Can US Citizens Travel to Cuba Legally?

How New Regulations Affect US Citizens Wanting to Travel to Cuba, 16th November 2017

 

Introduction

Travel to Cuba from the US has been complicated and for many decades Cuba has been a “forbidden fruit”, so close to the USA and yet so difficult to reach. Regulations seemed to disappear under Obama but the US Embargo is still very much in place. Any US Citizen wishing to travel to Cuba should be fully aware of current legislation before committing to any trip to Cuba.

History

Travel to Cuba for US Citizens has been restricted since 1961 by the United States embargo against Cuba, and any travel to Cuba by US citizens for “touristic” purposes has been forbidden ever since. During the Obama Presidency, some of this legislation was loosened and many people mistakenly believed that the Embargo on Cuba had been lifted.

Diplomatic ties between the 2 countries were restored under Obama’s presidency on 17th December 2014, but economic sanctions remained. Certain restrictions were loosened so that US citizens were able to travel to Cuba with relative freedom, so long as they adhered to one of the 12 legal forms of permitted travel to Cuba. Airlines started flying directly from US cities to Cuban cities and, for a brief moment, it seemed as if the draconian US Embargo on Cuba would soon become a thing of the past.

Donald Trump’s election as President of the USA has dramatically halted the continued improvement of the United States’ relationship with Cuba and on 8th November 2017, President Trump unveiled a directive cancelling portions of Obama’s 2016 détente with Cuba – Trump’s way of making good on a campaign promise to “reverse” all of Obama’s free trade and tourism policy initiatives and enforce the U.S. embargo on Cuba.

In addition to sparking much concern regarding U.S. – Cuba ties, and plenty of outrage among Cuban officials, the order has raised questions among American would-be travellers to the island nation. You can read the fully updated Treasury regulations by following this link.

 

Here is a summary of how Trump’s move could affect those US citizens hoping to visit Cuba:

 

What does the order do exactly?
It will restrict American travel to the island. The government will enforce the ban on “tourism” to the country – a ban that was never technically lifted under Obama – and U.S. companies will be barred from doing business with the military-linked conglomerate GAESA, which controls much of the island’s tourism industry.

Will US citizens be able to travel to Cuba at all?
The short answer is yes. But there will be changes to how you can do so. Namely, you won’t be able to organize your own trip and self-certify that you are complying with OFAC regulations by selecting the “people-to-people” classification on your travel form when in transit to Cuba. Educational travel will be restricted as well. According to the Treasury Department, which licenses Cuba travel, under the new rules, a “traveller’s schedule of activities must not include free time or recreation in excess.”

So how can I travel to Cuba?
Under OFAC regulations, there are 12 types of legal travel to Cuba. They were created to allow American travel that wasn’t officially “tourism.” Those categories of authorized travel will remain, but independent travellers will no longer be able to self-certify that they are traveling under a privately organized educational or cultural trip.

You can still travel to Cuba as part of a group trip with an officially licensed US tour operator and these groups will now need to come accompanied by a US citizen or a US resident.

Additionally, 10 out of the 12 categories of authorized travel will still be allowed for independent travellers; they include family travel (so Americans can visit their families in Cuba), professional research and meetings, religious activities, humanitarian projects and public performances (meaning artists, athletes and performers can visit Cuba to perform, exhibit or participate in their craft).

OFAC has issued general licenses within the 12 categories of authorized travel for many travel related transactions to, from, or within Cuba that previously required a specific license (i.e., an application and a case-by-case determination).

Travel-related transactions are permitted by general license for certain travel related to the following activities, subject to the criteria and conditions in each general license: 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.”

 

Can I still book a flight or cruise to Cuba?
Yes, but not for a “vacation” unless you book through an officially licensed US tour operator. Spirit, Frontier and Silver airlines have deserted their U.S. to Cuba routes, but larger carriers are determined to continue servicing both charter and commercial flights. Airlines such as JetBlue and Delta are continuing their service to Cuba while remaining in compliance with the new policies, and both commercial flights and cruise ships will still be permitted to travel to the island.

What if I already made some plans to travel to Cuba?

Those independent people-to-people travellers who booked at least one element of their trip before 16 June 2017 can travel as planned.

Those who are travelling for educational purposes can still travel as planned if at least one element of their trip was booked before November 8.

 

In Summary

For those of us who’ve been working with US travellers in Cuba for a while, these changes just mean a return to the way things were before Obama loosened US sanctions against Cuba in 2016.

US citizens can still choose to travel at their own risk, flying to Cuba from another country or joining an unlicensed tour operator.

