For more than 50 years, the relationship between the countries of Cuba and the United States was strained and marked by embargoes. This stems from the taxes on United States imports Fidel Castro imposed when he took over the role as President of Cuba on January 1, 1959. Even before then, though, no American president had visited Cuba since 1928 when Calvin Coolidge ventured to the island country. This will most likely make any US citizen apprehensive to travel to Cuba.
US Citizen Travel to Cuba: Things to Know Before You Go
CUBA, March 20,2016.- President of the United States of America Barack H.Obama arrived in Cuba on an official visit. pic.twitter.com/B0UpD1agUi
— EMBACUBA CHIPRE (@embacubachipre) March 21, 2016
On March 20, 2016, the President of the United States at the time, Barack Obama, and his family were welcomed by the Cuban government. During a press conference with the new president of Cuba, Raul Castro, Obama declared an end to the embargo between the countries. Though the official end date of the embargo hasn’t been released — Congress must act on that ruling but hasn’t done so yet — the historic meeting between the leaders of the two countries has paved the way for easier travel for US citizen travel to Cuba.
Is Traveling to Cuba Possible for Americans?
The short answer to this question is: yes. United States citizens can travel to Cuba, but there are strict regulations governing that travel. Though the Cuban-United States relationship was restored as of December 2014, Americans can still travel to the island nation only after falling within one of 12 categories.
At that time, the Obama administration loosened some restrictions which allowed Americans to travel independently to Cuba. In order to do so, however, the trip must be educational in nature. Americans traveling under this category must complete a form indicating this is the purpose of their trip, so Cuba travel packages are a bit hazy at this point.
Solo Trips to Cuba
As an American, Cuba educational travel reasons used to mean you had to contact a tour company in order to book a trip. This required an established cultural itinerary with an average cost between $2,000 and $3,500 for each person.
Because traveling to Cuba as a tourist is still technically outlawed, you’ll have to plan your solo trip carefully in order to meet the requirements for an educational journey. This means you’ll need to meet Cuban people as they engage in their daily activities such as those undertaken at community centers or schools.
While traveling to Cuba as a soloist can be more affordable, doing so also places the responsibility of meeting the requirements for an educational visit squarely on you. In addition to booking your own hotel, you’ll also need to find local Cuban citizens to interact with. This can be challenging for Americans traveling to the country.
12 Categories of Travel to Cuba
— Lisa Remillard (@LisaRemillard) July 3, 2015
In addition to the educational option outlined above, there are 11 other categories allowing American citizens to travel to Cuba without having to obtain prior permission from the United States Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC). You’ll notice that tourism is conspicuously missing from the list below:
1. Official business on behalf of the United States, as well as other foreign governments and some intergovernmental agencies
2. Professional meetings and/or research
3. Educational, research or private foundation activities
4. In order to transmit, import or export information or informational materials
5. Humanitarian projects
6. Journalistic projects
7. Activities related to religion
8. Support for Cuban citizens
9. Exhibitions, competitions, performances, workshops, clinics and the like
10. Export transactions though these must be vetted against the current guidelines and regulations in order to be approved
11. Family visits
It’s important to note if you were born in Cuba but are now a United States citizen, the Cuban government will treat you as if you are a Cuban citizen. This can include being subjected to obligations and restrictions. Additionally, you’ll need to use a Cuban passport as travel requirements to Cuba to enter and depart the country.
Along with the ways Americans can travel to Cuba, you can now also bring $400 worth of Cuban goods back to the States with you. Up to $100 of that can be tobacco and alcohol products.
Looking for more travel tips? Watch this video from Gayle Blackie and find out the things you need to know before you travel to Cuba!
Flights to Cuba are now easier and more affordable. Several carriers, including JetBlue and American Airlines, offer daily flights to Cuba from Miami. These flights average less than $300 which is a sharp decrease from the $700 a flight with travel constraints will cost.
Have you ever been to Cuba? Share us your thoughts and experiences in the comments below!