Under President Obama, the U.S. and Cuba rekindled diplomatic ties to the closest they had been in decades. After Donald Trump's election in November 2016, he promised to undo many of those initiatives. Therefore, it's easy to understand why you may be feeling confused and ready to hear some answers to your travel-related questions. We'll help clear up the confusion.
Can Americans Travel to Cuba?
Yes and no. Americans can visit, but there are still some conditions and restrictions. You will have to prove that your visit qualifies for one of the 12 U.S.-approved categories. Qualifying trips include journalistic, educational, cultural, humanitarian, family, or religious reasons.
"People-to-people" contact is allowed through tour groups that promote experiences bringing Americans and Cubans together, such as visits to museums or other historic sites. The tour companies have packed the schedules in full compliance with federal laws. You most likely will not have abundant free time to wander around. Authorized travelers into Cuba will need a U.S. passport and a visa required by the Cuban government, issued as a tourist card.
Can You Travel for Leisure?
General tourism is still not permitted at the present time. However, American tourists are able to sign up for "people-to-people" excursions with a government-authorized tour company that creates its own scheduled itineraries. Lounging on the beach sipping mojitos, unfortunately, is not an approved activity.
What are the Restrictions for Americans?
At present, you will need to travel to Cuba with a tour group that has obtained an official license from the U.S. State Department. Visiting historic sites is possible, such as the Bay of Pigs, but recreational tourism, such as beach-going is forbidden. You cannot bring your gear and snorkel or scuba dive on your own time, though it is possible that beach excursions could be part of these larger group itineraries.
The current administration has also released a list of restricted Cuban entities that Americans are forbidden from interacting with financially. The list includes ministries, holding companies, hotels, tourist agencies, marinas, and stores. Americans approved to visit Cuba are still prohibited from direct financial transactions with these companies and entities. U.S. government-approved tour companies schedule their itineraries in accordance with these guidelines, so travelers shouldn't worry.
Furthermore, Americans may not be able to use debit or credit cards in Cuba. MasterCard has announced that their cards will be accepted on the island, but it's unclear whether other major credits cards will correctly process transactions. Travelers cheques are accepted sparingly so cash is your best bet for purchases. Once in Cuba, your dollars will need to be exchanged for "convertible pesos" and will add to the expense of the visit.
How Tricky Is It to Book a Flight?
Many U.S.-based airlines now allow travelers to purchase tickets to Cuba. Upon check-in, however, travelers must present a specific license from the OFAC or certify with the airline that their travel falls under a general license category. Travelers must also have a valid visa issued by the Cuban government.
Are There Future Plans to Change the Rules?
In January of 2015, a bill was introduced to the legislature by a bipartisan committee of senators that aims to lift all restrictions on travel to Cuba. If approved, it will allow Americans to travel to Cuba free of all restrictions. This final act of Congress will remove and repeal the current travel ban.
On the bright side, while your beach vacation to Cuba may have to wait, you will be able to see the authentic country before it is overrun by American visitors. Numerous cultural tours are all available to Americans who want to travel to Cuba right now.