Americans still can't enjoy Cuba like tourists from all other nations can, but we're getting closer.
The administration of U.S. President Barack Obama today announced that effective tomorrow, restrictions on travel by U.S. citizens to Cuba that have remained in place for over five decades would be drastically eased.
The current limits on travel by U.S. citizens to Cuba and what they can do once they get there, as well as restrictions on U.S. businesses that want to do business in Cuba, are regulated by both the U.S. Department of the Treasury and the U.S. Department of Commerce. Behavior by travelers is largely regulated by the Department of the Treasury’s Cuban Assets Control Regulations which were enacted on July 8, 1963, under the Trading With the Enemy Act.
The actions today do not completely open Cuba to travel from U.S. nationals, they just remove some of the red tape and pave the way for bigger changes later. People are still not legally allowed to travel to Cuba if they don’t fall into one of twelve categories, and those that are allowed to travel are still technically not allowed to engage in tourism.
Interestingly, while it is permissible to travel to Cuba for professional meetings, the new regulations specifically state: “Travel-related transactions are authorized, provided that the purpose of the meeting or conference is not the promotion of tourism in Cuba.”
The complete text of the new Treasury regulations are available here, while the complete text of the Commerce regulations are available here. They’re also embedded, below.
Below we’ve paired common questions with text from the regulations in order to answer the most frequently asked questions about travel to Cuba.
Can I hop on a plane in Miami tomorrow and go to Cuba?
If you’re the right kind of person: “Individuals who meet the conditions laid out in the regulations will not need to apply for a license to travel to Cuba. These categories are: family visits; official business of the U.S. government, foreign governments, and certain intergovernmental organizations; journalistic activity; professional research and professional meetings; educational activities; religious activities; public performances, clinics, workshops, athletic and other competitions, and exhibitions; support for the Cuban people; humanitarian projects; activities of private foundations or research or educational institutes; exportation, importation, or transmission of information or information materials; and certain authorized export transactions.”
And: “No further permission … is required to engage in transactions by a person who meets all criteria in a general license.”
Additionally: “Travel agents and airlines will be authorized to provide authorized travel and air carrier services without the need for a specific license.”
What can I do when I get there?
If you fall into one of the twelve groups that is permitted to travel, you will need to be engaged in your specific activity rather than spending the day on the beach with a mojito: “The traveler does not engage in recreational travel, tourist travel, or travel in pursuit of a hobby. The traveler’s schedule of activities does not include free time or recreation in excess of that consistent with a full-time schedule.”
Can I bring back a bottle of rum and some Cuban cigars?
Yes you can: “Authorized U.S. travelers to Cuba will be allowed to import up to $400 worth of goods acquired in Cuba for personal use. This includes no more than $100 of alcohol or tobacco products.”
How much money can I spend when I get there?
As much as you want: “The per diem rate previously imposed on authorized travelers will no longer apply, and there is no specific dollar limit on authorized expenses. Authorized travelers will be allowed to engage in transactions ordinarily incident to travel within Cuba, including payment of living expenses and the acquisition in Cuba of goods for personal consumption there.”
How do I pay for things when I get there?
It’s no longer cash only for U.S. visitors: “Travelers will now be allowed to use U.S. credit and debit cards in Cuba.”
What happens if I get hurt in Cuba?
Your insurance may cover you: “U.S. insurers will be authorized to provide coverage for global health, life, or travel insurance policies for individuals ordinarily resident in a third country 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.”
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Photo credit: The new rules open up Cuba to greater American travel and allow U.S. citizens to start bringing home small amounts of Cuban cigars after more than a half-century ban. (AP Photo/, File) Franklin Reyes / Associated Press