Our Blog

US Travel to Cuba. Independently. Legally. Posted in August 29, 2016

Independent travel to Cuba with Havana VIP

NOTE: See our latest post for more up-to-date information on 100% legal independent travel to Cuba reflecting the new Trump rules. 

Since last week’s announcement of commercial flights from Miami and Fort Lauderdale to some destinations in Cuba, we’ve had a surge in people emailing us questions like this:

“Hi, Now that independent travel to Cuba is permitted, I would like to do just that. Can I reserve my own airfare and book your daily tours/sessions to meet the educational requirement? Is just one educational session per day adequate, so I can go to the beach and wander around on my own? Thanks”

OK, let’s look at the exact general license (or permission) she’s referring to, to use to travel to Cuba. It’s regulation CFR § 515.565(b) otherwise known as People-to-People exchange.  According to the Federal Register, CFR § 515.565(b) was updated in March of 2016 to read: “This section now authorizes individuals to travel to Cuba provided that, among other things, the traveler engage while in Cuba in a full-time schedule of educational exchange activities that are intended to enhance contact with the Cuban people, support civil society in Cuba, or promote the Cuban people’s independence from Cuban authorities, and that will result in meaningful interaction between the traveler and individuals in Cuba.”

So the answer is that independent travel to Cuba by a US Citizen or Permanent Resident may travel to Cuba independently as long as: “among other things, the traveler engage while in Cuba in a full-time schedule of educational exchange activities”.

So what does the US Government mean by a full-time schedule?  Well, they helpfully provide examples of what does and doesn’t qualify right there on the same page we linked to.  Let’s go with Example #5, because you’ll see that it sounds a lot like what our emailed question was proposing:

“An individual plans to travel to Cuba to participate in discussions with Cuban farmers and produce sellers about cooperative farming and agricultural practices and have extended dialogue with religious leaders about the influence of African traditions and religion on society and culture. The individual also plans to spend a few days engaging in brief exchanges with Cuban food vendors while spending time at the beach. Only some of these activities are educational exchange activities that will result in meaningful interaction between the traveler and individuals in Cuba, and the traveler therefore does not have a full-time schedule of such activities on each day of the trip. The trip does not qualify for the general license. ”

OK so the person who emailed us is definitely not qualifying.  But let’s say you’re willing to do the legwork to DIY a true full-time itinerary, no “wandering around”, and no “going to the beach”. You just need a full-time itinerary and to keep all your records, right?

Not quite.  Because there’s something else that’s not exactly spelled out .  The regulation says “among other things, the traveler engage while in Cuba in a full-time schedule of educational exchange activities”- what are  “among other things”?  Here’s where it gets trickier to DIY your travel to Cuba.  The “other things”  one has to do are: a) maintain complete records of your travel and expenses while in Cuba for five years; and b) avoid interactions with banned individuals and members of certain Cuban Government organizations including the Communist Party of Cuba, MININT, and MINFAR.

The first part about records is a bit of a hassle, but manageable. Just keep a copy of your full time itinerary of everything you did, and receipts for everything you spent doing that itinerary for five years after your trip. Remember it’s an economic embargo the U.S. is maintaining against Cuba, so everything you spend means everything – lodging, transportation, everything.

But that second part… how do you know if you’re dealing with a banned individual or whatever?   The answer is that obviously you as a foreigner don’t know.  The good news is that very few members of the MININT (the Ministry of the Interior – like the secret police) and the MINFAR (Ministry of the Revolutionaly Armed Forces – the military) are allowed to have any interactions at all with foreigners.  The bad news is those that are allowed are either spies or police. However, they want very little to do with the average traveler to Cuba.

But really, the question is why would you want to deal with all this yourself when you can have us, the experts at Havana VIP Tours do it for you? Independent travel to Cuba with Havana VIP means we’ll show you the best of Cuba. Independently. Customized itinerary.  No big tour group of strangers. No hassles.

Ballet Nacional de Cuba Havana VIP Tours
Cuba for Lovers of Dance – Ballet Nacional de Cuba Schedule
Havana VIP travel to Cuba by private plane and yacht
Travel to Cuba by Private Plane and Yacht
Nick Nicastro
5 months ago

I can’t recommend HavanaVIP highly enough if you plan to visit Cuba (as you should, and soon!) The island of course is fascinating and friendly and full of interest. But I particularly wanted to mention what great friends our guides Eduardo, Adrian, Mario, Natasha and Olivia became to us. They were beyond compassionate to the needs of my mobility-impaired wife. Tony was always forthcoming and helpful, even as our plans changed due to health circumstances. And HavanaVIPs local connections got...

