Can Americans travel to Cuba

Can Americans Travel to Cuba?

Cuba conjures such fascination for Americans. For some travelers, this mysterious frozen-in-time island just 90 miles off the coast of Florida represents the ultimate bucket list destination. 

For most of the past 60 years, the relationship between the U.S. and Cuban governments has been chilly at best.  An embargo prevented Americans from having any connection with Cuba.

The embargo included travel, which made it illegal for any American who wasn’t approved for a travel license from the U.S. government to travel to Cuba.

In recent years, some Cuba travel restrictions were briefly lifted.  But with shifting political winds, many have since been reinstated, resulting in widespread confusion about how, or even if, Americans can travel to Cuba.

So, people have been left wondering…

Can Americans Travel to Cuba?

Can Americans Travel to Cuba?

Can Americans Travel to Cuba?

Can Americans travel to Cuba?

The short answer is YES!  But first, a bit of background…

US and Cuban relations were looking brighter when, in 2014, the Obama administration announced its intentions to open up Cuban-American relations.

A flurry of excitement followed, as U.S. travel to Cuba became easier and airlines and cruise companies began offering transportation and tour possibilities.  This era was short-lived.

Not long after taking office in 2017, the administration of President Trump reinstated embargoes against Cuba and, in 2019, announced new rules governing travel.

These rules eliminated two of the newly popular ways for Americans to travel to Cuba: cruises and educational/cultural trips know as “people-to-people” visits.   Subsequently, U.S. airlines were prohibited from flying into any destination on the island besides Havana.

The good news is that despite these new restrictions, it’s still relatively easy for American citizens to travel to Cuba.

How Can Americans Travel to Cuba?

Commercial flights are still permitted, and people can either travel independently or with an organized group.

But, let’s be clear from the start. Americans CAN’T freely travel to Cuba as tourists. This means, as an American, you cannot go and relax on Cuba’s beaches for a week. That’s still illegal.

Americans can legally visit Cuba only under 12 approved travel categories and are required to keep supporting documentation for 5 years in case the US government requests it.

The 12 travel categories for Cuba are:

  1. Family visits
  2. Official business of the U.S. government, foreign governments, and certain intergovernmental organizations
  3. Journalistic activities
  4. Professional research and meetings
  5. Educational activities
  6. Religious activities
  7. Public performance, clinics, workshops, athletics, or other competitions and exhibitions
  8. Support for the Cuban People
  9. Humanitarian projects
  10. Activities of private foundations, research, or educational institutes
  11. Exportation of certain internet-based services
  12. Travel for certain authorized export transactions

The Treasury Department permits traveling to Cuba under a general license. This means Americans can self-approve their reason for traveling to Cuba without needing any special permission or approval from the U.S. government, provided their reason for travel falls within the scope of any of the above categories.

With people-to-people trips no longer an option, independent & group travel is now available under a new category called “Support for the Cuban People”.

But that still leaves some questions for travelers:  What constitutes a supportive trip?  Are some activities still off-limits?

What is Support for the Cuban People travel?

The Support for the Cuban People travel category is relatively broad. It allows individuals and organizations to travel legally to Cuba, to create their own itinerary and to travel, generally speaking, freely around the country.

However, to comply with the rules, you must maintain a full-time schedule of activities that enhance contact with locals, support civil society in Cuba, result in meaningful interaction with residents or promote independence from Cuban authorities.

The Treasury department spells out some of the best ways to adhere to Support for the Cuban People:

  • Stay at a private home or bed & breakfast 
  • Eat and drink in local, independent restaurants and bars 
  • Book transport with private drivers instead state-run taxis
  • Shop in privately-owned stores run by self-employed Cubans 
  • Visit the Museums about Cuban history and culture
  • Go to art galleries or arts and music events
  • Hire self-employed locals for city tours, cooking classes or dance classes

What’s Not Allowed?

Cuba Stock

As mentioned above,  pure tourist vacations (such as sipping mojitos at the beach all day) are prohibited, as they have been for decades. 

