How to: Travel to Cuba Legally as an American

Cuba Insider Guides
by Gabriela Garcia Feb 11, 2010

Photos: Fotos Habana

Traveling to Cuba legally as an American is possible, if slightly complicated. Here are some ways you can make it work.

While it’s still challenging to travel legally, President Obama has eased some of the restrictions and opened up some opportunities. Having just returned from the island, I can attest that the process involves months of planning, tons of paperwork, and plenty of waiting around. But it’s a worthy process for those who are concerned about traveling illegally through a third country and facing the possibility of a hefty fine upon return.

The first thing to know about legal travel to Cuba is that there are two licenses: a general license and a specific license. Traveling under general license is the easiest because you don’t have to ask the government for permission, but you can be asked for documented proof from your trip that shows you traveled under that category.

An extensive list of travel categories is available on the Marazul, Global Exchange, and the Center For Cuban Studies.

Some of the categories for legal travel to Cuba are:

Family Visits: This falls under general license.

Professional Research or Attendance at a Conference: This is a general license available to full time professionals provided they spend the majority of their time in Cuba conducting research. This can involve site visits, attending lectures, and other academic endeavors.

The majority of group travel opportunities fall under this category. Some examples of current opportunities are “Reality Tours” that explore everything from alternative healing to music offered by Global Exchange, and a teacher’s delegation being put together through the Center for Cuban Studies.

Journalists: Full-time journalists that work for a news gathering organization can travel to Cuba under general license. Freelancers writing articles on Cuba can obtain a specific license provided they have a publication history.

Study Abroad: Specific Licenses are granted for undergraduate and graduate study abroad programs lasting longer than ten weeks. There are a multitude of American universities currently offering programs in Cuba. Presbyterian College’s program is available to students from any university.

Humanitarian Projects: Under a specific license, groups can take donations and engage in humanitarian trips. Most of these trips are carried out by religious groups such as the Cuba-America Jewish Mission, Peachtree Presbyterian Church, and several others. The Cuba AIDS Project also takes small groups interested in HIV/AIDS outreach.

It’s unfortunate that a decades long political battle deters Americans from visiting Cuba, because there is so much to be learned on both sides from an interaction between Americans and Cubans. Jumping the hoops to travel legally might be worth it for interaction with a place most Americans see only through the media.

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