See More Reviews
Alain Rossmann
9 months ago

A memorable experience, great planning and local execution by Havana VIP.

See More Reviews
Glo Harris
9 months ago

My daughter and I travelled together. She was celebrating her 50th BIRTHDAY. From beginning to end this 5 day trip was magical: planning with Tony was seamless, he took care of each detail just as we discussed, his knowledge of Havana was thorough and his attitude patient and sensitive...and I can be annoying with myriad questions. The guides were the best we have had anywhere, the accommodations on the Malecon comfortable. We particularly enjoyed going to individual artists' galleries, most...

See More Reviews
Rob Boffard
9 months ago

Havana VIP sorted our honeymoon for us. Tony was a pleasure to deal with, and the activities he sorted out for us were perfect. Our guides - Kenia, Ginetet, Eduardo - and drivers - Damaso, Darvel, Eduardo - worked overtime to make us happy. Would highly recommend this company if you ever head to Cuba; they know what they're doing, and they make things simple. Unbelievable trip.

See More Reviews
Santiago Hermes
9 months ago

La Galería Santiago Hermes considera que la agencia Havana VIP realiza un buen trabajo en la promoción de la autenticidad cubana

See More Reviews
Martha Whetstone
10 months ago

We just got back from Cuba and we highly recommend Havana VIP. The quality of the trip was first rate. The guides and drivers were just great and all went out of their way to make our trip run smoothly. The accommodations were all comfortable and we enjoyed our conversations with our hosts. We felt like we really got to see a variety of cities, towns, and countryside. We traveled with two doctors and the guide arranged for us to...

See More Reviews
Jacqueline Postell
10 months ago

Havana VIP made every aspect of travelling to Cuba a breeze. Working with Tony was effortless. Tony and I spoke about the things we were interested in experiencing and then was able to create a seamless itinerary that was startlingly impressive. We met the kindest people; our tour guide, Jorge Gonzalez Estrada and driver, Eduardo, were so knowledgeable, accommodating and welcoming, we felt like family by the end of the trip. The flow of the activities were well timed and...

See More Reviews
Lisa Mastronardi
1 year ago

Imagine hosting 25 friends and family in Havana in August for a 50th birthday celebration. Imagine most of these guys are well traveled, international, seasoned jet setters and you are going to try and wow them with a great adventure. What is a girl to do? Hire the best.

The Havana VIP team both in the US and in Havana knocked it out of the park.

Great housing, fantastic excursions, customized itinerary, amazing experiences,...

See More Reviews
Cara Hogan
1 year ago

Havana VIP Tours did a fantastic job with our trip. My husband and I loved how everything was handled smoothly from the moment we arrived in Cuba until we left. The housing, the tour guides, the drivers, the dinners, and more were all fantastic and well planned out. We learned so much about Cuban culture and history and met some amazing people along the way. If you're looking for an immersive, informative and fun experience of Cuba, this is the...

See More Reviews
Brocky OA
1 year ago

Tony & Havana VIP Tours did an outstanding job from inquiry to finish. We couldn't have asked for more. We were 8 people traveling (4 cousins) whose grandmother & aunts & uncles lived in Havana for 4 years prior to being allowed to enter the US from 1922 - 1926. So we decided to visit where they lived. My wife found the address & we said let's go. We contacted Tony and explained about our journey that we wanted. Tony...

See More Reviews
Josh Poling
1 year ago

My wife and I traveled to Cuba with my parents in November 2016. Tony and Havana did a great job coordinating a custom trip to meet our interests. All of the guides and drivers they set up were very professional. I honestly can't imagine travelling to Cuba any other way! We made sure all of our guides knew we wanted to experience the real Cuba and get off the beaten path, and they were always more than happy to oblige....

See More Reviews
Nancy Pettersen
2 years ago

From our first conversation with Tony we felt we were in the right hands. He listened to what we wanted down to small details like food and music, customizing our trip for 4 adults. The wonderful Cuban people who guided us through Trinidad, Cienfuegos, and Havana were interesting and a great highlight, even down to our Havana driver Pedro who was so much fun. We found our days informative, educational and great fun filled with history, culture and the arts...

