On June 16, 2017 the United States announced changes to the Cuba sanctions program that could impact some travel to Cuba. That may sound alarming to you if you’ve been planning a trip. Here’s the good news – as long as you thoroughly document your travel plans and comply with the licensing requirements, a Cuba trip is still very much possible, even with the new restrictions.

cuba travel

We’ve put together a quick and easy FAQ to help you.

What licenses are available for U.S. citizens to travel to Cuba?
If you’d like to travel to Cuba, you self-select a “license” from this list to qualify your trip. The licenses are currently on the honor system. You may be asked when you return to the United States at Customs & Immigration about the nature of your travels, so you should be prepared to share documentation that supports your license and/or provide details to justify the trip. Remember, beach holidays (i.e. leisure travel) is still forbidden.

How do the new regulations affect educational, people-to-people travel?
The new restriction eliminates individual people-to-people travel, which is a subcategory of the “Educational” license. If you are traveling with an organized group, you are not impacted by this new restriction. If your plans are to DIY a Cuba trip on your own, and piece together an educational itinerary of visits to museums, schools and other cultural activities, for the moment at least, that’s not allowed.

When does this change go into effect?
Over the next few months, the U.S. regulatory body known as OFAC will issue new regulations based on the President’s June 16, 2017 directive. If you have purchased an airline ticket or booked hotels prior to the President’s announcement, all other future travel planning for that trip is “grandfathered” in and will not be affected. Basically, you can proceed with your trip as planned as long as you were already in compliance with the individual person-to-person guidelines.

Is cruise ship travel affected by the new rules?
No. If you are traveling to Cuba as part of a cruise, the new rules do not apply to your trip.

cuba travel

Will U.S. air travel to Cuba be affected by the new guidelines?
U.S. air carriers with existing flights to Cuba will not be affected. You can search for flights to Cuba on our site, www.cheapair.com. Affordable commercial flights are available from virtually anywhere in the States.

Can travelers bring back Cuban cigars, rum or other souvenirs?
Yes. There have been no changes made to the amount of goods that may be brought back from Cuba. At present, U.S. citizens do not have limits on the amounts of Cuban cigars or rum that may be brought back to the United States.

What other documents are required for Cuba travel?
The Cuban tourist card (visa) and Cuban health insurance are necessary for travel to Cuba. Most U.S. air carriers now provide for the tourist card and health insurance. If you book a charter flight, you’ll get assistance from the charter company in obtaining these two items.

Will the Cuban authorities ask for the travel license?
The travel licensure requirements are issued by the United States and were put in place because of our sanctions against the Cuban government. The Cuban government does not have any travel restrictions in place for U.S. travelers and does not single out U.S. travelers for screening related to the U.S. travel restrictions.

Is there anything else I need to know about the new restrictions?
There is some new language forbidding a U.S. citizen from putting any money back into the Cuban economy that subsidizes government-owned businesses. This sounds ominous because the government operates the bulk of the chain hotels and state restaurants in Cuba, and in a Communist country, doesn’t the government own everything anyway? Fortunately for travelers, things are a bit less black and white in Cuba. A much better way to go (with better quality and service overall) is to stay at casas particulares and eat at paladares, which are privately owned and operated businesses, and widely available throughout Havana.

Casas particulares are bed & breakfast/inn-style accommodations, and are owned by local people. You can now quickly and easily book a room via airbnb. Most casas offer breakfast as well as a chance to meet Cuban people and put money directly back into their pocket.

Paladares have been around for years and started as speakeasy-style experiences. Local, entrepreneurial families could earn a bit of extra money by turning their living rooms into makeshift restaurants for tourists. In recent years, paladares have gone more mainstream (even sophisticated!), and still offer much better food and a more authentic experience than the state-owned restaurants you can find in Havana especially.

We hope we’ve been able to assuage any questions or concerns you might have about travel to Cuba. We’d also love to hear from travelers about the experiences they’ve had upon their return. We’ll continue to update our information should new details become available. As far as we know, no other rollbacks to Cuba travel are forthcoming. Happy travels!

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30 Comments

  1. Im traveling with a group of 8 people,
    Does each person in our group have to have an itinerary or does one itinerary work for the entire group?
    Does the excursions/itinerary events have to be paid for prior to travel?
    How many hours do i need to arrive early to get my visa at the airport/Is it a long process?

    • Hi Tam, it’s probably a good idea to have an itinerary for each traveler. When you’re passing through customs, you might not all be together and it will create less confusion/stress if you each have your documentation handy. You do not have to have excursions paid for in advance, but you should keep receipts so when you’re returning you have that backup to line up with your itinerary. You really don;t need to allow extra time to get the tourist card. in most cases that paperwork will have been initiated with your airline ticket purchase and you’ll receive the paperwork in route. If you need to purchase Cuban health insurance, you will need to do that after you land. That can take a bit of time in the airport, but again, make sure this has not already been included with the airline ticket.

    • Yes, Evalyn. As long as you adhere to the regulations and licensing rules, you can make a cultural trip to Cuba in any number of ways.

  2. Our family is first generation American, our parents came from Cuba. My cousins and I are going on a cruise that includes two days in Havana Cuba. We felt this was an easy way to see our families homeland but now after booking we realize it is not so easy to tour havana. With these regulations is there any way to see the city without buying an excursion package with the cruise line? I know we cant do self tours anymore but how about buying local tours once we are there? Or should we plan something in advance and could we qualify for any other travel reason if we came by cruise ship? For instance, family visits or Support for the Cuban people?

    • Hi Luisel, The family visit is going to be the best option for you (to free you up to see Havana how you like). This is a self-regulating license – there’s no paperwork to “get.” You should just be prepared to answer questions on your return to the country (though, to be honest, we don’t hear that this happens much at all). It might be a good idea to have names and address of the family members you plan to visit handy just as documentation.

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