How to Travel to Cuba Legally from the US

Updated February 2024

Here we explain how as an American you can travel to Cuba legally in 2024 under the present rules for the different authorized travel categories.

All of our Cuban Adventures Cuba tours are legal for Americans, but some are more optimal than others.

"Tourist Vacation" vs "Meaningful Visit"

You’ve heard that tourist travel to Cuba is illegal for US travellers, 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, contact us for more information.

How To Travel With the 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:

  1. Use privately owned businesses (e.g. private restaurants, private shops, private taxis, etc.)
  2. 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.
  3. 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
    - Volunteering
    - Taking lessons (dance, language, music, sport, etc)
    - Shopping in privately owned businesses
    - Eating at privately owned restaurants
    - Taking guided cultural/historical tours
  4. 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.
  5. 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 travellers 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.

Want to go straight to the source? Read the OFAC's examples of SCP activities and the OFAC FAQ

Returning to the US from Cuba

Don’t expect any problems leaving or returning to the United States; few people are ever questioned about their trip to Cuba or their general license. You can read about what our travellers 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 usually a fine. There is no need to worry that you will be prohibited from entering the US, put in jail, or have your passport revoked.

Cuba Tour Options for American Travelers

Cuban Adventures offers several options for legal travel to Cuba:

  1.  Premium Tours -  Our premium-style Cuba tours are "SCP-ready" meaning that we specially designed them for compliance with the Support for the Cuban People (SCP) category. They include a full educational and cultural activity schedule that meets SCP requirements. These tours are a wonderful way to make your trip hassle-free without sacrificing an authentic Cuban experience. You also benefit from having more included, so your local expenses are much lower than on our original-style tours.
  2. Other Tours & Services - For those who prefer a more independent style of travel, we offer Cuba tours and services that do not include activities paid for and arranged in advance; instead, you get to decide locally what you’d like to do. These are equally legal for US travelers (except beach hotel stays) because they use private businesses and encourage meaningful interaction with locals, but since we don't know what you'll be doing with your free time, they aren't “SCP-Certified". To make your vacation SCP compliant, you just need to use your free time following the SCP rules. It's very easy to do using the suggestions on this page, but if you're uncomfortable determining your own activities, choose premium instead.
  3. Custom Tours - We offer custom tours that meet the requirements for SCP or P2P. For these tours you can decide the date, inclusions, and itinerary. Contact us for a quote. 

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. Individual People to People travel (515.565b) was eliminated by Trump but group people to people travel was brought back by Biden in May 2022.  However, we believe that SCP remains a better category so we only offer P2P tours on private or custom tours.

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.

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