Changes to Cuba Travel for U.S. Citizens

With all of the changes concerning travel to Cuba we at CheapAir.com wanted to clear up the confusion by going directly to our expert source, Tony Rubenstein, owner of Havana VIP one of the leading tour operators in Cuba.

havana cuba

CheapAir: Hi Tony, how have the new Trump administration regulations affected Havana VIP?

Tony Rubenstein: The new regulations haven’t affected the way we do our trips at all. But the confusion and misinformation have affected us a lot. People are freaked-out and don’t know if they can still travel to Cuba legally. So, let me say first-off, up-front in bold and italics so there’s no ambiguity: Yes, independent travel to Cuba is still allowed for US persons under the new Trump regs.

CheapAir: OK, but there’s this announcement that individual people-to-people travel is no longer allowed.

TR: That’s correct. But there are 11 other categories of for legal travel to Cuba, and in my opinion one of those categories, Support for the Cuban People, specifically includes allows independent individual travel to Cuba.

CheapAir: In your opinion…

TR: You’re right. I’m not a lawyer, and everything I say here is just my opinion. But if you don’t want to take my opinion, how about the opinion of Marco Rubio, who many think is the real force behind all of this.

Rubio on Cuba travel

CheapAir: And what do the new regulations say?

TR: Everyone can read the new FAQs for themselves. Number 24 on page seven says (I added the emphasis in bold so you don’t miss it:

“This general license authorizes, subject to conditions, travel-related transactions and other transactions that are intended to provide support for the Cuban people, which include activities of recognized human rights organizations; independent organizations designed to promote a rapid, peaceful transition to democracy; and individuals and non-governmental organizations that promote independent activity intended to strengthen civil society in Cuba. In accordance with the NSPM, OFAC is amending this general license to require that each traveler utilizing this authorization engage in a full-time 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.”

Then if you go over to the just-published Fact Sheet, on page three they spell out what constitutes “Support for the Cuban People”:

Support for the Cuban People Travel

“In accordance with the NSPM, OFAC is requiring that each traveler under this travel category engage in a full-time schedule of activities that result in meaningful interaction with individuals in Cuba. Such activities must also enhance contact with the Cuban people, support civil society in Cuba, or promote the Cuban people’s independence from Cuban authorities. Renting a room in a private Cuban residence (casa particular), eating at privately owned Cuban restaurants (paladares), and shopping at privately owned stores run by self-employed Cubans (cuentapropistas) are examples of authorized activities; however, in order to meet the requirement of a full-time schedule, a traveler must engage in additional authorized Support for the Cuban People activities.”

CheapAir: OK that’s close to a reader question we got: “While individual people-to-people travel is no longer sanctioned, it seems like I could still travel to Cuba under the license ‘Support for the Cuban People.’ If I am careful to put together a full schedule of activities, is it still possible to do this independently?”

TR: It matters what you mean by “independent”. If you mean not with a tour group of strangers on a bus, but just you, your family and friends, then everything we do at Havana VIP is independent travel to Cuba.

If independent means do-it-yourself, I wouldn’t recommend it, but mostly because I don’t recommend DIY travel to Cuba generally. It took us years to create all the experiences we offer at Havana VIP like the cooking classes and the art studio tours, and figure out the different destinations where we hire the best guides and drivers, and everything that goes into producing a great trip. The do-it-yourselfer is never going to be able to create a trip with that kind of content. Also, there’s technical compliance that you’re probably not going to know to do–things like making sure none of the companies you come in contact with are on the prohibited list, getting receipts for everything on your full-time itinerary and saving it all for five years. If someone thinks they can create a trip that has all the content and complies with U.S. regulations, I guess they could.

Travelers interested in the “support of the Cuban people” license should check out this post that’ll walk you through the steps to going it alone.

CheapAir: There’s a lot of confusion about when the “new rules” for Cuban travel will be implemented. A lot of our customers want to know, “What if I bought my airline ticket in April of this year? What if I bought it in August?” Are these new rules effective immediately?

TR: They answer that question specifically on page two, number six of the FAQs. The short answer is the new rules go into effect from now (November 8, 2017) going forward. If you already bought your ticket or paid for lodgings on Airbnb, you’re fine.

CheapAir: Another question we’ve been getting relates to the ban on using certain businesses and hotels while in Cuba. Where should travelers stay if they can’t stay in hotels?

TR: We’ve never recommended the hotels in Cuba. They’re very expensive and the quality is not up to the standard most U.S. travelers expect for those kind of prices. We use our own network of licensed private lodgings called casa particulares in Cuba, and Senator Marco Rubio recommends Airbnb.

CheapAir: Here’s another we’re getting a lot. I was planning a cruise that has a stop in Havana. Is this allowed under the new regulations?

TR: Cruise ships are absolutely allowed. Try a harder question…

CheapAir: OK, how about: “I am an American journalist/academic/doctor coming to Cuba on official business. My partner/wife/mother is a green card holder. Can he or she come along under my professional license (they will be helping me in my work in an unofficial capacity)?”

TR: Wow sorry I challenged you! Way to stump the DJ. OK, I’m going to say… no. Not because of the green card; after all a permanent resident of the U.S. has to follow the rules, but in the question you said “unofficial capacity”. Unofficial sounds not official which seems like a no to me.

CheapAir: Here’s another one we’re getting a lot: “I am a German citizen living in Canada but will be coming to Miami later this year on business. I wanted to travel to Cuba for a vacation from Miami. Do I have to select a license and keep to the parameters of that license while in Cuba even if I will just be “passing through” the Miami airport on my way home?”

TR: My opinion on this one is yes, you have to select a category and follow the rules because you’ll be under U.S. jurisdiction. In today’s FAQ they talk a little bit about this in question 26 on page nine. I know U.S. airlines will make you fill-out the OFAC paperwork and that means you have to pick a category.

CheapAir: Tony, thanks so much for taking the time to clear this all up.

TR: My pleasure. Thank you guys for putting this out so everyone can be better informed. And feel free to keep sending me questions. Also, people can always contact me via HavanaVIPtours.net. We did a blog post today that might answer some questions too.

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