How to Travel to Cuba for Americans
The easiest way to travel to Cuba to marrying your fiance(e) is to book a package tour to Cuba. These tours fall under the People to People Exchanges category of permitted travel to Cuba. Travel to Cuba still hasn’t been completely liberalized, so you must still meet one of the Treasury Department’s travel categories in order to legally travel there. There are 12 categories in all. The categories are managed by the Treasury Department because they are the ones in charge of the trade sanctions still imposed on Cuba.
People to People Exchange Tours
People to People exchanges are regulated by the Office of Foreign Assets Control (aka OFAC). In order for a tour (or a trip you plan yourself) to be considered in this category, you will have to engage in some non-tourist activities, particularly meeting individual Cubans. OFAC hasn’t explained the restrictions in detail, but you can read this Washington Post interview with one tour operator to understand more about what constitutes a People to People Exchange. If you google “People to People Cuba” you will see lots of operators offering tours and some volunteer organizations as well. We do not endorse any particular organization.
The 12 Categories of Legal Travel to Cuba
Note that in many of these categories, you are expected do not have an excessive amount of leisure and tourism. How the government keeps track of your leisure is anyone’s guess.
- Family visits: Re-uniting Cuban-Americans with their family member who are still on the island or who are temporarily visiting. You must be a close relative of someone living in Cuba (or someone who is temporarily in Cuba under any of the below other authorized categories). “Close Relative” means no more than 3 generations removed by blood, marriage, or adoption from the person in Cuba you are visiting, or from a common ancestor. Most Cuban-Americans should fall into this category.
- Official US Government business: US Government Officials can travel to Cuba when their travel is sanctioned by the federal government.
- Journalistic Activity: You can be a full-time journalist, supporting broadcast & technical personnel, or a freelance journalist. Your “free time or recreation in excess of that consistent with a full time schedule,” whatever that means. So it’s possible you could get into trouble with the Treasury Department if you travel to Cuba, do a little bit of travel writing, and spend the rest of the time on the beach.
- Professional Research: Whether or not you qualify for this category will depend on your profession and area of expertise. The research must actually need to take place in Cuba. This category does include conferences, but there is a big exception for conferences about tourism to Cuba. You cannot attend a Cuban tourism conference at the moment.
- Educational Activities: This category is for those visiting Cuba for academic exchanges (for students, including high school students, or visiting academics) and those who perform non-commercial research (i.e. research for a non-profit organization).
- People-to-People Exchanges: This is the category most Americans use to travel to Cuba. Officially it falls under Educational Activities category, but it involves exchanges on an individual level or in groups, but sponsored and overseen by a third-party organization (such as a tour operator). These trips are non-academic and promote “people to people contact.” Global volunteers is a good example of an organization that has been conducting People-to-People Exchanges since 1999. The people-to-people program started in 1999, was suspended in 2003, and re-started in 2011. There is one condition: you must not engage in activities with any “prohibited official” of the government, or any “prohibited official” of the Cuban communist party.But that should never be a problem as you are unlikely to interact with government officials once through customs. Tour agencies offer package tours to see Cuba under this sub-category. It’s likely your best bet to travel to the island. Google People-to-People Cuba for operators.
- Religious Activities: You must be part of a US-based religious organization and be travelling to Cuba for a religious program of activities. You cannot travel to Cuba under this category as an individual pilgrim. As with most of the other categories, your free time must not be “consistent” with a full-time schedule of religious activity.
- Public performances, clinics, workshops, athletic and other competitions, and exhibitions: This category is for musicians, teachers and athletes, primarily.
- Support for the Cuban people: This category is primarily for non-governmental organizations (NGOs) who are actively promoting democracy and civil society in Cuba.
- Humanitarian Groups: Here are some possible reasons to travel to Cuba under this category:
- Medical relief projects
- Disaster relief projects
- Construction of needed infrastructure
- Historical Preservation projects
- Environmental projects
- Rural development
Again, there are supposed restrictions to your free time.
- Activities of Private Foundations or Research or Educational Institutes: These groups must have an “established interest in international relations” and be in Cuba to collect data or do further research for non-commercial purposes. Free time must be consistent with a full-time schedule.
- Exportation, Importation, or Transmission of Information or Informational Materials: Confusing, we know. Here’s the actual regulation:
(a) Transactions relating to the creation, dissemination, artistic or other substantive alteration, or enhancement of informational materials are authorized, including employment of Cuban nationals and remittance of royalties or other payments in connection with such transactions. This section authorizes marketing related to the dissemination of such informational materials but does not authorize other marketing or business consulting services.
(b) General license.
(1) The travel-related transactions set forth in § 515.560(c) and such additional transactions as are directly incident to the exportation, importation, or transmission of information or informational materials as defined in § 515.332 are authorized, provided that the traveler’s schedule of activities does not include free time or recreation in excess of that consistent with a full-time schedule.
(2) The travel-related transactions set forth in § 515.560(c) and such additional transactions as are directly incident to professional media or artistic productions of information or informational materials for exportation, importation, or transmission, including the filming or production of media programs (such as movies and television programs), the recording of music, and the creation of artworks in Cuba, are authorized, provided that the traveler is regularly employed in or has demonstrated professional experience in a field relevant to such professional media or artistic productions, and that the traveler’s schedule of activities does not include free time or recreation in excess of that consistent with a full-time schedule.
(c) Specific licenses. Specific licenses may be issued on a case-by-case basis authorizing the travel-related transactions set forth in § 515.560(c) and such other transactions as are related to information and informational materials that do not qualify for the general license under paragraph (b) of this section.
- Certain Export Transactions: This last category is for the businesses that are actually allowed to export goods from Cuba.
As you can see, People to People is your best bet for the time being.
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