Cuba People to People travel
Traveling to Cuba without a specific license from the treasury department became easier this year because of Cuba People to People travel. Not since the Clinton years has the situation been as it is today. Basically, so long as the visitor has a valid reason to visit Cuba which is not purely touristic in nature then no permit is required. The ideas with Cuba People to People travel is that Americans meet and socialize with Cubans of all levels as a means of enlightenment for both parties of their specific cultures, ideals and human values.
For some, the reoccurrence of Cuba People to People travel is seen as a sign that the travel ban is about to be lifted and for others its simply another backward step to policies already in place the last time the democratic party was in the Whitehouse.
However you see it, traveling to Cuba is now rather simple. Well, not as simple for an American as visiting any other nation but, simpler than it was.
One key location to obtain up to date information on the policies between USA and Cuba and, Cuba People to People travel is The Havana Note . Sometimes quite technical for those taking a first look however, once familiar with the general glossary, rules and situation, it can make for interesting reading. Furthermore, It is constantly updated with recent news and developing policy changes.
Now, back to Cuba People to People travel, what the Obama administration searches is a return to hopes to give more U.S. citizens an opportunity to talk to Cubans. But not be involved in tourist visits. One would beg to question how the two cannot overlap at some point during a visit but, so long as the “tourism” side of trip remains hush hush, it seems that visitors fly under the radar. Notwithstanding, adhering to the people-to-people guidelines for most of your trip is a better option overall.
Now, the new Cuba People to People travel measures make it easier for United States citizens who do not have special status as working journalists or scholars to visit Cuba legally, so long as they go with a licensed operator or third country provider. But who are the licensed operators for Cuba People to People travel ? Well, several such as Insight Cubal NY and Distant Horizons have acquired US Treasury licenses but, some say the package prices are very expensive and that similar packages are available to nationals of other nations (Canada for instance) for less than half the amount. Obviously, being the first to sell such offers “legally” means they can charge a premium but, what about OFAC´s wording on who can sell such trips and services to Americans? Below is an excerpt:
“Americans who are authorized to travel to Cuba by general or specific license are free to make travel and program arrangements through a provider in a third country”
Traveling to Cuba via a provider in a third country under a general license is therefore easier than many think. Categories such as the following fall directly into a general license scenario
- Members of international organizations of which the United States is also a member (traveling on official business).
- Full-time professionals, whose travel transactions are directly related to research in their professional areas, provided that their research: 1) is of a noncommercial, academic nature; 2) comprises a full work schedule in Cuba; and 3) has a substantial likelihood of public dissemination.
- Full-time professionals whose travel transactions are directly related to attendance at professional meetings or conferences in Cuba that are organized by an international professional organization, institution, or association that regularly sponsors such meetings or conferences in other countries.
So let’s look at the “GENERAL LICENSE” scenario for Cuba People to People travel which requires no application, no permission, and no prior approval from Washington to travel to Cuba. The individual or academic/religious institution simply complies with the spirit and intent of the regulations. Therefore, a general license is a “no Application” license.
So, if your profession or research could benefit from a trip to Cuba and you are willing to log your trip (just in case you are questioned) then visiting Cuba could be a “do-it-yourself” trip without the need for the hefty prices of packages from the US. You could quite easily put the trip together yourself under the banner of Cuba People to People travel. But how can you do this without breaking any rules?
First off, you have two choices on how to book the trip. Either use an “approved” TSP (Travel Service Provider” or go it alone.
“Cuba People to People travel TSP or Third Country?”
We´ll concentrate here on going it alone.
OFAC rules, in simple terms, say either use a TSP or make travel and program arrangements through a provider in a third country for your Cuba People to People travel
Third country? Why three?
Well, the term refers to Cuba, USA and Country X, Country X being the third country. ALL Americans are prohibited; with or without a license from purchasing or organizing any travel services, whatsoever, with ANY agency or entity with a physical presence in Cuba. This includes both Cuban wholly owned travel companies such as Cubanacan or Cubatur and ALSO any foreign agency/entity with a physical presence in Cuba. Sometimes Americans become confused when analyzing this area of rules so, we´ll simplify.
Let’s say you you are investigating your Cuba People to People travel options and you type into Google “Cuba Hotel Reservations” to book a hotel. Up comes the first page with 10 options. The options you see must be checked to see whether these companies are located in Cuba. A big give away is an address but, also phone numbers in Cuba. The main mistake made, however, is seeing a company that is based in say Canada AND Cuba then assuming that because they are in Canada you can call Canada to book. This is not true. If the Canadian agency (or UK, France, Mexico, for that matter) is physically present in Cuba then they are deemed by OFAC and the Treasury department as “nationals of Cuba” and thus, are out of bounds for us Americans. You will read things like “your credit card will not mention Cuba” or “we bill you through Germany” but, this makes absolutely no difference on a purely legal standpoint. The bottom line being, you booked with an agency who has a physical presence in Cuba, whether they are also in Canada, UK or even China makes zero difference to OFAC. They are nationals of Cuba as they are in Cuba, thus illegal for us to use.
