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Travel Desitnation: Cuba

Updated on July 20, 2015

Limitations American Citizens Have When Travelling to Cuba

As of May 29, 2015, the United States State Department dropped Cuba from the nations that support state terrorism watch list. However, the United States has not lifted the embargo which President Kennedy enacted on February 3, 1962, to “reduce the threat posed by its alignment with communist powers” (Johnson, 2015). Even though the United States government has not lifted the embargo since the they are no longer considered a terrorist nation, American citizens can travel to Cuba with limitations. This article will detail what the constraints American citizens have when they visit Cuba.

For decades, Americans have travelled to third-party countries such as Canada or Mexico to then travel to Cuba. This caused many Americans problems with customs when they would go through United States customs legitimately because customs officers would see the Cuban stamp on individual passports. Before May 29, 2015, the only legal way was to get permission from the Treasury Department was by claiming the individual was going for family visits, religious, educational, or cultural exchange (Skwio, 2014). Getting permission for an American to travel to legitimately to Cuba was nearly impossible, even Beyonce and Jay-Z were almost denied in 2013.

Now that the travel ban has been limitedly lifted, Americans who travel to Cuba must go through the United States Treasury Department sanctioned travel agency. As of July 2015, there are approximately 15 approved travel agencies (Macaulay, 2015). These agencies will set up a state-approved tour to fill the visitor’s time on Cuba. Visitors are not allowed to deviate from the tour guide, and will be granted little or no time to visit the island’s beaches and touristy areas. As the State Department said, the new allowance for American to travel to Cuba "are not meant to facilitate tourist travel to Cuba, as tourist travel remains prohibited by statute” (Skwio, 2014).

The tours that American take on Cuba are considered a cultural exchange. The new regulations on what is regarded as a cultural exchange has dramatically decreased, so now as long as American tourists follow Cuban-American itinerary rigidly, no U.S. laws will be broken. The Obama administration stated "Penalties can be imposed for violations of any of the terms. This is something that we will continue to highlight as part of the process" (Johnson, 2015).

Tourists follow their tours from sun up to sun down from the first day to the last day while in Cuba. Americans cannot deviate from the tour group, and the cannot go out on their own and do other activities. Some activities which are part of approved itineraries include going to Havana to see the French architecture, viewing a large waterfall in Escambray, exploring a preserved Colonial village in Trinidad, visiting tobacco fields in Vinales, seeing the Bay of Pigs Museum, or witnessing a Communist Party meeting.

There are several problems for Americans who wish to travel to Cuba. First, there is no American embassy in Cuba. This means if an American got in trouble in Cuba, they would have limited assistance from the United States. This is particularly troublesome, since in Cuba, people are not guaranteed the same freedoms that people in America are afforded. For example, people can only access the internet with government permission. Less than 2% of individuals have internet access in Cuba (Johnson, 2015). Only certain government-sanctioned books, magazines, and newspapers are allowed into Cuba (Skwi, 2014). No person is authorized to speak negative of the communist party, or of Fidel Castro, doing so is punishable by jail.

To conclude, Cuba has been taken off the State Department’s state sanctioned terrorism watch list as of May 29, 2015. By Cuba being taken off this list, American are now able to travel under a cultural exchange program more quickly than they have been in the past. While cultural exchanges are easier, Americans are still not allowed to go to Cuba for the purpose of tourism. The United States will fine and possibly prosecute citizens who do not stay and follow a Treasury Department approved tour group. If the American does break Cuban laws, there is no United States Embassy available for assistance.


Johnson, M. (2015, June 13). Cuba Travel Services Announces New Flight Service from New York to Havana, Cuba. Journal of Transportation.

Macaulay, J. (2015, June 1). Tourism and the Transformation of Cuba. Cornell Hotel & Restaurant Administration Quarterly.

Skwio, C. (2014). Introduction. The Purposes of Paradise U.S. Tourism and Empire in Cuba and Hawai'i, 12(3), 1-13.

Would You Go to Cuba if You Could?

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    • Dana Tate profile image

      Dana Tate 2 years ago from LOS ANGELES

      I'm sure Cuba is so beautiful I would love to visit there. I will admit I have heard some pretty nasty things about their president, but I'm not well informed about it- it's just rumors.

    • Ericdierker profile image

      Eric Dierker 2 years ago from Spring Valley, CA. U.S.A.

      Very interesting. The concept of the embargo was to prevent the spread of totalitarian communist regimes. The underlying notion is to protect freedoms for people. They now allow travel but with restrictions so dire as to deny freedoms for people. The whole way it is restricted sounds just like a page out of a communist country travel program. All in all, very sadly funny.

    • Larry Rankin profile image

      Larry Rankin 2 years ago from Oklahoma

      People forget that before certain powers were put in place, Cuba was poised to be a top tourist destination.

    • FatBoyThin profile image

      Colin Garrow 2 years ago from Kinneff, Scotland

      Interesting place right enough, and with a chequered history. I'd still love to go, but maybe wait until things are a little less regulated.

    • Alphapx profile image

      Alphapx 2 years ago from Philippines

      This is a well-informed hub and good news to some tourists. Cuba is a communist country but that does not separate us from being humans with good heart.