Flying in the Caribbean

Can you fly to Cuba? Maybe!

In December 2014, President Obama announced an initiative that would reestablish diplomatic relations between the U.S. and Cuba and facilitate travel by authorized people between the two countries and with lightning speed the U.S. Department of Treasury has announced regulatory amendments to the Cuba sanctions effective, January 16, 2015. Click on the "Cuba" tab below for more information.

Other Caribbean Destinations

The information here applies to the Turks and Caicos, Dominican Republic, Haiti, Cayman Islands, Jamaica, Puerto Rico , U.S. and British Virgin Islands, Anguilla, the French West Indies, Netherland Antilles, Nevis and St. Kitts, Antigua and Barbuda, Montserrat, Dominica, St. Lucia, St. Vincent and Grenadines, Barbados, Grenada and Carraicou, Trinidad and Tobago.

Because many different countries govern the islands of the Caribbean, it is necessary to clear Customs and Immigration when entering and exiting each one.

In addition to the information offered here, you may find the Caribbean Pilot's Guide a helpful resource. 

And, as always, call AOPA with questions, Monday through Friday, 8:30 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. Eastern Time, (800) USA-AOPA (872-2672).


Can you fly to Cuba? Maybe!

In December 2014, President Obama announced an initiative that would reestablish diplomatic relations between the U.S. and Cuba and facilitate travel by authorized people between the two countries and with lightning speed the U.S. Department of Treasury has announced regulatory amendments to the Cuba sanctions effective, January 16, 2015. 

The measures announced as published in the Federal Register will facilitate travel to Cuba for authorized purposes, facilitate the provision by travel agents and airlines of authorized travel services and the forwarding by certain entities of authorized remittances, raise the limits on and generally authorize certain categories of remittances to Cuba, allow U.S. financial institutions to open correspondent accounts at Cuban financial institutions to facilitate the processing of authorized transactions, authorize certain transactions with Cuban nationals located outside of Cuba, and allow a number of other activities related to, among other areas, telecommunications, financial services, trade, and shipping. Persons must comply with all provisions of the revised regulations; violations of the terms and conditions could result in penalties under U.S. law.

Flying an aircraft or sailing a vessel to Cuba, even temporarily, constitutes an export or re-export to Cuba. If the aircraft or vessel is subject to the EAR (e.g., those departing from the United States), then a license is required to fly/sail to Cuba. Certain exports and re-exports of aircraft on temporary sojourn to Cuba may be eligible for License Exception Aircraft and Vessels (AVS) (Section 740.15(a) of the EAR). Note that only paragraph (a) of License Exception AVS is available for Cuba and that the corresponding requirements and criteria must be met in order to be eligible. An individual validated license is required for all exports and re-exports of vessels on temporary sojourn to Cuba.

License applications for exports and re-exports of aircraft and vessels on temporary sojourn to Cuba are reviewed on a case-by-case basis when they are used to deliver humanitarian goods or services or when their use is consistent with the foreign policy interests of the United States. License applications are generally only authorized for commercial shipments of authorized cargo. You may contact the Foreign Policy Division at (202) 482-4252 for additional information regarding temporary sojourns and assistance with associated license applications.

To see the Treasury regulations, which can be found at 31 Code of Federal Regulations (CFR), part 515, please click here.  To see the Commerce regulations, which can be found at 15 CFR parts 730-774, please click here. The regulations are effective as of Friday, January 16, 2015. Major elements of the changes in the revised regulations include:


  • In all 12 existing categories of authorized travel, travel previously authorized by specific license will be authorized by general license, subject to appropriate conditions.  This means that individuals who meet the conditions laid out in the regulations will not need to apply for a license to travel to Cuba.
  • These categories are: family visits; official business of the U.S. government, foreign governments, and certain intergovernmental organizations; journalistic activity; professional research and professional meetings; educational activities; religious activities; public performances, clinics, workshops, athletic and other competitions, and exhibitions; support for the Cuban people; humanitarian projects; activities of private foundations or research or educational institutes; exportation, importation, or transmission of information or information materials; and certain authorized export transactions.
  • The per diem rate previously imposed on authorized travelers will no longer apply, and there is no specific dollar limit on authorized expenses.  Authorized travelers will be allowed to engage in transactions ordinarily incident to travel within Cuba, including payment of living expenses and the acquisition in Cuba of goods for personal consumption there. 
  • Additionally, travelers will now be allowed to use U.S. credit and debit cards in Cuba.