See More Reviews
Elizabeth Furst Frank
2 years ago

Tony organized a fantastic family visit to Havana for us. Magalys was a wonderful guide - full of information, always on time, and very friendly. Lidice gave a family cooking lesson in traditional Cuban food. And we loved our family salsa dancing lesson as well. We highly recommend Tony and his team.

See More Reviews
Lj Pruitt
2 years ago

I struggled with finding a tour operator that understood the new laws for Americans to legally travel to Cuba. I called Havana VIP Tours and was pleasantly surprised to speak with someone that knew more than me – Tony. In addition, it was clear that Tony had a deep knowledge of places and things to do in Cuba.

We are a family of 4 ranging in age from 15 years to 83 years. Our interests are...

See More Reviews
James West III
2 years ago

Having traveled extensively, allow me to say that in all aspects the service provided by Havana VIP Tours was the probably the best in all aspects; Communication, Logistics,Transportation, Lodging, On the ground support services, and, well, everything. Tony laid out what was to be offered in the Tour package, and unlike many in the business, he delivered to the most minute of details. His coordination of Flights was well taken care of, as well as necessary Visas. He communicated what...

See More Reviews
Judith Chevalier
2 years ago

We visited three cities and Tony arranged the housing and the transportation and a number of experiences for us. We are a family of 5 and the kids range from 19 to 7, but everybody was very happy with the places we stayed and the activities we had. We really did get to meet a number of interesting people and got a closer look at life in Cuba than we would have if we had set it up on our...

See More Reviews
Paul Audia
2 years ago

An amazing experience from start to finish.

From the planning of the trip to the people we met and guided us through the country, this was an educational and informative trip filled with Cuban culture, history, and Art.

I'm not big on planned trips but I am so glad we found you and your team for this experience! Thank you!

See More Reviews
Deisy Suarez
2 years ago

Tony is the best ! He arranged a 5 day havana tour for me and my friends. We stayed at a private house and ate at the best local places. Our driver was amazing and couldn't recommend any other concierge company in havana. Our experience was truly magical and unique.

See More Reviews
Linda Meier
2 years ago

Tony arranged a 2 1/2 week custom visit to Cuba in March for four couples. We stayed only in "casas", frequently ate in private restaurants, visited with families and were very pleased with our itinerary. I would agree that of all the wonderful experiences we had, the people themselves and their stories and friendliness were the highlight. I would highly recommend using Havana VIP to organize a customized trip free of hassle and complete with backup support should it be...

See More Reviews
Jennifer Brandenburg
2 years ago

Our visit to Cuba was a fabulous experience. We learned so much about its interesting history, rich arts and culture through a very full and diverse set of daily activities. Our interactions with Cuban people were insightful. The trip took a lot of advance planning and precise scheduling by Tony and his Havana VIP Tours team. Our guides and drivers, as well as our hosts at the casa particulares, all took good care of us – special recognition for Hector,...

See More Reviews
Pat Topitzer
2 years ago

Tony arranged our 8 day visit and he completely hit itout of the park. We presented something of a challenge... 2 no-longer-young grandparents with their 23 year old granddaughter. and one of us had some significant physical challenges as well. Between the guides and the drivers, the lodgings, restaurant recommendations, the itinerary, I cannot imagine we could have been any more thrilled with our first visit to Cuba, The people, of course, are the major draw in our view, but...

See More Reviews
C Cybele Raver
2 years ago

Tony and his team were terrific- we felt lucky to be so fully immersed in art, culture, and history while visiting Havana and Trinidad. Tony listened closely to our preferences and interests, providing us with excellent itinerary, superb guest-house stays, talented and engaging tour guides, and warm and helpful drivers for ground transport.

See More Reviews
Martel Postell
10 months ago
See More Reviews
Adrián Lamela Aragonés
11 months ago
See More Reviews
Mercedes Sera
2 years ago
See More Reviews
Stephanie Marsh
2 years ago
See More Reviews

Havana VIP Custom Independent Cuba Travel

No Strangers, No Tour Buses
Exclusive Immersive Experiences
100% Legal Travel for US Persons
Luxury Trips at Affordable Prices