Home » How the new U.S. Cuba policy changes will impact travel

How the new U.S. Cuba policy changes will impact travel

written by Intrepid Travel June 17, 2017
Vintage car Havana Cuba

In response to the U.S. Cuba policy changes, announced Friday June 16 2017:

Traveling to Cuba is one incredibly enriching experience. It’s a country that’s unlike any other, a Caribbean paradise we think everyone should visit. But thanks to the President’s just-announced policy change, the rules for Americans who want to visit have become a little more complex.

There’s been a lot of conversation around his decision to enforce these rules more strictly and what it means for the future of American travel to Cuba. Having operated legal trips for American passengers since August 2015, we’re in a pretty good position to explain it all.

Here’s exactly what the announcement means for American travelers, some options for how to travel to Cuba legally, and some essential advice on what to expect when there:

The new rules for American travel to Cuba

Under the Obama administration, Americans could travel both independently and as part of a group if they were on a legal people-to-people (P2P) trip. These trips required travelers to fall into 12 categories of authorized travel. They were a way of ensuring there were meaningful interactions between American travelers and Cubans through a variety of cultural and educational exchange activities.

Before President Trump’s policy announcement, people-to-people travel was loosely enforced and self-reported. But from now, people-to-people travel has been banned for individuals not on a Treasury-licensed tour. While the consequences of violating these enforcements remain unclear, traveling with a legal P2P operator has never been so important. 

The news comes as a step back for travel to Cuba. American hotel chains will now face increased red tape and demand for U.S. airlines stands to drop. For Intrepid Travel and other licensed P2P operators, these changes will have little impact on day-to-day tours. We will still be offering a legal 9-day Hola Cuba people-to-people tour, as we have done the past few years.

Cuba

Megan, an American passenger on our P2P trip in Cuba

If you want more details on the Cuba announcement, check out these FAQs published by the Department of the Treasury.

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Advice for Americans traveling to Cuba

What to bring: A valid passport, visa or Tourist Card, and travel insurance are all required for Cuba travel, as well as the completion of an affidavit. Intrepid provides all our travelers with a signed affidavit that they must keep in their passports for five years after returning from the country. You can get your Tourist Card through the airline you travel with.

Money: Cash is king in Cuba, so travelers must convert their money into Cuban pesos (CUCs) which is most easily done at airports, hotels or banks. Please be sure to budget appropriately as credit cards are not accepted everywhere.

Internet: Don’t rely on the Internet here. You can purchase Wi-Fi cards for designated areas, but you may just want to take the time to disconnect and enjoy.

Vintage car Havana Cuba

Safety: Cuba is safe! There are very low rates of violent crime so even if you are a solo traveler on a P2P tour there’s nothing to be worried about. Feel free to read through these solo travel tips for Cuba in case you’re wondering what to expect.

Accommodation: The guesthouses (Casas) we use on our trip allow for a truly authentic Cuban experience. Regardless of where you stay, power cuts and breaks in hot water are sometimes unavoidable, as in any developing country.

Flights: American Airlines, Delta Air Lines and JetBlue currently operate direct flights to Cuba from the United States. All three airlines currently have applications out for more routes after Spirit, Silver Airways and Frontier backed out of Cuba in June 2017, according to the Miami Herald.

What to expect on a P2P trip with Intrepid

On Intrepid’s Hola Cuba tour, you’ll get your meals included, travel by minibus, and stay in local guesthouses. For 9 days, you’ll encounter the faded buildings of Havana, visit tobacco farms in beautiful Viñales, stroll the European boulevards of Cienfuegos, salsa dance in charming Trinidad, all while learning the history and culture from an expert local guide.

Included activities are plentiful and range from a cooking demonstration in Viñales to a leader-led city tour of Old Havana to a pottery center visit in Trinidad. (Read more: 5 reasons why Trinidad is the real star of Cuba.)

Trinidad Cuba

The countryside just outside of Trinidad

All of the above is pretty exciting in itself, but if you really want to know what the experience is like as an American, these articles written by a Chicagoan blogger will explain:

-What traveling to Cuba taught me about making the most of life
-What a tobacco farmer taught me about the art of Cuban cigars

We ran our first Cuba people-to-people departure in August 2015 and since that day have carried over 700 U.S. passengers, on 47 departures to Cuba. The feedback from our American travelers has been outstanding – our travelers are hosted by the Cuban people and so forge friendships and gain an understanding of the real Cuba. In other words, travel with Intrepid and you’ll be in good hands.

Old Havana Cuba

Old Havana

It’s also worth mentioning that for travelers looking for a smaller more immersive cruise option, our sister company Peregrine Adventures offers a legal P2P for a maximum of 34 travelers. This 8-day small ship cruise is a great option because it lets you visit part of Cuba travelers never see. Highlights include visiting a local school in San Juan del Valle, stopping off at port towns like Cienfuegos or Maria la Gorda, and a guided look at Hemingway’s Havana.

