US Adds Major Restrictions On Cuba Travel

Filed Under: Travel

Visiting Cuba as an American will become even more difficult starting tomorrow.

Different philosophies on Cuba

In 2015, President Obama lifted many restrictions in place between the US and Cuba, which eventually led to US airlines being able to add commercial flights between the two countries for the first time in decades.

For a moment it looked like Cuba would become a new tourist hotspot for Americans, though as anyone who has visited can attest to, they weren’t really set up to handle the influx of American tourism.

When Trump took office, he took a very different approach towards Cuba than Obama did, and he has been increasing restrictions on travel to Cuba.

How visiting Cuba works

Officially Americans haven’t been able to visit Cuba as tourists, even under Obama. Rather the US operated under a “wink wink nudge nudge” system. Basically you had to select one of about a dozen reasons for visiting Cuba, ranging from “support of the Cuban people” to “people-to-people interactions.”

I suspect a lot of people have been comfortable with that precisely because the spirit of the policy seemed to be to open up Cuba.

When you traveled to Cuba you were asked at check-in for which reason you were visiting, but that was about it. So while there was technically a list of things you should do, I’d guess that a vast majority of people didn’t necessarily follow them too closely.

New restrictions on Cuba travel

Trump has been adding restrictions on Cuba travel, and is now adding yet another restriction.

As of June 5, 2019, the US is banning group people-to-people travel to Cuba, which has been one of the most popular ways people have traveled to Cuba. This means that those who completed at least one travel-related transaction (like booking a flight) will be grandfathered under the old rules, while starting tomorrow the new rules will apply.

As the Treasury Secretary describes the motivation for these changes:

“Cuba continues to play a destabilizing role in the Western Hemisphere, providing a communist foothold in the region and propping up U.S. adversaries in places like Venezuela and Nicaragua by fomenting instability, undermining the rule of law, and suppressing democratic processes. This Administration has made a strategic decision to reverse the loosening of sanctions and other restrictions on the Cuban regime.  These actions will help to keep U.S. dollars out of the hands of Cuban military, intelligence, and security services.”

With these changes, cruise ships from the US will be banned from visiting Cuba, and organized tour groups that license US citizens to travel to Cuba will also be stopped.

Bottom line

This shouldn’t come as much of a surprise, given that we’ve seen more and more policies implemented that restrict travel to Cuba. This is yet another policy change, though is especially significant, since this is the policy under which many people traveled to Cuba.

The one thing that confuses me is why the US is cutting Cuba travel little by little. I’m not saying I agree with their policy, but if they’re going to try to prevent people from traveling to Cuba, then why not add all of these restrictions at once?

Frankly I’m surprised we haven’t seen more US airlines cut flights to Cuba, and I have to wonder if they’ll do so soon, as the number of US visitors to Cuba continues to decrease.

  1. The old line Cuban population in S. Florida had been a traditional Republican voting bloc. Among those older than 55+ that still applies for the most part, but it drops off considerably as you move into the younger generations. In fact, Obama won a plurality of the overall Cuban vote in the US by a small margin in 2012 while winning Florida twice. Few people will argue that the Cuban government is a bastion of freedom, but Cuba is hardly in the same league as many other countries the US (and Trump) have been friendly with around the world and no longer holds a strategic position like it did during the 1960s Cuban Missile Crisis. It could be either generic reflexive anti-Obama behavior or a more strategic play to gin up Cuban support in S. Florida during the 2016 and upcoming 2020 elections. Although given that most people of Cuban descent were born after the 1959 revolution there is a limit to this.

    With that said, from a practical-legal standpoint, there is no real reason to tighten travel to Cuba. In fact, it can be reasonably argued that opening up activities with the country (the US being the only major country in the world to have such restrictions) would spur integration into the world economy, help the local population, and further social change. We have had an embargo on Cuba since 1960 that hasn’t changed things much in the country in 58 years and, aside from an armed incursion, won’t any faster.

    Cuba is something of a non-issue in the scope of things domestically and internationally but this change is something of a curious spite that doesn’t seem to have a clear cut objective.

  2. @Alpha

    Because Obama was elected and Trump shouldn’t have been.

    Ironically, that is what the presidential election system spit out.
    Don’t blame Trump, blame how the hundred year old system is favorable to Trump.
    College, Tuesday, Primary, farmers, riding horses, fall harvest, daylight savings, 2nd amendment. God bless America. If only our founding fathers had iPhones and internet.

    By the way, Cuba is nice. Unfortunately, I don’t know how long before we could go there easily again.
    Right aftet election I told everyone to quickly go before Trump ruines it. And now he did.

    I guess my stash from Habanos are worth a lot more now.

  3. Has travel been banned to Venezuela or Nicaragua, since they were *actually mentioned in that statement* as adversarial countries? No.

    Has travel been banned to other officially-communist countries, like China or Vietnam? No.

    Has travel been banned to other countries that undermine the rule of law, or suppress democratic processes, like Saudi Arabia or Turkey? No.

    Has travel been banned to other countries that have nationalized western businesses in decades past, like Sri Lanka or Iran (both oil industries)? No.

    Has travel been banned to other countries with one-party governments, like Eritrea or Laos? No.

    The embargo and travel ban are ridiculous on their face, and should be long gone. This is nothing more than a vindictive move by a racist, ignorant president singularly and stupidly obsessed with rewinding everything the black guy before him put into place.

    Cuba is about as a strategic threat to the United States as Bermuda.

  4. @Lucky
    I’m leaving for Havana on Thursday 6/7.. is there anything I can do? I was told initially that renting an Airbnb home means I can choose the “People to People” option. I’m a little lost now

  5. “Because Trump is a pig?” “Because Obama was elected and Trump shouldn’t have been.” You guys realize that Trump was elected by almost half of Americans and that you are basically insulting all of them? You don’t need to agree with everything President Trump does and you should be vocal against some of his policies but to claim that he should never have been elected and or that he is a “pig” does nothing but cause division……

  6. @Daniel. I don’t agree with ANYTHING he’s done, and when he crashes the USEconomy and we’re left in Recession, how will you defend him then?

  7. Cuba is overrated. Get real. There are plenty of historic places to see elsewhere. No need to visit Cuba with it’s crappy hotels, crappy food, and crappy government.

  8. Amen Reed. This is ridiculous. Our government shouldn’t be controlling which counties we can travel to. Seems very authoritarian. And if it does… It shouldn’t be starting with Cuba.

  9. Cuba isn’t any worse than some of the other islands. Go to St Thomas or St Croix, both of which are American. Or Puerto Rico. Also American. There are pretty poor people there in slums. The Dominican Republic is also poor in the countryside. I’ve been to Cuba. Yes, there’s no freedom or liberty but on the whole the living standard isn’t any worse than other poor islands in the region. And I’m no Democrat or socialist. I’m as right-wing as they get. I’ve always said that a couple hundred troops landed on Cuba would result in the Castro regime and his successors being overthrown in a heart beat. The Cuban people today aren’t going to die for the revolution.

  10. @Daniel

    Many don’t have much choice after they ‘forgot’ to vote in primaries.

    Depending on how you view travel. I find Cuba , outside Havana of course, to be one of the few places left on earth that is mostly authentic, other notable place being N. Korea. And by no means Cuba is a historical place. It just didn’t develop much since the 60s.

  11. May affect others but not me. Cuba is about 150 in my list of countries that I would like to visit. There are about 200 countries and major territories in the world.

    Cuba seized, without compensation, a lot of property owned by Americans which is why they are on the US hate list. Would you like your property seized?

  12. @JD Agreed. Can’t compare Havana in any european capitals even to the poorest cities. Don’t let me started to the hotels that will let you stay and suddenly the water and electricity will eventually cut for few days. That’s Cuba for U.

  13. @Daniel –
    If you saw the obvious conflicts of interest in Trump’s administration, refusal to release tax returns, criminal activity that he’s now under investigation for, arrest of his campaign chair, complete and total illiteracy, the bus video, crapping his diaper during the speech, etc. and still voted for him well anything I could say regarding how they’re imbeciles, rubes, or racist wouldn’t really be insulting because it’d be true. And claiming the lack of equal respect between Obama and Trump because of political differences is, let’s be honest, grading on one hell of a curve.

    @Eskimo – Our elector system was, in theory, supposed to stop someone with conflicts of interest from getting elected. It should’ve stopped there.

  14. I’m not a US Citizen not a Green Card holder. I’m a foreign national working in the US. Do these restrictions apply to me and if they didn’t, would there be downstream immigration implications concerning a visit to Cuba?

  15. Even here, the Trump bashers start name calling. This is not a political forum. Way to take the fun out of travel. Have a little more respect for Lucky’s blog.

  16. @GL it totally applies to any US person i.e. a person who works in the US and is paid in US$. You are not meant to spend ANY of these $ that could go back to the Cuban government.

    In theory you can go to Cuba if you can prove you didn’t spend a dime…

  17. I recently visited Cuba. I met and made some amazing friends. It was a beautiful experience, I felt safe, the food was soooooo good. I wanted to go back and take my children.

