New Regulations Make It Easier For Americans To Visit Cuba
Getting to Cuba is easier than it has been in decades. Today, new regulations set by the Office of Foreign Assets Control go into effect that remove some of the prohibitions on American travel to Cuba. The embargo remains, and travel is still not unrestricted, but getting to Cuba has never been more accessible to Americans in the post-embargo era.
The changes come less than a week before President Obama travels to Cuba. He will be the first sitting U.S. president in nearly 90 years to make such a trip.
The biggest change is the creation of individual people-to-people travel. Previously, Americans could make such visits only in groups, via companies that were approved by the U.S. government. Today's change allows U.S. citizens to make these trips on their own. The trips are meant to be educational, meaning that on such visits a traveler must engage with the Cuban people that will "result in meaningful interaction between the traveler and individuals in Cuba." Those pursuing such a trip need to keep records of their activities to document and justify their trips.
Taking a trip to Cuba strictly for the purposes of tourism remains off limits—but it will be up to travelers to document their activities, rather than tour operators.
"This is now the honor system on steroids," said Cuba expert John S. Kavulich, president of the U.S.-Cuba Trade and Economic Council, Inc. "It is a further dismantling of the supervisory role of the OFAC, with respect to individuals subject to U.S. law visiting Cuba."
People-to-people travel is one of the 12 categories of approved U.S. travel to Cuba. Other categories include family visits, government business, professional research, journalism and humanitarian projects.
For cigar smokers (and those who enjoy Cuban rum) these changes also allow the purchase and consumption of Cuban goods while in third-party countries, such as the United Kingdom, Canada, Switzerland and the like. The prohibition on importing Cuban goods from those third-party nations remains, meaning you can smoke your Cohiba in Tokyo but cannot bring a few home with you.
For travelers going to Cuba and coming back to the United States, the $100 limit on tobacco—including cigars—and alcohol remains, as does the $400 limit on all Cuban goods.
Kavulich said he expected the $400 limit to be raised, perhaps as soon as next week during the presidential visit. But he feels that the $100 limit on cigars and alcohol, though, will remain for some time due to the battles being fought over the rights to key rum and cigar brands, namely Havana Club and Cohiba. "Rum and cigars," he said, remain "problematic."
The changes to the law also allow Americans to pay Cuban nationals in the U.S. a salary, so long as no additional payments to the Cuban government are required. This means that Cuban artists, athletes and others will be able to visit the U.S. and be paid for their work. Cuban nationals can now also open U.S. bank accounts, and the barriers between the U.S. and Cuban banking systems are being eased, if not removed entirely.
These moves are being made in support of President Obama's liberal Cuba policy, which began in December 2014. "In the most significant changes in our policy in more than 50 years," Obama said at the time, "we are going to end an outdated approach that, for decades, has failed to advance our interests. And, instead, we will begin to normalize relations between our two countries."