How To Legally Visit Cuba

By Subodh / May 9, 2013

For Canadians and Europeans, Cuba is one of the most popular destinations for Caribbean vacations. For Americans, on the other hand, Cuba is off-limits to travelers due to a long-standing embargo against the small Communist country. While hundreds of thousands of Americans might visit Cuba each year, many do so illegally, and they face the possibility of harsh fines and close scrutiny at customs.

If you want to visit Cuba, there are ways to do so legally. President Obama recently re-allowed certain types of trips to Cuba that make it possible for more people to visit the country with permission from the United States government. How can you legally visit Cuba?

People-to-People Trips to Cuba

President Obama has allowed “people-to-people” trips as a way for Americans to visit the island of Cuba legally. In order to go on a people-to-people trip, you need to go with a travel company that’s licensed for trips to Cuba. A people-to-people trip is intended to be an educational trip bringing the people of America and Cuba together, so travel companies must create detailed itineraries that schedule educational activities during almost every moment of the trip. The United States government won’t approve the itinerary if there are any recreational activities listed.

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If you want to go on a people-to-people trip, you’ll have to sign up with one of the handful of licensed travel companies, but you’ll likely get put on a long waiting list. Also, the trips aren’t cheap. A trip to Cuba for just one weekend could cost $2,000 or more.

College Students and Religious Organizations

College students and members of religious organizations are the only other people who are legally allowed to travel to Cuba under special circumstances. Universities can sponsor trips to Cuba when the focus is educational and only if the students will earn credits toward their degree during the trip. An official letter from a school representative confirming the purpose of the trip and that credits will be earned is required to book a trip with a travel company that’s licensed for travel to Cuba.

Religious organizations can also legally arrange trips to Cuba. An official letter from a leader of the organization must state the purposes of the trip in order to go, and the trip has to be for greater purposes than just going to Cuba to worship with other members of the religion. The trip must be arranged by a specially licensed travel company.

Journalists and Cuban-Americans can also apply for special permission from the U.S. government in order to travel to Cuba legally.

Loopholes for Travelling to Cuba

Technically, it is not illegal for an American to visit Cuba. An American can go to Mexico, Canada, or any other country that allows travel to Cuba, and board a flight to the island. The trip becomes illegal for an American, however, when they spend money in Cuba. It is practically impossible for an American to visit Cuba without spending any money while there, but if they can manage, then the trip isn’t technically illegal.

Reasons to Visit Cuba

If you are heading to Cuba you may want to do it for historical appreciation of older vehicles, to enjoy great rum and smoke a great cigar or cigarette. However, when it comes to shopping and bringing these goodies home it is important for you to remember that there is an embargo and you may not bring Cuban items into the United States.