Travel and Carrier Services – Travel agents and airlines will be authorized to provide authorized travel and air carrier services without the need for a specific license from OFAC.

Insurance – U.S. insurers will be authorized to provide coverage for global health, life, or travel insurance policies for individuals ordinarily resident in a third country who travel to or within Cuba.  Health, life, and travel insurance-related services will continue to be permitted for authorized U.S. travelers to Cuba.

Importation of Goods – Authorized U.S. travelers to Cuba will be allowed to import up to $400 worth of goods acquired in Cuba for personal use.  This includes no more than $100 of alcohol or tobacco products.

There are many other areas addressed in the amendment that are not relevant to general aviation, so please reference the US Treasury website of the Federal Register for a complete listing.

Upon learning of the announcement AOPA immediately began working with the FAA and U.S. Customs and Border Protection to get the most up to date information needed to ensure pilots wanting to make this journey are able to do so legally.  Information is still being developed that will provide clarification on what you need to do before you go.

FAR 91.709

Currently there is a Federal Aviation Regulation that places restrictions on flights operating from the United States.

91.709 Operations to Cuba. No person may operate a civil aircraft from the United States to Cuba unless—

(a) Departure is from an international airport of entry designated in §6.13 of the Air Commerce Regulations of the Bureau of Customs (19 CFR 6.13).

(b) In the case of departure from any of the 48 contiguous States or the District of Columbia, the pilot in command of the aircraft has filed—

(1) A DVFR or IFR flight plan as prescribed in §99.11 or §99.13 of this chapter; and

(2) A written statement, within 1 hour before departure, with the Office of Immigration and Naturalization Service at the airport of departure, containing—

(i) All information in the flight plan;

(ii) The name of each occupant of the aircraft;

(iii) The number of occupants of the aircraft; and

(iv) A description of the cargo, if any.

This section does not apply to the operation of aircraft by a scheduled air carrier over routes authorized in operations specifications issued by the Administrator.

AOPA is awaiting further guidance from the FAA and will post this information as soon as it becomes available.

Overflying Cuba - You still need a permit

Civil aircraft overfly Cuba routinely. It is not especially difficult, but it does require that pilots follow the established procedures. Private pilots with overflight permits may fly through Cuban airspace via published airways. These airways are shown on the Caribbean and South American IFR Low Altitude Enroute charts.

The process for acquiring the overflight permits has recently changed. As of December 2013 a modification of the U.S. Code of Regulations allows operators of U.S. registered aircraft to contact Cuba directly and pay Cuba for overflight permits without the need for an Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) license. Payment is made to Cuba in Euros through a bank in Panama. If you do not want to do the permit work yourself, you can use a third party provider for a fee. Regardless of how you choose to do it, it is critical that it is done!

At the same time, Cuba has tightened up on the issuance of permits. The primary changes are:

Aircraft with an MTOW greater than 6,600 lbs will not be exempted from permit or airspace fees, no matter who is flying the aircraft nor what the purpose of the flight is.

All permits requested by companies on behalf of third parties will be assessed permit or airspace fees. For a flight to be exempted from the Cuban permit fees, the owner of the aircraft must contact the Cuban permit department directly to request the permit and the exemption. The Cuban authorities will evaluate each request individually and only they can decide what flights will be exempted. The Cuban Permit department has stated that NO aircraft registered in the name of a corporation (regardless of whether it is engaged in a commercial operation or not) will be exempted from airspace fees.

Some third-party companies that can request an overflight permit for a pilot for a fee are listed under the Resources tab. The list is not all inclusive; there are many companies that provide this service.

Click here to read answers to frequently asked questions related to Cuba.


Flotation vestsPilot-in-Command

The pilot in command must have a current:

  • Passport 
  • Pilot certificate with an English-proficient endorsement
  • Medical certificate
  • Restricted radiotelephone operators permit
  • Letter of Authorization if the aircraft is not registered in the pilot's name


  • Each passenger must have a current passport
  • Children traveling with only one parent must have a notarized statement of approval from the absent parent stating the dates of the trip.


All U.S. registered aircraft must have:

  • A standard Airworthiness Certificate
  • A permanent registration certificate (no temporary certificates/pink slips)
  • A radio station license
  • Operating limitations information
  • Weight and Balance information
  • A life vest/flotation device for each person aboard (It’s recommended you also carry a life raft.)
  • An ID data plate
  • 12-inch registration marks
  • Transponder with Mode C
  • Aircraft with fuel tanks installed in the baggage or passenger compartments must have Form 337 on board.


