Traveling to Cuba has been only a distant idea for most Americans. Some might recall a scene from a movie or a documentary showing the bright lights, famous movie stars, high stakes gambling and excitement of 1950s Havana. Others might think of Hemingway, who spent some of his later years living and writing in the island nation just 100 or so miles off the southern tip of Florida. For most, Cuba has simply been off limits for the past half-century. In 1959, Cuban revolutionaries led by Fidel Castro ousted the president of Cuba and installed a new communist government. Diplomatic relations broke down between the U.S. and Cuba in 1961 and severe travel and trade sanctions were imposed. Yes, you could travel there if you were highly determined and had a legitimate reason to – but it wasn’t easy.
U.S. citizens traveling to Cuba had to do so under one of 12 general licenses, which would have to be applied for and a lot of red tape had to be gone through before it was approved. Thanks to the easing of travel and trade restrictions on Cuba by the U.S. government, travel to Cuba from the U.S. is getting easier. According to Whitehouse.gov:
- “General licenses will be made available for all authorized travelers in the following existing categories: (1) family visits; (2) official business of the U.S. government, foreign governments, and certain intergovernmental organizations; (3) journalistic activity; (4) professional research and professional meetings; (5) educational activities; (6) religious activities; (7) public performances, clinics, workshops, athletic and other competitions, and exhibitions; (8) support for the Cuban people; (9) humanitarian projects; (10) activities of private foundations or research or educational institutes; (11) exportation, importation, or transmission of information or information materials; and (12) certain export transactions that may be considered for authorization under existing regulations and guidelines.”
- “Travelers in the 12 categories of travel to Cuba authorized by law will be able to make arrangements through any service provider that complies with the U.S. Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) regulations governing travel services to Cuba, and general licenses will authorize provision of such services.”
That means that you don’t have to apply for a license and be approved as long as you are traveling for one of the reasons listed above. According to the New York Times, travelers will simply need to provide their trip purpose. Then they’ll have to keep any receipts of transactions made during travel for five years following their return. They will also need to have a complete itinerary of the activities they will engage in while in Cuba.
Excited travelers should take note that tourism is currently not on the list of approved licenses. Maybe someday!
Here are the other restrictions that are being modified that business travelers to Cuba may be interested in, according to the U.S. Treasury Department:
- Travel agents (including Travel and Transport) and airlines will be able to provide authorized travel to Cuba without the need to apply for license. Several airlines are currently exploring the possibility of adding routes between the U.S. and Cuba.
- U.S. insurers will be authorized to provide coverage for global health, life, or travel insurance policies for individuals who travel to or within Cuba. Health, life, and travel insurance-related services will continue to be permitted for authorized U.S. travelers to Cuba.
- U.S. travelers to Cuba can import up to $400 worth of goods acquired in Cuba for personal use, but no more than $100 of alcohol or tobacco products (translation: a rather small supply of rum and cigars).
- You will be able to use a U.S. credit card in Cuba, provided U.S. banks begin to support this and Cuban banks and merchants have the infrastructure to take your card.
The New York Times reports that there are approximately 61,000 hotel rooms in Cuba. Around 65% of those rooms are in the 4 or 5 star categories, however, many of those rooms are not always available due to maintenance needs. The hotel industry in Cuba may need to increase room count dramatically to account for the lifting of these restrictions.
Here are some other great resources that will help you as you contemplate your travels to Cuba:
- Whitehouse.gov: FACT SHEET: Charting a New Course on Cuba
- US Department of the Treasury: FACT SHEET: Treasury and Commerce Announce Regulatory Amendments to the Cuba Sanctions
- The New York Times: The Latest on Travel to Cuba
Will you be traveling to Cuba soon? If you’re a Travel and Transport customer and you have any questions, feel free to reach out to your account manager. If you’re not, we want to hear from you as well. Send us your question in the comments below or here and we’ll run it by our international travel experts.