In April 2011, the U.S. released new guidelines on travel to Cuba, reflecting President Barack Obama’s presidential directive on January 14, 2011. The directive ordered changes to policies governing “purposeful” travel to Cuba and licensed charter flights between U.S. cities and Cuba.
Purposeful travel to Cuba includes travel related to culture, religion and education. Additionally, Cuban-Americans are now allowed to visit relatives in Cuba an unlimited number of times, rather than once every three years, as they were allowed before.
Nine U.S. airports have been approved for direct charter flights to and from Cuba. Charter flights from airports in Tampa, San Juan (Puerto Rico), Baltimore, Houston, Chicago, Dallas, Atlanta and New Orleans have been approved to land in Cuba.
How to Get to Cuba
A relaxation in restrictions does not mean FareCompare readers can look up airfares and plan a trip to Cuba. Unless you are a Cuban-American, you must obtain a license to travel to Cuba if you want to go directly from the U.S. Until now, most U.S. citizens who wanted to go to Cuba traveled to another country first (like Mexico), then traveled from there to Cuba. Because Americans face civil or criminal penalties if they return home with a Cuban stamp on their passport, Cuban customs officials do not stamp passports of Americans arriving via other countries.
Now, in order to obtain a license to go to Cuba, you can go to the website of the Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control and fill out a form specifying which type of general license you want, when you plan to travel to Cuba, and other information such as your itinerary, your qualifications and reason for travel.
Travel categories for which you can obtain a general license for travel to Cuba include:
- Journalistic activities
- Professional research and meetings
- Academic activities (for accredited, degree-granting institutions of higher education)
- Religious activities (individual or as part of a group)
- Public performances or athletic activities
- Support for the Cuban people (working with organizations to promote human rights and democracy in Cuba)
- Humanitarian projects
- Private foundation research
In some cases, permission to travel to Cuba can be obtained through a humanitarian, religious or educational group. Flights between the U.S. and Cuba that have been arranged under the new Cuba travel policies should begin in mid-September. As of now, all will be charter flights, so cheap flights to Cuba are not a reality yet.
Tips for Your Trip to Cuba
Although it is now easier to travel to Cuba directly from the U.S., it still is not exactly simple.
If you do travel to Cuba, you cannot use your credit cards, and you need to take currency in Euros or Canadian dollars for exchange. Only take the amount of U.S. currency you might need for incidentals once you arrive back at a U.S. airport.
Cuba is a gorgeous island with a vibrant culture that welcomes Americans regardless of the political differences between the two governments. In recent years, Cuba has ramped up its tourism industry, with tour buses, resorts and trendy restaurants, ready to welcome Americans if and when they are allowed to freely travel there as tourists.