  18. Does that mean if, tonight, we booked a ticket to Cuba (a transaction outlined above), we would be grandfathered in?

  19. I hated my visit to Cuba, but Americans should be allowed to go.

    And hey, maybe after more than a half century those sanctions will bring the communist government down. Ugh!

  20. I guess my trip is canceled , well I just wanted to see the people not really their governing body. But what their government is representing I don’t want my dollars helping them grow in value that doesn’t best show American values. I well lay my head on my pillow tonight and not lose any sleep over plans being rearranged to another distination . But our prays for all people who are controlled by their government including ourself with these restrictions.

  21. @Alpha

    Sadly our great nation isn’t perfect. Our 2nd amendment was, in theory, necessary to the security of a free State. It should’ve stopped there.


    As long as you don’t enter Cuba from USA, you are good to go.
    i.e. go from Mexico or Canada. If you depart from USA you are bound to the regulation, even before the ban you still have to go under those categories if departing from USA.


    I’m asking that question myself too. Since it will be effective June 5th, we should still be good???
    This feels just like JFK hoarding H.Upmann right before the embargo.

  22. @Roberta Schraper
    “Because Trump is a pig” says the equally narcissistic, two-bit vlogger.
    Thanks for your highly stimulating intellectual contribution, Roberta.

  23. @AOH: You have already booked and can thus select the people-to-people option. You could also select “Support for the Cuban People.” It’s perfect for staying at casas particulares (basically AirBNB), eating at private restaurants, and having interactions with everyday Cubans. Just keep a basic itinerary of these interactions, and hang onto those notes for 5 years in the highly unlikely event the Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) asks to see it. That’s probably more than what most people would suggest, because everything I’ve seen says that OFAC doesn’t have the budget to enforce any of it.

    It’s a dumb policy, probably a violation of my rights as an American, and ultimately tough to enforce. But the Trump Administration is counting on scaring most tourists away, even while leaving an enormous loophole available for those who still choose to travel.

  24. Trump is both a criminal, a sexual predator and an illegitimate leader posing as “President”. Go to Cuba and ignore the Orange Bafoon’s warped view of the world.

  25. Not clear to me how Americans can let their government dictate where they’re able to travel yet still call their country the ‘Land of the Free’.

    That old fat orange man can’t go soon enough.

  26. @Reed yoooooooooooooooo you read this blog too? Is this the Reed I am friends with?

  27. I guess the only other country telling its people where not to travel is North Korea. Until 1989 there was GDR as well but people there forced their government to open up.
    ‘Land of the free’ sounds like a total joke to me as long as your government prescribes tour travel and which smartphones not to buy.
    I visited Cuba a year ago and enjoyed it. Esp the museum displaying events leading to the bay of pigs event was very interesting and insightful.

  28. @Dan: Thanks so much! I really appreciate the information. I’ve been quite anxious about this and almost all the comments on this post have been quite useless/about Trump.

    I’ll be on a connecting flight with Copa, so I don’t think I’ll be asked anything by the airline. But when I reserved the Airbnb, I had to choose one of the categories. I don’t remember exactly, but I must have chosen “Support Cuban People.” Hopefully all will be okay!

  29. Y’all know that you can visit cuba(if you really want to)(nothing to write home about)..through canada. Cuba doesn’t stamp passports

  30. @John: Previously, the policy for foreigners transiting via US airports has been the same as it is for Americans. You’ll have to give one of the (now) 11 approved reasons for travel.

    @Corky Buchek: Everything I’ve read lately says Cuba stamps all passports now. Maybe they return to their no-stamp policy with these new rules, but don’t count on it. Travel via the US if you like, just travel as “Support for the Cuban People.” And then actually do it, because while I disagree without Trump (basically always), the idea of not supporting the regime and instead supporting the people is a good one. Sadly, our government is once again doing more harm than good. And depriving its own citizens of their rights to travel freely in the name of… freedom (for Cuba).

  31. “A Free Nation of Free People should have the Freedom to travel throughout the World.”

    Exactly! Just like the free people of Cuba. Oh, wait…

  32. “@Eskimo – Our elector system was, in theory, supposed to stop someone with conflicts of interest from getting elected. It should’ve stopped there.”

    TOTALLY INCORRECT. The Electoral College system was really designed to ensure that smaller states with lesser populations weren’t unrepresented in presidential elections. Without the electoral college, candidates would only visit Texas, New York, Florida, and Illinois, because that’s where the population centers are, and hence the popular vote. The Electoral College literally makes the candidates visit and address smaller states because they have electors. It makes them at least pay lip service to the needs and desires of every state, not just the ones with a lot of votes. It’s actually why Trump won – it made him visit Wisconsin and Michigan, states that Hillary totally took for granted and didn’t visit during the height of the campaign season. Since she essentially ignored them and others, they went for Donald Trump.

