For those in the know, individual travel to Cuba by Americans is still permitted, if the traveler closely adheres to U.S. Treasury Department rules and regulations, and compiles and maintains the required documentation.
But the nuanced nature of the Treasury Department rules, and the ambiguous language in public documents published and promoted in early November 2017 have left many Americans confused; and have led some prominent travel publications to insinuate that group travel and cruise lines are the only permissible kinds of Cuba tourism.
In an article published April, 17, the noted online publication Skift told its readers that: “U.S. citizens who travel to the island must go as part of organized groups that comply with rules that dictate the types of travel that are allowed; they are no longer permitted to take those trips on their own with just a promise that they will stay in compliance.”
“This is incorrect,” said Michael Zuccato, general manager at Cuba Travel Services, in Cypress, California. “U.S. citizens can travel as private individuals, as long as they qualify under one of the categories. The People to People category requires group travel but the others may apply to individuals.”
In fact, travelers can still book trips on their own under the “Support for the Cuban People” license, confirmed Chad Olin, CEO and founder of Miami-based CUBA CANDELA, a tour operator that accommodates both groups and individual travelers. Olin said he had just recently returned from Cuba guiding a “fairly prominent celebrity” who wanted to visit the island privately.
Olin noted that some other publications are getting the facts right. For example, in a recent piece found at Forbes.com, author Alexandra Talty described how “after new financial restrictions on U.S. travelers, as well as the elimination of individual ‘people-to-people’ travel by the Trump administration, many Americans are confused about if, and how, they can travel to Cuba.”
Talty, in the article entitled “Yes, Americans Can Still Travel To Cuba,” reaffirmed that “pure tourism was not, and is still not, allowed,” and added a text link to a State Department web page. Alas, the link, which was supposed to define how, “Travelers must fall under one of these 12 categories of authorized travel,” instead takes the reader to a page that does not readily offer that information.
The most accurate information about the new Treasury Department rules unfortunately can only be found buried in a document in the agency’s website.
Forbes.com’s Talty goes on to report accurately that: “Following the Trump administration’s tightening of economic embargo against Cuba, many travelers report that the most difficult aspect of their trip is making sure that they do not spend money at a business with ties to the military. Although they run many hotels in the country, as well as transportation services, it is possible to only spend money at establishments run by Cubans citizens, if you do your homework beforehand.”
Her story included travel blogger Ciara Johnson, who reported back about two trips she took in December 2017 and in February 2018. Johnson told Talty that while she was nervous about documenting her trip and perhaps being confronted upon her return to the U.S., “it was the easiest process ever. It was like any other trip out of the country.”