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Thursday, 01 January 2015 00:00

Changes in Cuba Travel

Written by  Douglas Cooke

For the third time in his presidency, Obama has eased restrictions for Americans traveling to Cuba. Although these are the most far reaching efforts to date, only congress can lift the 50 year ban on travel there. Obama has reopened diplomatic relations with Castro’s government, and simplified the logistics for travel there by US citizens. What does this mean for your clients? Here are some of the key changes:

US travelers will still have to obtain a license to travel to Cuba, and travel for an “approved” reason, which include: family visits; official business of the U.S. government, foreign governments, and certain intergovernmental organizations; journalistic activity; professional research and professional meetings; educational activities; religious activities; public performances, clinics, workshops, athletic and other competitions, and exhibitions; support for the Cuban people; humanitarian projects; activities of private foundations or research or educational institutes; exportation, importation, or transmission of information or information materials; and certain export transactions that may be considered under existing regulations and guidelines. In theory, the licensing process has been made easier and can be for individual as well as group travel. Travelers in the 12 authorized categories of travel to Cuba will be able to make arrangements through any service provider that complies with the U.S. Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) regulations governing travel services to Cuba, and general licenses will authorize provision of such services.
 With the return of diplomatic relations, there will once again be a US Embassy in Havana to assist travelers. Approved travelers will be able to use their credit cards in Cuba and allowed to return to the US with up to $400 in Cuban goods including $100 worth of rum and cigars.
Since the easing of restrictions in 2009 and in 2011, an estimated 100,000 Americans travel to Cuba each year. Some of these tourists fly from Canada or the Caribbean (and face a $65,000 fine if caught), but most have gone on one of the many “people to people” trips offered by US tour operators. These will continue to be the best way to visit Cuba. Look for cruise lines to add Cuban ports to their itineraries as the easing of travel restrictions evolve.
None of these changes come into effect until OFAC publishes the new regulations. Nonetheless, the word is out and the public will respond with 50 years of desire to visit this intriguing island nation just 90 miles off our coast. Stay current on changes that are occurring and look for suppliers to work with when the flood gate inevitably opens. Have a Happy and Prosperous New Year!

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