Travel to Cuba: New Policies and Regulations

Former President Obama began the process of softening the harsh relationship between America and Cuba in December 2014. His measures included steps to increase travel, commerce and the flow of information to and from the island. While maintaining the trade embargo, Obama authorized travel in 12 licensed categories previously more strictly limited: (1) family visits; (2) official business of the U.S. government, foreign governments, and certain intergovernmental organizations; (3) journalistic activity; (4) professional research and professional meetings; (5) educational activities; (6) religious activities; (7) public performances, clinics, workshops, athletic and other competitions, and exhibitions; (8) support for the Cuban people (more commonly known as “people to people”); (9) humanitarian projects; (10) activities of private foundations or research or educational institutes; (11) exportation, importation, or transmission of information or information materials; and (12) certain authorized export transactions. Click HERE to see how each category has been defined.

On June 16, 2017, President Trump decided to roll back elements of Obama’s plan for opening Cuba to America and its citizens with the stated goals of enhancing Cuba’s compliance with U.S. law, empowering the Cuban people to develop greater economic and political liberty, and furthering the national security and foreign policy interests of the U.S. In order to achieve this, the new policies seek to funnel economic activities away from Grupo de Administración Empresarial (GAESA), which is a Cuban military enterprise that monopolizes most travel-related activity in Cuba.  Trumps change still allow individuals and American groups to develop economic ties with the local, small business sector of Cuba.

One of the bigger effects Trump’s policies have for travel opportunities is that undertaken  with a “people to people” license. Americans traveling to Cuba under the eighth category listed above will no longer be able to do so independently, rather they will have to go as part of a group. This change is done in part to ensure GAESA does not profit from Americans visiting Cuba. Every other category for travel to Cuba remains intact and legal. For example, an individual may still visit relatives in Cuba or a journalist may visit to research and write an article. In fact, the Office of Foreign Asset Control (OFAC) has already issued a FAQs document in which it states that the new policy will not result in any changes to the authorizations for travel. Specifically, group “people-to-people” travel will still be permitted. Click HERE to see OFAC’s full responses to some FAQs.

It’s summer, which means vacation time for many people who already planned their trips to Cuba months ago. Fear not, you can still visit Cuba under your original plans, even if you plan to be a solo “people-to-people” traveler, because the announced changes do not take effect until OFAC issues new regulations. This means that any travel plans to Cuba that include direct transactions with GAESA (like staying at one of their hotels) will be permitted, provided that those travel arrangements were made prior to the issuing of the new regulations.

Trump has ordered the Treasury and Commerce departments to begin the process of issuing new regulations within 30 days of his June 16th notice. Once the process is started, it can take several months to enact new regulations. Until the departments have finalized their regulations, the policy changes will not take effect. It’s hard to say how new individual “people-to-people” travel plans will be affected in the time before the new regulations are out. However, it is clear that during this awkward waiting period, and even after there are new regulations for travel to Cuba, individuals may still travel to Cuba under any of the 11 other categories.

UPDATE: July 25, 2017

Today, the Department of the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) issued new and updated Frequently Asked Questions regarding Cuba in follow-up to the President’s announcement on June 16, 2017.



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