US Further Eases Travel Restrictions To Cuba

A little over a year ago sanctions began to be lifted between the US and Cuba, following the embargo which was in place for decades. This was huge news for those looking to travel to Cuba, since it created more circumstances under which US citizens could visit.

As part of this policy change, we’re also starting to see airlines restore commercial flights between the US and Cuba. That process is far from instant, though, as it can only occur as part of a larger agreement between the two countries.

That agreement was announced in mid-February, leaving the US airlines to bid on flights to Cuba. A couple of weeks back we learned about the flights which US carriers want to operate to Cuba. Based on the bids, they sure seem to be excited about Cuba. American even proposes 10x daily commercial flights between Miami and Havana — wow!

All the routes US carriers propose operating between the US and Cuba

Despite the fact that US airlines will soon be flying dozens of commercial flights a day between the US and Cuba, pure tourism in Cuba still isn’t permitted for US citizens. The only way to travel to Cuba as an American is with a travel authorization. What has changed over the past year is that there are now general licenses within 12 categories which don’t need to be pre-authorized, while previously you needed a specific license in order to visit.

Per the US Department of the Treasury, here are the 12 categories of authorized travel to Cuba:

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.

I find the whole setup to be a bit ridiculous. We know people are visiting Cuba as tourists, mostly using “support for the Cuban people” as their authorized travel category. Most people interpret spending money in Cuba as providing “support for the Cuban people,” and in many ways the government seems to be winking at us with these broad categories.

Anyway, President Obama will be visiting Cuba next week, and in anticipation of that visit travel restrictions between the US and Cuba have been further eased. Americans will now be able to make independent educational trips to Cuba without special permission from the government. Via The New York Times:

While Americans are permitted to make educational visits to Cuba in tour groups, a tourism ban has barred individuals from traveling there under most circumstances. Under Tuesday’s revisions, Americans who plan a trip with a full schedule of educational exchange activities, including interacting with Cuban people, will for the first time in decades be able to travel on their own to Cuba without special permission from the United States government.

While tourism is still barred by statute, the new rules amount to permission for any American who wants to travel to Cuba to plan an educational sojourn there, as long as they keep records of their activities for five years.

Travelers who fill their days with museum visits, cultural sightseeing and conversations with Cubans about their society, and keep a daily journal, could meet the requirements. American officials suggested that there would be little policing of the comings and goings of those making people-to-people trips.

While Americans have certainly been getting away with traveling to Cuba, it’s nice to see a bit more of an official method under which Americans can travel to Cuba. This new policy allows anyone planning an educational trip to visit Cuba, which is a step in the right direction.

I know a lot of people weren’t comfortable planning trips to Cuba based on creative interpretations of the eased restrictions, so I expect this will make more people want to visit.

Per the US Department of the Treasury, here’s what officially constitutes people-to-people travel to Cuba:

OFAC has issued a general license that incorporates prior specific licensing policy and authorizes, subject to conditions, travel-related transactions and other transactions that are directly incident to people-to-people educational activities in Cuba. Among other things, this general license authorizes, subject to conditions, persons subject to U.S. jurisdiction to engage in certain educational exchanges in Cuba either individually or under the auspices of an organization that is a person subject to U.S. jurisdiction and sponsors such exchanges to promote people-to-people contact. Travelers utilizing this general license must ensure they maintain a full-time schedule of educational exchange activities intended to enhance contact with the Cuban people, support civil society in Cuba, or promote the Cuban people’s independence from Cuban authorities, and that will result in meaningful interaction between the traveler and individuals in Cuba. The predominant portion of the activities must not be with a prohibited official of the Government of Cuba, as defined in 31 CFR § 515.337, or a prohibited member of the Cuban Communist Party, as defined in 31 CFR § 515.338. For travel conducted under the auspices of an organization, an employee, paid consultant, or agent of the sponsoring organization must accompany each group traveling to Cuba to ensure that each traveler has a full-time schedule of educational exchange activities. In addition, persons relying upon this authorization must retain records related to the authorized travel transactions, including records demonstrating a full-time schedule of authorized activities. In the case of an individual traveling under the auspices of an organization that is a person subject to U.S. jurisdiction and that sponsors such exchanges to promote people-to-people contact, the individual may rely on the entity sponsoring the travel to satisfy his or her recordkeeping obligations with respect to the requirements described above. For a complete description of what this general license authorizes and the restrictions that apply, see 31 CFR § 515.565(b).

Bottom line

With US airlines about to offer thousands of seats per day on commercial flights between the US and Cuba, it’s nice to see more official methods by which Americans can visit Cuba. If you’re traveling to Cuba as a tourist, this new exception seems like the most legitimate category for a visit.

Filed Under: Travel
  1. ‘Land of the free’

    However cannot freely travel to a country less than 100 miles from the USA

  2. While it’s understandable that travel restrictions are going to be eased gradually, this is still a bit ridiculous.

  3. Many executive decisions made during an election year have political subtext. Even the timing of this announcement on the day of the Florida primary has political undertones. As you can see from the wording, the requirement is specifically to blunt the argument that opening up tourism with Cuba equates to support of the current government in Cuba. Opening up relations with Cuba would have been politically risky even 4 years ago, so I am actually more surprised how fast it is changing and having Obama visit Cuba is huge. It never made any sense to treat visiting and trading with Cuba and China so completely different. Cannot wait for my first trip!

