In early December 2014, President Obama laid out the new rules of engagement with Cuba, and a plan to reestablish full diplomatic relations after more than fifty years of embargo and travel restrictions.

Havana or Bust: What the New Relationship with Cuba Means for Travel for Americans

Intrepid American tourists have been finding work-arounds to the travel restrictions for years (Canada or Mexico being the typical gateways to the little island country), but now that travel is no longer verboten, Cuba can expect to see more American visitors. CheapAir has answers to some of the most important questions about travel to our neighbor 90 miles to the south.

1. Which U.S. airlines will be offering flights for purchase and when do tickets go on sale?
At the moment, there are still strict guidelines in place that indicate what kind of travelers are authorized and leisure travel/tourism is not a permitted reason. There are 12 categories that can assure you don’t break the law – these categories include official government business in Cuba, visiting family in the country or if you are participating in charity/NGO work with an authorized organization. If you qualify for travel, CheapAir is now the only online travel agency booking direct flights to Cuban destinations from American gateways via charter flights operated by U.S. airlines.

2. Can I buy Cuban cigars or other exports?
The answer here is an emphatic yes! The new guidelines allow Americans to import $400 of Cuban goods with up to $100 of that allowance dedicated to a combination of cigars and alcohol. That’s great news for cigar aficionados who until now had to settle for daydreams of Cohiba cigars and authentic Mojitos made with premium Cuban rum.

3. Can Cuba’s tourism infrastructure support the expected increase of visitors from the United States?
There are a number of comfortable and well appointed hotels in Cuba, but there is a limited number of rooms, and some amenities (WiFi for example) are not as widely available. There are plenty of taxis in Havana and, while you’ll pay more than a local, they are generally safe and the drivers courteous. More broadly speaking, Cuba doesn’t yet have the capacity to handle a large influx of U.S. travelers but there is likely to be a significant amount of development in the coming years.

4. Is it safe for me and my family to travel to Cuba?
Cuba is an extremely safe place to travel today. As the rules continue to relax and as Americans will be allowed to exchange dollars on the ground, this relative safety from theft might begin to change. A good rule of thumb, wherever you’re traveling, is to exercise caution and keep your documents and money in a safe place. Many hotels in Cuba have basic, centrally located safes for valuables, and some higher end hotels have room safes.

A Fact Sheet that outlines a roadmap for the reestablishment of diplomatic relations in a bit more detail was issued by the White House. Over the course of the next few months, we will share more travel advice and information about booking your holiday to Cuba. Happy travels!

One Comment

  1. Thanks for this summary,but here are a few clarifications{

    1) The principal obstacle to scheduled flights is that reciprocity for Cuba’s airline is not possible as long as its equipment is vulnerable to seizure in satisfaction of sometimes bizarre but successful civil suits. That will end if Cuba is taken off the State Sponsor of Terrorism list, as the President seems to intend.

    2) One of the categories of travel that will receive a general license is “educational activities” which encompasses people to people. That means that any American will have the same right as Cuban Americans to freely visit Cuba without application to OFAC as long as they are going for the purpose of engagement with the Cuban people and to learn about its history and culture. The only travel off limits is “tourism”, e.g. all inclusive sun and sand holidays.

    This is how OFAC defined a general license in its last guidelines revised April 19, 2011:

    “General licenses constitute blanket authorization for those transactions set forth in the relevant regulation. No further permission from OFAC is required to engage in transactions covered by a general license.”

    3) International standard Cuban hotels usually have in room safes, some complementary, some for an additional fee. In 25 trips, the only time I experienced in room theft was when I left money visible on a desk.

    4) The general license will mean that all Americans have the option of using the existing people to people tour groups or going on their own, with their family or with friends. They can book into a range of hotels or use private bed and breakfasts (casas particulares), use public transportation or rent cars. A week in Cuba could cost $1500 rather than $3000 to $5000.

    All of this depends on how much the Obama Administration is able to implement its policy goals into rule making by the Office of Foreign Assets Control, which, like every bureaucracy, will be reluctant to diminish its power.

    John McAuliff
    Fund for Reconciliation and Development

Post a Comment