After a chat over coffee with a friend on the next destination for, possibly, a long-weekend travel, I recommended visiting Cuba. “You realize that American citizens are not allowed to travel to Cuba?” was the questioned remark from my friend. A lot of Americans think that Cuba is off limits for them, but that’s not true.
Obama Administration reauthorized legal educational travel to Cuba in 2011 and thousands of Americans have participated in “people-to-people” tours since the opportunity was reinstated more than two years ago.
New York-based Insight Cuba, along with Friendly Planet, Grand Circle Foundation, Geographic Expeditions and MotoDiscovery are tour operators having license from the U.S. Treasury Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) offering tours to Cuba.
The licenses exclude trips that are “primarily tourist oriented” and require mandatory participation in “a full-time schedule of educational exchange activities.” But in May 2012, in response to reports of “abuses,” the Treasury Department tightened regulations. It now requires U.S. companies to provide a sample itinerary, assign a representative to each tour and explain how the exchanges would “enhance contact with the Cuban people, support civil society, and/or help promote the Cuban people’s independence from Cuban authorities.”
Going to the beach, fishing, and other leisure activities are not part of the experience. For example, travelers traveling with Insight Cuba get a true glimpse of daily Cuban life through touching interactions with locals at places like the AfroCuba de Matanzas and in the homes of budding artists and musicians. They get to know the children and teachers at their schools and see what life is like in Cuba and share with them what life is like in the United States. They are experiences on its own!
So how do you go about traveling to Cuba legally?
- Contact one of the travel operators based in U.S. that has a people-to-people license issued from the U.S. Department of the Treasury.
- Ask all the questions you may have and decide on an itinerary with the operators. Some operators offer more options than others based on destinations and the types of people-to-people experiences / activities planned. Choose what’s best for you.
- Have a valid passport which does not expire for the next 6 months from the date of your travel.
- Let the operator arrange your visa and licensed charter flight from Miami to Cuba. Commercial flights are not available so don’t try looking for flights online.
Wikipedia has more information on this.
Read more on travel operators at: Cuba: Going With a Tour Company (NYTimes)