  4. There’s a really easy way that Americans can travel to Cuba. Come to Canada and get on an aircraft to Cuba. Lots of package deals and you can pay in Canadian dollars. Problem solved. No one will be any the wiser.

  5. And what’s the difference of travelling to Cuba and travelling to China??? Until the 50’s Cuba was a playground for Americans. There was a revolution and the government changed. The fact is that the US government and its people can’t accept that some countries try a different system. I’m not saying that communism is good. I really don’t think so. However I can’t accept the fact that one country still thinks that it has the power to decided what’s better to the World… Cuba was just an “American colony” and Americans resent the fact that it was lost…

  6. @Jeff, last month my US credit cards did not go through. If you exchange money in Cuba, bring non-US currency, as they impose an extra 10% fee for dollars. Also, exchange rates are a bit better in Havana than at the airport, but the lines in town are long, probably a 15 minutes wait.

    Interjet began flying from CUN to HAV, you can find flights for around $200 rd.

  7. Omg. I can see beaurocrats experiencing multiple orgasms when they craft such elaborated restrictions and rules. And all for what? We all know that all restrictions will be completely lifted within few months, then why not to tear off bandage at once? Why pay all those beaurocrats to do useless and pointless job?

    On the other note: I don’t think Cuba and Havana is ready for an American tourist. I think it would be a catastrophe…

  8. 10 flights a day, and that just for AA? No one in Cuba, with the exception of high government officials and their families, can afford to even take a bus across town, much less fly anywhere. And while it’s true that there are some Potemkin Village resorts catering to a handful of European tourists, there is no where near enough tourist infrastructure to accommodate that many flights.

    As for Cuba vs China, the former is still a Soviet style dictatorship, complete with Gulags, while China has greatly moved away from that. In China aggressively opposing the government will get you imprisoned, whereas in Cuba merely being Gay, writing non-communist poetry, or even possessing a lobster that is allowed for tourists only, can get you jailed. China restricts access to Western Internet sites, Cuba forbids cell phones for ordinary people, much less personal computers.

    All you need to know to understand what life is like for the average person in Cuba is to read up on the hundreds of people a year who still climb into barely seaworthy overcrowded boats, seriously risking their lives thru drowning or shark attacts, to escape.

  9. Lucky-

    Any idea when the FAA will decide on the route awards? I would think that it would be before the end of Obama’s term.

  10. @Robert Hanson, have you been to Cuba recently? Not an attack, just honestly wondering if you have. When I was there last week (5th time this year), a stroll down the Malencon toward Vedado will reveal dozens of gay men making out, cross dressers, and a few gay clubs. My favorite pub in hold Havana has photos of the Cuban flag in the microwave, as well as anti-regime slogans.

    I’m sure what you’ve read is true, but witnessing everyday life is extremely different from the repressed picture you paint. Maybe you do go there – but from my multiple visits in 2016, none of that rings true.

  11. @Daniel Just looked up “Human Rights In Cuba” on Wikipedia, and it seems you are right. In the past decade Cuba has relaxed it’s previous draconian punishment of homosexuality.

    It is still not, however, allowing it’s citizens to have internet access, receive TV broadcasts from Florida, or openly oppose the government in even the mildest way. Simply calling for free elections can get one arrested.

    According to Human Rights Watch, in its 2014 World Report, the government has however moved away from it’s previous policy of decades long prison sentences for political “crimes”.

    “In 2010 and 2011, Cuba’s government released dozens of political prisoners on condition they accept exile in exchange for freedom. Since then, it has relied less on long-term prison sentences to punish dissent and has relaxed draconian travel restrictions that divided families and prevented its critics from leaving and returning to the island.

    Nevertheless, the Cuban government continues to repress individuals and groups who criticize the government or call for basic human rights. Officials employ a range of tactics to punish dissent and instill fear in the public, including beatings, public acts of shaming, termination of employment, and threats of long-term imprisonment. Short-term arbitrary arrests have increased dramatically in recent years and routinely prevent human rights defenders, independent journalists, and others from gathering or moving about freely.”

    So still not a government I care to spend my money to support. But for someone coming from North Korea, it might seem like Disneyland. 🙂

  12. Well, the US imprisons people for decades without trial (Guantanamo), and allows police to execute unarmed people. It counts among its strongest allies a country that does not allow women to drive or travel without male guardians, and another country in the same part of the world that practices apartheid. So the US is not a government I care to spend my money to support.

  13. @Robert thanks for the reply. I agree they have a long way to go. My point is just that everyday life is different from what you read about.

    There actually is internet, you just have to go to wifi spots. While some things are blocked, most Cubans use Vpns to get by everything. Vibrant, open culture with lots of dancing, art, sex, music, and drinking. In no way am I saying the govenrment is good there, but it’s an exceptionally open culture.

    We mustn’t forget that we have Guantanomo on that island, when we start to get high and mighty about human rights….


  14. @Robert

    “It is still not, however, allowing it’s citizens to have internet access”

    At home. You can access the internet at internet cafes, and people use Wi-Fi capable devices to connect to hotspots available at tourist-friendly venues. The bigger issue is that access through officially sanctioned methods is very expensive. Any in-home internet service would probably be financially out of reach for most.

  15. Oh, there are also a few public Wi-Fi areas. Still pretty expensive though. And for what it’s worth, some citizens—e.g. doctors, academics, journalists—do have at-home access. But they do need be approved.

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