Cuba: How to Travel There Today with Recent Changes in U.S. Travel Policy
Updated: Dec 10, 2019
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. Despite the recent change of regulations mandated by the Trump Administration's Department of Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC), travelers dreaming of Cuba can still easily go!
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!
Traditional tourism to Cuba from the U.S. has been prohibited since the U.S. embargo in 1961. People-to-people travel in Cuba was approved in 1999 under the Clinton administration, with the goal of enhancing cross-cultural relations between Americans and Cubans. It has always been the rule that Americans wanting 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 whereby individuals had could 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, but still allow individuals to travel there under Support of the Cuban people.
Then, on June 5th 2019, new laws regarding US travel to Cuba went into effect, ending the people to people category. While individual people-to-people travel ended, you can still support the Cuban people by engaging in meaningful exchanges with individuals in Cuba.
Despite these travel policy changes, the good news for travelers dreaming of Cuba is that it is still an accessible destination!
U.S. travelers can now travel to Cuba under 11 different categories. Revised travel sanctions to Cuba by OFAC announced by the U.S. Administration on September 6, 2019 states that travelers can plan a trip within a chosen category, and keep all your receipts and records for five years.
For individual travelers and families, we recommend visiting Cuba under the category of
Support for the Cuban People. OFAC requires that each traveler under this travel category engage in a full-time schedule of activities that result in meaningful interaction with individuals in Cuba. Such activities must also enhance contact with the Cuban people, support civil society in Cuba, or promote the Cuban people's independence from Cuban authorities. Renting a room in a private Cuban residence (casa particular), eating at privately owned Cuban restaurants (paladares), and shopping at privately owned stores run by self employed Cubans (cuentapropistas) are examples of authorized activities.