How to Travel to Cuba Legally from the US
Legalities of Cuban Travel
Legal travel to Cuba is now easier than ever with sweeping changes made by the Obama administration in December of 2014. In the past, travelers required special authorization from the U.S. Treasury, and even after approval they were regulated by strict laws regarding how long they could stay, where they could go, and what they could bring back with them.
As the relationship between these two countries continues to improve, tourists can now request general authorization and travel to Cuba from U.S. airports.
Can Americans Travel to Cuba?
In order to receive general authorization to travel to Cuba from the U.S. Treasury, American citizens must apply under one of 12 categories. The U.S. Treasury may look into each application, but Cuba travel restrictions are looser than ever. The 12 categories include:
1. Visiting Relatives
U.S. citizens that are related to residents of Cuba by blood, adoption, or marriage. These individuals cannot be more than three generations from a common ancestor.
2. Official Government Business:
Government employees and contractors that are traveling on official business.
3. Journalistic Activities:
U.S. persons that are regularly employed as journalists or technicians that are working on a journalistic project.
4. Professional Research and Professional Meeting
Those that are traveling to Cuba for research or meetings that pertain to their profession. These individuals cannot travel for pleasure or engage in any tourist activities.
5. Educational Activities and People-to-People Exchanges:
For those that are wondering how to travel to Cuba, this category has become incredibly popular in recent years and provides travelers with an excellent way to experience the culture of this unique nation. In addition to students and faculty that travel for their studies, non-academic personnel can travel with people-to-people programs.
6. U.S. Religious Organizations:
U.S. persons that will be exclusively engaging in religious activities.
7. Public Performances, Clinics, Workshops, Athletic and Other Competitions and Exhibitions:
This includes amateur, semi-professional, and professional athletes and artists. Their events must be open to the public and all profits must be donated to an approved non-profit organization.
8. Support for the Cuban People:
These individuals must have a full-time schedule with no recreational activities. Their primary goal is to promote the rapid and peaceful transition to democracy.
9. Humanitarian Projects:
Non-profit companies and their volunteers/employees that will be carrying out humanitarian projects to benefit Cuban residents.
10. Private Foundations or Research or Educational Institutes:
This category is for organizations and their employees that will be carrying out research to collect non-commercial information.
11. Exportation/Importation of Informational Materials:
U.S. persons that will engage in activities to import or export informational material.
12. Exportation of BIS Authorized or Licensed Good:
BIS authorized goods and materials are generally seen to be medical supplies that have been approved by both governments.
Who Can Travel to Cuba with the People-to-People Authorization?
Category five is one of the best options for those that are looking to immerse themselves in the Cuban culture. As the laws continue to change, more people than ever are utilizing organizations such ATI to connect with Cuban residents on a personal level. This is essentially the only legal method to travel to Cuba for pleasure. A full-time itinerary is created for every day of travel, and tourists will be shown some of the most popular cities and sites in the country.
When applying under category five, travelers must go through a service provider that has met all regulations put forth by the U.S. Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC). These service providers must stay within strict guidelines and assist their clientele with issues such as collecting Cuban Tourist Cards (visa) when entering the country. They must also establish a full-time schedule for each individual traveler. Free travel throughout the country is currently not permitted under this category. While travelers will have some free time in the evenings and at night, they must be in compliance with a full-time schedule of activities.