When planning your Cuba People to People travel, you will need to apply this rule to every part of your planning, whether it is Car Rental, Hotels, Tours, Transfers or whatever other service you feel you need. Booking and paying for these services with a company physically present in Cuba is illegal and can bring severe penalties, ruining your option of traveling under the aforementioned “general license” plus, leaving you open to possible legal problems. Why take the risk?
But, how will they (OFAC) know, you may ask? Well, if you are traveling under the auspices of a general license to comply with the Cuba People to People travel, technically you are doing nothing wrong and you may be asked to justify your trip. Both why you thought you met the criteria and what you did (photo logs, notes, blog entries, study materials etc) but, more importantly, how you got there, who you paid and what you purchased. This last part is where, if you used an agency physically present in Cuba as opposed to a provider in a third country you will invariably have violated the law.
Therefore, do your research. If you see addresses or phone numbers in Cuba take a wide birth, there are many more alternatives out there. Most foreign operators with a physical presence in Cuba are there to serve non Americans and thus, their operations are entirely legal under their countries legal system but, NOT OURS.
Ban on Americans by the Cuban Government
In the latter part of 2008 and, again in January 2010, Cuba introduced strict rules banning any foreign or national travel providers, with a physical presence in Cuba, from selling services of any type to Americans. These rules are iron clad and imposed by the countries MINTUR (Cuban Ministry of Tourism) who also administer the annually renewable licenses these agencies require to operate on the island. No fines are levied to violators but, after one warning their operating licenses can be revoked. You´d think that with these types of rules in place many of these agencies would not wish to take the risk but, alas, they do and sometimes with dire consequences for the American traveler. We´ll explain; every hotel, car rental agency or other service provider in Cuba is bound by the rules of the MINTUR. Therefore, if an American shows up at a Hotel or Car Rental office with a service voucher issued by one of these agencies physically present in Cuba the services are often times not honored and you will be left stranded without your accommodation, Car or other service. This is especially bad for Americans because, we have an extremely difficult time obtaining money in Cuba. Imagine being there and all your prepaid services are useless…Cases such as these are increasingly vented on sites such as Tripadvisor, Lonely Planet and other travel forums where Americans, with seemingly valid reservations were turned away by the Cuban host.
An example of a booking made with a Cuba based operator for an American.
“I was refused entry to a hotel with my gf that I stayed at two months ago and had a pre-paid voucher with both our names on it” See review
Flights seem to be another point of contention with us Americans jumping through unnecessary hoops to get a ticket. Again, putting Cuba Flights into Google brings up the first 3 options who are Cuba based agencies with whom an American is prohibited from using but, further down sites with .uk, .eu, are abundant and offer flights without much, if any, difference than booking from the likes of Expedia or Travelocity a flight to NY. Stories of Americans sending western union cash to Mexico or Canada are rampant online. One has to ask why? When any European travel website will sell these tickets without the slightest problem…
Cuba People to People travel is therefore veiled in fables and intrigue but, in reality, is no more difficult than booking travel to say Peru. Admittedly, the lack of US based offers is daunting but, those who remember the days of travel agencies will recall a much more complicated scenario than today’s “point and click” booking platforms.
Probably the best way of adhering to the rules is to search for a trip which includes the maximum amount of the Cuba People to People travel guidelines. These include giving the least amount of your American dollars to Cuban enterprises which, invariably, all hotels, car rental companies and official services are. One such method would be using Casa Particulares and staying at one of the 1000´s of private accommodations offered by Cuban families. Probably the pinnacle of people-to-people travel, due to the fact that you´ll be living, essentially, with a Cuban family who have created private living quarters for quests at their homes. The bulk of your money goes to them and a small portion to the government in taxes. Exactly what the Obama administration intended.
So we´ve covered several Cuba People to People travel myths here. There is nothing stopping you, or very little stopping you, from taking advantage of a people-to-people trip right now, many say before the whole country changes, allowing you to see the “real Cuba” which, as we Americans know, is steeped in history and intrigue by us all.
As a final word, all links to travel suppliers shown on this blog are third country operators and thus entirely legal to use. We have verified each one and found them to comply as NOT being present in Cuba. The exceptions are the aforementioned TSP´s who do not need to be verified because we know they have already been approved by OFAC. Explore the blog to find the various suppliers which meet this criteria.