Trip to Anywhere

Here's the 411 on Traveling to Cuba: No, you still can't just take a vacation there.



There's no denying the allure of a country that seems to have been frozen in time, in more ways than one. It has such rich, vibrant culture, colorful streets, and one of the most diverse range of architecture styles in the world--making it any traveler's (and photographer's) dream. With the recent travel ban lifted, many people are flocking to the internet and their travel agents to book a trip, only to be met with a reality check--you still cannot just take a leisure vacation to Cuba. We are breaking down the only legal ways you can legitimately travel to Cuba via the regulations set forth by the Cuban Assets Control Regulations.



Is travel to Cuba for tourist activities permitted?

No. Consistent with the Trade Sanctions Reform and Export Enhancement Act of 2000 (TSRA), travel-related transactions involving Cuba are only permitted for the 12 categories of activities identified in the CACR (Cuban Assets Control Regulations). Travel-related transactions for other purposes remain prohibited.

Persons subject to U.S. jurisdiction who wish to engage in any travel within the 12 categories of activities specified in the CACR that does not meet the requirements of a general license will need to apply for a specific license from OFAC (Office of Foreign Assets Control).

Travel-related transactions are permitted by general license for certain travel related to the following activities ONLY, subject to the criteria and conditions in each general license:

  • Family Visits
  • Journalistic Activity
  • Official business of the U.S. government, foreign governments, and certain intergovernmental organizations
  • 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/educational institutes
  • Exportation, importation or transmission of information or information materials and certain authorized export transactions.

Here is a general summary of what each of those mean:

Family Visits: Only visits to close family relatives is permitted at this time. A close relative is defined as any individual related to a person “by blood, marriage, or adoption who is no more than three generations removed from that person or from a common ancestor with that person.”

Official business of the U.S. government, foreign governments and certain intergovernmental organizations: Pretty self-explanatory and not applicable to the majority of travelers, but see full details here.

Journalistic Activity: Among other things, this general license authorizes, subject to conditions, full-time journalists, supporting broadcast or technical personnel, and freelance journalists to travel to Cuba. The traveler’s schedule of activities must not include free time or recreation in excess of that consistent with a full-time schedule. An entire group does not qualify for the general license merely because some members of the group qualify individually.

Professional Research and Professional Meetings: OFAC has issued an expanded general license that incorporates prior specific licensing policy and authorizes, subject to conditions, travel-related transactions and other transactions that are directly incident to professional research in Cuba. Among other things, this general license authorizes, subject to conditions, professional research in Cuba relating to a traveler’s profession, professional background, or area of expertise. The traveler’s schedule of activities must not include free time or recreation in excess of that consistent with a full-time schedule. An entire group does not qualify for the general license merely because some members of the group qualify individually.

OFAC has issued an expanded general license that incorporates prior specific licensing policy and authorizes, subject to conditions, travel-related transactions and other transactions that are directly incident to attendance at, or organization of, professional meetings in Cuba. Among other things, this general license authorizes, subject to conditions, attendance at professional meetings or conferences in Cuba relating to a traveler’s profession, professional background, or area of expertise, as well as organization of such meetings by a traveler whose profession is related to the organization of professional meetings or conferences or who is an employee or contractor of an entity that is organizing the professional meeting or conference. Travel in this category is generally licensed provided that the traveler’s schedule of activities does not include free time or recreation in excess of that consistent with a full-time schedule. An entire group does not qualify for the general license merely because some members of the group qualify individually.

Educational Activities: Among other things, this general license authorizes, subject to conditions, faculty, staff, and students at U.S. academic institutions and secondary schools to engage in certain educational activities, including study abroad programs, in Cuba, Cuban scholars to engage in certain educational activities in the United States, and certain activities to facilitate licensed educational programs. U.S. and Cuban universities may engage in academic exchanges and joint non-commercial academic research under the general license. This provision also authorizes persons subject to U.S. jurisdiction to provide standardized testing services and certain internet-based courses to Cuban nationals.

Are secondary schools and secondary school students permitted to engage in travel-related transactions under the general license for “educational activities”?

Yes. Educational exchanges, including study abroad programs, sponsored by Cuban or U.S. secondary schools involving secondary school students’ participation in a formal course of study or in a structured educational program offered by a secondary school or other academic institution, and led by a teacher or other secondary school official, are authorized under this general license. This provision allows for participation of a reasonable number of adult chaperones to accompany the secondary school student(s) to Cuba.

What constitutes “people-to-people travel” for generally authorized travel?

Among other things, this general license authorizes, subject to conditions, persons subject to U.S. jurisdiction to engage in certain educational exchanges in Cuba either individually or under the auspices of an organization that is a person subject to U.S. jurisdiction and sponsors such exchanges to promote people-to-people contact. Travelers utilizing this general license must ensure they maintain a full-time schedule of educational exchange activities 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.

For travel conducted under the auspices of an organization, an employee, paid consultant, or agent of the sponsoring organization must accompany each group traveling to Cuba to ensure that each traveler has a full-time schedule of educational exchange activities. In addition, persons relying upon this authorization must retain records related to the authorized travel transactions, including records demonstrating a full-time schedule of authorized activities. In the case of an individual traveling under the auspices of an organization that is a person subject to U.S. jurisdiction and that sponsors such exchanges to promote people-to-people contact, the individual may rely on the entity sponsoring the travel to satisfy his or her record keeping obligations with respect to the requirements described above.

What is an “organization” in the people–to-people context?

In the people-to-people context, an organization is an entity subject to U.S. jurisdiction that sponsors educational exchanges that do not involve academic study pursuant to a degree program and that promote people-to-people contact.

