Updated as of May 2023
Here we explain how as an American traveler you can travel to Cuba legally under the present rules for the different authorized travel categories.
"Tourist Vacation" vs "Meaningful Visit"
You’ve heard that tourist travel to Cuba is illegal for US travelers, and that’s true, but that doesn’t mean you can’t visit Cuba and book a trip with a responsible travel company like us! You just have to fit your “tourist” travel under one of the 12 categories of general license so the Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC), the embargo enforcers, know that your time in Cuba has a “meaningful” purpose.
Who do these rules apply to?
- US citizens living in the US or abroad
- Foreign citizens living in the US
- Foreign citizens transiting through the US
No Prior Approval Needed
None of the general license categories require any prior government approval, if you follow the rules of the license you selected, you are automatically considered “authorized”. No one category is more “legal” than another.
You just need to be able to state your category to any one that asks (e.g. the airline or a border agent) and document what you do and spend while in Cuba. You must save the documentation for 5 years. We also recommend that you carry an affidavit with you, because sometimes it helps to show paperwork even if it’s not required. If you are on a tour with us, we will send you an affidavit.
The general license is not the same as the tourist card/tourist visa which is a requirement of the Cuban government.
Support for the Cuban People (SCP) is the easiest category to qualify under. If you don’t feel SCP is right for you, read about the other categories.
General License for Support for the Cuban People (SCP) (515.574)
This is the best category for tourists taking tours, cruises, or traveling independently. Here is a summary of the 5 requirements:
- Use privately owned businesses (e.g. private restaurants, private shops, private taxis, etc.)
- Stay in privately owned accommodations. Staying in hotels is not permitted if they are on this prohibited accommodations list and with few exceptions, every hotel is on the list.
- Maintain a full schedule (considered 6-8 hour 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 and that result in meaningful interactions with individuals in Cuba"
These activities are similar to what you would do on a People to People tour. Here are some suggestions that industry-wide are considered acceptable:
- Supporting local artists by visiting galleries and/or purchasing art
- Conversing with your hosts at your casa particular
- Taking lessons (dance, language, music, sport, etc)
- Shopping in privately owned businesses
- Eating at privately owned restaurants
- Taking guided cultural/historical tours
- Avoid transactions with Cuban Government entities on this Prohibited List. For tourists the most important entities to avoid are the hotels and shops listed. For example, most 5-star hotels are prohibited so you wouldn’t want to make purchases there.
- Document your activities and transactions in a ledger or travel journal and maintain the records and receipts for 5 years
With SCP you are not required to be on a tour, but it is highly recommended because time spent with our local tour guides counts towards “meaningful interaction” and “promoting independence”. A guide will help you engage more with the culture and people and avoid the hassles and frustrations that independent travelers face. Cuba is safe, but not easy. Besides, even our customers who insist they are “not-a-tour-person” say our tours are really fun!
That’s it! Do all this and you’re traveling legally to Cuba.
Don’t expect any problems leaving or returning to the U.S. very few people are ever questioned about their trip to Cuba or their general license. You can read about what our travelers have experienced in their own words. If these rules start being enforced it will be done by the Office of Foreign Assets Control after you are back home, not by Customs and Border Patrol. The punishment for violation, which hasn’t been levied in many years, is a fine. You will not be prohibited from entering the US, put in jail, or have your passport revoked.
General License for People to People (P2P) (515.565 b)
This category is a subset of the general license for Educational Activities (515.565) to allow for non-academic educational travel. People to People (515.565b) was eliminated by Trump but brought back by Biden in May 2022. However, we believe that SCP still remains a better category so we only offer P2P tours on private or custom tours.
Legal Cuba Travel for Cruise Passengers
As of June 5, 2019 cruise travel from US to Cuba is no longer permitted. If you are on a Cuba cruise with a foreign company, we suggest our excellent Havana day tours to help you meet SCP requirements.
The Legal Travel Options We Offer
Cuban Adventures USA offers several options for legal travel to Cuba:
- SCP tours – These group tours are specially designed for compliance with the Support for the Cuban People category of General License.
- Custom Tours - We offer private and custom tours that meet the requirements for SCP or P2P. For these tours you can decide the date and itinerary. Contact us for a quote.
- Other Tours & Services - For those who prefer a more independent style of travel, we offer basic group tours that include accommodations, guide, and transportation leaving you free to decide your local activities. If you prefer to stay just around Havana we also offer tour guide services and day tours. All of the tours and services we offer are a good foundation for SCP - since they support privately owned business, but you will need to make sure that you choose appropriate activities for your general license.