- Unlicensed Travel – Our Experience and Opinion
- Licensed Travel
- Travel Service Providers
- For All U.S. Travelers to Cuba
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 our clients who travel from the USA 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. They assume a small risk of a potential fine in doing so if they are ever investigated, but most have told us that they want to see Cuba now on their own terms, not as part of a set, expensive or limited group itinerary that may or may not meet their specific interests or travel goals. Bicycle tours in Cuba are not currently a category of travel licensable by OFAC.
Unlicensed vs. Licensed Travel – Our Experience and Opinion
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 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 anyone having difficulties in the past few years and with the recent thaw in diplomatic relations between the two countries, 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. As of March 15, 2016, the people-to-people educational license category restrictions were loosened to permit individual travelers to undertake independent people to people travel to Cuba. On June 16, 2017 Trump announced that the individual “people to people” category would be phased out and that new rules would begin to be drafted within 30 days, with no timeline for completion announced to date.
FAQ’s on Cuba travel categories (pay special attention to II. Travel, #s 11 & 13)
Update June 16, 2017: FAQ’s on Trump’s announcement
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.
Categories & Regulations
The current categories of US-authorized travel are:
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 (people to people trips fall under this category)
6. religious activities
7. public performances
8. clinics, workshops, athletic and other competitions, and exhibitions
9. support for the Cuban people
10. humanitarian projects
11. activities of private foundations or research or educational institutes
12. exportation, importation, or transmission of information or information materials; and certain authorized export transactions
It is the traveler’s responsibility to demonstrate that his/her proposed itinerary/activities in Cuba meet the application criteria set forth in the OFAC Guidelines.
Travel Service Providers
As a Canadian tour operator in good standing with the Cuban Chamber of Commerce, we can assist in arranging your Cuba travel packages for travelers of any nationality. Providing the content of the program you register for matches the license for which you are applying (see links in Categories & Regulations of Licensed Travel above for details), travel service providers based outside of the USA are perfectly acceptable to assist in making your travel arrangements in Cuba. From the OFAC guidelines: “Previously, the general license authorizing educational travel required such trips to take place under the auspices of an organization that was subject to U.S. jurisdiction and required all travelers to be accompanied by a representative of the sponsoring organization. This change is intended to make authorized educational travel to Cuba more accessible and less expensive for U.S. citizens, and will increase opportunities for direct engagement between Cubans and Americans.” It is the traveler’s responsibility to maintain records of the full schedule of authorized people to people activities he/she undertakes while traveling as an individual in Cuba.
Note: On June 16, 2017 Trump announced that the individual “people to people” category would be phased out and that new rules would begin to be drafted within 30 days, with no timeline for completion announced to date. The current regulations including the (individual people to people category) remain in place until such a time as new rules are released.
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. Note that the option for direct air travel from the USA to Cuba is currently available only for authorized American or Cuban-American travelers.
For licensed or unlicensed U.S. travelers
Flights to Cuba from third countries (such as Canada, Mexico or Bahamas) with Cubana Airlines are often less expensive and requires no affidavit from suppliers. WoWCuba can assist in arranging your flights Cubana Airlines from points outside of the U.S.A. to Cuba.
For All U.S. Travelers to Cuba
US Insurance Companies offer their global health, life or travel insurance policy coverage to licensed US travelers to Cuba. For unlicensed Cuba travelers, medical insurance is also 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 Cuban Customs information in English, please visit Aduana General de la Republic 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.