Traveling to Cuba: What can US citizens expect now

While the U.S. and Cuba have now stated their intention to restore diplomatic ties, American tourists won’t be able to easily board a plane to Havana anytime soon. While Canadians, Europeans and almost everyone else travels to Cuba freely, it still remains illegal for most U.S. citizens to travel to and spend money in Cuba except for the Guantanamo Bay Naval Base (also called Gitmo or GTMO).

Despite Obama’s declaration, the Cuba embargo was passed by Congress, and lawmakers would first have to lift its half-century old trade embargo. Keep your eye on the news.   The US Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control oversees travel to Cuba.

There are 12 categories of people who are allowed to visit including close relatives of Cubans, academics, those traveling on official government business, those on humanitarian or religious missions, journalists and people on accredited cultural education programs.

How to travel

If you qualify under the criteria you currently must deal with a government licensed operator. Those tour operators assist travelers to obtain visas and flights.   Those agencies include small operators who cater to Cuban-Americans. Several large tour companies offering weeklong educational trips for $3,000 to $8,000 per person (by cordell). Eighteen airports are currently approved to accommodate travel to Cuba and several US airlines offer charter flights to the Cuban cities of Havana, Holguin, Santa Clara and Cienfuegos but the only way onto those planes is via one of these agencies.

US banks and credit card companies are prohibited from doing business in Cuba so don’t expect to see ATMs or businesses accepting US bank Visa, MasterCard or American Express. US dollars are accepted with a surcharge so it may be more convenient to bring Canadian dollars, UK Pounds or Euros for your trip.

Bringing back cigars

You still can’t. According to US Customs and Border Protection dated 08/21/2014 no-one can currently cannot import cigars from Cuba to the USA.   “The allowance for bringing in up to $100 worth of Cuban cigars if you were on authorized travel to Cuba is no longer in effect. All importations of Cuban cigars are illegal, including Cuban cigars that were acquired in other countries (such as Canada, England, or Mexico).” That will surely change.