As the question of what came first, the chicken or the egg, the question of Americans travelling to Cuba keeps floating over many American heads: is it legal?
The truth is that it is. Cuba doesn’t prohibit Americans from travelling to Cuba. It’s actually the US government that limits the travel, because they don’t want US citizens spending money in Cuba. Per the Treasury Department, Americans can travel to Cuba with a license from its Office of Foreign Asset Control.
So if you want to travel to Cuba, how do you get one of these precious licenses to travel to the forbidden fruit of the Caribbean?
There are three legal ways to travel to Cuba. Since the majority of people don’t fit into the fairly limited categories of journalist, full-time academic, research professional, celebrities with friends on high places or a person on official governmental business, the list of those few ways is even shorter.
“People To People”
The most common legal travel option for Americans is through the “People to People” programs. US President Barack Obama opened the “People to People” travel option for Americans who don’t qualify for independent licensing explained below and wish to visit Cuba on an educational tour.
The tour operator is responsible for leading a tour that meets the “People to People” itinerary, which is very interactive and educational in nature.
The tour operator is the entity that holds the license and adds the passengers to that license for a particular range of dates.
This license is given to all participants and must be carried with the group for passing through customs.
The itinerary has a full-time schedule of three or more “People to People” interactions a day over the traditional 9-day tour.
The activities touch on a wide range of topics from Cuban cooking to a political discussion with a former Cuban diplomat as well as musical performances including classical, jazz, and contemporary music. There are many activities, but there is plenty of time to enjoy Cuban rum, cigars, and even free evenings to enjoy private restaurants, jazz clubs, and the like also.
Limited Categories That Don’t Require A Group Trip
A general license may be granted to you from the Office of Foreign Asset Control after meeting its requirements. The requirements are that you are a professional journalist/photographer on assignment, a full-time academic/research professional conducting a study or attending a conference, or a person on official government business.
You must apply, providing ample detail of your goal(s), itinerary with activity descriptions, organization/news source, and duration of trip. This takes time, so it’s recommended that you fill in the application for the trip about 50 days prior to your planned travel date.
If you are a person visiting immediate family, a full-time graduate student conducting academic research to be counted toward a graduate degree, an undergraduate or graduate student participating in a study aboard program of at least 10 weeks in length, a professor/teacher employed at a U.S. institution traveling to Cuba to teach, a person engaging in religious activities, humanitarian projects, non-profit cultural exhibitions, or a freelance journalist, you will need to apply for a specific license with the OFAC well in advance of your travel, again about 50 days.