Recent reports about flights to Cuba has renewed interest in visits to the island nation, especially for travelers in the U.S.
UPDATE Feb. 15, 2016: USA Today reports U.S. airlines can “begin applying for more air routes” to Cuba as of Feb. 16 but still no word on when scheduled service will start.
Can U.S. Tourists Legally Travel to Cuba?
Not for visits that are for purely tourism purposes, at least not yet. As the U.S. State Department’s travel website states, “Tourist travel to Cuba is prohibited under U.S. law for U.S. citizens and others under U.S. jurisdiction.” There are, however, twelve categories of visitors who can travel to Cuba legally; more on that, below.
Any Exceptions to Tourist Ban?
As Skift reported, while the ban on U.S. tourism continues but the situation is somewhat “fuzzy” because changes in regulations may make it harder to determine who is traveling legally and who is not – which might in turn make it harder to enforce a ban.
As the Washington Post also points out, because prospective travelers who fall under the 12 legal-to-travel categories no longer have to obtain a specialized license from the government, “in practice, this will effectively mean that people can claim they are traveling under one of the dozen approved categories, and then book a flight.”
However, doing this is against the law and the Post cited a senior administration official who said “penalties can be imposed for violations of any of the [travel] terms.” Our advice: Don’t break the law.
Who Can Legally Visit Cuba Now?
The following twelve ‘legal travel’ categories have not changed in recent years; what has changed is it appears to be easier to gain authorization for such travel. Learn more here.
- Family visits
- Official business of the U.S. government, foreign governments, and certain intergovernmental organizations
- Journalistic activity
- Professional research and professional 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 or research or educational institutes
- Exportation, importation, or transmission of information or information materials
- Certain authorized export transactions
Does Any U.S. Airline Fly to Cuba?
Not at this time, but several airlines have expressed interest in flying to Cuba including American, JetBlue, United and others. FareCompare recently spoke with Southwest Airlines spokesman Brad Hawkins who suggested Havana might be “a good, future opportunity” for the airline but they are currently looking at “up to 50” other destinations they believe will be of great (or greater) interest to customers.
Where Can I Find Information on Visiting Cuba?
If you’re a U.S. resident, check with these government sites (if you live in another country, check with your country’s online equivalent of government travel information).
For tourism information about Cuba, some helpful sites: