How to Travel with a General License
Traveling to Cuba is easier than ever! The changes as of March 16, 2016 mean that EVERYONE can travel legally to Cuba.
You do not need to submit an application to a government agency, it is simply a matter of stating that your travel is legal under one of the 12 categories of allowable travel to Cuba. Make sure that you are not violating the law by parking yourself at an all-inclusive though; you must have a meaningful purpose for your visit to Cuba.
The easiest of these categories is People to People Travel 515.565 (b). To travel under this category, here is what you will need to comply with the law:
- A full schedule of educational activities intended to enhance contact with the Cuban people, support civil society in Cuba, or promote the Cuban people’s independence from Cuban authorities, and that will result in meaningful interaction between the traveler and individuals in Cuba.
- Records of travel transactions and your full schedule of activities while in Cuba. You must maintain these records for 5 years.
- A letter or affidavit that states that your category of travel is people to people. This is completely optional and not required by the law, but may help you feel more comfortable going through US immigration in case you are asked to show documentation.
You can read examples of what is and is not acceptable under People to People here
The easiest way to meet these requirements is on one of our people to people tours. These tours have set itineraries with meaningful interactions with locals so you don't need to hassle with creating and documenting one of your own. In addition, these tours include activities and many meals, which means you won't have to bring as much cash since your ATM/Credit cards don't work in Cuba. Aside from making your travel easier, our tours are just plain FUN, with diverse itineraries that appeal to all ages and interests!
For more information on people to people travel visit the OFAC FAQ (updated Oct 14, 2016) page here
If you prefer to travel under a different category of general license here is how to do it:
Step 1: Pick Your Category
Here are most of the categories of legal Cuba travel for the general license, ordered from most common to least common. For full description of the categories visit the OFAC website.
Professional research or attending professional meetings directly relating to the traveler’s profession, professional background, or area of expertise. Professional research can include making a documentary film. (§515.564)
Educational activities for college, university and secondary school faculty, staff, students, and chaperones. Academic research specifically relating to Cuba and for the purpose of a graduate or undergraduate degree. Faculty and staff can visit Cuba independently to research and prepare for student trips. Note: This generally requires a formal course of study, so just taking Spanish lessons wouldn't qualify. This category also includes non-academic people to people travel (§515.565)
Religious organizations, and their members and staff who are engaging in a full-schedule of religious activities (§515.566)
Support for the Cuban people by human rights organizations, independent organizations, individuals, and NGOs. (§515.574)
Journalistic activities for journalists who are employed by news reporting organizations or supporting broadcast or technical personnel or freelance journalist with a record of previous experience who is working on a journalistic project. ( §515.563)
Visiting a relative or family member in Cuba, or the relative of someone you live with as family, or accompanying a close family member that is traveling under §515.562 (official government business), §515.563 (journalistic activity), §515.564(a) (professional research), §515.565(a)(1) through (4) and (6) (educational activities), §515.566 (religious activities), §515.575 (humanitarian projects), or §515.576 (activities of private foundations or research or educational institutes) (§515.561)
Humanitarian projects such as medical or health related projects, construction projects, environmental projects, formal or non-formal educational training, etc. (§515.575)
Participation in public performances, clinics, workshops, exhibitions, and athletic and other competitions. (§515.567)
Business visits for exportation and importation of telecommunications and internet hardware and services, and exportation of agricultural products. (§515.545)
Activities of private foundations or research or educational institutes. (§ 515.576)
Official business of government employees and organizations (§515.562)
Step 2: Create Your License
To create your license, you can either go online and find a generic affidavit to fill out (many Miami charter flight companies have these online), or you can write a letter with the following information:
- Dates of travel
- High level purpose of travel
- Specific category of general license (use the code citation)
- Signature and date.
You do not need it to be notarized. While the regulations don't have specific documentation requirements- there is no actual paper "license" per se, it may be difficult to explain that to a customs official who asks to see it. It is better to have some paper to show them, and this letter or affidavit should be sufficient.
As of September 21, 2015, families (either by blood or by household) can travel together as long as one member qualifies under the general license for Professional Research, Journalistic Activity, Religious Activities, Educational Activities, and Humanitarian projects. If you are not traveling as family, each individual in your party (even children!) must qualify for a general license on their own, meaning that if you are traveling for journalistic purposes and your friends are not, they are not legally traveling to Cuba.
Step 3: Document Your Travel
OFAC requires that you maintain specific records of your travel to Cuba, regardless of whether you are traveling under a license or not, and to keep these records for 5 years in the (highly unlikely!) event that OFAC requests to see them. Hang on to any documents relating to transactions or purchases you make relating to your trip to Cuba (e.g. receipts for flights or accommodations), along with any itineraries and other support for your purpose for travel.
Step 4: Return to the US
You don't need to worry about showing your license anywhere except the US when returning from your trip. Other countries aren't in the practice of enforcing the US travel embargo, so don't expect anyone in Cuba, Mexico, Canada, etc. to have any idea of what you're talking about if you mention the license. When you fill out your customs/immigration form when returning home, you can write "Cuba (under general license xxx.xxx)" in the "Countries Visited" section. Most of the time they don't even look at these forms, but if you are asked where you've been, you can freely admit that you were in Cuba. You only need to show your license if an official asks to see it. It would be very rare for them to ask to see your license, unless you are bringing back tobacco. If you received a passport stamp in Cuba, don't worry- you are traveling legally!
Check out the OFAC website for more information.
Traveling on an individual General License? Our regular groups tours offer plenty of freedom for you to pursue your general license activities while providing a foundation for a hassle-free travel. Whether you travel independently or on one of our other tours, we can provide flights, transportation, accommodations, guide services, and day tours to make your trip to Cuba easier and more enjoyable. See our tours and services here.
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