We’ve all heard the good news: it’s somewhat easier for U.S. citizens to legally travel to Cuba. The U.S. still has a trade embargo with Cuba, but on January 16, 2015 Obama changed the travel regulations. Now visitors from the U.S. can go to Cuba for a wider variety of reasons. Tourism, however, is still prohibited for American visitors.
Due to government relations, American visitors can’t visit the all-inclusive beach resorts. Right now it is legal to visit Cuba to learn about the country and get to know its citizens.
American travelers in particular are subject to restrictions when traveling in Cuba. Since the U.S. and Cuba have restored diplomatic relations these restrictions may change quickly. Anywhere will continue to update its information, but if you have any doubts visit the U.S. State Department’s website to double check.
Reason for Visit
Americans need to have an official reason for their visit. Your visit to Cuba must fit into one of these twelve categories:
Official business or the US government, foreign government and certain intergovernmental organizations
Visiting relatives – Relatives must be no more than three generations removed, or no more than three generations removed from a common ancestor.
Journalistic activity – Only as part of full-time employment.
Professional research and consulting
Public performances, clinics, workshops, athletic and other competitions and exhibitions.
Support for the Cuban people – Bringing items to improve the quality of life for Cubans. These programs allow you to work one-on-one with Cuban people.
Humanitarian projects – There are several organizations that travel to Cuba to provide much-needed aid.
Activities of private foundations or research or educational institutes.
Exportation, importation or transmission of information or informational materials.
Certain export transactions.
Every visitor to Cuba must have a visa. U.S. citizens cannot use the 30-day tourist visas that visitors from other countries use.
The Cuban Assets Control Regulations of the U.S. Treasury Department requires that American citizens procure a treasury license before embarking on any Cuba-related travel, even if entering Cuba through a third party such as Mexico or Canada.
This license works in accordance with the U.S. Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC), and can be applied for online at the Treasury’s website.
Spending in Cuba
Spending U.S. dollars for tourism purposes in Cuba is not allowed, strictly speaking. In addition, Cuba charges a 10 percent penalty for currency exchange when using U.S. bills. Since credit cards aren’t widely accepted, it’s wise to bring Canadian dollars or euros.
You need to get approval from the U.S. treasury before you can spend money in Cuba, and the American government has limits on how much you can spend. Tourists can bring back $400 worth of souvenirs. Only $100 worth of souvenirs can be for alcohol and tobacco products, so choose your rum and cigars carefully.
Choosing your Route
For years, Americans had to fly into Cuba from a different country. Now you can find flights to Cuba that leave from the U.S. in Tampa, New York, and Miami. Baltimore-Washington Airport is looking to start offering flights as well. You can choose from American Airlines, Sun Country, and now JetBlue. It's hard to say how traveling to Cuba will change in the coming years, but Americans may still find it easier to travel to Cuba by departing from a third party like Mexico or Canada.
Some American cruise ships have received authorization to begin visiting Cuba, and are providing tours that have humanitarian or educational themes. Plans to set up a ferry service between Florida and Cuba are in the works.
Cuba requires visitors to have medical insurance, and Cuban authorities do not accept U.S. insurance policies. You can buy insurance from the state-run Asistur S.A., or from a Cuban insurance company in the U.S. before your departure.
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