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Cuba Part 1: Flight Deals, Visa Requirements, and Currency Exchange
March 30, 2017
Cuba has always been high on our travel bucket list. The intrigue and mystery surrounding the island and its place in social and political American and international history made it a place we really wanted to see once it became more accessible in 2016. Also, the sometimes forgotten history of the African slave trade on the island pulled at our interest.

Flight Deal
Bucket list or not – we ONLY travel internationally on flight deals. This is how we make it work financially. This also means we must adhere to the flight deal rules of not always getting the dates we would most prefer. Our flight deal from Houston to Havana – with a layover in Atlanta was only $250 RT each with Delta! That is less than a flight to LA or NYC. As educators we took advantage of our Spring Break and booked the flight from Tuesday to Tuesday. With the existing break, we only had to miss two days of work. We fully understand, and I feel the need to always say as a disclaimer, that we are both privileged professionals, with salaried jobs which make travel deals more accessible. However, if you meet this requirement - travel deals are a GREAT way to see the world on a budget.

Visa Requirements
To legally enter Cuba you still must adhere to one of the restricted 12 reasons – found here. As a blogger, I was able to select Journalistic Activity in good faith. However, no one (from American to Cuban customs) questioned our reason for travel.

Additionally, each American (including your baby) entering Cuba needs a tourist visa and temporary health insurance. Most airlines, Delta included, include the price of the health insurance with the plane ticket price. However, please double check! The price varies depending on when and where you purchase the visa. We bought our visas through Delta Airlines (at the gate) and paid $50 dollars for each one. I am still not very happy about it, but I factored that into my budget early on. Below is a list of every airline that flies in Havana and their visa options:
  • Alaska Airlines: Visa is $85 through a third party agency
  • American: Visa is $85 through a third party agency
  • Delta: Visa is $50 and can be bought at the gate
  • Jetblue: Visa is $50 and can be bought at the gate
  • Spirit:Visa price not stated on their website
  • Southwest: Visa is $50 and is recommended to purchase online here before departure.
  • United: Visa (entry permit and fees) is $75 and can be bought at the gate
Will end service to Cuba soon!

Cuba technically has two currencies: Cuban Pesos and Cuban Convertible Pesos or CUC. However, tourists almost exclusively spend and handle CUC. This is the currency you receive at the airport and the currency accepted in most places of high tourism.

Cuba is still beefing with America when it comes to currency exchange. If you exchange the dollar, you will be automatically hit with a 10% fee, then the actual exchange fee. This averages to about a 13% hit on your currency. I am NO mathematician, but that is a hard pill to swallow for the thrifty traveler like myself.

Our solution was to bring Euros to Cuba to exchange. There is much debate online about the feasibility of this travel hack, but the raw numbers for our trip
worked in our favor.

  • Local Exchange to Euro: $1100 dollars = 985 Euro (We exchanged through our bank)
  • $985 Euro = $1007 CUC (Cuban Convertible Currency)
  • Net Exchange: $1100 Dollars = $1007 CUC
  • Proposed Net Exchange if we exchanged dollars in Cuba: $1100 = 957 CUC
  • Net Savings: $50

Please Note: This system worked for us because we knew we would exchange any remaining CUC we had back to Euros and KEEP the Euros for any future Europe travels. If you plan to exchange back to dollars, or another currency I would research the numbers for your plans. It is not a perfect science because the exchange rates change every day, but it worked for us when we went in March.

Part Two Preview: All things Havana, including our accommodations!
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