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Americans and Cuba Travel - the Facts, Resources, Related Experiences [only]

Old May 10, 2015, 9:31 am
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Last edit by: JDiver
WARNING: Trump speech in Miami today, June 16, 2017, announced (using the words "effective immediately") reinstatement of the tourist travel ban to Cuba. "Trump will re-impose the requirement that "people-to-people" travelers can only come to Cuba with heavily regulated tour groups. " for USA citizens and residents, that bans individual "self certified" travel to Cuba under the current OFAC 12 categories described below. That means (expensive) group travel for most, currently offered by travel and cruise companies (those will be allowed to continue).

US airlines will be allowed to continue to serve Cuba, but the new restrictions will mean most planning to travel individually will not be able to usevthese carriers (unless on authorized or licensed group travel).

Those groups with travel arrangements will probably have to make significant itinerary changes to conform with the policy's ban most American financial transactions with branches or businesses operated by the military-linked Armed Forces Business Enterprises Group (GAESA), a conglomerate involved in many economic sectors in Cuba - including many hotels, state-run restaurants and tour buses.

Trump's recalibration of policy will most immediately affect the latitude of U.S. citizens to travel to Cuba. Under Obama's relaxation of travel regulations, U.S. citizens could designate the purpose of their travel under one of 12 specific categories, which included the broadly defined "educational" travel and "people-to-people" travel. This "self-designation" mechanism contributed to a surge in travel over the last two years, with more than 600,000 tourists visiting the island in 2016.

But Trump's new restrictions eliminate the self-designation process, and according to the Treasury Department's Office of Foreign Assets Control, "will end individual people-to-people travel." Unless U.S. travelers qualify for one of the specialized categories of travel—journalism, religious work or academic research, for example—they will have to travel with licensed tour groups and prove they spent all their time in Cuba doing people-to-people activities. The new directive empowers the Treasury Department to audit U.S. travelers and immigration officials will be able to demand records and journals from returning travelers to demonstrate they are in compliance with the new restrictions. Those who are not could face hefty government fines.

Under the new Trump regulations, those restrictions have been expanded to prohibit U.S. citizens from staying in, eating at, or spending any money at numerous state-owned hotels and other businesses that fall under the umbrella of Cuba's Business Enterprise Group (GAESA). GAESA, a conglomerate of economic entities controlled by the Cuban military, oversees up to 60 percent of the economic activity in Cuba. Besides hotels, GAESA controls restaurants, tourism buses and other economic and tourist-related agencies.

Trump's directive means that U.S. visitors will no longer be able to stay at some of Havana's most popular hotels, among them the elegant Saratoga favored by U.S. senators, governors and Congressional representatives who have visited Cuba over the last several years, and the Santa Isabel, where former President Jimmy Carter stayed during his two trips to the island. The five-star Gran Manzana Kempinski Havana Hotel that opened just last month also falls under the GAESA umbrella and will be off-limits to U.S. citizens. As a guide for future travelers, the State Department plans to publish a list of prohibited hotels and businesses they will now have to avoid. Link to source.
"WHEN DOES IT TAKE EFFECT?"

"The details of Trump’s new policy remain unwritten. In a presidential directive he signed at the end of his speech, he ordered the Treasury and Commerce departments to draw up new regulations to replace elements of Obama’s policy changes. White House officials said that actual changes remain months away." (Washington Post - link)

"The new realities of U.S. travel to Cuba will be determined by the regulations that federal agencies will produce as a result of the new policy. A presidential memorandum gives the government 90 days before it even starts to rewrite Cuba travel regulations, meaning it could be many months before it's clear what the change means for American travelers.

The Treasury Department said individuals who bought an airline ticket or rented a room or car before Trump's announcement could make additional travel-related purchases for that travel under the Obama policy, even if their trip to Cuba takes place after the new, stricter Trump regulations go into effect." (abc news - link)

Verify arrangements already made with your airline, travel provider, AirBnB, etc.

Please keep an eye on OFAC modifications, Cuba travel policies in the US etc. on the State Department site, etc. (see below). Once OFAC controls allow it, travel of U. S. tourists to Cuba will undoubtedly thrive.

Entry Requirements

Cuban officials now stamp all passports on entry and exit. The former practice of winking and stamping U.S. citizens in and out on a separate sheet of paper no longer takes place.

