Definitive guide for visa requirements for Indians travelling to Cuba from USA
Last month I was travelling to US(on a B1/B2 tourist visa) and thought I should visit Cuba from there. As I did not have time to apply for a A-1 Cuban Visa, I started enquiring about travelling to Cuba with a Tourist Card. I found out after struggling a bit that there is no clear answer to this question. Hence, I am writing this article to help others in my situation so that they do not have to go through the struggle of finding this information.
The short answer to this question is: Yes. Yes, as an Indian citizen, you can travel to Cuba from US using a tourist card/travel card even if you do not have a A-1 Cuban visa. But it is not so simple.
The confusion arose when across several sites, it was written that “Citizens of several countries may be required to carry an A-1 Visa to enter Cuba. For individuals holding passports from one of the following countries; Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Cameroon, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Ghana, Guinea, India, Iraq, Iran, Kenya, Nepal, Nigeria, Pakistan, Philippines, Sierra Leone, Somalia, Sri Lanka, Syria, Yemen.” Reference: https://cubavisaservices.com/product/touristvisa-card/
Recently, the Cuban Government made it compulsory for Indian citizens to get an A-1 Cuban visa to travel to Cuba as some Indians were travelling to Cuba to illegally immigrate into US. But as I was travelling from US itself, and wanted to clarify if I could just buy a tourist card like a US citizen to travel to Cuba.
To clear this confusion, I called the Cuban embassy in Washington D.C. Firstly, the working timings for the Cuban embassy is 9am-12 noon. Secondly and more importantly, they don’t answer their phone. I tried calling them at least 5 times, there was an automated IVR in Spanish(which I could not understand), I tried pressing all numeric combinations on my keypad but could not reach a human. Also they do not reply to emails, so I realised there is no easy way to contact them.
Then I mailed the Indian embassy in Cuba to get some clarity on the issue. They were prompt in replying and this is is the response I received from them
“As per rules notified by the Government of Cuba, US national or a foreign
national holding valid US visa may purchase a Tourist Card/Visa for
travelling to Cuba from the airlines or authorized travel agents concerned.
The card issued by the Airlines or agents is a kind of Tourist Visa.
However, it has been experienced by some of our Indian nationals that the
airlines concerned do not allow Indian nationals to board the fight without
printed Cuban Visa on their passports. In this situation, it is better to
seek clarification from the airline concerned or to get printed Cuban Visa
from the Cuban Embassy/Consulate in USA”
Next, in a bid to seek clarification, I emailed all the airlines offering flights to Cuba from US(American Airlines, JetBlue, United Airlines, Delta and Southwest Airlines.) American Airlines offers the cheapest and the maximum number of flights from US to Cuba. But they did not give a definitive answer and asked me to check with the Cuban consulate(which is impossible to contact).
Light at the end of the tunnel
Finally, when I had lost all hope of travelling to Havana, I got a positive response from United airlines and Jet blue. They said — if you are flying from the U.S., you will need the Cuba tourist card (it is pink) and not the A-1 visa. The A-1 visa would be necessary if you were flying direct from any other country to Cuba, but not from the U.S.
Finally, I bought a United airlines ticket(Jet blue was very expensive). While buying a ticket, you have to choose a reason for travelling to Cuba. For people travelling from US to Cuba on a “tourist card”, tourism is not a valid reason for travel. You have to choose one of the 12 categories of travel required by the US. You simply need to verbally declare which category you choose, both while booking your flight and when returning to the US. The “Support for the Cuban People category” is typically the easiest category to fit into. They don’t enquire at all, just say this when ever they ask you why you wish to travel to Cuba.
Where to buy the Tourist Card?
The tourist card is available for purchase at the boarding gate of the last airport with direct flight to Cuba (Houston in my case) 1 hour before departure. It was a $50 pink card which you have to fill with a pen. You can even buy the tourist card online through some travel agents.
Trip to Cuba
The plane was small with probably about 50 people. When we reached the Havana airport, the immigration lady at the Havana airport just checked my US visa and stamped my tourist card.
The trip to Cuba was amazing. It‘s a beautiful country with serene beaches, perfectly brewed beer and super friendly Cuban people. Also, there is no mobile internet so it will give you the much needed technology detoxification. So my fellow Indians you should definitely consider travelling to Cuba on your next visit to US.