U.S travel to Cuba increased dramatically over the last 2 years thanks to the policies implemented by the Obama administration. The American embassy was re-opened, commercial flights were allowed, U.S companies could do business and travel restrictions were eased. Over 500,000 Americans traveled to Cuba in 2016 alone, bringing with them increased revenue and opportunities for the Cuban people and valuable cultural exchange.
The current administration has rolled back several aspects of this policy. Although cruises and commercial flights will still be allowed and the embassy will remain open, stricter business regulations and travel guidelines will make it more difficult for Americans to visit Cuba. If you were considering a trip to the island nation, here’s what the reversal of America’s Cuba policy will mean for you.
For now, commercial airlines will still offer service to Cuba. Currently JetBlue, Delta, Spirit, Southwest and others have daily non-stop flights. However, if the demand decreases as a result of the new, more stringent travel policies, airlines may be forced to reduce their routes or raise fares.
Under the previous policy, travel to Cuba from the U.S. for the purpose of tourism was prohibited, but visitors could easily get there by meeting 1 of 12 visa requirements. The most commonly used category was “support for the Cuban people”, which was considered individual people-to-people exchange. This allowed U.S. visitors to travel on their own and relied on an honor system. That is now prohibited.
Individual people-to-people exchange has been replaced by group people-to-people exchange, meaning visitors must now travel in an organized group.
Under the new restrictions, Cruises from the United States will also still be allowed to sail to Cuba. Passengers will still have to meet one of the 12 visa requirements or comply with the stricter group person-to-person exchange policy.
Under the new policy, Americans are prohibited from staying in military owned hotels. This prevents travelers from booking rooms at some of the more high end and historic establishments like the Hotel Nacional de Cuba.
Many Americans visiting Cuba opt to stay in rented rooms and apartments, which will still be allowed. In the last 2 years alone, hosts in Cuba earned nearly $40 million through Airbnb. I prefer this option over a hotel because it ensures the host receives payment directly and it allows for interaction both with locals and fellow travelers. A win, win!
The 12 visa categories outlined by the previous administration will remain intact, with the one exception. Now that individual people-to-people travel is no longer permitted, group people-to-people travel will be allowed through organized group tours. Travelers are expected to maintain a full schedule throughout the duration of their trip and retain a record of their activities. Companies offering such trips include Smithsonian Journeys, Cuba Education Travel and the Center for Cuban Studies.
PREVIOUSLY SCHEDULED TRIPS
There is good news for those who already have trips planned. If you booked a portion of your trip, a flight, hotel, cruise, or rental car, prior to the restrictions being announced on 6/17/17, you can still go and travel under the old policy. That includes individual person-to-person travel, even if the trip takes place after the new regulations are officially issued.
The new restrictions will not go into effect until the Office of Foreign Asset Control and other government agencies officially issue new regulations. They have 30 days to do so according to the administration.
In addition to reinstating tougher travel restrictions, the current administration has also directed the Treasury Department to strictly enforce its new policy. This means Americans who travel to Cuba could be subjected to random audit. Travelers must document their activities and retain proof that they complied with the new restrictions.
The bottom line is, it’s still possible to travel to Cuba. The new policy just makes it much more complicated. The new restrictions will likely discourage people from traveling to the island, but they shouldn’t. It is important that Americans continue to visit Cuba. Despite the rhetoric, American tourism in Cuba boosts the burgeoning private sector thanks to increased demand for restaurants, taxi services and home rentals.
The 10 days I spent in Cuba were some of the most memorable I ever had while abroad. While it’s no longer as easy, it is most definitely worth the effort. I encourage anyone who is even remotely contemplating a trip to Cuba to GO, GO, GO!
For more information, check out the new Cuba policy Q&As issued by the Treasury Department.
Are you considering traveling to Cuba? What questions do you have? What are your thoughts about the new policy? Share your comments below!