The Cuban Assets Control Regulations of the U.S. Treasury Department require that persons subject to U.S. jurisdiction obtain a Treasury license before engaging in any transaction related to travel to, from and within Cuba. Transactions related to tourist travel are not licensable. This restriction includes tourist travel to Cuba from or through a third country such as Mexico or Canada.

Additional information may be obtained by contacting the Licensing Division, Office of Foreign Assets Control, U.S. Department of the Treasury, 1500 Pennsylvania Avenue NW, Treasury Annex, Washington, DC 20220, telephone (202) 622-2480; fax (202) 622-1657, or via the web at Office of Foreign Assets Control.

For current information on Cuban entry and customs requirements, travelers may contact the Cuban Embassy, an office of the Cuban government, located at 2630 16th Street NW, Washington, DC 20009, telephone (202) 797-8518.
Further information, added 11 Jun 2016:

NOTE: When you arrive in the USA, DO declare Cuba on the U S Customs form 6059B. The USCBP officers generally do not care or give your travel to Cuba via Antigua or Cancún a second thought. But failing to disclose your travel to Cuba to a Federal agent? That's a violation of 18 U. S. Code § 1001, commonly called "making false statements", a felony punishable by up to five years in Federal Prison. Nope, you wouldn't, but such an offense would jeopardize GE / APHIS / PreCheck, etc. and could certainly incur enhanced scrutiny on re-entering the USA or flying into / out of a U.S. airport.

18 U.S.C. § 1001 link

NOTE: Travel to Cuba is still regulated (Jun 2016). American residents must meet one criterion of twelve categories of allowed travel to Cuba.

Tourist travel to Cuba is prohibited under U.S. law for U.S. citizens, permanent residents, and others subject to U.S. jurisdiction. (USDOS)
"Travel to Cuba for tourist activities remains prohibited by statute. There are, however, 12 categories of authorized travel. The Department of Treasury's Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) has issued general licenses in all 12 categories of authorized travel, subject to appropriate conditions. This means that individuals who meet the regulatory conditions of the respective general license they seek to travel under do not need to apply for a specific license from OFAC to travel to Cuba.

The 12 categories of authorized travel to Cuba are: 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 informational materials; and certain authorized export transactions.
"

U.S. Embassy, La Havana, Cuba (link)

Certain spend and other requirements must be met, in accord with regulations issued by the U. S. Treasury Department's Office of Foreign Assets Control (link to PDF), and the Cuba Assets Control Regulations of 16 Mar 2016, 31 CFR 515 (link to PDF).

timaticweb2 through United Airlines, 10 Jun 2016:

Summary (US Citizen or Resident traveling from USA to Cuba, return ticket and normal, current passport with at least two blank visa pages at hand)

Conditional, The traveler will need to hold travel documents as detailed below.

Type: Notice

Cuba - Destination Visa

Visa required.

The following are exempt from holding a visa:

Passengers with a Tourist Card (Tarjeta del Turista) issued to visitors traveling as tourists.

Additional information:

Tourist Cards (Tarjeta del Turista) must be obtained prior to arrival in Cuba and are available at:
- Cuban Embassies or Consulates;
- Authorized Airlines;
- Travel agencies.

Tourist Cards (Tarjeta del Turista) grant a max. stay of 30 days to nationals of USA, and extension of stay for additional 30 days.

The length of stay must be covered by USD 50.- (or equivalent in other convertible currency, in cash or traveller's cheques) per person per day, unless passenger has previously contracted the touristic activities with MINTUR in Cuba.

Important

Former nationals of Cuba who left Cuba before 1971 must hold passports endorsed "Habilitado" for HE-11.

All visitors are required to hold a travel insurance to cover their medical expenses while in Cuba. The travel insurance can be bought on arrival in Cuba, but it is recommended to have it before departure to Cuba. (Reasonable and easy to purchase on arrival. JD)

Added 1/18/2017 All passengers arriving on flights direct from the US are automatically covered by Asistur (Cuban insurance company) medical insurance for 30 days. The cost is bundled into the ticket cost.

These passengers are never asked to provide proof of medical insurance by Cuban immigration at airports as they are aware this has been standard for many years. However it is a different situation dealing with a medical service provider if you actually need to use the insurance or Cuban immigration at places other than the airport if you have reason to extend or change status of your travel visa.

There is an official Asistur one page document that states everyone arriving on a direct flight from the US has Asistur insurance for 30 days. This document, your boarding pass, and your passport will show that you have medical insurance. This document is not available anywhere on line. Nor is it available to passengers even though it should be. So I am providing it for download.

