Legal Travel to Cuba for US Citizens
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.
With few exceptions (see the FAQs below), travel to Cuba is off the table for US citizens. This is disappointing, and we hope that the new sanctions will be reconsidered, but at this point, travelers should pursue alternatives.
Some of our favorite alternatives to Cuba include:
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 that most or all of the tours we’ve listed here will no longer be available.
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.
The people-to-people category was the only legal type of tourism to Cuba, so these new rules have removed the only Cuba vacation option for US citizens.
Americans’ legal options for travel to Cuba are now extremely limited. Travel for the purposes of tourism is essentially banned.
Exceptions to the travel ban are 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. You don’t want to be found in violation of the law after the fact!
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.
Travel to Cuba can be complex–now even more so with the tightening of rules under Trump. But the good news is that it’s still 100% legal for US citizens to travel to Cuba as long as they’re with an authorized tour company ! Here’s the best tours to Cuba in 2019.
Best Cuba Tours for US Citizens Quick Comparison Chart
|Tour||Type of Tour||Tours Offered|
|Budget to Mid-Range||20|
National Geographic Expeditions
Abercrombie & Kent
Tour Radar draws from a wide variety of tour operators, so they offer an impressive number of tours to Cuba!
Because Tour Radar does pull from so many tour companies, many of which market internationally, not all of the Cuba tours they have listed are legal for US citizens. However, the links above and below lead specifically to Tour Radar’s “Cuba for US Citizens” tours, which makes it easy to find the tours approved by the US Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC).
Tour Radar is our top pick, because you can compare tours from a number of companies and read honest customer reviews of each tour.
Intrepid Travel currently offers just one OFAC authorized people-to-people tour to Cuba; Hola Cuba, a nine day tour that takes you to four Cuban cities, and offers a nice overview of the country. It’s reasonably priced for the length of the trip, and includes most meals, but doesn’t include flights.
STA is a student focused travel agency, though anyone is welcome to book with them. The focus on students means that they’re price conscious and great at finding deals for students.
They currently offer three different people-to-people tours to Cuba that are approved by OFAC (scroll down on the STA Travel page to see the tours offered), at pretty fantastic prices given that flights and many meals are included! If you’re part of STA’s college age demographic, or just don’t mind traveling with a younger group, there’s good deals to be had here.
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 vintage shopping and dancing at a cultural center known for young DJs.
Apple Vacations offers all-inclusive trips to Cuba authorized by OFAC as people-to-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, and you can even book a cruise to Cuba departing from Montego Bay, Jamaica!
National Geographic Expeditions
National Geographic’s Cuba tours offer what you’d expect from the prestigious magazine, diving deep into local culture with the insight of guides who are experts in the area. They’re on the pricier end, but for those looking for a more intellectual approach to Cuba, it’s money well spent.
Abercrombie & Kent
Another option on the high end, but with an excellent reputation, Abercrombie and Kent offer luxury tours to Cuba, including a Cuba by Land and Sea yacht cruise. As with the other tour providers listed here, they have an OFAC license to offer people-to-people educational tours of Cuba.