Dream of visiting Old Havana and riding in a car from the 1950’s? We do too. Have no fear if you’re planning on going to Cuba from the USA – you can still go. This is what you need to know and do to travel to Cuba under the new Trump Cuba travel policy.
U.S.-Cuba Policy Backstory
In December 2014 President Raúl Castro and President Barack Obama negotiated a deal to ease sanctions on American travel to Cuba. For the first time in 50 years the US embassy in Havana reopened and travelers could legally book their Cuba trips on their own. In June of 2017, Trump announced changes that will require U.S. citizens to follow stricter guidelines when planning and embarking on travel to Cuba.
The new Trump regulations are officially in effect, however, if you’re planning on going to Cuba, make sure you know how to legally go about it.
Trump Cuba Travel Policy – What Are the Changes?
Despite much media fanfare, the policy changes are rather minimal. Many things remain in place under Trump’s policy as it had been under Obama. The policy is more of a reinstatement of the old one than a harsh new one. So, if you’re asking “can I still travel to Cuba?”, the answer is yes.
What you need to know is that instead of creating your own itinerary, you need to book through a U.S. based, licensed tour group that is established for educational purposes and has a guide. For the average traveler this is a small change that requires you to make sure you choose a compliant tour company, like the Educational Adventures Company.
Also, this means that for the cost-savvy traveler you cannot book accommodations and experiences exclusively with Airbnb unless it’s organized by the U.S. based tour operator.
Why Did Trump Change Travel to Cuba?
There are two main reasons for the change. The first being that the Trump Administration is trying to mitigate American tourist dollars from strengthening Cuba’s military, intelligence bureaucracy, and security. This is because many tours and hotels are military-owned. Instead he wants the Cuban people to be empowered since tourism money would hopefully then be funneled into small-scale private businesses.
The second stated reason is to engender a regime change. Trump had said that he would not ease sanctions “until all political prisoners are freed, freedoms of assembly and expression are respected, all political parties are legalized, and free and internationally supervised elections are scheduled.”
Travel to Cuba Restrictions
There are 12 categories that travelers can qualify under to be able to travel to Cuba. Regular tourists should say that they’re under the people-to-people exchange. That entails the below travel to Cuba criteria.
- Travel under the people-to-people exchange travel category
These are the same rules as what President Obama had. Again, the main difference is that in addition to this it has to be booked through a U.S. based tour company and not on your own. This helps ensure that your trip will…
“enhance contact with the Cuban people, support civil society in Cuba, or promote the Cuban people’s independence from Cuban authorities, and that will result in meaningful interaction between traveler and individuals in Cuba.”
- Keep records of the itinerary of your trip for at least 5 years
It’s also required that your travel be documented under the Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) at the Treasury Department. This is what the tour companies will do for you, which makes things easier. This rule was in place under Obama, but audits of this policy are to be taken more seriously under the Trump administration.
- Obtain a Cuban Tourist Card
This card costs between $50-$100 and can be purchased through the tour operator. You can also purchase one at the airport.
Tips for Choosing the Right, Legal Tour Company
When choosing the right tour company to book for Cuba, you should find the answers to the following questions:
- Does an employee of the tour keep the daily travel journal for the OFAC?
A good question to ask is if the company is sending an employee to keep the daily journal of the trip for you that is then sent to the OFAC. This is what the regulations call the “people-to-people” interactions. If they do, you’re covered.
- Did they operate trips under a P2P license before Obama’s changes?
Trump’s updates would be familiar for companies that have already worked under a P2P. This isn’t a requirement for a viable tour company but something to keep in mind.
- Does the tour company have any bookings with military-owned businesses?
If it does, that’s risky. There are plenty of companies and hotels not operated by the military that the tour group can book with. If you find out that there are parts of the tour that is booked (even with a tour group) under anything that the Cuban military owns, that may be prohibited in the future. For reference, here is the list of restricted entities.
For now, all current bookings will be maintained as long as they were in place before the new regulations. But it’s a risk if you don’t change your travel plans or inquire about this with the tour company.
- How long do they keep traveler daily journals (traveler files) on record for?
Many tour companies keep them for 5 years, which is a good safety measure. That way they will be prepared to show them to the U.S. government if an audit is ever requested of them.
What If I Already Booked My Trip & Have No Tour Company?
You can still go if it was booked before the new regulations were announced on June 16, 2017. Travel is also permissible for individuals as long as it falls under the following 12 categories of authorized travel to Cuba:
- Humanitarian trip
- Government business
- Professional research and professional meetings
- Journalistic activity
- Family visits
- Educational purposes
- Religious activities
- Support for the Cuban people
- Public performances, clinics, workshops, athletic and other competitions, and exhibitions
- Activities of private foundations or research or educational institutes
- Exportation, importation, or transmission of information or information materials
- Certain export transactions that may be considered for authorization under existing regulations and guidelines.
Can I Still Travel to Cuba by Airline or Cruise Ship?
Yes. You can still travel to Cuba using regular US-based commercial flights or US-based cruises.
Can I Bring Back Cuban Cigars and Rum?
Yes. The limit is 100 cigars with no more than $800 worth of rum and cigars combined (without tax).
Cuba is a beautiful, historically rich country. It’s waiting for you. And the Educational Adventures Company is ready to take you there. The question is, what are you waiting for?