Legal Cuba travel for Americans explained
Since 2008, Legal Cuba Travel has summarized and interpreted ever-changing Cuba travel regulations.
Click here for current US Department of the Treasury Cuba travel rules FAQ.
US Department of Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) website on Cuba.
Cuba travel hasn’t ended – Americans can still visit legally
Updated Thursday 2 July 2020
On June 4, 2019, the Trump administration eliminated a subcategory of Cuba travel known as group people-to-people travel.
Group people-to-people travel, enjoyed by many Americans, was part of President Obama’s initiative to normalize relations with Cuba and enable citizen-to-citizen dialogue, understanding, and direct diplomacy.
Group people-to-people travel plans made on or before June 4 continue to be valid. No other categories of Cuba travel are affected.
Cuba visits easier than ever
There are still many meaningful options available for Americans to visit Cuba legally. All of the longstanding 12 categories of legal Cuba travel are intact.
School travel to Cuba has not changed. Students, teachers, school staff, and chaperones can come to Cuba as easily as visiting Canada or Europe.
The popular categories of humanitarian projects, support for the Cuban people, religious activities, professional research, and journalism, are wonderful ways to witness Cuba and engage with its people and their culture.
If you were planning to visit Cuba, go for it. The Cuban people are more eager than ever to host American guests. Indeed, visiting Cuba is easier than ever.
A brief history of Cuba travel restrictions
President Kennedy first imposed Cuba travel restrictions in 1963. Every president since has maintained, or adjusted them. President Jimmy Carter significantly eased Cuba travel in 1977. G.W. Bush tightened travel rules in 2004. During Barak Obama’s terms, easy Cuba travel became routine. No president has ever ended Cuba travel. Fortunately, the US Constitution enshrines freedom to travel. Concerns to the contrary, it is not possible for Trump to ban Cuba travel.
How legal Cuba travel works
The Office of Foreign Assets Control publishes a list of twelve themes under which Americans can visit Cuba legally, without any documentation or permission in advance. The twelve categories are called “general license” travel. There is no actual license issued. It is an honor system. In other words, if the purpose of your Cuba travel falls under any of the twelve topics, you can hop on a plane and visit Cuba. It’s that simple and easy.
12 categories of legal Cuba travel
- Educational activities (schools, students, teachers)
- Support for the Cuban people
- Humanitarian projects
- Professional research and professional meetings
- Religious activities
- Public performances, clinics, workshops, athletic and other competitions, and exhibitions
- Journalistic activity
- Family visits
- Activities of private foundations or research or educational institutes
- Exportation, importation, or transmission of information or information materials
- Certain authorized export transactions
- Official business of the U.S. government, foreign governments, and certain intergovernmental organizations
Two golden rules for legal Cuba travel
- While in Cuba your activities must focus on full-time engagement in the category of travel you choose.
- Purely touristic travel such as tanning on Cuba’s sugary sand beaches is forbidden.
Ways to visit Cuba legally
On your own. Cuba is an ideal destination for independent travelers with lots of experience under their belt and unlimited planning time. If you speak fluent Spanish individualistic travel is tops.
Collaborate with a travel organization. If you, your family and friends, prioritize time, ease, certainty and economy, working with a Cuba travel agent or tour operator promises unequaled rewards. Cuba travel professionals ensure the best cultural experiences, entertainment options, meals, accommodations, transportation, and helpful fluent guides.
A prepaid Cuba travel package guarantees your Cuba trip conforms to US legal requirements. But more importantly, a small group tour or private custom trip to Cuba is more economical, and offers a greater number of cultural encounters in a brief period than the most inveterate independent traveler could assemble.
How to choose a legitimate Cuba agent or tour operator
We encourage potential Cuba visitors to browse the net to shop and compare options. You’ll find a dozen Cuba travel agencies and tour organizations with decades of professionalism providing excellent services with a broad range of prices. Find them on Google by searching “cuba tours” or “cuba trips”.
- Ensure the tour operator is based in the United States and licensed to provide travel services to Americans.
- The US tour operator must issue a Certificate of Legal Cuba Travel.
- Travel companies come and go. Ask how long the company has been in business. Don’t risk your precious travel dollars with fly by night operators.
- Learn from the experiences of fellow travelers. Read the tour operator’s TripAdvisor Forum reviews
- Ask your friends who’ve traveled to Cuba for their suggestions and recommendations.
Legal Cuba travel essentials
- Cuba visitors require a valid passport from any country.
- Cuba visitors require an entry visa. Purchase a Cuban Tourist Visa
- US credit and debit cards don’t work in Cuba. Plan trip expenses carefully. See Cuba travel cash planning guidelines
- US regulations require Americans to retain records of island activities and related expenses for five years.
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