Ever since CheapAir became the first online travel retailer to sell flights to Cuba to U.S. citizens earlier this year, we’ve seen our Cuba flight sales growing steadily. There are increasing numbers of Americans expressing interest in traveling to Cuba, but there’s not a ton of information out there to tell you how to plan your visit. We’re here to help.

It’s a pretty straightforward process and we’ve broken it down into 5 steps.

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1. Make sure your travel plans falls within one (or more) of the 12 reasons U.S. citizens are authorized by the  government to travel to Cuba.
If you qualify, you’re authorized under a “general license” and do not need to qualify under a “specific license.” If you need more information to determine which of the reasons is a good fit for you, you might read through the details on the approved reasons to travel to Cuba. And keep in mind, most people can and do qualify!

2. Search for available flights on CheapAir.com.
Our direct flights from the U.S. typically connect through either Miami or New York and are usually charters operated by JetBlue or Sun Country. What this means to you is that the flight will be staffed by pilots and flight attendants – what we call the “crew” from those commercial airlines and they will be flying on commercial aircraft from those companies as well.

While searching, pay close attention to your connection times. Some of the flights require an overnight stay in Miami. If you’re lucky enough to be flying from the New York City area or Miami and Tampa in Florida, nonstop flights are also available.

3. Get your visa, insurance and passport paperwork in order.
While it should go without saying that you’ll need your passport for the trip (allow at least 6-8 weeks for standard processing if you don’t already have a passport), you also need a Cuban travel visa and proof of health insurance to enter the country. There are a number of ways to skin this particular paperwork cat and none of them are terribly painful.

To begin with, if you purchase a direct flight from the U.S. through CheapAir, the health insurance cost is built into your ticket ($46). If you’ve arranged your ticket on your own, you can also purchase health insurance when you land in Cuba. There are convenient kiosks in the airport and you’ll be directed to them if you aren’t already carrying proof of health insurance. Cuban healthcare is excellent should you find yourself in need of a doctor.

All visitors are required to have a tourist visa. You can purchase one directly from Cuban authorities in Washington, D.C., buy one through several issuing agencies online, or (if you’re booking with CheapAir), our charter airline partner will reach out to you and help you through the process. In that instance, the visa will be issued at your departure airport in the States. The tourist visa is valid for trips up to 30 days.

One more thing about your passport. Make sure it’s valid for at least 6 months longer than your proposed trip dates. We haven’t heard of anyone running into passport-expiration issues, but it’s a rule and we’re here to help you comply.

4. Book your Cuba Hotel or Private Room
Whether you’d like to stay in a hotel or a private room, there are many options available. You can book hotels on the Internet. Keep in mind that the U.S. standard of accommodation/rating system is not enforced in Cuba, so the service and amenities you’d expect in the United States may not be available. In addition, there are a limited number of 4 and 5-star properties in Havana and they book up early. Keep that in mind if you prefer a more luxurious stay. Luckily, those properties are not the only show in town!

Private rooms have long been an accommodation mainstay in Cuba and you can book them yourself (a simple Google search of “casas particulares” or “private rooms” in Havana return a healthy number of results). Casas particulares are run very much on the “bed & breakfast” model known the world over, and is an additional chance to get to know the Cuban people. Airbnb has even gotten into the act in Havana in recent months and they do have plans to roll out additional destinations in Cuba as demand warrants. So you’ve got options.

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5. Final few thoughts for your travel day
Cuba is still unable to accommodate credit card purchases. Bring lots of cash. You’ll be able to exchange money pretty much as soon as you land, but you don’t want to be cash strapped while you’re there or worse, tearing around town looking for the mythical ATMs that are supposed to accept U.S. credit cards.

As a little going away present (not!), Cuba charges a $25 USD departure tax that they will collect before you get on the plane to come home. Make sure you’ve set that aside (in either USD or Cuban pesos). If you’ve booked your direct flight with CheapAir, that will be pre-arranged/included with your ticket, so you’ll not need to worry about it. If you’re not sure if it’s included, just ask us.

If you’ve still got questions, have a read through our comprehensive guide/FAQs for Cuban travel for U.S. citizens. And if that doesn’t cover it, please feel free to reach out to us directly at [email protected]. You can also tweet your travel questions to us @CheapAir.

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