New updates as of June 8th, 2022, regarding Cuba travel from the United States. The Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC), part of the Treasury Department, authorized group People to People and Professional Research general Travel Licenses for US travelers.
The Department of the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) is amending the Cuban Assets Control Regulations to implement elements of the policy announced by the Administration on May 16, 2022 to increase support for the Cuban people. This rule authorizes group people-to-people educational travel to Cuba and removes certain restrictions on authorized academic educational activities, authorizes travel to attend or organize professional meetings or conferences in Cuba, removes the $1,000 quarterly limit on family remittances, and authorizes donative remittances to Cuba. These amendments also add or update several cross references.
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(Covid-19, Cuba tourism reopening, vaccinations, & more)
Hi Traveler friends,
It has been quite the journey for Cuba, the world, and all of us enduring the pandemic. While the pandemic officially continues, many countries around the world are reopening tourism in a responsible way. Cuba is one of those countries. Let’s check the newest Travel Updates.
The ministry of tourism on the Island has announced that it will open its borders to more tourism starting November 15th, 2021. See the newest entry requirements on our Ultimate Cuba Travel Checklist.
Over 90% of the Cuban population has been vaccinated with at least one dose, and health officials believe over 90% will be fully vaccinated before 2022. All workers in the tourism industry in Cuba are required to have booster vaccine shots as well.
We are seeing most of Havana’s famous music venues and restaurants reopen while maintaining super-low case numbers. on November 13th, 2021 the Island had less than 300 new cases of COVID-19 and they continue to decline each day.
Cuba could become one of the safest post-pandemic destinations in all of Latin America!
We really believe that all of that is the best option for travelers to Cuba going forward. We have small groups of no more than 10 people and we are also requiring proof of vaccination. You can rest assured that all of our tour leaders and guides are also fully vaccinated.
Support for the Cuban People is one of the most popular and a legal general license under the US Treasury Department for United States Citizens to travel to Cuba. There are 11 licenses for travel to Cuba, so let’s make this simple for you. The OFAC licenses you could easily use to travel to Cuba are highlighted in bold.
Official business of the U.S. government, foreign governments, and certain intergovernmental organizations
Professional research and professional meetings
Public performances, clinics, workshops, athletic and other competitions, and exhibitions
Support for the Cuban people
Activities of private foundations or research or educational institutes
Exportation, importation, or transmission of information or informational materials; and certain authorized export transactions.
Professional research and professional meetings License
Depending on what you do for a living or what you want to do for a living (professionally) you can travel to Cuba to meet with people and certain organizations to further research your work or your future work. For example… I am a professional drummer and a tour operator owner. I can travel to Cuba under this license and meet with musicians, musical institutes, travel agencies, etc. I can also do research by going out to music venues and researching music culture, rhythms, styles, etc. Check out this video I made on my VLOG talking about this license and if Americans can go to the beach in Cuba.
Educational activities License
This used to be where the People to People category was listed, but now it is not a legal way to travel to Cuba. Here are some of the most important rules for traveling under an educational license directly from OFAC:
“OFAC amended the general license for educational activities in accordance with the NSPM process to authorize travel that was permitted by regulation on January 27, 2011. In addition, OFAC added requirements for certain categories of authorized educational travel that were not permitted by regulation on January 27, 2011 to require that all such travel be conducted under the auspices of an organization that is a person subject to U.S. jurisdiction. In addition, travelers utilizing this authorization must be accompanied by a person subject to U.S. jurisdiction who is a representative of the sponsoring organization. In certain cases where the traveler is an employee, paid consultant, agent, or other representative traveling individually (not as part of a group), the individual may obtain a certification letter from the sponsoring organization. For a complete description of what such a letter must include and which categories of educational travelers may utilize this authorization, see 31 CFR § 515.565(a)(2). Among other things, this general license authorizes, subject to conditions, faculty, staff, and students at U.S. academic institutions and secondary schools to engage in certain educational activities, including study abroad programs, in Cuba, Cuban scholars to engage in certain educational activities in the United States, and certain activities to facilitate licensed educational programs. U.S. and Cuban universities may engage in academic exchanges and joint noncommercial academic research under the general license. This provision also authorizes persons subject to U.S. jurisdiction to provide standardized testing services and certain internet-based courses to Cuban nationals. For a complete description of what this general license authorizes and the restrictions that apply, see 31 CFR § 515.565. In accordance with the NSPM, on November 9, 2017, OFAC amended this general license to exclude from the authorization direct financial transactions with entities and subentities identified on the State Department’s Cuba Restricted List. For a description of the scope of the prohibition on direct financial transactions and the restrictions and exceptions that apply, see 31 CFR § 515.209. Effective June 5, 2019, OFAC removed the authorization for group people-to-people educational travel. (See FAQ 12 for more information.)”