Contact your insurance company before you leave the U.S. to be sure you are covered. AOPA Insurance Services will be glad to talk with you about your planned trip. 800/622-2672.

U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) requires

ICAO Flight Plan

  • Use of an ICAO flight plan is currently required if the flight will enter international airspace. While an ICAO flight plan and an FAA flight plan are similar in many ways, there are some important differences. Some items are the same on both forms: aircraft ID or tail number; aircraft type, fuel endurance, and number of people on board. New items on the ICAO flight plan include a Wake Turbulence category, and Type of Flight. The biggest change, though, is found in the equipment suffixes box, box 10. The ICAO codes used to denote the type of equipment on board the aircraft are different than the codes used by the FAA. To find out more, please view this short AOPA video.


Aerial island viewDeparture from U.S.

  • Pilots crossing the U.S. border must be in communication with ATC and on a discrete squawk code.
  • All aircraft must be on an activated IFR or Defense VFR flight plan for flying through the ADIZ
  • Visiting pilots must enter and exit at an airport of entry.
  • Know the requirements for the islands you plan to visit.

The Islands

Island beachThe Islands

General Information

  • Typically, you will encounter little general aviation traffic over the water until you get close to an island airport.
  • Some of the Caribbean countries have radar.
  • You will change controllers as you fly from country to country, as they will hand you off at their boundaries.
  • VFR flights are not permitted after dark.
  • Fuel is usually available at most airports, but can be very expensive. Credit cards are not always accepted.
  • Most of the island airports are airports of entry, but not all. Check your specific airport if you are not sure. Customs and Immigration at many airports requires advance notice, some as much as 24 hours.
  • All countries require flight plans.
  • No vaccinations are required of U.S. citizens.
  • Navigational aids may or may not be functional in the Caribbeean. Flying with GPS makes it easier to navigate.
  • Most towered airports provide weather information and Internet is available in most places.
  • Caricom eAPIS: Caricom (Caribbean Community) requires all aircraft to submit an APIS manifest prior to arrival, departure, or travel between any of the following: Antigua & Barbuda, Barbados, Belize, Dominica, Granada, Guyana, Haiti, Jamaica, Montserrat, St Kitts & Nevis, St. Lucia, St. Vincent & the Grenadines, Trinidad & Tobago.

Notes on specific countries:

Puerto Rico

If you fly from Puerto Rico to the U.S. Virgin Islands, you can fly as a domestic flight with no eAPIS or CBP entry requirements, just fly and land. However, if you fly from the U.S. Virgin Islands to Puerto Rico, you must clear with CBP at an international port. However, you do not file an eAPIS; you file the old CBP Form 178 and request permission and an appointment.

Virgin Islands

AOPA has become aware of an issue regarding travel to the U.S. Virgin Islands and points south. U.S. Customs in St. Thomas says that pilots need to file an eAPIS outbound and nothing else. U.S. Customs in St. Croix says that pilots DO NOT need to file an eAPIS, but DO need to go the the CBP office. U.S. Customs headquarters is aware of this discrepancy and is working with the local offices to resolve. In the meantime, it would be wise to contact the specific U.S. Customs offices you intend to use in the area by phone prior to departure or arrival, and to confirm which procedure to use.


Returning to the U.S.

  • File an activated IFR or Defense VFR flight plan for flying through the ADIZ with ADCUS (advise customs) in the remarks section
  • Call U.S. CBP at least one hour and no more than 23 hours before your planned U.S. arrival time.  (Do not rely only on ADCUS – call to verify CBP has your flight plan).
  • File an eAPIS arrival manifest (if you filed eAPIS reports for both legs of your trip before you left the U.S., you do not have to file again).
  • If you are arriving in southern Florida, plan to land at one of the following eight U.S. CBP airport of entry after crossing the U.S. border. Be on time – a little late is better than early.
    • Key West International Airport, (KEYW)
    • Tamiami Airport, Miami (KTMB)
    • Miami International Airport General Aviation Center (KMIA)
    • Opa Locka Airport, Miami (KOPF)
    • Fort Lauderdale Executive Airport (KFXE)
    • Fort Lauderdale Hollywood International-General Aviation Facility (KFLL)
    • Palm Beach International Airport, West Palm Beach (KPBI)
    • Saint Lucie County Airport, Fort Pierce (KFPR)


Third-party companies

U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP)