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. Hi I’m traveling to Cuba (for the good of the Cuban people) Mexico City and Columbia after a few days stay in New York on a British passport, to visit and donate to orphanages, in the above countries, I’m a bit worried that me and my husband could be refused entry, under the new rules made by president in June, any advice would be much appreciated.

    • Hi Sharlene, Please don’t worry about this. If you purchased your tickets prior to the June announcement, you’re completely grandfathered into the old rules even as an American. And even if you purchased after the announcement, you’ll not run into trouble as a British National not living in the United Stated.

  2. Has a date been establish yet for the expiration of the “people to people” subcategory of the educational license?

    • Hi Dan, the individual people to people subcategory is no longer a valid choice as of June 17, 2017. However, if you purchased any travel (flights, hotel) prior to the announcement by President Trump you are essentially grandfathered into the previous category.

  3. Hello,
    I have two questions – I am going to scout for locations and possibilities for a future spay and neuter volunteer clinic, is my boyfriend able to travel with me using the same license? He would very likely join me on that clinic in the future, but that’s not carved in stone.
    Second question – my mom is a German citizen with a green card, well the new regulations affect her?

    • Hi Natalie, Yes at the moment things are very much in a self-selecting, self policing mode. You should have proper documentation (if applicable) when you return to the States in case you are asked for backup to the license and your boyfriend should be fine under that license as well. Your mom might be a trickier case. Residents of the U.S. are treated as citizens when it comes to visiting Cuba, so it might be a good idea for her to check with an immigration attorney before traveling. Things are quite fluid right now with customs and immigrations, though we have not heard of any problems AS YET for foreign nationals traveling under a foreign passport. Green card holders should use caution.

      • Thank you, we’ll call the German Consulate and the State Dept. this week. I’m still confused about the new regulations- can i still book our flights, Airbnb, rent a car, etc on my own, or do I have to book a tour with a group? I’m interpreting from the article above that casas particulares are still an option, but anywhere else any tour would include lodging, so I’m having a hard time understanding how it all fits together.
        Also, what would you imagine counts as “proper documentation?” A letter from a local non-profit? And would that be enough to cover a 8-10 day trip? Thanks again for your help!

        • Hi Natalie, Since these “licenses” are all on the honor system, what constitutes proper documentation is a little bit vague. Written itineraries that show a full schedule of non-leisure activities would be a good place to start. Letters from local non-profits would also be great. Receipts that could substantiate the work you’re doing might also be helpful. The problem is nowhere in Cuba – meaning you can stay at a casa particular and do any sort of a program of activities while in Cuba. The return to the U.S. is where you might expect some simple questions about your business in Cuba. You can definitely still book everything on your own – I would be sure to have a full schedule of activities that can not be interpreted as “leisure” in nature.

  4. One more Q- if we book flights now, before the Treasury Dept enacts the new regulations, would we be grandfathered in? That is what seems to be stated on their website- they repeatedly say that these regulations do not take effect until they have been enacted by the Dept.

    • Hi Natalie, If you reference question #5 from the FAQ link, you’ll see that the “grandfathered” flights and/or other travel expenses are those that occurred before the announcement. Having said that, there does appear to be a bit of a gray area in this regard since the FAQs also mention that the Treasury Department will be implementing those new regulations and they do not become official until that time. To be safe, we are recommending that travelers choose another license if you can since the individual people-to-people is the license that will no longer be valid.

  5. Thank you for this. My friend and I purchased plane tickets long before the regulation change went into effect.

    Should we book casas particulares (via AirBnB) and in country travel now (if even possible with US credit cards)?

    We were planning on applying for a People to People tourist card. But the Support for the Cuban People might also apply. I’m not clear on the difference. We could make sure to visit a museum each day and/or do some schedule tours.

    Seems like we should buy the tourist card now and not count on them being available at Charlotte airport, like we’d originally planned. Should we use the 3rd party that the airline uses?