I would encourage anyone flying direct to Cuba from the US to download this one page document, print it out, and carry a copy with them.

http://www.bobmichaels.org/Asistur.pdf
End addition 1/18/2017

Neither visa exemptions nor Tourist Card (Tarjeta del Turista) facilities are applicable to those holding foreign passports stating Cuba as place of birth. They will be considered Cuban nationals, unless holding a document signed by the Cuban Ministry of Foreign Affairs, proving withdrawal of their Cuban citizenship.

Cuba - Destination Health

This information is for guide purposes only. Other health organisations may recommend alternative precautions.

Vaccinations not required
NOTE: US Citizens and Residents must possess a current passport with a minimum of two empty visa (not note) pages.

You must exchange US Dollars to CUC - Cuban Convertible Pesos in authorized locations, and are required to spend CUC in Cuba (not dollars). CUC are not exportable out of Cuba. (Hint: the writer of this wikipost had no trouble exchanging Euro at decent market rates and found Euro accepted in some locations due to the prevalence of European tourists in Cuba.) Some US credit card acceptance is said to occur now, but if so it's a recent change.

At the airport CADECA booth you can change the last of your CUCs. Or you can buy duty-free items or books etc. sold from the government propaganda shop to spend the last of your CUCs.

Please read the extensive U.S. Department of State information regarding Cuba if you are a U.S. Citizen or Resident. Link.

US airlines begin commercial USA - Cuba flights by September 2016

In March, the USDOT accepted airline applications wishing to offer non-charter commercial flights between the USA and Cuba. On June 10, 2016 USDOT issued an order for six US airlines to operate flights between the USA and Cuba, to begin September 2016 HAV / La Habana flight orders to come this summer.)

Source links:

Yahoo! Finance (Link).

USA Today (link): "WASHINGTON — Six U.S. airlines were approved to begin the first scheduled flights to Cuba in more than 50 years, the Transportation Department announced Friday.

The airlines were approved to fly from five U.S. cities to nine Cuban cities other than Havana. But the department is still considering which airlines will get a combined 20 daily flights to the capital out of 60 proposals, which will be announced later this summer..."

Reuters: (link) "American (AAL.O) will have nonstop service from Miami, the largest Cuban community in the United States; Southwest (LUV.N), JetBlue (JBLU.O) and Silver Airways will fly from nearby Fort Lauderdale; Frontier will add flights from Chicago and Philadelphia; and Sun Country will serve Minneapolis."

(AA, Delta, Sun Country and others have been serving Cuba with charter flights operated for CTS / Cuba Travel Services for over 25 years.)

Updated 11 Jun 2016 - JDiver
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Americans and Cuba Travel - the Facts, Resources, Related Experiences [only]

Old Jun 7, 2019, 6:10 am
  #166  
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BTW, the idea of keeping a detailed diary of my time and expenditures while in Cuba is pretty funny to me. Maybe my marathoner buddy and I will take some videos when the bartenders serve us. We’ll toast to John Bolton, and that will be our record-keeping.
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Old Jun 7, 2019, 11:37 am
  #167  
 
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Originally Posted by dhuey
BTW, the idea of keeping a detailed diary of my time and expenditures while in Cuba is pretty funny to me. Maybe my marathoner buddy and I will take some videos when the bartenders serve us. We’ll toast to John Bolton, and that will be our record-keeping.
Actually, this used to be a requirement (Bush era). My wife, who takes Americans to Cuba, had each passenger keep a detailed diary of the day's activities (not expenditures), which corresponded with the detailed itinerary she prepared for them to comply with the U.S. Government restrictions on travel activities. Over the years, several travelers were asked for their records by U.S. authorities of various sorts (e.g., Global Entry applications).
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Old Jun 7, 2019, 4:23 pm
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AA has some good fares this summer. I'm seeing ORD-HAV-ORD $340 RT in Y, and $650 in J. I'd like to be able to take advantage of that.
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Old Jun 7, 2019, 6:12 pm
  #169  
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Originally Posted by catcher1
Actually, this used to be a requirement (Bush era). My wife, who takes Americans to Cuba, had each passenger keep a detailed diary of the day's activities (not expenditures), which corresponded with the detailed itinerary she prepared for them to comply with the U.S. Government restrictions on travel activities. Over the years, several travelers were asked for their records by U.S. authorities of various sorts (e.g., Global Entry applications).
Thankfully, that era is long gone. Even Trump doesn’t want to go back to it.
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Old Sep 23, 2019, 12:10 am
  #170  
 
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I know the Grand Hotel Kempinski Manzana is on the restricted list for US Citizens.
However, I'm a bit confused about the provision below. Does this mean if I prepay a travel agency not on the list for a night's stay at the hotel rather than the hotel directly, I'm not in violation of OFAC's rule?

