How to Legally Travel to Cuba in 5 Easy Steps (After Trump Changes)
The Trump Administration’s amendments to Cuban Assets Control and Regulation (CACR) have caused a ripple effect of doubt and misconceptions regarding travel to Cuba. In the midst of the hyperbole regarding the latest changes, many travelers have decided to cancel their flights or travel plans to Cuba. However, the changes enacted on November 8, 2017, were relatively minimal. In fact, the most significant changes can easily be regarded as bipartisan: supporting Cuban entrepreneurs by giving them your business, engaging in cultural exchange, and avoiding certain entities involved with or owned by the military. Most importantly, it is essential to understand that these changes do not equate to a travel ban to Cuba, rather the requirements for your purpose of travel (depending on your selected purpose) may have simply been tweaked. Therefore, many travelers, including Americans, can still travel to Cuba both legally and on their own.
Below, alongside regulatory citations straight from the CACR, are the five easy steps you can follow to legally go to Cuba.
Step 1: Which Category to Choose for Cuba Travel?
Out of the 12 general licenses/categories of authorized travel to choose from, §515.574 Support for the Cuban People as the purpose of your visit is the most easily applicable to nearly any traveler. This is a general license which means you do not need to go through OFAC for permission nor any application process. You simply choose this category license and self-license yourself with it.
Step 2: Understand “Support for the Cuban People” Category
Familiarize yourself with the specific rules of the above-mentioned category. These are quotations taken directly from the Electronic Code of Federal Regulations government website, recently updated November 27, 2017:
“To legally travel to Cuba under this general license, you must either be (be or a part of): “recognized human rights organization,” or “independent organizations designed to promote a rapid, peaceful transition to democracy” or finally, this one is probably for you, “individuals and non-governmental organizations that promote independent activity intended to strengthen civil society in Cuba, or promote the Cuban people’s independence from Cuban authorities” Yes! An individual! Like you!
Step 3: Book Cuba Accommodation and Excursions Accordingly
Plan to travel accordingly with these license requirements. So what do the above quotations even mean? How can you promote a Cuban’s independence from Cuban authorities? It’s easy: you support Cuban entrepreneurs (including small businesses). To support Cuban entrepreneurs, travelers should:
- ü Stay in private homestays (casa particulares). “Private” in Cuba means not government owned, it does not mean it’s private from the public or exclusive. It’s easy to reserve many casa particulares on Airbnb or you can flip through this directory and call them via Skype to reserve. If you are a luxury traveler, do not be dissuaded at the thought of a homestay; many of these accommodations are of high quality (including penthouses and skyscrapers) and of much better quality and value than government-owned Cuban hotels.
- Eat at privately-owned restaurants.
- Hire local services such as local tours provided by Cuban entrepreneurs. You can reserve many non-government-run, private, entrepreneurial businesses on Airbnb Experiences or find a directory of them here, here, and here.
Step 4: Keep in Mind the Rest of the Cuba Travel Rules
Comply with the rest of the changes to regulations for travel to Cuba as per the CACR, such as but not limited to:
- Remember you still must have a purpose, other than tourism, to go. For a look at the other categories (general licenses), besides Support for the Cuban People (general licenses) click here.
- Remember these categories and licenses are self-licensed by yourself. If you believe you qualify for a category, you go under it by self-proclaiming it to yourself. There is no need to submit application paperwork to OFAC for a license.
- You may have to check off a box for an airline’s affidavit. But in the end, everyone gets a travel visa from Cuba provided to you either by the airline or an agency working with the airline such as Cuba Travel Services. Your airline will take care of this for you at the check-in counter and/or contact you for this.
- If you wish to engage in any travel that does not meet the requirements of a general self-license, that’s when you would need to apply for a specific license from OFAC (paperwork and application).
- The U.S. has the right to audit you within 5 years of your trip, so keep all your receipts and your itinerary. “Each person relying on the general authorization in this paragraph must retain specific records related to the authorized travel transactions. See §§ 501.601 and 501.602 of this chapter for applicable recordkeeping and reporting requirements.”
- Avoid U.S. Department of State’s restricted list of businesses in Cuba as per § 515.421. The safest way to avert these is simply by doing business with private entrepreneurs only. If you do not want to memorize this list, simply abstain from government-owned restaurants, transportation, tours, or hotels and adhere your travels to entrepreneur-owned businesses. They are ubiquitous.
Step 5: Prepare a Legal Cuba Travel Itinerary
Prepare an itinerary for your trip and adhere to it. Each traveler going under § 515.574 Support for the Cuban People general license, must engage “in a full-time schedule of activities that… (i) Enhance contact with the Cuban people, support civil society in Cuba, or promote the Cuban people’s independence from Cuban authorities; and (ii) Result in meaningful interaction with individuals in Cuba.” More importantly, the traveler’s schedule of activities must not “include free time or recreation in excess of that consistent with a full-time schedule.”
According to the CACR: “Staying in a room at a rented accommodation 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 (cuentapropista) are examples of activities that qualify for this general license. However, in order to meet the requirement for a full-time schedule, a traveler must engage in additional authorized Support for the Cuban People activities.” It must also result in a meaningful interaction with the Cuban people.
To order a custom-tailored legal itinerary under Support for the Cuban People, please click here.
- You do not have to be a U.S. citizen to be subject to U.S. jurisdiction.
- These regulations are under U.S. law, not Cuban law. Cuba welcomes American tourism.
- This is not legal advice. I am not a lawyer, but I am a Cuba travel expert with 5+ years experience working in law, legal writing, and legal analysis.
- Frequently Asked Questions on Changes to the Cuba Sanctions Program, effective November 9, 2017
- CFR 515.574 – Support for the Cuban People
- Department of the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) and the Department of Commerce’s Bureau of Industry and Security (BIS) are announcing amendments to the Cuban Assets Control Regulations (CACR) and Export Administration Regulations (EAR):
- Federal Register / Vol. 82, No. 216 / Thursday, November 9, 2017 / Rules and Regulations, Department of the Treasury, Office of Foreign Assets and Control (OFAC), 31 CFR Part 515 Cuban Assets Control and Regulations (CACR) including the amendments to implement the National Security Presidential Memorandum (NSPM).
Related blog posts on Cuba:
A Comprehensive Guide to Legal Cuba Travel. Including my experiences with 8+ different airports.