    • Hi Lara, You should definitely check to make sure the tourist card is not already included with your airline ticket. If it has not been included, the airline will have a vendor you can use to purchase on your own. You would be able to use your credit card to book casas particulares on airbnb, if you wait to book until you get to Cuba, you will likely have to pay with cash (credit cards are still not used). The tourist card is simply the card required by the Cuban government of most foreigners. It’s your visa. The licenses you choose (people to people, support for the Cuban people), are self-selected and there is no “paper” license. You’ll need to keep a full schedule of activities regardless of your license and be sure to not engage in purely “leisure” activities like sunbathing.

  6. Hello, can you advise how a Non US citizen can travel to Havana for tourist purposes?
    What are the entry permits, visas required? And we cannot just travel on our own but to book a tour is that correct ? Thank you.

    • Hi Nicole, It really depends on your reason for visiting Cuba. Visiting Cuba as a tourist is actually forbidden – you can’t come to the island to visit beaches without specific business – one of the 12 reasons found here: https://www.cheapair.com/blog/travel-news/can-i-travel-to-cuba-additional-information-for-u-s-citizens/. Every visitor must buy Cuban health insurance as well as the Cuban tourist card (what you might be thinking of as the visa). These days, most airlines bundle those items with your ticket, so the red tape is handled for you. If you’re trying to visit Cuba without specific business, you’ll likely qualify for travel as part of an educational group.

  7. Hi,
    I am currently exploring planning a trip to Cuba. Now that “People to People” category has been eliminated, it seems a the “Support for the Cuban People” criteria might be the best for a small group of us that aren’t tied to a formal organization or delegation. Is this right? If not, how can we position our trip to ensure we pass legal muster. Also, are you aware of where I migh find sample itineraries to help plan our trip?

    Thanks so much!

    • Hi Sarita, you are correct. “Support for the Cuban People” is probably going to be your best bet. Keep in mind you need to avoid booking hotels (book casas particulares – this can be done on AirBnb). The quality of the accommodation is similar to a Bed & Breakfast, will put you in contact with Cuban people who run them, and is better for the local economy, rather than putting money in the government’s pocket, which is verboten anyway. We do not have sample itineraries, but it should be quite easy to piece together your own while avoiding leisure activities like beachgoing. There is a lot to do in Cuba, aside from visiting beaches. There are many cultural activities, museums, schools and monuments as well as tobacco plantations and many other attractions/activities.

  8. Hi, I’d like to travel in December and take a week long course with the Havana Music School but I’d also like to take my family (husband and kids). Can I travel under educational purposes, support for the Cuban people or a combination?

  9. Hi CheapAir,

    I’m from UCSB in Santa Barbara and am planning a spring break trip (somewhere around 7 days anytime within 3/24-4/1) with some buddies of mine. We plan to stay at some AirBnbs under the “Support for the Cuban People” category. I’m wondering:

    1) What are the essential documents/paperwork/red-tape that are required to fill out prior to and during the trip
    2) When to apply for/purchase them
    3) Where to get them (such as visas)

    We are also trying to plan the best way to fly there. Is flying from the US or going through a gateway city in Mexico is a better idea?

    Thanks,
    Jake

    • Hi Jake, There isn’t much to be honest. The reason? Your reason for travel, travel “support for the Cuban people” is on the honor system, and the Cuban authorities won’t have any issues with your entrance into the country. When you return to the States you MAY get asked about your trip. In general, leisure travel to Cuba is still forbidden so you shouldn’t lounge on beaches as part of your trip. The casas particular stays are a great way to help shore up your reason for travel, but your main schedule of activities should include a variety of educational and “non-leisure” activities in scope.

      If you’re flying on an American airline they will more than likely provide you with the Cuban tourist card (visa) and health insurance. If they do not provide the health insurance, you can purchase in the airport in Havana immediately after arrival (it’s a few dollars a day). The only other “red tape” is that you’ll have to pay an exit tax when you leave Cuba ($25). Again, as far as we know, American airlines are now including that fee in your ticket.

  10. 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.

    • 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.

  11. 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.

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