The low-down on traveling to Cuba

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Jay-Z and Beyonce’s recent trip to Cuba sparked a whirlwind of headlines, as well as questions as to whether or not traveling to Cuba is legal. So, can American citizens legally travel to Cuba? Here’s the low-down on traveling to Cuba as an American.

Jay-Z and Beyonce’s recent trip to Cuba sparked a whirlwind of headlines, as well as questions as to whether or not traveling to Cuba is legal. So, can American citizens legally travel to Cuba? Here’s the low-down.

People-to-people licenses
Museum of the Revolution in Havana, Cuba (Image: Makadaka)
Museum of the Revolution in Havana, Cuba (Image: Makadaka)
American travel to Cuba has been tightly restricted for decades, with exceptions only being made in exceptional cases (such as journalists, government officials or those visiting close relatives). However, the ban was lifted in 2011 to allow Americans to travel to Cuba under what’s called a people-to-people license. The purpose of these trips is to encourage interaction and cultural exchange between Americans and Cubans. You won’t be allowed to travel on your own, though; travelers must sign up for an authorized travel program, such as Insight Cuba, and take part in an organized tour.
During your visit
A street performer in Havana, Cuba (Image: Zambog used under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike license)
A street performer in Havana, Cuba (Image: Zambog used under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike license)
These trips should not be considered a typical leisure vacation, as American tourism to Cuba is still banned under U.S. law. The primary purpose of your tour is people-to-people cultural exchange, which means you’ll likely be spending your time visiting museums, community centers or schools rather than beaches or bars. In fact, the U.S. Treasury Department requires tours to have itineraries filled with educational experiences and meaningful exchange opportunities before granting licenses.
Also, keep in mind that you won’t be able to use ATMs, debit cards or credit cards while in Cuba. You’ll need to bring plenty of cash to fund your trip.
Souvenirs
Cuban cigars (Image: SteveGriff.com used under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike license)
Cuban cigars (Image: SteveGriff.com used under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike license)
Before you load your suitcase with token souvenirs of your trip to Cuba, keep in mind that U.S. Customs will only allow you to bring back educational or informational materials. Think along the lines of books, CDs and posters rather than coffee, rum or cigars, which won’t be allowed into the U.S.

(Main image: NatalieMaynor)

The low-down on traveling to Cuba was last modified: June 26th, 2019 by Marissa Willman
Author: Marissa Willman (786 posts)

Marissa Willman earned a bachelor's degree in journalism before downsizing her life into two suitcases for a teaching gig in South Korea. Seoul was her home base for two years of wanderlusting throughout six countries in Asia. In 2011, Marissa swapped teaching for travel writing and now calls Southern California home.