I need a visa to travel to Cuba?

A: Yes. When you purchase your trip to Cuba with Discover Corps, we will help you through the process of obtaining a Cuban visa. It is a very easy process that can be completed online here (or here if you are flying with American Airlines). A Cuban visa costs $85 plus applicable shipping costs. The visa will be shipped via FedEx through Standard Shipping (5-7 business days) or Overnight Shipping.


 Q: How do I book my air travel to Cuba?

A: You book air travel to Cuba just like you would any other trip. We partner with STA Travel to help you book your flight if needed. You can call our dedicated line at 1-800-465-4129 or reach out to your Discover Corps Travel Specialist with any questions.


 Q: I’m concerned about the political stability and/or safety of the country we’re visiting. Is it safe?

A: Discover Corps holds the safety of our travelers and staff as our #1 priority. We provide safe and secure lodging, healthy, hygienic meals and bottled water, safe and comfortable transportation, and expert local knowledge in order to facilitate safe travel programs. Discover Corps also does not take travelers to destinations that are deemed unsafe. We are constantly keeping up with local news in the countries we visit and can help answer any concerns that may arise before your departure or during your trip.


 Q: Can I use credit cards or ATM cards in Cuba?

A: At this time, the only reliable way to pay for things in Cuba is with cash, and there are no ATMS for you to use while in Cuba. We will help offer recommendations for how much cash you should bring upon booking depending on the trip you book and the souvenirs you’d like to buy! If you run out of cash in Cuba, the only way to get more is by having someone in the US send you money via Western Union for a 10% fee.


Q: What can Americans bring back from Cuba?

A: Under the new regulations, U.S. citizens can now bring back unlimited quantities of Cuban rum and cigars as long as they are for personal use. If you bring home more than 100 cigars (or 200 cigarettes) and a liter of alcohol that totals $800 or more, you will be charge with a 4% duty fee. The old $100 limit was removed entirely and Cuban rum and cigars are now subject to the same duties as alcohol and tobacco from other countries.


Q: What if I end up ill or get injured on the trip and am unable to continue? What happens then?

A: In the case of injury or illness, first and foremost, we would seek proper medical attention. In each of the locations we operate, we have designated medical clinics and hospitals that we take travelers to in such cases. Discover Corps also includes a comprehensive medical insurance policy for each traveler who goes abroad with us. Please see the medical insurance section of this pre-departure handbook for exact coverage descriptions. If you are unable to join Discover Corps prior to the trip, travel insurance will cover the costs depending on the severity of and reason for the situation. After booking, we can help you select the right travel insurance for you and/or your family.


Q: What essential documents do I need to take?

Any international travel requires a valid passport. Discover Corps recommends you take 2 photo copies of your passport and leave one at home and take the other with you. As discussed above, travelers need to obtain a visa with the category “Support for the Cuban People” as well.


Q: Is the water safe to drink in the country I’m visiting?

Please bring a reusable water bottle as water will be provided by Discover Corps. It is not recommended to drink the tap water.


Q: Do I need to get vaccines before I travel?

According to the Center of Disease Control and Prevention, there are no vaccinations required in order to travel to Cuba. However, we also recommend consulting with your local travel clinic for recommended inoculations for all international travels.


Q: Will my mobile phone work? Will I have access to the Internet?

It’s not guaranteed that your phone will work, depending on your phone carrier they may offer roaming services. There are other options such as renting a mobile phone or buying a SIM card. For more information visit the US Federal Communications Commision. Internet access can be found at two sources: upmarket hotels in cities like Havana or at a telepunto (stores that offer Internet services). Hotel lobbies have Wi-Fi available for $6-8 per hour, which allows you to use your own devices – laptops, iPads or smartphones. At a telepunto, scratch cards cost $1 for an hour and come with a username and password, which you then enter into the terminal provided. Any extra time on the card can be used again at another telepunto. Internet availability outside of Havana is possible but not as widespread as in the capital.


Ready to go?

Visit our Cuba trips to learn more about our 5 itineraries across the island, or reserve your spot online with a $395 deposit and registration fee (refundable up to 60 days prior to travel).

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