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Travel to Cuba: What You Need to Know

Known for its colonial charm, diverse art scene, and thriving biodiversity, Cuba has become a top bucket-list destination for travelers of all ages, including families. However, with the recent change of regulations mandated by the new administration's Department of Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC), U.S. travel policy towards Cuba has been in a state of flux.

Navigating these regulations can be a deterrent for many travelers considering a visit, though they really shouldn’t be. Below we’ve outlined a brief history and summary of what you need to know about traveling to Cuba. We hope it will put your mind at ease and encourage you to delight in all that Cuba has to offer!

Cuban dancers

Traditional tourism to Cuba from the U.S. has been prohibited since the U.S. embargo in 1961. People-to-people exchanges in Cuba were approved in 1999 under the Clinton administration, with the goal of enhancing cross-cultural relations between Americans and Cubans. Americans who wanted to visit the country need to qualify under 12 approved reasons, including education, visiting family, or carrying out humanitarian projects.

When President Obama announced his policy of opening to Cuba in 2016, these previous regulations requiring that Americans travel with licensed organizations were replaced by a much more open policy. Individuals have been able to declare “educational” or “people to people” trips on their own.

In June 2017, President Trump announced changes to this détente, instructing the Department of Treasury, which legislates travel policies to Cuba, to issue regulations that will end individual people-to-people travel. The new legislation in the works by OFAC will require that U.S. travelers use a licensed organization to make these educational trips as part of groups in the future. These changes do not take effect until the new regulations are issued, which is expected to be in mid-September of 2017. (We will update this blog post shortly after the information is released, so please stay tuned!)

Despite these policy changes, the good news for travelers dreaming of Cuba is that it is still an accessible destination! While individual people-to-people travel will end, guided group tours are permitted to carry on. Likewise, cruises and commercial flights will continue, eliminating the need for the more expensive charters previously required. And, if you’re still nervous, you can always protect your trip with a Travel Select plan with the optional Cancel For Any Reason upgrade.

Preparation for travel to Cuba will also become more important as U.S. travelers will be required to have a full-time schedule of activities during their stay without “free time or recreation in excess” (U.S. Treasury Department). Thankfully, there are many tour organizers, such as Global Family Travels, who can help take care of this for you with full itineraries to Discover Cuba and meaningful people to people connections. In fact, we still have two spots left on our World Affairs Council trip to Cuba in November should you like to scout ahead prior to your family vacation.

Regardless of what tour company leads you, rest assured that you will receive a warm welcome from the Cuban people and that your experience will be a trip of a lifetime!

Photo credits for Trinidad and musician on the Havana Malecon: Lisa Merrill of Merrill Images. Besides providing Seattle-based photo workshops, Merrill Images offers small group adventures to Cuba for photographers, music-lovers, and others who want to experience Cuba and its warm and welcoming people. See more of Lisa and John's photos from Cuba here.

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