Cuba is like nowhere else on earth. Experience the magic of this Caribbean island nation on our 9-day trip that’s legal for U.S. citizens.

Not a U.S. citizen? We have plenty of small group adventures in Cuba for you too! Check out our sailing trip, our cycle trip, and even our family holiday trip.

(Image credits from top to bottom: iStock, Megan Arzbaecher, Jen Welch, iStock x2)

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18 comments

Michael Tanchek June 21, 2017 - 3:38 pm

Not that you would ever recommend such a thing, but is it still feasible to go independently through Mexico?

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Anonymous June 21, 2017 - 6:21 am

I went to Cuba on a tour in April 2015. So happy I went then. I wanted to go before things changed. At the time the Embassy was not yet open so a slight risk but not much. What a wonderful experience. I learned you have to be very flexible – such as when the government decides to take the hotel rooms the tour had reserved so that had to scramble around to find another. What a dump – we called it camping! The people, the food, the mojitos (!!), were wonderful. What an unusual experience to travel somewhere where there were absolutely no American brands (at the time) except for the old cars. Trip of a lifetime.

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Marie June 21, 2017 - 5:16 am

I am still confused by your article. Will this policy truly take effect July 16 or is this your guess? I heard from other sources people to people travel should still be ok for a couple of months. We booked to stay with a Cuban couple at Airbnb for first week August.

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Rebecca Shapiro June 21, 2017 - 7:43 am

Hi Marie, the enforcement of the rules is a little unclear so far but we gather that if your trip was booked before the announcement you should be fine. It’s if you book after the announcement that you must comply with the new rules of no independent travel. Hope that helps!

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Logan June 21, 2017 - 4:51 am

I also am confused by this sentence – “from now, people-to-people travel has been banned for individuals not on a Treasury-licensed tour”. When you say Treasury-licensed, do you mean you guys have a specific license, or just that your tours are designed and operated in a way for us to ensure we’re in compliance with the general license for P2P travel (and so we’d check that box still on the affidavit?) From the FAQ you shared, it does seem that the only thing changing is people can’t go completely on their own anymore, has to be through some type of US company ensuring a legit P2P itinerary. Thanks! What a frustrating change by our government.

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Rebecca Shapiro June 21, 2017 - 7:26 am

Hi Logan, our Cuba P2P trips are designed and operated in compliance with the licence. We provide the affidavit.

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Kati George June 21, 2017 - 4:09 am

Please note that in your “Flights” section of this article, you omitted inclusion of Southwest Air as also currently offering daily air service to Cuba. Fares out of Ft. Lauderdale to Havana are extremely favorable.

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Melissa June 21, 2017 - 4:03 am

Based on the OFAC’s communication sent out immediately after trumps speech, none of these rules were put into effect yet. People do your research!

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Jennifer June 19, 2017 - 12:45 pm

Kindly clarify this sentence- “from now, people-to-people travel has been banned for individuals not on a Treasury-licensed tour”. My understanding is that Trump’s changes won’t take effect for AT LEAST another 30 days (around July 16th) so are you saying that these changes are ALREADY in effect?

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Rebecca Shapiro June 20, 2017 - 2:16 am

Hey Jennifer, although the changes have been announced the reversal relies on regulations that could take months to finalize. That said, please do double check with a tour operator/ airline/ hotel before you make any travel plans.

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Lupie June 18, 2017 - 2:53 pm

America is really suffering with this lunatic in office…..threatening our healthcare, can’t easily travel to Cuba, hated by all Europeans, lost our leadership role in the world, ignorant to climate change for future generation, and on and on and on.

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Lupie June 18, 2017 - 2:52 pm

This country is really suffering with Trump in office…no healthcare, can’t travel to Cuba, hated by Europeans, and on and on and on.

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Tien Tran June 18, 2017 - 8:27 am

What if you’ve already booked a trip departing in 2 weeks? Will I be affected?

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Rebecca Shapiro June 20, 2017 - 2:06 am

Hi Tien, you should be fine if you’re on a group trip, but it’s worth double checking with the tour operator 🙂

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Donna June 17, 2017 - 8:28 am

I was planning to travel on business. Is this no longer possible? Must I be part of a tour group now?? How does that fit with my business plans?

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Rebecca Shapiro June 20, 2017 - 2:04 am

Hi Donna, the rules should be different for business travel but it’s something you’ll need to double check with your airline/ hotel/ company 🙂

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Dianne June 17, 2017 - 5:29 am

Travelled to Cuba 3 yrs ago with teenage children….what an amazing country. The people were so friendly and we loved the culture , dance and the music, which seemed to be everywhere….so hypnotic!
A trip to Havana is a must…the architecture is gorgeous and there seems to be a lot of renovation work going on
Thoroughly recommend visiting ….we had a ride back to our hotel 1 day in a pink 50’s Buick !

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Rebecca Shapiro June 17, 2017 - 5:45 am

Thanks for that lovely note, Dianne! So glad to hear you had such a wonderful experience in Cuba.

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