With just 24 hours notice, the U.S. government announced today that it will become easier for Americans to visit Cuba starting on Friday, January 16. In fact, though that is the date when eased restrictions take effect, there are still some high barriers between you and an easy, legal visit to the island.
With 10 years of experience with the Office of Foreign Assets Control at the Treasury Department and two years of experience traveling within Cuba, we have a big network of friends and colleagues on the ground in-country and advisors here at home. We’ve called on them to help us – and you – understand the latest as of right now.
Can I now go to Cuba on my own legally?
No. The revised regulations still require you to travel with a group that follows specific guidelines of a “general license” for people-to-people travel. Your trip must feature a fulltime schedule of exchanges that result in meaningful interactions. Self-directed activities are prohibited, and you still need to be accompanied by an agent of the company you are traveling with. In fact, there are still just 12 categories of travel that are permitted, including people-to-people education experiences. This is the kind of visit that Classic Journeys provides. Without any adjustments, our trips already meet the current standards. Some Americans who fit specific categories may now visit for reasons such as research or professional meetings.
Can I travel to Cuba for tourist activities?
No. General tourism such as a visit to a beach resort continues to be prohibited.
Should I go now…or wait?
This is a remarkable time to be in Cuba, a chance to experience a chapter in human history that will not be repeated. Yes, there are still some limits that may go away later. But the crowds will grow when that happens. Over the past weeks, our guests who are just returning from Cuba tell us how they have loved the feeling of being agents of change, part of the process.
But I can book a flight now, right?
At the moment, there are only charter flights, and those are heavily booked. The U.S. Department of Transportation has yet to set regulations for scheduled operations. In practical terms, that will be driven by how quickly airlines can negotiate regulatory hurdles and how much volume the Cuban airports can handle. Classic Journeys, for example, has flights contracted through 2016.
Can I now bring home cigars and rum?
Yes, as long as the combined value of tobacco and alcohol products doesn’t exceed $100, and you purchase them for personal use. In all, you can now bring back up to $400 worth of goods from Cuba.
Is the Cuban government matching the U.S. effort to ease restrictions?
To our knowledge, Cuba has announced no significant changes to any of their relevant policies. Nor have Cuban leaders loosened control on the day-to-day lives of the people. Something on the order of 83% of Cuban businesses are owned by the government. That leaves little capacity for entrepreneurs, even if they can rapidly gain access to money, to expand the tourist infrastructure in the immediate future.
Didn’t I see that credit cards and mobile phones will be allowed now?
Yes, but in the short term those changes may be more symbolic than practical. Eased restrictions will permit the use of U.S. credit cards in Cuba, but the terminals and Internet connections required to process the transactions are in very short supply or non-existent. Mobile phone usage is a similar story. While you’ll be allowed to use your phone, cell service is less reliable that we are accustomed to, and our U.S. phones are not compatible with the fairly meager phone system.
I’ve already booked a Cuba trip with Classic Journeys. Will it change?
Only in good ways as far as we can see! We have contracts with the charter airlines, as well as our hotels, restaurants, guides, and all of the people and colleagues in Cuba who help us operate our trips. These contracts extend into 2016, so we’re able to proceed as planned on all of our scheduled departures even though demand will surely increase. We’re going to be right on top of changes – watching them, discussing them, building them right into trips on a moment-by-moment basis. Whenever a new rule takes effect, we’ll incorporate it.
How can I keep track of changes as they occur?
Stay in touch with Classic Journeys. Call us (800.200.3887) and continue to check this blog as well as our website. We are in close touch with every authority we know in the U.S. and Cuba, and we’ll share the latest as soon as we learn about it.