    By the way, the current Democrat strategy of trying to eliminate the Electoral College will only alienate these smaller states. Do so and smaller population states like Rhode Island, Alaska and the Dakotas will have real cause to question why they’re in the Union at all if their votes are truly meaningless. And, the other plan of states declaring that their electors must vote for the winner of the popular vote will also backfire. Since the states signing on to the plan are all Blue States, they’re already going to vote Democrat, and if a Republican wins the popular vote, as Trump very well might in 2020, then we’ll be looking at the interesting spectacle of Blue States like California voting for Trump in the Electoral College.

    Back to Cuba, there are plenty of reasons to restrict travel there. Cuba is repressive, locks up people with AIDS, doesn’t have a free press – one could go on. Toss in what were probably sonic attacks on US and Canadian diplomats a year or two ago and yes, you have decent cause to look far more closely at Cuba. Personally, until Cuba becomes more free and open, with a free press and First Amendment-like protections for those who genuinely disagree with the Cuban government, I see no reason why we should be helping to prop up the Cuban regime with US tourist dollars.

  33. Calm down people, you can still go to Cuba, just not on a cruise ship. I’ve been to Cuba several times over the last few years, it is great in the winter months. In the summer though, it’s cooler on the surface of the Sun.

    Let’s pause and reflect on why things are the way they are with Cuba. Castro overthrew the Batista government and brought in communism and Russia, soon after Castro allowed the Russians to install thermonuclear weapons literally in our backyard, this was personal!!!! We were on the brink of destruction and we haven’t forgot. Castro should have been crushed!!

    JFK failed…maybe because his Secretary of State John McNamara was a Cuban himself, he grew up in Cuba on his families sugar cane plantation, this is a little known fact!

    I hope Trump succeeds where JFK fails and Makes Cuba Great Again.

  34. We can still visit Cuba under the travel category Support for the Cuban People!!!
    No worries! Just need to stay with Cuban families (through or, interact with local people and purchase food/stuff at mom-and-pop stores and restaurants.
    Keep all receipts and save your itinerary for 5 years, just in case………..of an audit.
    There is an official list of banned businesses and hotels—notably the National Hotel in Havana— which are owned or controlled by the government, so be aware!
    Passports are sometimes stamped. I had the unique experience of being stamped while entering, but not when exiting.
    And US dollars are penalized 10% when you exchange for Cuban CUC’s; so buy some Euro/GBP/Canadian currency before you go to Cuba, and swap those for CUC’s in order not to lose 10%.

  35. This is nothing but an attack on Obama era policies! Not only have U.S. travelers not been restricted from traveling to Venezuela, those American dollars that some think shouldn’t go to propping up the Cuban government certainly haven’t been forbidden from propping up Venezuela’s government by tourists or ex-pats of the country living and working in the US more than likely sending money back home to family! Not to mention that we’ve yet to have travel restrictions placed on us if we desire to go to Saudi Arabia, a country known to be less than friendly to LGBTQ people and a somewhat dubious penchant for hacking up journalists, initially lying about it and then placing the blame squarely on their chosen fall guy(s). But our navel orange in chief has very little problem selling them arms.

    And for someone who isn’t a citizen but working in the US, if the law specifically states US Citizens and you have a foreign passport I’m not really sure how the restriction would affect you, particularly if there are airlines still traveling from the US to Cuba. An American leaving from another country is still liable to get into trouble if found out because the stipulation is being a US citizen. Not sure if anything is listed about foreign nationals traveling through the US, but of course you can always fly back from Cuba to another country. If there is barely a budget to investigate Americans and why they travel to Cuba I can’t imagine there’s a surplus of funds to follow up on non citizens.

  36. Voted against Trump for President. Can’t wait to vote for him in 2020. His policy on Cuba is correct.

  37. “but if they’re going to try to prevent people from traveling to Cuba, then why not add all of these restrictions at once?”

    Incredibly obviously it’s because Trump and the others who like stuff like this are being moronic and the people in the administration who recognize that are trying to stop it.

  38. the word on the street is that cuba is overrated anyways. all the embargo did was to over-hype the place so not falling for it again next time travel restrictions loosen

  39. I went with my family to Cuba in January via a cruise ship.
    While there we took a private tour all day. The guide took us to a privately owned restaurant. They dropped us off at the government owned Tropicana at the end of the day.
    The Cuban people we met were wonderful. Our guide expressed concern about investing money back into his business because he was fearful of the Cuban government re nationalizing all businesses. Little did he know that it would be the US government that would do him in.

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