Havana is just 90 miles from Key West yet; one would think the island is on another continent.
Firstly, if you choose to travel independently, all arrangements must be made through an agent located abroad since Americans are not allowed to transfer money to Cuba. This particular portion of US law has many people confused because many foreign agents are located in Cuba and offer billing for their services outside of Cuba. However, the treasury department is extremely clear in this regard as it considers any agent located in Cuba, whether purportedly foreign managed or not, as a National of Cuba. Therefore, the first thing to check when booking travel with an agent abroad is: Do they have a physical presence in Cuba? Can you find a Cuban address or Cuban phone numbers on their website? Both or either should be a big red flag, since dealing with them could cause serious and irreparable inconvenience and possible fines. Many of these companies, eager to make a buck, will happily bill your travel services through a third country, however, because Cuban banks cannot charge American credit cards anyway, Cuban domiciled agents have to bill through third countries anyway and this is not a viable loophole as far as the US law is concerned because any agent with a physical presence in Cuba is deemed a “National of Cuba” by the US authorities. Simple. Instead, choose an agent with no physical presence in Cuba.
Visiting Cuba in 2014
Visiting the country legally is easier than a few years ago, but the process can still be complicated. There are laws that restrict you to a set itinerary and limit how much you can spend per day. And if you choose to travel independently, as stated above, all arrangements must be made through an agent located abroad since Americans are not allowed to transfer money to Cuba even through intricate payment systems domiciled outside of Cuba (and the US) but pertaining to a company located in Cuba, whether Cuban or foreign controlled.
Visiting on a Group Tour
Cuba has now resumed the processing of visas, so you can book through a licensed US travel company, such as InsightCuba, GeoEx or Abercrombie & Kent, these companies issue group official visas and are licensed to do so. On these trips, called people-to-people groups, all of the paperwork is done for you. The downside is that while there are numerous trips from which to choose, you will be restricted to that itinerary and will not be free to roam the country on your own.
Visiting close relatives; participating in religious activities, conducting any form of research, and enrolling in an educational program are among the eight designated “general licenses” allowing Americans entry to Cuba. This method takes more time and effort than using a US based travel specialist. You will need to keep proper documentation of your activities in the country for up to 5 years but it will offer you much greater freedom on the ground. The broad spectrum of “research” is almost immeasurable in its scope. But, if you keep a detailed log of your research and preferably document it with photographs or video, the ability to visit Cuba to research just about anything is within anyone’s grasp. Of course, the freedom garnered by traveling to Cuba independently is absolute.
If you choose to travel independently and feel you have a subject you wish to research or, you fall under one of the above criteria, booking your travel to Cuba is relatively simple. Ask for assistance on the chat button shown on this website and your bookings will be handled from Europe, all bookings billed through non Cuban entities and, certainly not companies domiciled in Cuba, whether foreign or Cuban controlled.