UPDATE: This post was first published in 2015 and a lot has changed in that time. To see the latest regulations, take a look at our recently published blog on US travel to Cuba.
After more than 50 years of icy relations between the US and Cuba, recent news from Washington may have prompted some to dig out their suitcases and start planning their dream Cuban holiday. But despite the renewed diplomatic ties between the US and Cuba, Americans won’t be flocking to Cuba’s beaches and resorts just yet. Yes, the travel rules have been relaxed, but the potential end of the trade embargo doesn’t mean that Cuban beach holidays are on the horizon for American citizens.
Quite the opposite, really, as American citizens still won’t be allowed to visit Cuba on a regular tourist visa.
In the past, every application to visit Cuba was decided on a case-by-case basis by the Cuba Consular Service in Washington. Individuals had to fit into one of 12 categories:
“family visits, official business of the U.S. government, foreign governments, and certain intergovernmental organizations; journalistic activity; professional research and professional meetings; educational activities; religious activities; public performances, clinics, workshops, athletic and other competitions, and exhibitions.” (source: The Washington Post)
The changes mean that American citizens will no longer have to obtain a special license to be able to visit Cuba, but penalties will still remain for visiting Cuba while disregarding these categories. Sadly, this means it’s unlikely Americans will be sipping mojitos on the beaches of Varadero anytime soon, but it’s still a step in the right direction for improved relations between the two neighbours.
If you’re an American hoping to visit Cuba, your best bet is to either secure a spot on one of the first cruises to set sail to the country in more than 50 years or to get creative with your holiday planning. If you can prove that your trip will include educational activities, or that you’ll be taking part in workshops (with a Group Salsa Tour, or Photography Tour, for example) then you are more likely to be allowed to visit Cuba from the US.
Once you have determined that your visit qualifies, your next obstacle will be organising travel to the country. At the moment, there are very few direct travel routes and you won’t find them on most commercial travel sites. Cuba Travel Services offers flights from New York, Miami and Tampa to Cuba, although if you want to find the cheapest deal your best bet is to travel through a neighbouring country. In the future, as more Americans begin to travel to Cuba, more direct flights may be introduced, but until then you’re better off catching a connecting flight in Mexico.