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There Are Still 11 Authorized Reasons for Travel to Cuba in 2019

By: Sarah Cherres

Monday July 8th, 2019

Summer is just starting, and there are still so many great reasons to visit the beautiful and culturally rich Island of Cuba in 2019! Ahead of us, we have the Carnaval de Santiago de Cuba later in July, the Marabana Marathon in November, the Havana Film Festival in December, as well as the Parrandas de Remedios, to close out the year. Of course, let us not forget the delicious local cuisine, African heritage, diversity of the Cuban culture, and its warm and friendly people. As you are planning individual or group travel to Cuba from the United States, you will need a valid U.S. passport, a visa, and a valid license for travel. Remember that an individual cannot travel merely as a tourist with no set agenda. It is important to identify what the right reason for travel is and to ensure that every traveler has a full-time agenda for their planned activities during their visit.

Following the new regulations to travel to Cuba effective as of June 5th, 2019, the Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) now allows for 11 different licenses for travelers to visit Cuba from the U.S. legally. These are family visits; official business of the U.S. government, foreign governments, and certain intergovernmental organization; 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; and exportation, importation, or transmission of information or information materials and certain authorized export transactions. In this blog, we will provide a brief overview of each type of general license and provide some helpful examples of travel scenarios for each license.

Family visits

This license is for travelers who have relatives that live on the Island of Cuba. As per the OFAC, a close relative is considered a person who is related “by blood, marriage, or adoption who is no more than three generations removed from that person or from a common ancestor with that person.” The close relative may be a Cuban national or a person who resides in Cuba. For example, it is ok for a traveler to visit a second cousin because you are related by blood and share a common ancestor, no more than three generations apart. On the other hand, you would not be able to use this license to visit your son’s father-in-law because you do not have a direct connection.

Official business of the U.S. government, foreign governments, and certain intergovernmental organizations

This type of license applies to employees, grantees or contractors of the U.S. government, other foreign governments, or intergovernmental organization, where the U.S. may be a member or observer, who are traveling to Cuba to conduct official business. This license cannot be applied for as a group if only some of the members qualify. Travelers must qualify for the license individually. An example would be if the United Nations is holding a meeting in Cuba, employees of the U.S. Government who participate would use this license since the U.S. is attending as a member of the United Nations.

Journalistic activity

The journalistic activity license authorizes full-time journalists, freelance journalists, and support or technical personnel to travel to Cuba. This license must also be qualified for individually. A group cannot use this license when only certain individuals qualify. An example would be if a freelance journalist wants to travel to Cuba to cover the upcoming Habana Film Festival in December. He or she would travel under this visa.

Professional research and professional meetings

This type of license is suited for those set to perform professional research or hold professional meetings in Cuba that pertain to their area of expertise, professional background, or profession. This license also excludes the authorization of direct financial transactions with restricted entities and subentities (www.treasury.gov). As a reminder, travelers must have a full agenda of activities when visiting the island. An example of proper use of this license would be a cultural anthropologist focusing on Cuban studies traveling to Cuba to research an area of Cuban society.

Educational activities

If you are a professor or coordinating travel for a group pursuing education activities, this may be the license for you. This general license is for faculty, staff, and students at U.S. academic institutions and secondary schools. Authorized educational activities would include study abroad programs. Academic exchanges and joint noncommercial, academic research between U.S. and Cuban universities would also fall under this general license. An example would be if a U.S. university offers a course on Cuban studies, and part of the curriculum is a study abroad program in Cuba, this would fall under this license. Again, note that each person traveling would have to apply on an individual basis.

Religious activities

This license would be for U.S. citizens and U.S. based religious organizations, its members and staff, traveling to Cuba for religious purposes, with a religious program or partaking related activities. An example of this would be if religious U.S. based individuals were traveling to Cuba to commemorate the day of the Virgen de la Caridad del Cobre, the Cuban Patron Saint, planning to attend religious activities during their stay.

Public performances, clinics, workshops, athletic and other competitions, and exhibitions

This general license applies to those who participate in amateur or semi-professional international sports federation competitions and other athletic competitions. For example, if you are interested in participating in the upcoming annual Marabana Marathon as a runner, you would request this license. This license is also for those travelers planning to attend public performances, clinics, workshops, and exhibitions in Cuba. Some examples could be the International Jazz Festival in January or the International Cuban Dance Festival in Havana.

Support for the Cuban people

Support for the Cuban People is one of the broadest general licenses for travel to Cuba. According to the OFAC, this license includes, “activities of recognized human rights organizations; independent organizations designed to promote a rapid, peaceful transition to democracy; and individuals and non-governmental organizations that promote independent activity intended to strengthen civil society in Cuba.” Under this license, travelers need to consider activities that support Cubans on the island, which also means helping support their economy. Some of the examples of fulfillment for this license are eating at a privately-owned restaurant called a paladar, buying local art and souvenirs for a crafts market, and staying at a privately-owned home known as a casa particular instead of a hotel. Daily agendas must include activities that emphasize contact with Cuban people.

Humanitarian projects

Under this license, U.S. citizens may travel to Cuba for causes that may be of aid, disaster preparedness and relief, medical aid, historical preservation, and more. It may be wrongfully assumed that fulfilling on a humanitarian project in Cuba is just a matter of volunteering. Because of the limited availability of organized humanitarian activities on the Island, it would be best to contact international organizations that have agreements and causes in place with Cuba. An example of travel under a humanitarian project would be to volunteer to travel to Cuba with an established U.S. based organization to provide disaster relief after a hurricane.

Activities of private foundations or research or educational institutes

As the name says it, this license is for activities and transactions relevant to private foundations, research, and educational institutes. Under this license, these organizations can engage in financial transactions to establish a physical presence in Cuba, such as opening a local office. Research conducted must be for non-commercial purposes and primarily with an international relations focus. An example of this license would be a U.S. based private foundation looking to develop articles on South American -Caribbean international relations. To achieve this, they want to send their team to Cuba to research. Note that people who travel under this license must maintain records of their activities. The license must also be applied for individually.

Exportation, importation, or transmission of information or information materials and certain authorized export transactions

This license relates to the activities involved in the exportation, importation or transmission of information related to travel to Cuba. This license includes filming movies, creating art, and recording music in Cuba. The person using this license must be employed full time and have experience in the field related to their reason for travel. An example of this license would be if a film, such as a documentary, is shot in Cuba and the individuals involved in such productions. The content is then exported to the U.S.

Do you need help finding the right license to travel to Cuba?

If you are having trouble identifying the right license for your travel plans to Cuba and would like to make the process easy, an experienced and professional agency such as OnCuba Travel can help. Please contact OnCuba Travel by phone at (305) 602 – 0219 or email at [email protected]. Friendly and knowledgeable representatives are available to assist you. Their website, www.oncubatravel.com also offers multiple resources to make your trip to Cuba hassle free.

In addition to finding the right license, OnCuba Travel can help you coordinate flights, purchase your visa, book a hotel, rent a car, coordinate airport transfers, and create a full agenda of activities based on your travel plans. Visit the many options for short excursions in Havana, Viñales, Cienfuegos, and Santiago de Cuba, as well as multi-day all-inclusive group programs available.