Legal Travel to Cuba for US Citizens Under “Support for the Cuban People”
UPDATE: As of June 5th, 2019, the Trump administration has drastically limited legal travel options to Cuba for US citizens. The “people-to-people” educational travel that most Cuba tour providers operated under is no longer legal. Travelers who had already booked their travel prior to June 5th will be permitted to complete their travel plans, but no new travel may be booked.
However, there are exceptions (see the FAQs below for full details), the most notable of which is traveling under “Support for the Cuban People.” Essentially, this means that some small group tours which deal directly with small businesses in Cuba are compliant with US law.
Intrepid Travel currently offers one authorized “Support for the Cuban People” tour to Cuba; Hola Cuba, a nine day tour that takes you to four Cuban cities, and offers a fantastic overview of the country. It’s reasonably priced for the length of the trip, and includes most meals, but doesn’t include flights.
El Camino Travel
Newcomer El Camino travel is another OFAC authorized operator, which offers small group tours to Cuba geared towards young, hip travelers at a reasonable price. They offer just one itinerary, a five day trip to Havana that includes a great mix of cultural activities, food and fun.
Apple Vacations offers all-inclusive trips to Cuba authorized by OFAC as “Support for the Cuban People” travel. The prices are reasonable when you consider that flights and most meals are included. There’s a nice variety of activities and locations visited on the tours. Check out their 4 Day Havana Tour, or their 7 Day Tour of Camguey, Trinidad and Havana.
Frequently Asked Questions About Traveling to Cuba in 2019
Can Americans still travel to Cuba? What changed with President Trump’s tightening of regulations in June 2019?
The Trump administration’s changes to Cuba sanctions on June 5th, 2019 removed the authorization for “people-to-people educational travel.” This category was what nearly every tour group operated under, meaning at least for now, options are more limited.
In addition, visits via cruise ship, private ships like yachts, and private aircraft are no longer permitted.
Travelers who have already booked and paid for at least part (i.e. airfare or tour fees) of a Cuba trip prior to June 5th, 2019 will still be permitted to complete their travel. However, no future people-to-people travel arrangements can be made.
However, there is still an avenue for Americans to travel to Cuba, under the provision for “Support for the Cuban People.” See more details below.
Americans’ legal options for travel to Cuba are now a little more limited. Whereas previously tour groups had operated under “people-to-people” cultural travel, now tours must meet stricter standards.
Travel with tour groups, or on your own, is legal under the provision for “Support for the Cuban People.” Essentially, this means that you must be dealing directly with small businesses when traveling in Cuba, and cannot patronize any of the state-run hotels or entities.
In order to qualify for “Support for the Cuban People,” your itinerary must be a full schedule of activities that “enhance contact with the Cuban people, support civil society in Cuba, or promote the Cuban people’s independence from Cuban authorities and that result in meaningful interactions with individuals in Cuba.”
Exceptions to the travel ban are also made for 12 general license categories of travel, including visiting close relatives, journalism (so long as your schedule doesn’t include excessive free time for recreation!), religious activities, athletics, clinics and workshops, and for professional research and meetings. There are also exceptions for certain educational activities, but the scope is much tighter than the previous people-to-people educational category of travel. It appears that you’ll need to be affiliated with a US academic institution to take advantage of this allowance.
This is where the new Cuba travel rules for US citizens get interesting!
The 12 general license categories of approved travel to Cuba do not require an application or prior approval. It seems that individuals and institutions are expected to self-determine whether their travel fits into one of the categories and simply proceed with travel arrangements if so. If your travel purpose and schedule fit into one of the 12 general license categories, no application or pre-approval is necessary.
See this FAQ document for more detailed descriptions of each category. Travelers will also need to obtain a Cuban visa, and can find more details here.
Airlines may still fly to Cuba, and while they are required to keep records of passengers, they will not need to take any measures to verify eligibility to travel.
We would obviously caution against using the general license as a free-for-all to book a vacation to Cuba. You’re required to keep records of your travel to Cuba for 5 years, and I would expect that groups and individuals traveling to Cuba will be scrutinized. While you can book a trip to Cuba on your own, you’ll need to do careful research, and plan an itinerary that satisfies the requirements for the “Support for the Cuban People Provision.”
Where can I get more info on the regulations surrounding travel to Cuba for US citizens?
At the time of publishing, this document regarding impact of the June 5th Cuba sanctions changes by President Trump is the most recent information.
Check the US Department of Treasury’s Cuba Sanctions page for updated information as it becomes available.
Not seeing a tour you like? Some of our favorite alternatives to Cuba include: