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Either as a fault of tricky wording, or of tricky policies, it appears as though Treasury bans on travel, purchases and visits to Cuba are more or less lifted from Friday, January 16th, 2015.
Let me first point you in the direction of a supporting article from the Washington Post. If you have not read Matthew’s thoughts, he has a deep dive on what this really means for American travelers and it’s worth your time.
While the article makes it clear that the embargo is still in place and that Congress (currently) appears unlikely to lift it any time soon, it also states two key pieces of information.
“General tourist travel is still prohibited, but Americans authorized to visit Cuba need no longer apply for special licenses.”
So that suggests to me that if you do not need to secure a special license, then the biggest hurdle to overcome is not being a “tourist”. So what are some of the valid reasons for which one would travel to Cuba?
“Americans permitted to travel to Cuba for family visits, official U.S. government business, journalism, research, education, religious activity and other reasons fall under a U.S. general license and don’t need to apply for a separate license.”
Based on that wording it suggests to me that you would not need to prove you were going to Cuba for any of these reasons, but rather this would be the purpose of your visit. But how many of these reasons could be easily stretched given the weak language of the new rules? Pretty much all of them. Here are some plausible reasons for a trip based on these guidelines:
Journalism – I’m a writer for UPGRD.com, and for TheTripSherpa.com as well as some other random contributions, but I am sure many bloggers could easily go to Cuba even if their work is outside of the travel niche. What about a blogger who writes about being a parent and wants to do a post about where to take your kids when the island is officially opened? What about a journalism student that wants to see what newspaper and television reports are like on the island? What about someone that was thinking about starting a blog but first needed to build content? Those all seem reasonable to me. Even food blogs, or people with Tumblr or Facebook accounts about just about anything could probably have a journalistic reason to visit Cuba. The official rules state that you should be employed by this full-time (assuming 30 hours/week as the government standard) but the rule does not state that this needs to be from your primary source of income. Building a claim that you spend 30 hours/week on Facebook would not be hard to do. I certainly could prove that I spend 30 hours/week researching for this blog… when you consider that obsessively looking for cheap airfares, reading articles, very occasionally writing, and then of course in-field research (trips, flights, hotels) would rack up quite a few hours as well.
Research – See all of the above. What about that novel you were hoping to finish, that will need to be researched. The current regulations state you should be a full-time employed professional conducting research in that field, but doesn’t define what the research is to be. For example, if you work for a taxi company, I am sure it would not be hard to make a claim that you were conducting research on what it would be like to operate in Cuba. (Full disclosure: I finished a conversational how-to book about traveling the world for less and still have yet to get a final edit. I am Brian in the following scene.)
Religious Activity – Are you a member of ANY religion that operates inside of Cuba? I personally have visited churches, cathedrals, mosques and all sorts of other religious sites all over the world. It would be pretty hard to argue that your visit violated the terms of this new edict given that there are no specifics and you are going for a religious site visit of some kind. Further, this is the least restrictive type of rule as there is no need to prove a primary focus on religion in order to go.
And any other reasons that fall under a US General License – Which include a variety of things outside of this list but not that very many people would qualify for. One that would work is if you have a home-based business and had thoughts about expanding into Cuba, that could be a reason to go as well.
The most important thing with all of these legitimate reasons to go to Cuba is that none of them need a special license any longer. If you were going to go for any of these reasons, from what I have seen, you could simply go. And while there are daily charter flights from all over the US to Havana, those charters can charge what they like and being that they won’t likely have a guaranteed gold mine much longer, should probably continue to charge an arm and a leg. Many Americans have reported going to Cuba through Mexico and Canada for years. Purportedly, there was a procedure in place where travelers presenting an American passport would be given a slip of paper upon arrival in Cuba and then return that slip upon departure (Hong Kong/Macau share the same practice) eliminating the need for a stamp in their passport. To that end, now that no special license is required, for those looking for competitive flights they might consider flying from Canada or Mexico for purely economic reasons. Here are what flights looked like from Toronto to Havana in May:
For the full details in size 10 font courier (government standard) check them out here straight from the horse’s mouth, the Treasury.
If you do choose to go to Cuba for one of these very important reasons above, remember that the purpose of your visit was definitely not tourism.