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).
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.