While the required full-time schedule is not clearly defined, the U.S. Treasury has explicitly stated that your schedule of activities must not include excessive free time or recreation time.

Finally, Americans are prohibited from staying, shopping or doing business of any kind with the Cuban government-owned businesses listed on the Restricted Entity List.

You should make a point of checking the Restricted Entity List before your trip to ensure that your final travel itinerary does not include any businesses listed.

Can Americans really plan a trip to Cuba?

Cuba Stock

Don’t let the relationship between the U.S. and Cuban governments stop you from traveling to Cuba. The truth is traveling to Cuba as an American isn’t nearly as daunting as it may seem at first.  Traveling under the Support for the Cuban People category gives you the flexibility to choose your own itinerary and to create a more authentic experience than you’d get with a commercial tour group or cruise ship. 

Do you want to travel to Cuba? Are you planning a trip to Cuba? Share below in the comments!

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Disclosure: This post is not legal advice. I am merely explaining my understanding of the new rules based on my own research. Each traveler to Cuba should check with the U.S. Government to make sure they’re in accordance with the most up-to-date rules regarding travel to Cuba.

36 thoughts on “Can Americans Travel to Cuba?”

  1. Ommagoodness that’s all complex and well and good and all of that… and kind of funny that the requirements are so broad. Perhaps it’ll be even more simple, open, and less expensive sooner than later.

    1. Jackie Sills-Dellegrazie

      It’s definitely coming down in price now that independent travelers can plan their own cultural exchange trip, Rob. Direct flights will also help! 😉

    1. Jackie Sills-Dellegrazie

      Thanks, Fiona. You should get to Cuba soon, then! The U.S. is full of people dying to go to Cuba. I would expect the 2nd half of 2016 and 2017 to be huge years for Cuba travel.

    1. Jackie Sills-Dellegrazie

      Thanks so much, Anna! We are excited. I think we’re going at just the right time before the bulk of Americans begin traveling there. Definitely stay tuned! I’ll be sharing a bunch. 😉

  2. It’s awesome! I always believe that the world should have no borders and people should be allowed to travel around freely.

    1. Jackie Sills-Dellegrazie

      So true, Bernard! Unfortunately, there are places that don’t want tourism because with it comes exchange of ideas and learning about the outside world. Here’s hoping the world moves toward your vision! 🙂

  3. Enjoy your trip! We’re planning on heading there soon too. Even though I’m not American, this is a hugely helpful post – I’ll be passing it on to my US friends for sure.

    1. Jackie Sills-Dellegrazie

      Thanks so much, Katja! We are very excited for the cultural experience. Now that Americans can plan their own “people to people” trip, it will be so much easier to visit Cuba legally! 🙂 Enjoy your trip to Cuba as well!

  4. I’ve been so excited to see all the changes happening, our policies toward Cuba has been some of the dumbest things in my opinion, especially that it’s lasted this long. I’ve wanted to go for a long time and glad it’s becoming an option for others as well. Excited to follow along on your trip.

    1. Jackie Sills-Dellegrazie

      Totally agreed, Megan! Change has to come from the people and the best way for that to happen is through cultural exchange and access to the outside world. Excited to go and see Cuba before too many changes, but so glad they’re happening. Thanks for following! 🙂

  5. As a European I’m shocked to read about something like a travel embargo. And it seems even though Americans are now allowed to travel to Cuba…they are kind of not. It’s sto strange to think that an entire nation is discriminated against the possibility to freely enjoy a country simply because of their nationality. And this has been going on since the 60s. I really hope this will lift at some point. You have put together a really valuable post for Americans intending to travel to Cuba!

    1. Jackie Sills-Dellegrazie

      The changes started slowly but have really picked up in the past month or so, Tess. Agreed about the travel embargo. It only strengthens a dictatorship to isolate its people. Cultural exchange and tourism bring a flow of ideas and money that uplifts a population and creates change that begins with the people. As soon as direct flights begin later this year, many Americans will be booking their trips!

