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“How-to” Travel to Cuba

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Malecon How to Image by Emily Chow

On December 17, 2014, President Obama indicated a new course in the relationship between the United States and Cuba. The U.S. Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control and the U.S. Commerce Department over the last eight years have periodically released new guidelines for travel to and engagement with Cuba that mirror the intentions of President Barack Obama’s several executivedirectives aimed at liberalizing and easing travel and trade regulations. Under these guidelines, many groups and individuals that have previously been denied access to Cuba can now travel under general licenses. Undeniably, the embargo still exists in its entirety under law; Congress must act in order for the law to change and the travel ban and trade embargo to end. President Obama did most of what was available to him to do under executive authority to support engagement, travel, and trade.

The improved relationship with Cuba, and the momentum toward ending the full embargo, is now threatened under the new presidential administration. While we don’t know the specifics of what the new administration will do vis-à-vis Cuba policy (the White House has said it is “reviewing Cuba policy”), we have some hints. And these hints are worrisome. We will need to advocate persistently and loudly for the continuation of President Obama’s policy toward Cuba; we will need to educate new and incumbent Congress members about the detrimental political, economic, and—above all—human impacts of the travel ban and the trade embargo on both Cubans and Americans. In the meantime, we can travel under current regulations; and we should do so in impressive numbers.

To travel to Cuba, you must be eligible under regulations published by the U.S. Treasury Department. There are two kinds of licenses: a General License, which requires no permission or advance notification to U.S. officials; and a Specific License, a piece of paper for which one needs to apply to the Office of Foreign Assets Control which oversees the travel regulations within the U.S. Treasury Department. Travel under general license has become readily available for most U.S. citizens, and newly-instituted direct commercial flights to Cuba have made travel much more affordable. U.S. citizens can travel to Cuba, either with a delegation or individually, by signing an affidavit with the airline that they qualify under one of 12 legal categories of travelers. The qualifying categories for general licenses include family visits, educational and religious activities, and professional research, but exclude tourism.

To learn how YOU can travel to Cuba now, we invite you to take a look at the online brochures that LAWG has compiled. These brochures are intended to be a guide. If you have further questions regarding travel to Cuba, you should consult the full OFAC guidelines here, look at the White House announcement of the most recent changes, or consult with a licensed travel service provider or an attorney. Let the travel continue!

*Information is current and accurate as of February 2017, but may be subject to change at the will of the new administration.


 *Please feel free to print these documents as we will not be distributing them via regular mail* 


 Background:

The United States maintains travel restrictions on no other country in the world except Cuba. Restrictions on travel to Cuba have existed since 1961, except under President Jimmy Carter beginning in 1977.

The restrictions apply to all citizens and residents of the United States—no matter whether you travel to Cuba through a third country, or even if you hold citizenship from another country.

During the terms of his administration, President Obama has sought to ease restrictions for U.S. citizens traveling to Cuba. Nonetheless, the travel ban on Cuba remains written into law, as imposed in 1961 and re-imposed in 1982 during the Reagan Administration, codified in the Helms-Burton Act of 1996 during the Clinton Administration, and tightened by the Bush Administration in 2004. Due to the codification of this policy, only Congress can definitively end the travel ban (and the embargo) through legislative action. The President has limited powers to loosen—or tighten—regulations that govern 12 categories of travel. President Obama loosened these unjust and ineffective restrictions, leaving only tourist travel fully restricted, and presenting Congress with an important opportunity to follow through on this initiative.

Up to 2009, travel to Cuba was severely limited for all Americans until President Obama eased restrictions for Cuban Americans visiting family. On January 14, 2011, President Obama directed that travel regulations be eased for certain categories of citizens, and many more people were now able to travel to Cuba without breaking the law. More recently, on December 17, 2014, Obama presented a new approach for U.S. policy towards Cuba, proposing the normalization of diplomatic relations between the two countries, re-writing the regulations for travel, removing Cuba from the list of State Sponsors of Terrorism, and other significant actions.

Traditionally, in order to travel to Cuba, one must be eligible under regulations published by the U.S. Treasury Department. There are two kinds of licenses: a General License, which requires no permission or advance notification to U.S. officials, although travelers must keep a record of the trip and sign an affidavit saying they meet one of the 12 authorized categories; and a Specific License, a piece of paper for which one needs to apply to the Office of Foreign Assets Control, which oversees the travel regulations within the U.S. Treasury Department. Recently, the President made General Licenses available for all authorized travelers in 12 existing categories:

• family visits
• official business of the US government, foreign governments, and certain intergovernmental organizations
• journalistic activity
• professional research and meetings
• educational activities
• religious activities
• public performances, clinics, workshops, athletic and other competitions and exhibitions
• support for the Cuban people
• humanitarian projects
• activities of private foundations, research, or educational institutions
• exportation, importation, or transmission of information
• certain export transactions

Additionally, travelers are now authorized to use their U.S. credit and debit cards in Cuba, (though the capacity for this in Cuba is still very limited) and bring home Cuban goods (including the island’s famous rum and cigars) for personal use. Authorized travelers are also no longer subject to a per-diem limit on spending in Cuba. Furthermore, travel agents and airlines can now provide authorized travel and air carrier service without a license, as long as travelers fit into the 12 categories and sign an affidavit certifying that fact.