Section 515.421 of the CACR contains an interpretive provision for incidental transactions where OFAC has clarified that authorized transactions ordinarily incident to licensed transactions exclude direct financial transactions with such entities and subentities if the terms of the applicable general or specific license expressly exclude such direct financial transactions. For a complete description of the scope of the interpretive provision and the restrictions and exceptions that apply, see 31 CFR § 515.421. [09-06-2019]
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Old Sep 29, 2019, 7:58 am
  #171  
 
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There is a "third party" factor. For example, there is a brand of rum that Americans are not supposed to buy from the manufacturer. However, if it is purchased from the corner liquor store, no problem. So perhaps that can be applied to booking and paying for hotels through an agency.
However, IMO, the issue is not so much being in violation of OFAC's rule, but a moral one. We Americans who are traveling to Cuba on the "Support of the Cuban People" reason for travel should indeed be doing so, maximizing the support by staying with a Cuban family in a casa particular, getting to know them and encouraging their entrepreneurship. If you can't see that as an essential factor of your trip to Cuba, (IMO) pick another destination.
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Old Sep 29, 2019, 11:28 pm
  #172  
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No matter what the ownership or management of the Cuban hotel you stay at, you are supporting the hotel staff by staying there — ordinary Cubans. I don’t see any moral difference in staying at a hotel or a casa particular.
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Old Sep 30, 2019, 6:29 pm
  #173  
 
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Originally Posted by dhuey
No matter what the ownership or management of the Cuban hotel you stay at, you are supporting the hotel staff by staying there — ordinary Cubans. I don’t see any moral difference in staying at a hotel or a casa particular.
I fully agree. The Cuban people are in dire economic straits, principally as a result of the U.S. blockade as well as actions and threats by the Trump administration that chill Cuba travel by Americans. To purchase just five liters of gasoline, there are waits of three and up to four hours. There are food scarcities, even of essential products, especially in the provinces. We should encourage Americans to travel to Cuba, for a wonderful experience and money spent that helps the Cuban populace.
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Old Oct 1, 2019, 6:18 pm
  #174  
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Originally Posted by dhuey
No matter what the ownership or management of the Cuban hotel you stay at, you are supporting the hotel staff by staying there — ordinary Cubans. I don’t see any moral difference in staying at a hotel or a casa particular.
But how much of the cost of your stay is actually going to the staff, and how much is going to the military/governmental ownership or management? If you stay at a casa particular, essentially ALL of your money is going to "ordinary" Cubans.
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Old Oct 1, 2019, 6:54 pm
  #175  
 
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Originally Posted by cbn42
If you stay at a casa particular, essentially ALL of your money is going to "ordinary" Cubans.
Not necessarily; many of the properties are owned - at least indirectly - by family in the US, who are also often involved in the reservation process, take some portion of the rent. All private enterprise is also heavily taxed by the government, local party representative may also get a cut.

We too stayed at a casa particular, I am all about supporting private enterprise, but it is still a communist country, there are many interests benefiting from such business activity.
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Old Oct 1, 2019, 6:56 pm
  #176  
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Originally Posted by cbn42
But how much of the cost of your stay is actually going to the staff, and how much is going to the military/governmental ownership or management? If you stay at a casa particular, essentially ALL of your money is going to "ordinary" Cubans.
Well, not all of the money (commissions and maybe some other reductions), but you're right that more of the money would go to the casa particular owner than would go to the staff at the hotel. Sill, hotels are very labor-intensive operations. I don't think the difference is ultimately stark enough to make this a moral dilemma for the traveler intent on helping ordinary Cubans.
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Old Oct 2, 2019, 1:22 am
  #177  
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Question Guide advisable for going outside Havana?

As I'd previously posted, my wife and I and another couple will be in Cuba in late February/early March, for four nights in Havana and two in Vinales. I just received this email from that other couple: "Some friends came over yesterday who toured Cuba in 2017. Their opinion is that even for a short trip out of Havana it’s best to hire a guide; that even simple tasks like getting a taxi, locating the casa you booked etc are very difficult when you try to do it as a non-Spanish speaker etc."

