Only a short few weeks have passed since President Obama disclosed his game-changing plans to normalize US diplomatic relationships with Cuba and regulations have already been drafted to change the antiquated restrictions and embargo against the Caribbean nation. Travel and commerce between the US and Cuba was originally confined by the Department of the Treasury's 1963 Trading With the Enemy Act, which strictly disallowed any type of tourism or trade between the two countries for almost fifty years.
New regulations instated last week, however, have officially sanctioned revolutionary changes in policies through two documents published by the Department of the Treasury and the Department of Commerce. Although the new classifications do not allow for totally unrestricted tourism in Cuba, they mark an important epoch in the annals of US international relations and raise many questions as to just what is and is not permitted for the leisurely American traveler. Here's a breakdown of what the new regulations mean for everyday tourists from the US.
The Difference Between Travel and Tourism in Visiting Cuba
One of the primary stipulations set forth in the recent disclosure delineates who can and cannot travel to Cuba in the distinction of twelve groups:
"Individuals who meet the conditions laid out in the regulations will not need to apply for a license to travel to Cuba. These categories 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 information materials; and certain authorized export transactions."
If you fall into one of the twelve categories, or can find a way to justify your planned trip as such, then you're in luck! According to the Department of Treasury's referendum, unlicensed travel to Cuba will be allowed for any US citizen so long as, "The traveler does not engage in recreational travel, or travel in pursuit of a hobby. The traveler's schedule of activities does not include free time or recreation in excess of that consistent with a full-time schedule." This may not seem appealing to the vast majority of curious journeyers interested in visiting Cuba for pleasure, but the qualifications are vague enough that almost anyone could find a means of properly framing their trip to satisfy eligibility.
Commerce and Cuban Souvenirs
The long-standing embargo on Cuban goods has made exports from the country, like Cuban cigars, famously desirable in The States but now authorized travelers will be free to shop to their heart's content! The Department of Commerce now affirms:
"The per diem rate previously imposed on authorized travelers will no longer apply, and there is no specific dollar limit on authorized expenses. Authorized travelers will be allowed to engage in transactions ordinarily incident to travel within Cuba, including payment of living expenses and the acquisition in Cuba of goods for personal consumption there."
While you may be able to bring home some fine Cuban tobacco for personal enjoyment, though, don't expect to see these types of products in US stores anytime soon.
"Authorized U.S. travelers to Cuba will be allowed to import up to $400 worth of goods acquired in Cuba for personal use. This includes no more than $100 of alcohol or tobacco products."
Although these new rules don't quite allow for the same leniency as bringing back a bottle of wine from your trip to Paris or some limoncello from your vacation in Italy, they are far-removed from the previous Cold War era restrictions that barred any type of Cuban goods from being brought into the US at all. In addition, "Travelers will now be allowed to use U.S. credit and debit cards in Cuba."
Paving the Way for Future Improvement
The publication of these new regulations represents an unprecedented change in relations between the US and Cuba, which for over half a century has remained almost completely stagnant. Open tourism in Cuba is still not permitted without restriction but it's clear that the push for normalization is more than just talk as concrete actions have already been taken to amend the political atmosphere. The Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs, Roberta Jacobson, is scheduled to arrive in Cuba tomorrow, January 21st, to hold the first diplomatic meeting regarding diplomatic relations with Cuba since the Jimmy Carter administration and, hopefully, further discussions will follow. Travel providers are remaining optimistic and it seems like it won't be long before a holiday in Cuba will be accessible to all!