How New Regulations Affect US Citizens Wanting to Travel to Cuba, 16th November 2017

 

Introduction

Travel to Cuba from the US has been complicated and for many decades Cuba has been a “forbidden fruit”, so close to the USA and yet so difficult to reach. Regulations seemed to disappear under Obama but the US Embargo is still very much in place. Any US Citizen wishing to travel to Cuba should be fully aware of current legislation before committing to any trip to Cuba.

History

Travel to Cuba for US Citizens has been restricted since 1961 by the United States embargo against Cuba, and any travel to Cuba by US citizens for “touristic” purposes has been forbidden ever since. During the Obama Presidency, some of this legislation was loosened and many people mistakenly believed that the Embargo on Cuba had been lifted.

Diplomatic ties between the 2 countries were restored under Obama’s presidency on 17th December 2014, but economic sanctions remained. Certain restrictions were loosened so that US citizens were able to travel to Cuba with relative freedom, so long as they adhered to one of the 12 legal forms of permitted travel to Cuba. Airlines started flying directly from US cities to Cuban cities and, for a brief moment, it seemed as if the draconian US Embargo on Cuba would soon become a thing of the past.

Donald Trump’s election as President of the USA has dramatically halted the continued improvement of the United States’ relationship with Cuba and on 8th November 2017, President Trump unveiled a directive cancelling portions of Obama’s 2016 détente with Cuba – Trump’s way of making good on a campaign promise to “reverse” all of Obama’s free trade and tourism policy initiatives and enforce the U.S. embargo on Cuba.

In addition to sparking much concern regarding U.S. – Cuba ties, and plenty of outrage among Cuban officials, the order has raised questions among American would-be travellers to the island nation. You can read the fully updated Treasury regulations by following this link.

 

Here is a summary of how Trump’s move could affect those US citizens hoping to visit Cuba:

 

What does the order do exactly?
It will restrict American travel to the island. The government will enforce the ban on “tourism” to the country – a ban that was never technically lifted under Obama – and U.S. companies will be barred from doing business with the military-linked conglomerate GAESA, which controls much of the island’s tourism industry.

Will US citizens be able to travel to Cuba at all?
The short answer is yes. But there will be changes to how you can do so. Namely, you won’t be able to organize your own trip and self-certify that you are complying with OFAC regulations by selecting the “people-to-people” classification on your travel form when in transit to Cuba. Educational travel will be restricted as well. According to the Treasury Department, which licenses Cuba travel, under the new rules, a “traveller’s schedule of activities must not include free time or recreation in excess.”

So how can I travel to Cuba?
Under OFAC regulations, there are 12 types of legal travel to Cuba. They were created to allow American travel that wasn’t officially “tourism.” Those categories of authorized travel will remain, but independent travellers will no longer be able to self-certify that they are traveling under a privately organized educational or cultural trip.

You can still travel to Cuba as part of a group trip with an officially licensed US tour operator and these groups will now need to come accompanied by a US citizen or a US resident.

Additionally, 10 out of the 12 categories of authorized travel will still be allowed for independent travellers; they include family travel (so Americans can visit their families in Cuba), professional research and meetings, religious activities, humanitarian projects and public performances (meaning artists, athletes and performers can visit Cuba to perform, exhibit or participate in their craft).

OFAC has issued general licenses within the 12 categories of authorized travel for many travel related transactions to, from, or within Cuba that previously required a specific license (i.e., an application and a case-by-case determination).

Travel-related transactions are permitted by general license for certain travel related to the following activities, subject to the criteria and conditions in each general license: 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.”

 

Can I still book a flight or cruise to Cuba?
Yes, but not for a “vacation” unless you book through an officially licensed US tour operator. Spirit, Frontier and Silver airlines have deserted their U.S. to Cuba routes, but larger carriers are determined to continue servicing both charter and commercial flights. Airlines such as JetBlue and Delta are continuing their service to Cuba while remaining in compliance with the new policies, and both commercial flights and cruise ships will still be permitted to travel to the island.

What if I already made some plans to travel to Cuba?

Those independent people-to-people travellers who booked at least one element of their trip before 16 June 2017 can travel as planned.

Those who are travelling for educational purposes can still travel as planned if at least one element of their trip was booked before November 8.

 

In Summary

For those of us who’ve been working with US travellers in Cuba for a while, these changes just mean a return to the way things were before Obama loosened US sanctions against Cuba in 2016.

US citizens can still choose to travel at their own risk, flying to Cuba from another country or joining an unlicensed tour operator.