Public performances, clinics, workshops, athletic and other competitions, and exhibitions
This license that you will almost never hear a travel agency talking about. Mostly because it is almost impossible for them to facilitate these sorts of activities. I think this is also what makes our tour company unique and how we deal with music, music festivals, and musicians. Most of our travel will now include this license and its activities along with the Support for the Cuban people license. This license is also freer than other licenses to travel to Cuba. As in, there is no requirement for a full-time itinerary. Though we still maintain a full-time itinerary for our tours, it isn’t particularly necessary. Here is the information directly from OFAC:
(a) General license for amateur and semi-professional international sports federation competitions. The travel-related transactions set forth in §515.560(c) and such other transactions as are directly incident to participation in athletic competitions in Cuba by amateur or semi-professional athletes or athletic teams, or organization of such competitions, are authorized, provided that:
(1) The athletic competition in Cuba is held under the auspices of the international sports federation for the relevant sport;
(2) The U.S. participants in the athletic competition are selected by the U.S. federation for the relevant sport; and
(3) The competition is open for attendance, and in relevant situations, participation, by the Cuban public.
(b) General license for public performances, clinics, workshops, other athletic or non-athletic competitions, and exhibitions. The travel-related transactions set forth in §515.560(c) and such other transactions as are directly incident to participation in or organization of a public performance, clinic, workshop, athletic competition not covered by paragraph (a) of this section, non-athletic competition, or exhibition in Cuba by participants in or organizers of such activities are authorized, provided that the event is open for attendance, and in relevant situations participation, by the Cuban public.
Example 1 to §515.567(a) and (b): An amateur baseball team wishes to travel to Cuba to compete against a Cuban team in a baseball game in Cuba. The game will not be held under the auspices of the international sports federation for baseball. The baseball team’s activities therefore would not qualify for the general license in paragraph (a). The game will, however, be open to the Cuban public. The baseball team’s activities would qualify for the general license in paragraph (b).
Example 2 to §515.567(a) and (b): A U.S. concert promoter wishes to organize a musical event in Cuba that would be open to the public and feature U.S. musical groups. The organizing of the musical event in Cuba by the U.S. concert promoter and the participation by U.S. musical groups in the event would qualify for the general license in paragraph (b).
Note 1 to §515.567(a) and (b): Each person relying on the general authorizations in these paragraphs must retain specific records related to the authorized travel transactions. See §§501.601 and 501.602 of this chapter for applicable recordkeeping and reporting requirements.
Note 2 to §515.567(a) and (b): Transactions incident to the organization of amateur and semi-professional international sports federation competitions and public performances, clinics, workshops, other athletic or non-athletic competitions, and exhibitions include marketing related to such events in Cuba.
(c) An entire group does not qualify for the general license in paragraph (a) or (b) of this section merely because some members of the group qualify individually.
(d) Nothing in paragraph (a) or (b) of this section authorizes a direct financial transaction prohibited by §515.209.
