How US Residents Can Travel to Cuba

The loosening of travel restrictions to Cuba has made big headlines in the United States, but what does it mean? Who can go to Cuba and how? Here’s how Americans can travel to Cuba legally.

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Straight-up tourism to Cuba is still illegal for US citizens, and is punishable with some harshly stiff penalties: Up to 10 years in prison and $250 thousand in individual fines. So if you want your trip to be all about sipping mojitos on the beach, you may want to reconsider. In order to legally travel to Cuba you need to fall into one of the following 12 categories.

  • Family visit
  • Official government business
  • Journalistic activity
  • Professional research and 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 for educational institutions
  • Exportation, importation or transmission of information or informational materials
  • Authorized export transactions

For a detailed, legalese-style definition of what each category means, check out the US Department of Treasury FAQs on Cuba.

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People-to-People Travel in Cuba

If you don't obviously fit into one of those categories, don't worry - you can still make the cut with a "people-to-people" trip under the educational activities category. While a bit hazy and undefined, a people-to-people trip means you're interacting directly with Cubans via a school or community group or arts organization.

If you don't speak Spanish or don't have any local connections, though, that can be a tall order. And the US government is going to expect you to keep a record of who you met with - as well as itineraries, receipts, tickets stubs and the like - for five years. You'll be asked to indicate which category you fall into during your purchase path for a ticket, and just know when you tick that box, that's a legal affidavit you've just signed.

Joining up with a small tour group operated by a Cuba travel specialist is going to be the easiest route for most people. These tour operators will assist in getting you the required visa, a flight, and setting up organized interactions that fit the government bill, while also allowing you some free time to explore.

It should also be noted that these relaxed travel regulations are thanks to an executive order signed by President Obama. A stroke of the pen from President Trump could undo them.

Flights and Cruises to Cuba

In August 2016, JetBlue became the first US airline in decades to open a commercial route to Cuba. They've been followed by American, United, Delta, Southwest and others. Cruises from Florida are also available, with people-to-people cultural exchanges built into the itineraries.

Going to Cuba?

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