    1. Jackie Sills-Dellegrazie

      Now that people can plan their own cultural exchange independently, all that is needed are direct flights. That should happen later this year, Clarie, and then the floodgates will have truly been flung open.

  6. I think I could do some serious professional research on Varadero Beach. Fortunately, as a Canadian, I don’t have to, so I’m glad I made it there last year before the prices go up. This is a really helpful post for a very confusing changing – and exciting – situation – as so many people are interested in going.

    1. Jackie Sills-Dellegrazie

      Lol, Carol! I’m sure you could! Prices will certainly go up so glad you made it before! Thanks for your comments. 🙂

  7. It’s going to get easier and easier to go to Cuba, I believe. With that being said, I hope Americans appreciate what they are now able to see and don’t mess it up for future generations.

    1. Jackie Sills-Dellegrazie

      Thanks for your comment, Vicky. I think it will be hard for Cuba to stay the same. With American tourism, comes American business and brands. Cubans will also have greater access to the internet than they do now. This will change things. Only time will tell, though, if Cuba can hold on to its character. I hope it can! 🙂

  8. When are you planning your trip? I would love to see your itinerary. My husband and I would like to plan our own people to people trip, but I am worried about the legitimacy of this. As long as we keep a journal of our cultural experiences while there are we ok? Is there any kind of cuban travel guide group that you are going through?

    1. Jackie Sills-Dellegrazie

      Hi, Veronica! Thanks for commenting! I leave in just a couple days. I will be posting a detailed itinerary when we’re back. Our itinerary includes time in Havana, Trinidad, and Vinales. We’re not using any guide, just our own research from travel websites and travel bloggers. See this article with the announcement. We plan to keep a journal and also blog about our trip. If you’re on Pinterest, check out my Cuba board with some of the articles I’ve used to research and learn more about Cuba. I hope you’ll check back in a few weeks when our itinerary is posted! 🙂

  9. Thank you Jackie for responding so quickly. I am still on the fence on whether or not to go. I read that just general conversation with people wouldn’t cut it in terms of a people to people trip. I read the NY Times article that said that there is “no shortage of opportunities” but I am just wondering what constitutes as a people to people itinerary and what doesn’t, it seems very grey. Do you have anything specifically you are doing to make this connection that you can pass on to me? I need to make a decision in the next few days if I will be going. I am looking forward to hearing about your trip. I am following your Pinterest board now.

    1. Jackie Sills-Dellegrazie

      Hi, Veronica! Thanks for responding and following on Pinterest. My visit is going to full of visits to museums and historical sights. I’ve used the information about Cuba available online to make my plans. I did look at some of the guided people to people tours to get a sense of their itinerary, as well. The way I understand it, if you stay at a Casa Particulares, this is more than just casual conversation or if you take a class or guided day tour where you meet locals this would also be a cultural exchange. I am doing both of these, staying with Cuban families and taking a couple guided day trips with locals. All of this would be more than simply chatting with your taxi driver, for example. Also, remember there are still the 12 categories for visiting. I intend to visit Cuba and write about it for my blog and other sources. Would any of them work for you? Just remember, you cannot go for a beach vacation, so an area like Varadero probably shouldn’t be part of your itinerary. It’s not part of mine. Hopefully, that helps clarify! 🙂

    1. Jackie Sills-Dellegrazie

      Thanks for your comments, Trisha. I’m sure you’ll have a great time in Cuba! Glad it will be easy for you. 😉

  10. I’m a computer science teacher and would love to visit schools to observe how they use technology in class. Maybe offer some insight as to integrating technology, etc. Do you know of any persons who are educators there that wouldn’t mind possibility collaborating with me on this idea.

