The following is a non-exhaustive explanation of the current status of regulations surrounding travel to Cuba by U.S. citizens. It is not legally binding, and we strongly encourage you to fully inform yourself by reading the complete OFAC sanctions/guidelines for legal travel to Cuba prior to making a decision on which route is best for your Cuba travel plans.
Americans can currently travel to Cuba either with an OFAC license, or unlicensed via a third country. You may be surprised to learn that a significant number of US travelers still do not do so under an OFAC Specific or General License. They instead travel to Cuba via a third country such as Canada, Mexico, or the Bahamas and with very few exceptions they elect not to declare the Cuba segment of their travel upon their return.
Many US travelers want to see Cuba on their own terms and accept a certain level of risk of detection/investigation by US authorities when undertaking unlicensed travel to Cuba, providing the end result is an itinerary that most closely matches their travel goals, budget and preferences. Over the years, 1000s of US citizens have participated in our guided tours and independent programs in Cuba on an unlicensed basis. Some of our clients have received added attention at US Immigration and some have received a Treasury Department “Requirement to Furnish Information” letter or “Prepenalty Notice”, but none of our clients have ever actually been fined. A handful, however, have settled out of court for up to $1000. Although some regulations remain in place, we’ve not heard of any of our clients being hassled in the recent past, and we feel that it’s a reasonable statement to say that the likelihood of ever being assessed a fine for undertaking unlicensed travel to Cuba is now lower than ever. On June 16, 2017 Trump announced that the individual “people to people” category would be phased out, group people-to-people trips would remain with the condition that US groups do not utilize Cuban military-owned facilities, and full details of the new regulations are expected to be released by Sept. 15, 2017.
Categories & Regulations
The current categories of US-authorized travel 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 (people to people trips fall under this category)
- 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
If your travel to Cuba is not approved by the U.S. (with a Specific or General License), Cuba, as a courtesy, will stamp your visa (not your passport) upon entry. For an added measure of safety, you may remind the Cuban Immigration official before you hand over the passport. The stamp is a small square that usually appears on page 16, but is generally recognizable by U.S. Immigration officials.
For more details on Americans traveling to Cuba and tips for avoiding detection for unlicensed travel, visit Wiki Voyage.
It is the traveler’s responsibility to demonstrate that his/her proposed itinerary/activities in Cuba meet the license criteria set forth in the OFAC Guidelines. If traveling as part of a group people-to-people trip, normally the sponsoring agency takes care of your record-keeping requirements (affidavit + itinerary, on file for 5 years from travel). The traveler’s itinerary must correspond to the chosen license category and must include a full-time schedule of authorized activities. In the case of an individual traveling under the auspices of an organization that is a person subject to U.S. jurisdiction and that sponsors such exchanges to promote people-to-people contact, the individual may rely on the entity sponsoring the travel to satisfy those recordkeeping requirements.
Travel Service Providers
As a Canadian tour operator in good standing with the Cuban Chamber of Commerce, WoWCuba can assist in arranging Cuba travel packages for travelers of any nationality.
For licensed or unlicensed U.S. travelers
Flights to Cuba from third countries such as Canada, Mexico or the Bahamas are among the most popular for unlicensed US travel to Cuba. WoWCuba can assist in arranging flights with Cubana Airlines from points outside of the U.S.A. to Cuba. Cubana flights do not require travelers to sign affadavits, just as Cuba has no rules requiring US travelers to comply with OFAC-licensed travel regulations while in the country. Airlines such as Aeromexico (with US shareholders) may also require you to sign an affidavit and therefore may not be the best choice if you’re attempting to fly to Cuba under the US radar.
Medical Insurance for unlicensed travelers
For unlicensed Cuba travelers, medical insurance is available upon arrival in Cuba from Asistur. Website: www.asistur.cu (in Spanish only). Generally speaking, for anyone under 70, insurance cost approximately $3 CUC per day. For people over 70 the charge is approximately $5 CUC per day. Asistur will require name, passport number and arrival/departure dates. Upon arrival in Cuba there is an airport office/desk where you can complete these arrangements prior to proceeding through Immigration. Alternatively, in Old Havana, their office is located at Paseo del Prado #254.
For licensed U.S. travelers only
If purchasing your flight services direct from the USA to Cuba from a U.S. travel service provider, signing an affidavit attesting to the fact that you will be engaging in licensed travel (if under a Specific License, then accompanied by that license; if General then simply stating your travel plans) will allow the airline/travel service provider to sell you an airline ticket for travel directly to Cuba.
Medical Insurance for licensed travelers
US Insurance Companies offer their global health, life or travel insurance policy coverage to licensed US travelers to Cuba. They require travelers to sign an affidavit indicating their Cuba travel license category in order to purchase the service.
For Cuban Customs information in English, please visit Aduana General de la Republica de Cuba. US Customs Import Limitations for purchases from Cuba: Authorized U.S. travelers to Cuba can import up to $400 worth of goods acquired in Cuba for personal use. Alcohol or tobacco products have a $100 limit.
US citizens traveling to Cuba for tourism purposes qualify for a 30-day tourist visa, extendable locally in Cuba with Immigration for another 30 days (with presentation of corresponding stamps purchased from the bank in Cuba). Some airlines and charter companies include the tourist visas in ticket prices; in other cases they are available for $15-20 at the departure airport. If you arrive in Cuba without one, you will have to purchase your visa from Cuban Immigration for $25. If seeking a business, press or student visa, you should contact the nearest Cuban Consulate or the Cuban Embassy in Washington as far in advance of planned travel as possible for details.
Although authorized US Travelers to Cuba will now be allowed to use U.S. credit and debit cards in Cuba, US banks haven’t yet made that possible. We wouldn’t recommend that you use either in Cuba if you’re not undertaking travel in one of the authorized license categories and aren’t 100% certain that your trip content qualifies for authorized travel. While we hope that the debit card system will eventually function with North American Interact cards, that system is not operational at this time. American Express Travelers cheques are reportedly able to be cashed at the BFI (Banco Financiero Internacional) in Havana. We offer an emergency cash advance service to our clients in Havana by processing your U.S. credit card in Canada. Contact Kristen in our Havana office if required. View our CUC Information page for further details.