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Legal Travel to Cuba for Americans
Travel Restrictions for Americans
United States law restricts American citizens and permanent residents of the US from traveling to Cuba. Prospective travelers must obtain a new license—or qualify for an existing license—from the US Department of the Treasury in order to be permitted to travel. It is not easy to be granted a license, and even if a person receives one, the individual will have numerous restrictions placed upon what they can see, what they can do, and with whom they can interact while they are on the island.
This article discusses the general license, the easiest type of license for citizens of the United States wanting to travel to Cuba to obtain. Information about specialized licenses can be obtained from the US Department of the Treasury.
Where is Cuba?
The Republic of Cuba—usually just referred to as Cuba—is an island nation in the Caribbean located 90 miles (150 kilometers) south of Key West, Florida. The Bahamas are located to the north of Cuba, and the Cayman Islands and Jamaica are located to the south. The Turks and Caicos Islands are located to the east of Cuba, and Haiti and the Dominican Republic are located to the southeast. Mexico is located to the west.
If the country of which you are a citizen or legal resident did not have full diplomatic relations with another country, would you travel to that country?
No Full Diplomatic Relations with Cuba
The United States does not maintain full diplomatic relations with Cuba. US interests are represented by the United States Interests Section (USINT) of the Embassy of Switzerland in Havana. The USINT staff members—United States Foreign Service personnel—are very restricted in their movements in Cuba. They are not permitted by the Communist Party of Cuba—the government—to travel outside the capital city of Havana.
The US Embassy in Kingston, Jamaica handles consular activities for the US Naval Base in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. The base is not accessible via land from within Cuba.
Office of Foreign Assets Control
US Department of the Treasury
1500 Pennsylvania Avenue NW
Washington, DC 20220
202-622 2480 | 800-540-6322
General Licenses for Traveling to Cuba
Some of the more common reasons for the issuing of general licenses for travel to Cuba by Americans are discussed below.
Persons wishing to travel to Cuba should send a letter to the Licensing Division of the Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) of the US Department of the Treasury.
The letter should mention the reason for the general license being requested, and the details of the proposed trip. Documentation supporting the request should be included with the letter.
If you are neither an American citizen nor a permanent resident of the United States, have you ever traveled to Cuba?
Types of General Licenses
General licenses are granted to the following categories of travelers to Cuba. The travelers are permitted to spend money in Cuba and engage in incidental transactions which are related to the purposes of their trip.
- Journalists and support staff who are employed by a news agency and are traveling to Cuba for journalistic activities
- Members of international organizations of which the United States is also a member. These individuals must be traveling on official business—not for pleasure.
- Members and staff of religious organizations who are traveling in order to participate in religious activities. These organizations are permitted to open accounts in financial institutions in Cuba in order to access funds to be used for religious purposes.
- Employees of US telecommunications service providers involved in the sale and servicing of authorized equipment in Cuba.
- Employees of producers or distributors of agricultural commodities, medicine, or medical devices involved in the sale, servicing, or delivery of such products.
If you are an American citizen or permanent resident of the United States, have you ever traveled to Cuba?
- Students and faculty and staff of degree-granting educational institutions in the United States who are particpating in academic activities sponsored by the US college or university. Students may travel to Cuba if they will be given credit toward their degree for the academic activity.
- Full-time professionals who are attending a work-related conference that is organized by a company which regularly organizes such conferences or meetings in countries throughout the world.
- Persons traveling to Cuba on official US government business.
- Persons visiting a close relative—by birth, marriage, or adoption—who is a Cuban national. The traveler may be accompanied by individuals who live in the same household as the traveler as a member of the traveler's family unit.