    Thanks

    1. Jackie Sills-Dellegrazie

      Hi Jermaine,
      Thanks for reading. Unfortunately, I don’t know of any programs like what you describe in Cuba. I’ve starred your comment on my end and if I hear of anything I’ll be sure to let you know. Sounds like the experience would be incredible professional development for everyone involved. 🙂

  11. Hello 🙂 I am planning a “people to people” trip that is happening in two weeks. When do they look at your planned itinerary? When you try to enter the country or leave? Also, we need visas, right? Can you apply for the visa while you’re at the airport to depart? That’s what the passport person thought .. where can I view pictures of your trip 🙂

    1. Jackie Sills-Dellegrazie

      Hi Theresa,
      Thanks so much for reading and how exciting about your upcoming Cuba trip! 🙂 I wrote this post about Americans traveling to Cuba in anticipation of my Cuba trip. However, due to a sudden family emergency, I had to cancel the trip the day before departure. So, no photos to share at this time. As for your questions, are you planning your own people to people trip? My research shows no one will necessarily ask to see your itinerary, but you should keep records of your itinerary for 5 years after your trip. You should also be able to get your Visa at the airport before you depart. JetBlue, I think, charges $50. If your people-to-people trip is through an organization, they should handle the Visa for you. I hope that helps and enjoy your trip!!

  12. I’m a Spanish teacher. I am trying to arrange a trip to Cuba for the end of Feb, 2017. Can I just interact with people talking Spanish as my reason for going? I want to improve my Spanish and learn about the Cuban culture. I have found a cheap flight with Copa through Panama. Do I just buy the ticket and go without getting a visa ahead of time?

    1. Jackie Sills-Dellegrazie

      Hi Kristina,
      It’s so exciting to have a trip to Cuba coming up! As for Visa, you should be able to get that at the airport, either from where you are departing or from the airport in Panama. If you check with Copa, they should be able to let you know. You don’t need any U.S. government approval as long as your visit falls within one of the acceptable category reasons. Learning Spanish and studying the Cuban culture should count. In addition to talking to people, why not stay in a casa particulare where you’ll have the chance to interact with locals. You could also include historic and cultural landmarks and museums. This way, you’ll have some proof should you ever have to verify your reasons for going to Cuba, rather than simply saying you interacted with the people. Be sure to keep records like a museum stub or a confirmation email showing you stayed with a local family via Airbnb or something similar. Please remember that although I have researched this subject, I am not a lawyer or a government official. You should absolutely check for the most up-to-date recommendations and requirements for the time you want to take your trip. Hope that helps, Kristina! Enjoy your trip!

  13. Hey Jackie,
    I will check your Pinterest board for ideas, I am thinking about doing my own diy people to people trip. I saw that your trip was cancelled, that is a bummer! I would still be interested in hearing what you were planning on doing!

    1. Jackie Sills-Dellegrazie

      Hey Chelsey,

      A major bummer for sure! I was planning on spending time in Havana and then getting out to the countryside of Vinales and Santiago. I had arranged stays in casa particulares where I could meet and interact with locals and learn more about the culture and daily life. I’d also chosen several churches and museums to visit during my stay. I hope that helps a bit! Definitely check out Pinterest for more. So many awesome bloggers have written about their trips. Tons of great info. Good luck and happy travels to Cuba! 🙂

  14. Hi Jackie,

    I’m very excited about my trip to Cuba! I believe there are at least 2 of the license provisions I’d fit under. I checked the cfr section governing educational activities (which I figured people to people falls under because it’s not listed as one of the 12) and did not see the option re: self-guided people to people travel which you referenced. Can you please point me to the part of the regulations that says that is now the case? Thanks!

    1. Jackie Sills-Dellegrazie

      A trip to Cuba is very exciting, Denise! So, just to be clear, I’m not a lawyer, nor am I qualified to interpret legal statutes. However, from my research, if your trip falls into one of the 12 categories and your activities match then you are planning/going on your own people to people trip. There’s no need to pay for a guided people to people if you feel confident you can plan activities that match your Cuba travel category. Be sure to keep records of your activities while there for several years should you ever be asked about it. Have a great trip!

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