Do you agree? For what it's worth, we're all pretty experienced travelers who generally don't use guides and we speak a smattering of Spanish. We'll be staying in casas particulares in both places.

Thanks for any advice.
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Old Oct 2, 2019, 1:08 pm
  #178  
 
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The Support for the Cuban People OFAC reason for travel specifically mentions supporting independent Cuban entrepreneurs (cuentapropistas), like owners of casas particulares, by giving them your business as a part of a "full-time" schedule of support. The point is to foster an understanding that the capitalist system works, even in Cuba.
OFAC regs mention NOTHING about employees of hotels owned by the government in partnership with a foreign entity (as most are) qualifying under support from US based travelers..
So yes, it is a moral issue, and in the (unlikely) event that an audit were done on any traveler in future, possibly a legal one.
As I said before, Cuba is unique. If your primary preoccupation is your own
comfort on a tropical vacation, over contact with the Cuban culture, find another island that will cater to you.
__________________________________________________ ____
Guides:
"four nights in Havana and two in Vinales"
There are lots of guides to take you around Havana, although you can just as well jump in a taxi to wherever yo need to go or walk to many places. There are regular taxis or classic car tours/rides.Try Strawberry Tours for free walking tours (tip the guide afterwards) in the historic neighborhood(s) and some other paid tours. Get yourself a good guidebook at home. I recommend "300 Reasons to Love Havana" to start with, to decide your priorities. (
Amazon Amazon
)
As far as getting to and from Vinales, that is another advantage of staying in a casa. The owner will undoubtedly have a friendly taxi driver in mind, who can get you there at a reasonable price. Your casa owner in Vinales can arrange for the return trip. Most classic cars are not so comfortable, but some have been done over very well, have air conditioning, and would hold 2 couples and luggage comfortably on such a trip (several hours). You can ask to stop at Las Terrazes for lunch and a swim in the river on the way. Or there is a bus.
You don't have to be fluent in Spanish to get around. Cuba is also very safe, so you don't need a pseudo-bodyguard either. Some people like to have their hands held though. Not at all a necessity however.
And yes, maybe a taxi driver from Havana also has to ask for directions to a certain address of a casa in Vinales. No big deal.
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Old Oct 2, 2019, 1:12 pm
  #179  
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Thanks very much, VNP! Great info and advice.
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Old Oct 25, 2019, 8:01 pm
  #180  
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Originally Posted by Thunderroad
As I'd previously posted, my wife and I and another couple will be in Cuba in late February/early March, for four nights in Havana and two in Vinales. I just received this email from that other couple: "Some friends came over yesterday who toured Cuba in 2017. Their opinion is that even for a short trip out of Havana it’s best to hire a guide; that even simple tasks like getting a taxi, locating the casa you booked etc are very difficult when you try to do it as a non-Spanish speaker etc."

Do you agree? For what it's worth, we're all pretty experienced travelers who generally don't use guides and we speak a smattering of Spanish. We'll be staying in casas particulares in both places.

Thanks for any advice.
My wife and I travelled throughout Cuba as independent travelers in February 2019. Part of our trip covered the same itinerary you posted about. We had the host of the AirBnB we were staying at in Havana arrange for a taxi to take us to our next AirBnB stop in Vinales. He got us a ride with a friend of his who happened to be a 65+ year old couple. The man usually runs the taxi by himself but it was Valnetines Day so he had his wife come along. Taxi was a mint condition 1955 Chevrolet with a new Mitsubishi engine and ice-cold air conditioning.

WIth the help of Google Translate on my smartphone, we were able to converse on the long ride. As it was Vanetines Day and near lunchtime, I offered to treat them to a lunch if they knew a good spot to stop. We ended up having a delicious lunch at an open-air restaurant in the middle of nowhere. Valentines Day is a big deal in Cuba so the place was packed with couples wearing their best suits and dresses.

The taxi driving team took us right to our casa particular in Vinales. Through AirBnB, we booked some excursions including a wonderful horseback riding adventure in Vinales. Here's where we stayed in VInales: https://www.tripadvisor.com/Hotel_Re...ince_Cuba.html Wonderful place, super friendly hosts and delcious breakfast. The casa particular host also set us up for a taxi back to HAV airport when it was time for us to head home.
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