There’s something to be said about the road less traveled. And I certainly did that as I turned a quick 90-mile journey from Miami to Cuba into a trip of over 4,000 miles. Was it worth it? Absolutely.
As I uncover the secret of travel to Cuba for Americans, I’ll share with you how you can do it legally as well as under the radar, which I like to call My Way. Plus, I’ll highlight some of Cuba’s excellent food, drink, must-sees, and experiences.
First and foremost, I must say that since my return, I have received so many blank faces when I mentioned I traveled to Cuba to celebrate the New Year. I didn’t know it prior, but most Americans are oblivious to the fact that travel to Cuba is difficult and highly restricted. Unless you are in the know, the press, politicians, and government have done an excellent job in keeping Americans unaware of this gem of the Caribbean. If you are like the majority, you don’t hear much about Cuba unless it has to do with the health of the Fidel Castro or a hurricane fast approaching. Am I right?
So why do so many Americans stay at home with such a beautiful, spirited country only 90 miles off its shores? Let me explain the basics. Then you can decide your route to Cuba.
Legal travel to Cuba – The basics
The Cuban government does not prohibit travel to Cuba by Americans; nor it is illegal for an American to travel to Cuba with a license from the U.S. government. However, legal travel directly from the United States is limited. You need to fall into one of two groups or choose the recent “People to People” travel option. All are explained below:
1) License waived because you are:
- A professional journalist on assignment
- A full-time academic or research professional
- A person on official government business
2) Need to apply for a specific license with the U.S. Department of the Treasury Office of Foreign Assets Control because you are:
- A person visiting immediate family
- A full-time graduate student conducting academic research to be counted toward a graduate degree, an undergraduate or graduate student participating in a study aboard program of at least 10 weeks in length, a professor/teacher employed at a US institution traveling to Cuba to teach
- A person engaging in religious activities, humanitarian projects, non-profit cultural exhibitions
- A freelance journalist
3) New “People to People” travel option
President Obama recently opened the “People to People” travel option to Americans. It’s available to Americans who don’t qualify for the other two options and wish to visit Cuba as tourists. In order to take advantage of this type of travel, Americans must go with a licensed tour operator with a cultural exchange program. These programs are full-time with a 40 hours a week schedule full of historical, religious, and cultural education.
What does this mean?
As an American, you can travel to Cuba, but you need to fit into pretty stringent qualifiers, wait patiently for licenses from the U.S. Department of Treasury, or go with one of the licensed tour operators that book up quickly, charge a pretty penny, and make your dreams of relaxing with mojitos and cigars at the beach nearly impossible with the full-time schedule of cultural exchange that the tours must follow.