HAVANA, Jan. 14th At the peak of its tourist season, the small island nation of Cuba has decided to tighten entry requirements for visitors, including those from the United States and Canada, by requiring proof of vaccination against Covid as well as a pre-departure PCR test.
The announcement follows a sharp rise in cases, led particularly by the highly-transmissible Omicron variant. Now, Americans and other foreign nationals hoping to visit Cuba will need to disclose their vaccination status to be granted entry, irrespective of holding a Tourist Card or valid Cuban visa.
What Do The New Rules State Exactly?
Throughout the pandemic, the Cuban government has been applied one of the strictest entry protocols for visitors, hoping to protect islanders from new variants and its world-renowned healthcare system from being overwhelmed with demand.
Last December, officials met again to discuss what other measures would be necessary to further strengthen the country’s protective barrier, especially at the peak of the tourist season, when a huge influx of arrivals is usually expected.
One of those measures has been the update of travel rules for visitors, who are now required to provide proof of vaccination and a negative PCR test result issued within 72 hours of arrival. Moreover, authorities have also scrapped the option of testing only for entry.
It means that, from now on, simply presenting a negative PCR will not be sufficient for flying, effectively banning travel for the unvaccinated. Passengers landing in the country may also be randomly tested at the airport, even upon presentation of a pre-departure test.
Should an infection be picked up, they will be transferred to a government-designated “hotel hospital“, where isolation will take place and necessary medical care provided. In addition to vaccination and testing, tourists must also fill in an online form prior to arriving and take out non-US medical insurance.
According to the US Embassy in Cuba, insurance is usually included in airline ticket fares on flights leaving from the US. Nevertheless, American travellers should always seek confirmation from airlines or tour operators in order to avoid difficulties at the Cuban border.
What Has Prompted The Change?
As stated above, Cuba is ramping up measures in response to the swift Omicron spread across the Republic. Even though it reopened to travellers from all countries in November, being keen on welcoming visitors since it now struggles to contain a sharp rise in cases.
In spite of the surge, Cuba has other weapons at its disposal in the fight against Omicron, including five nationally-produced vaccines. To date, around 86% of Cubans have been fully vaccinated, one of the highest rates in North America.
Besides banning travel for the unvaccinated, the Fidel Castro homeland is “fast-tracking” boosters in January ahead of the new wave. Through widening vaccination efforts and tightening entry protocols, local authorities hope to salvage the tourist season and, more importantly, protect residents.
What Else Is Required Of Americans, Canadians Visiting Cuba?
Ordinarily, American tourists and most other passport holders can visit Cuba by purchasing a valid “Tourist Card” before boarding the flight. It is valid for 30 days and maybe extended for an additional 30, usually costing between $50 and $100.
Travellers can also access a Tourist Card through an airline directly, which is the case for Canadian tourists, who normally have their card issued alongside the flight ticket when flying with most, but not all, airlines. Recently, Sunwing added Cuba as an “Easy Entry” destination for Canadians.
Visitors flying directly from Mexico can purchase the Tourist Card for $20 USD at the check-in counter, while the process differs for those departing from the United States. If flying with JetBlue, Americans can buy Tourist Cards at the last airport they will transit before entering Cuba for $50.
Delta and United also sell the card for $50 and $75 respectively at check-in counters or directly at the gate, while American Airlines and Southwest refer passengers to Cuba Visa Services, with travellers being expected to pay between $50 and $85 plus shipping.
It is worth noting some foreign nationals may be visa-exempt and Tourist Card-exempt, while others may even require a Cuban visa before flying, even if residing in the United States or Canada.
For more information on entry requirements, travellers should always refer to their countries’ embassy webpage. Americans are also strongly advised to continuously check CDC guidance before making plans to travel abroad.