Travel to Cuba from the United States

  Restrictions on Travel from the US to Cuba
Tightened Travel Restriction June 2004
Getting A Specific License As An Individual for travel to Cuba
Returning from Cuba
Harassment of Travelers to Cuba by OFAC After Returning Home
Responding to OFAC "Requirement to Furnish Information" Letter
Responding to OFAC “Pre-penalty Notice” Letter

Restrictions on Travel from the US to Cuba

As of June 30, 2004, the U.S. government further tightened travel restriction to Cuba so it is became virtually impossible for people under their jurisdiction to get first-hand information on conditions on the island or to visit members of their family who live there.  The government of Cuba imposes few restrictions on educational, tourist, or family visits to the island.

As of May, 2009, the U.S. government loosened travel restrict for a small group of US citizens with relatives in Cuba.

As of January, 2015, the U.S. government further loosened travel restriction to Cuba, but tourism is still not allowed.

Most everybody in the world, EXCEPT Cuban-born-non-Cuban citizens, and EVERYBODY under United States jurisdiction, can travel to and from Cuba freely.  If you are a Cuban-born non-Cuban citizen, you will need to apply for a visa at a Cuban Embassy. For all other North American and EEC citizens, traveling to Cuba as short-term visitors, you need a passport and the tourist cards that is often issued with your plane ticket to Cuba.  Cuba welcomes non-Cuban born U.S. tourists with no red tape.

For everybody under United States jurisdiction (if you are a U.S. resident, regardless of your passport) there is one additional level of complexity.  The U.S. has a partial embargo of trade with Cuba.  The embargo is enforced by the Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) as part of their work as a lead agency against terrorism (in 2005, 1/6th of their anti-terrorism work is focused on going after Americans who visit Cuba.)  For the official word on US policies go to  http://www.treas.gov/offices/enforcement/ofac/programs/cuba/cuba.shtml. (They keep changing address on their website so please let us know if this link goes bad.)   

The US government paints with a very broad brush.  They maintain that their laws apply to US citizens living anywhere AND everyone, regardless of nationality, living in the US.  If you are under U.S. jurisdiction it doesn't matter if you also have another passport and travel to Cuba on that other passport.  Unless you fall under one of the exception, when you return to the US, they would say that you are subject to prosecution.

If you are under US jurisdiction, regardless of your passport, there is the potential to get in trouble, by traveling to Cuba.  If you choose to go you have the choice of obfuscating your travel (and committing perjury) and possibly (statistically probably) not being detected. In this case, following your dreams gets down to whether you are a risk-taker or risk averse.

Here is the gist of the situation on travel to Cuba:

It is "legal" for people under US jurisdiction to go to Cuba. BUT:

  • It is illegal for people under US jurisdiction to have transactions (spend money or receive gifts) in Cuba under the have a license.

Prior to January, 2015, journalists, government officials, close relatives of Cubans, full-time professionals (including doctors, dental hygienists, environmentalists and actors) going to conferences or doing research, could go to Cuba, under a "General License" -- with no red tape.

After January, 2015 this was expanded to:

  • Free-Lance Journalism with a record of previous projects.

  • Educational Activities - Long-term formal study programs.

  • People-to-People programs sponsored by US organizations and meeting other criteria.

  • Religious activities - i.e. seeing the Pope and proselytize.

  • Public Performances, Clinics, Workshops, Athletic and Other Competitions, and Exhibits (i.e. Baltimore Orioles).

  • Support for the Cuban People

  • Humanitarian Projects

  • Activities of Private Foundations or Research or Educational Institutions

  • Exportation, Importation, or Transmission of information or Informational Materials

Note: it is easier for a Little League player or high school student to go to Cuba than a registered voter who wants to inform themselves about foreign policy issues.

U.S. citizens traveling to Cuba than have several options:

  1. Determine you qualify under the general licenses.
  2. Apply for a specific license under 515.565(b)(2) and see if you can get a timely reply from OFAC.
  3. Go to Cuba without a license.  (see Returning from Cuba)

Getting A Specific License As An Individual for Travel to Cuba

OFAC’s complete instructions for applying for a specific license says:

“Applying for a specific license: Persons wishing to travel to Cuba under a specific license should send a letter specifying the details of the proposed travel, including any accompanying documentation, to Chief of Licensing, Office of Foreign Assets Control, U.S. Department of Treasury, 1500 Pennsylvania Ave NW, Washington DC 20220.”

The up side of applying for a license is some are granted. If it is denied and you are one of the people fingered by OFAC and IF the process got to a hearing, you could try to argue that OFAC is in error in not granting the license, that their actions are arbitrary and capricious and in violation of provisions for equal protection. But this approach hasn’t been tested, in part because OFAC has avoided holding hearings in the past.

NOTE: According to April 2004, Congressional testimony by OFAC, Between 1990 and 2003 it opened just 93 enforcement investigations related to terrorism and collected just $9,425 in fines for terrorism financing violations since 1994.

In contrast, OFAC opened 10,683 enforcement investigations since 1990 for possible violations of the long-standing economic embargo against Fidel Castro's regime, and collected more than $8 million in fines since 1994, mostly from people who sent money to, did business with or traveled to Cuba without permission.

At the end of 2003, OFAC had just 4 full-time employees dedicated to investigating Ousama Bin Ladin's and Sadam Hussien's wealth, while nearly two dozen were working on the terrorism of Cuban embargo violation.

Return to OFAC: Travel, Trade, Licenses and Legislation


Please write if you have questions, comment, criticism, praise or additional information for us, find a bad link or would like to be added to IBF's mailing list. (Also let us know how you found this site.)

IBF Homepage          Cuba Homepage          Search ibike

"Hosted by DreamHost - earth friendly web hosting"
Created by David Mozer.
Copyright © 1995-2019 International Bicycle Fund. All rights reserved.