It wasn’t long ago that Americans were rejoicing over the prospect of being able to travel to Cuba, an enigmatic country that was off limits to U.S. travelers due to a 50-plus year embargo. In 2016, approximately 614,000 Americans visited the Caribbean island nation known for its vintage cars, fabled cigars, and scarce Wi-Fi. Now, it seems like things are trending back to the way they were.
On Friday, President Trump announced his plans to reverse Obama’s deal with Cuba, reinstituting restrictions on travel to the country. The president called his predecessor’s existing policy move with Cuba “misguided.”
“Effectively immediately I am cancelling the last administration’s completely one-sided deal with Cuba,” Trump said in his announcement. “We will enforce the ban on tourism, we will enforce the embargo. We’ll take concrete steps to ensure that investments flow directly to the people so that they can open private business so that they can begin to build their country’s great, great future.”
So, could this breaking news make it more difficult for Americans to cross the destination off their bucket list? The short answer is yes. The biggest adjustment for travelers is the administration’s restriction on people-to-people travel to Cuba. According to the “Travelers utilizing this general license must ensure they maintain a full-time schedule of educational exchange 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.” The new rule, however, will require folks searching for this kind of experience to travel with a heavily regulated tour operator that can provide detailed itineraries of the activities involved.
What about those who already have an individual people-to-people trip booked, you ask? Rest easy, as you can still go. People can still visit the country under all legal categories of travel (for now), though the approval process could become stricter in the coming months. The other 11 categories of legal travel to Cuba will not be impacted by the new policy.
However, the administration’s new regulation will ban most Americans from spending money at Cuba’s military-controlled businesses, which includes many hotels, as well as state-run restaurants and tour buses.
But the administration doesn’t plan to dismantle all of Obama’s prior work. The U.S. Embassy in Havana will keep its doors open, and many hotels, including Starwood Hotels, will continue to conduct business there. Similarly, nothing will change for airlines flying to Cuba, and cruise ships will operate the same as they do now. Cruise lines currently offer authorized tours on land, so those will remain as is under the new policy. However, it’s unclear whether passengers will be allowed to explore on their own when in Cuba -- a freedom they do have now. Furthermore, Obama’s loosened restrictions on the quantity of rum and cigars Americans can bring home will stay the same, too.
But you don’t have to worry just yet. The U.S. Department of Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) released a document that says “OFAC expects to issue its regulatory amendments in the coming months. The announced changes do not take effect until the new regulations are issued.” This means it could take many months before it’s clear what these changes will officially mean for American travelers.
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