Religious Activities: All persons subject to U.S. jurisdiction, including religious organizations located in the United States and members and staff of such organizations, are generally authorized to engage in travel-related transactions that are directly incident to engaging in religious activities in Cuba provided, among other things, that the travel must be for the purpose of engaging in a program of religious activities. The traveler’s schedule of activities must not include free time or recreation in excess of that consistent with a full-time schedule in Cuba.

Public performances, Clinics, Workshops, Athletic and other competitions, and exhibitions: OFAC has issued an expanded general license that incorporates prior specific licensing policy and authorizes, subject to conditions, travel-related transactions and other transactions that are directly incident to organization of and participation in amateur and semi-professional international sports federation competitions as well as other athletic and other competitions and public performances, clinics, workshops, and exhibitions in Cuba.

Support for the Cuban people: OFAC has issued a general license that incorporates prior specific licensing policy and authorizes, subject to conditions, travel-related transactions and other transactions that are intended to provide support for the Cuban people, which include activities of recognized human rights organizations; independent organizations designed to promote a rapid, peaceful transition to democracy; and individuals and non-governmental organizations that promote independent activity intended to strengthen civil society in Cuba. The traveler’s schedule of activities must not include free time or recreation in excess of that consistent with a full-time schedule in Cuba.

Humanitarian Projects: These authorized humanitarian projects are: medical and health-related projects; construction projects intended to benefit legitimately independent civil society groups; disaster preparedness, relief, and response; historical preservation; environmental projects; projects involving formal or non-formal educational training, within Cuba or off-island, on the following topics: entrepreneurship and business, civil education, journalism, advocacy and organizing, adult literacy, or vocational skills; community based grassroots projects; projects suitable to the development of small-scale private enterprise; projects that are related to agricultural and rural development that promote independent activity; micro-financing projects, except for loans, extensions of credit, or other prohibited financing and projects to meet basic human needs. For persons traveling pursuant to this authorization, the traveler’s schedule of activities must not include free time or recreation in excess of that consistent with a full-time schedule in Cuba.

Activities of Private Foundations or Research/Educational Institutes: OFAC has issued a general license that incorporates previous specific licensing policy and authorizes, subject to conditions, travel-related transactions and other transactions that are directly incident to activities by private foundations or research or educational institutes with an established interest in international relations to collect information related to Cuba for noncommercial purposes, among other things. The traveler’s schedule of activities must not include free time or recreation in excess of that consistent with a full-time schedule in Cuba.

Exportation, Importation, or Transmission of Information or Information Materials; and certain authorized export transactions: A general license has been issued that incorporates prior specific licensing policy and authorizes, subject to conditions, travel-related transactions and other transactions that are directly incident to the exportation, importation, or transmission of information or informational materials. The traveler’s schedule of activities must not include free time or recreation in excess of that consistent with a full-time schedule in Cuba. Additionally, effective January 27, 2016, OFAC has issued a general license that authorizes, subject to conditions, travel-related transactions and other transactions that are directly incident to professional media or artistic productions of information or informational materials for exportation, importation, or transmission, including the filming or production of media programs (such as movies and television programs), the recording of music, and the creation of artworks in Cuba, provided that the traveler is regularly employed in or has demonstrated professional experience in a field relevant to such professional media or artistic productions. The traveler’s schedule of activities must not include free time or recreation in excess of that consistent with a full-time schedule.

  • An individual traveling to Cuba for four days pursuant to the authorization for professional research and professional meetings, such as a professional architect, could participate in a two-day conference on Cuban architecture that directly relates to the traveler’s profession, followed by one day of meetings with Cuban nationals engaging in historical preservation of colonial and baroque buildings in Havana. The following day the traveler could engage in a full day of site visits and fact-finding around Havana at key architectural sites.
  • An individual traveling pursuant to the authorization for journalistic activities could engage in three full days of interviews with local residents, followed by one full day of follow up investigative research at local institutions.
  • An individual traveling to Cuba for four days pursuant to the authorization for professional research and professional meetings, such as a professional architect, could engage in the aforementioned meetings and research and add on one additional day of individual people-to-people travel that includes a full-time schedule of meaningful interaction between the traveler and individuals in Cuba and otherwise meets the requirements. Such meaningful interaction could include, for example, a full-day of discussions with Cuban artists on community projects, exchanges with the founders of a youth arts program, and/or extended dialogue with local city planners and architects to learn about historical restoration projects in Old Havana.

Can I purchase a ticket to Cuba directly from an airline based or operating out of the United States?

Yes, provided that you are authorized to travel to Cuba pursuant to an OFAC general or specific license, and approved for travel regulations within one of the above criteria. Airlines and travelers are responsible for maintaining records of their Cuba-related transactions for at least five years.

Are there any spending limits for authorized U.S. travelers while in Cuba?

There is no specific dollar limit on authorized expenses. Authorized travelers may engage in transactions ordinarily incident to travel within Cuba, including payment of living expenses and the acquisition in Cuba of goods for personal consumption there. In addition, travelers are authorized to acquire in Cuba and import as accompanied baggage into the United States merchandise for personal use only. Such imports remain subject to the normal limits on duty and tax exemptions for merchandise imported as accompanied baggage and for personal use.

Can I purchase Cuban-origin cigars and/or Cuban-origin rum or other alcohol while traveling in Cuba?

Persons authorized to travel to Cuba may purchase alcohol and tobacco products while in Cuba for personal consumption. Authorized travelers may also return to the United States with alcohol and/or tobacco products acquired in Cuba as accompanied baggage for personal use. OFAC considers “personal use” of an imported item to include giving the item to another individual as a personal gift, but not the transfer of the item to another person for payment or other consideration.

For more in depth information, regulations and restrictions visit: https://www.treasury.gov/resource-center/sanctions/Programs/Documents/cuba_faqs_new.pdf

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