Nobody represents America’s values better than
the American people, and I believe this contact will
ultimately do more to empower the Cuban people.
— President Barack Obama, Dec. 17, 2014
Almost two years ago President Obama began loosening the economic embargo against Cuba. Travel became easier in the following months but it is only now that travel there for US citizens is getting anything like easy and independent. Since I have had a few clients ask me about travel to Cuba recently, I will fill everyone in on what I have learned about traveling to this mystery destination.
The US trade embargo against Cuba is still in effect – but restrictions have been relaxed significantly. We cannot call it travel for tourism purposes just yet, but you can get there more easily and travel more freely than before. In the past, US citizens had to travel to Cuba on charter flights as part of closely controlled groups on specific “missions” to the island. Or the more daring travelers could connect by way of Canada, Mexico, or another country friendly to Cuba, and possibly be challenged by US immigration upon their return.
But scheduled flights are in place starting the end of November for flights from Miami, Fort Lauderdale, or New York airports on the big three airlines — American, Delta and United. When I check availability for these in my agent system and online, connections are tagged “Subject to Government Approval.” The ink might not be dry on these plans yet, so further research would be needed before we spend money on these flights. This caveat also means that US citizens traveling to Cuba need a visa to visit Cuba for a particular reason.
Unless you are going for religious, family, journalism, medical or a few other approved reasons, the visa qualification most applicable for general travel (stealthy tourism) would be to participate in a “people to people” program. Travelers would have local tour guides and perhaps visit homes in order to really meet the people of the country we have been curious about for so long. In a change from previous requirements, visitors from the US can travel on their own now as long as they build in a few guided tours during their visit. This makes perfect sense to me since having guided tours is the most efficient way to learn about a new place. Getting the visa is easier and streamlined if you work with a tour operator who can book the required components for you and provide the applicable visa code.
Buying travel insurance is possible but more complicated than if you were going to a country with no travel restrictions. Additional forms and documentation are required, but the tour operator and I can help you deal with these questions also.
All of this sounds off-putting, I know. Usually I like to emphasize the curious, charming, or inspiring aspects of a destination. But since Cuba is different, I wanted to outline how much easier it has become in recent months.
Some of us who remember the Cuban missile crisis have been wondering for years what things are really like there. By the time I was teaching high school students about The Old Man and the Sea, Cuba had been a forbidden island for a decade. Now is the time to get an early view of the Cuba we have never known. If you want to go soon before the visiting Yankee traffic changes the landscape, call me!
Boundaries divide. Travel unites.
3 November 2016