Politics

How You Can Legally Visit Cuba

August 14th 2015

By:
Nicole Charky

The U.S. flag is now flying in Cuba for the first time in 54 years, reinvigorating travel between the two countries. Airbnb is already launching rentals, with more than half of the 2,600 listings now in Havana, NBC reports.

Since President Barack Obama announced on July 1 that the U.S. and Cuba have, in a historic agreement, formalized plans to reopen embassies, nearly 89,000 Americans have visited. This began the process of re-opening diplomatic relations and eased the longstanding travel embargo for the first time in more than a century.

For the adventurous, last month's news was a positive sign that with more normalized diplomatic relations will also come more normalized travel regulations. Officially, tourist trips are still prohibited, but since January, citizens no longer need any special licenses to plan a trip—just certification that the visit fits under one of the 12 categories OK'd by the Treasury Department's Office of Foreign Assets Control. That is a departure from the prior approval model Americans had to rely on to travel to Cuba previously.

As for the 12 categories a trip to Cuba has to fall under, they are as follows:

  1. Family visits
  2. Official business of the U.S. government, foreign governments, and certain intergovernmental organizations
  3. Journalistic activity
  4. Professional research and meetings
  5. Educational activities
  6. Religious activities
  7. Public performances, clinics, workshops, athletic and other competitions, and exhibitions
  8. Support for the Cuban people
  9. Humanitarian projects
  10. Activities of private foundations or research or educational institutes
  11. Exportation, importation, or transmission of information or information materials
  12. Certain export transactions that may be considered for authorization under existing regulations and guidelines.

The tourist travel ban can only be lifted by Congress, but Obama said in July that he would talk to lawmakers to move closer to rolling back the full economic embargo still imposed on Cuba.

"There are Americans who want to travel to Cuba and American business who want to invest in Cuba," Obama said in July. "I've called on Congress to take steps to lift the embargo that prevents Americans from traveling or doing business in Cuba."

Obama faces tough opposition in a divided Congress, where lawmakers have introduced legislation both in support and opposition of relaxing restrictions. In June, the House voted to leave a provision in a transportation funding bill that blocks the administration's rules easing travel, which the White House said it would veto pending passage in the Senate.

USA Today reports that at least three other bills have been introduced in both houses of Congress that aim to prohibit strict regulations on travel to Cuba––though none have made much progress.

Nonetheless, Obama seemed hopeful that the march of history would not be impeded by political infighting in Washington, especially when nearly 70 percent of Americans are in favor of ending the trade embargo, according to a survey by the Chicago Council on Global Affairs released July 1.

President Obama asked, "Why should Washington stand in the way of our own people? The progress we make today is another demonstration we don't have to be imprisoned by the past.