How to Travel to Cuba Legally

The two most common categories for legal travel to Cuba for Americans are called P2P and SCP.

P2P – People to People Travel (515.565)

Traveling to Cuba under this category involves taking a chaperoned group tour sponsored by a US organization.

  • What does “chaperoned” mean? It means that the tour company must send a representative from the US (either a citizen or resident) to accompany your group while you are in Cuba just to make sure you are following the regulations. The chaperone is usually on the tour in addition to a local guide and will document the activities for the group.

SCP – Support for the Cuban People (515.574)

SCP is one of the General License categories. Under this license you can travel to Cuba without a chaperone - either on a tour or independently - provided that you:

  1. Use privately owned businesses (e.g. Bed & Breakfasts, private restaurants, etc)
  2. Maintain a full schedule (6-8 hrs daily) of meaningful interactions that "Enhance contact with the Cuban people, support civil society in Cuba, or promote the Cuban people's independence from Cuban authorities". These activities are the same that you would do on a P2P tour (e.g. supporting local artists and entrepreneurs, interacting with your hosts, volunteer work, dance lessons, guided cultural/historical tours)
  3. Do not have transactions with Cuban Government entities on this Prohibited List
  4. Document your activities and transactions and maintain the records for 5 years
  • Under all of the General License categories of travel, you must not stay in hotels nor purchase services from companies owned by the military.

    Please see the list of prohibited entities here

  • If you are a foreigner passing through the US to Cuba or vice versa, and do not live in the US you are considered to be “under US jurisdiction” and should be prepared to state to the airline or Customs Officials which of the 12 categories of travel your trip falls under. To our knowledge no foreigner has been asked to do more than sign an affidavit stating their category of travel, this is mostly to protect the airlines since they are not legally allowed to sell tickets to people traveling for strictly tourism purposes.

Which is better - P2P or SCP?

The main difference between these 2 categories is that a US chaperone accompanies the P2P tours, while there is no chaperone on the SCP tours. The chaperone is there to make sure the group sticks to the itinerary with its full schedule of included compliant activities. So with the SCP tours, the travelers themselves need to make a short daily entry in a travel diary to describe their activities each day. So there is slightly less paperwork on a P2P compared to a SCP. However the cost of sending a chaperone from the US means that the P2P tours are much more expensive.

SCP also offers more freedoms to the traveler. On P2P tours generally you cannot stay in Cuba before or after the tour, and participation is mandatory in all the activities. While both categories have similar activity requirements, a SCP tour would allow you more flexibility and discretion to choose how to meet your "full-time schedule".

There is no evidence as to which license is scrutinized more closely by the US authorities. Until now, it seems that no travelers at all are being asked to show any detail nor explain their license (other than stating the name of the license) when passing back through immigration on return to the US. So in practice neither license can be said to be a safer nor a more sure way to travel legally to Cuba.

Both are fully legal and legitimate ways of visiting Cuba, and while travelers at present aren't being scrutinized nor checked with any rigor, for peace of mind it is always advised to travel under one of the legal categories, and carry and complete the simple and necessary paperwork.

How to Travel with a General License

Travel with a general license is easy! You DO NOT submit an application to a government agency, it is simply a matter of stating that your travel is legal under one of the 12 General License categories of allowable travel to Cuba, stick to the rules of that category while in Cuba, and maintain the documentation for up to 5 years in case one day you need to show it.

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 used to least used. For full description of the categories visit the OFAC website.

  1. Support for the Cuban people by human rights organizations, independent organizations, individuals, and NGOs. This is the category that allows individuals to travel legally, as long as they use private businesses and maintain a full schedule of meaningful activities (§515.574). See previous section for examples of this category.
  2. Educational activities. Section (a) is 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. Section (b) is for non-academic people to people travel on chaperoned group tours (§515.565).
  3. Religious organizations, and their members and staff who are engaging in a full-schedule of religious activities (§515.566)
  4. 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)
  5. 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)
  6. 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)
  7. Humanitarian projects such as medical or health related projects, construction projects, environmental projects, formal or non-formal educational training, etc. (§515.575)
  8. Participation in public performances, clinics, workshops, exhibitions, and athletic and other competitions. (§515.567)
  9. Business visits for exportation and importation of telecommunications and internet hardware and services, and exportation of agricultural products. (§515.545)
  10. Activities of private foundations or research or educational institutes. (§ 515.576)
  11. Official business of government employees and organizations (§515.562)

Step 2: Create Your License

Your “license” is just your statement of which category you are traveling under. You can make this statement on an affidavit that your airline, visa service, or tour company provides, or you can create 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 

Each individual in your party (even children!) must qualify for a general license on their own.

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 receipts and documents relating to transactions or purchases you make relating to your trip to Cuba, 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. You only need to show your license if an official asks to see it.This has rarely been requested in the past but Trump has told OFAC to start enforcing these regulations so make sure you have these documents in your files for 5 years. 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 to Cuba, transportation, accommodations, guide services, and day tours to make your trip to Cuba easier and more enjoyable. See our tours and services here.