Can Americans Travel to Cuba Legally? Yes!

NOTE: See our latest post for more up-to-date information on 100% legal independent travel to Cuba reflecting the new Trump rules. 

Since last week’s announcement of commercial flights from Miami and Fort Lauderdale to some destinations in Cuba, we’ve had a surge in people emailing us questions like this:

“Hi, Now that independent travel to Cuba is permitted, I would like to do just that. Can I reserve my own airfare and book your daily tours/sessions to meet the educational requirement? Is just one educational session per day adequate, so I can go to the beach and wander around on my own? Thanks”

OK, let’s look at the exact general license (or permission) she’s referring to, to use to travel to Cuba. It’s regulation CFR § 515.565(b) otherwise known as People-to-People exchange.  According to the Federal Register, CFR § 515.565(b) was updated in March of 2016 to read: “This section now authorizes individuals to travel to Cuba provided that, among other things, the traveler engage while in Cuba in a full-time schedule of educational exchange activities that are intended to enhance contact with the Cuban people, support civil society in Cuba, or promote the Cuban people’s independence from Cuban authorities, and that will result in meaningful interaction between the traveler and individuals in Cuba.”

So the answer is that independent travel to Cuba by a US Citizen or Permanent Resident may travel to Cuba independently as long as: “among other things, the traveler engage while in Cuba in a full-time schedule of educational exchange activities”.

So what does the US Government mean by a full-time schedule?  Well, they helpfully provide examples of what does and doesn’t qualify right there on the same page we linked to.  Let’s go with Example #5, because you’ll see that it sounds a lot like what our emailed question was proposing:

“An individual plans to travel to Cuba to participate in discussions with Cuban farmers and produce sellers about cooperative farming and agricultural practices and have extended dialogue with religious leaders about the influence of African traditions and religion on society and culture. The individual also plans to spend a few days engaging in brief exchanges with Cuban food vendors while spending time at the beach. Only some of these activities are educational exchange activities that will result in meaningful interaction between the traveler and individuals in Cuba, and the traveler therefore does not have a full-time schedule of such activities on each day of the trip. The trip does not qualify for the general license. ”

OK so the person who emailed us is definitely not qualifying.  But let’s say you’re willing to do the legwork to DIY a true full-time itinerary, no “wandering around”, and no “going to the beach”. You just need a full-time itinerary and to keep all your records, right?

Not quite.  Because there’s something else that’s not exactly spelled out .  The regulation says “among other things, the traveler engage while in Cuba in a full-time schedule of educational exchange activities”- what are  “among other things”?  Here’s where it gets trickier to DIY your travel to Cuba.  The “other things”  one has to do are: a) maintain complete records of your travel and expenses while in Cuba for five years; and b) avoid interactions with banned individuals and members of certain Cuban Government organizations including the Communist Party of Cuba, MININT, and MINFAR.

The first part about records is a bit of a hassle, but manageable. Just keep a copy of your full time itinerary of everything you did, and receipts for everything you spent doing that itinerary for five years after your trip. Remember it’s an economic embargo the U.S. is maintaining against Cuba, so everything you spend means everything – lodging, transportation, everything.

But that second part… how do you know if you’re dealing with a banned individual or whatever?   The answer is that obviously you as a foreigner don’t know.  The good news is that very few members of the MININT (the Ministry of the Interior – like the secret police) and the MINFAR (Ministry of the Revolutionaly Armed Forces – the military) are allowed to have any interactions at all with foreigners.  The bad news is those that are allowed are either spies or police. However, they want very little to do with the average traveler to Cuba.

But really, the question is why would you want to deal with all this yourself when you can have us, the experts at Havana VIP Tours do it for you? Independent travel to Cuba with Havana VIP means we’ll show you the best of Cuba. Independently. Customized itinerary.  No big tour group of strangers. No hassles.

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