(e) Specific licenses. Specific licenses may be issued on a case-by-case basis authorizing the travel-related transactions set forth in §515.560(c) and such other transactions as are related to public performances, clinics, workshops, athletic and other competitions, and exhibitions that do not qualify for the general licenses under paragraphs (a) or (b) of this section.
Support for the Cuban People
Don’t want to travel with Havana Music Tours? You don’t have to!! This is the license to use if you want to travel without a group to Cuba. Though you can use the others as well, this one is the most popular.
For this license, like almost all other licenses you will need a full-time itinerary, keep your receipts for 5 years, avoid spending money at places on the Cuba Restricted List, and make sure you are ACTUALLY Supporting the Cuban people. How do you do that? Buy doing business at privately owned places, like Paladares (Private Restaurants), staying in Casa Particulares (Airbnb, Bed, and Breakfast, etc), having and paying for breakfast in your casa, and generally making an itinerary that utilizes as many privately owned entities, people, businesses as possible in Cuba. Here is the OFAC license information from their website to understand more:
(a) General license. The travel-related transactions set forth in §515.560(c) and other transactions that are intended to provide support for the Cuban people are authorized, provided that:
(1) The activities are of:
(i) Recognized human rights organizations;
(ii) Independent organizations designed to promote a rapid, peaceful transition to democracy; or
(iii) Individuals and non-governmental organizations that promote independent activity intended to strengthen civil society in Cuba; and
(2) Each traveler engages in a full-time schedule of activities that:
(i) Enhance contact with the Cuban people, support civil society in Cuba, or promote the Cuban people’s independence from Cuban authorities; and
(ii) Result in meaningful interaction with individuals in Cuba.
(3) The traveler’s schedule of activities does not include free time or recreation in excess of that consistent with a full-time schedule.
Note 1 to paragraph (a): Each person relying on the general authorization in this paragraph must retain specific records related to the authorized travel transactions. See §§501.601 and 501.602 of this chapter for applicable recordkeeping and reporting requirements.
Note 2 to paragraph (a): Staying in a room at a rented accommodation in a private Cuban residence (casa particular), eating at privately-owned Cuban restaurants (paladares), and shopping at privately-owned stores run by self-employed Cubans (cuentapropista) are examples of activities that qualify for this general license. However, in order to meet the requirement for a full-time schedule, a traveler must engage in additional authorized Support for the Cuban People activities.
(b) An entire group does not qualify for the general license in paragraph (a) of this section merely because some members of the group qualify individually.
(c) Certain direct financial transactions restricted. Nothing in paragraph (a)(1)(iii) of this section authorizes a direct financial transaction prohibited by §515.209, with the exception of transactions on behalf of a non-governmental organization.
(d) Specific licenses. Specific licenses may be issued on a case-by-case basis authorizing the travel-related transactions set forth in §515.560(c) and such other transactions as are related to support for the Cuban people that do not qualify for the general license under paragraph (a) of this section.
Example 1 to §515.574: An individual plans to travel to Cuba, stay in a room at a rented accommodation in a private Cuban residence (casa particular), eat at privately-owned Cuban restaurants (paladares), and shop at privately-owned stores run by self-employed Cubans (cuentapropista) during his or her four-day trip. While at the casa particular, the individual will have breakfast each morning with the Cuban host and engage with the Cuban host to learn about Cuban culture. In addition, the traveler will complete his or her full-time schedule by supporting Cuban entrepreneurs launching their privately-owned businesses. The traveler’s activities promote independent activity intended to strengthen civil society in Cuba. Because the individual’s qualifying activities are not limited to staying in a room at a rented accommodation in a private Cuban residence (casa particular), eating at privately-owned Cuban restaurants (paladares), and shopping at privately owned stores run by self-employed Cubans (cuentapropista) and the traveler maintains a full-time schedule that enhances contact with the Cuban people, supports civil society in Cuba, and promotes the Cuban people’s independence from Cuban authorities, and that results in meaningful interaction between the traveler and Cuban individuals, the individual’s travel qualifies for the general license.
Example 2 to §515.574: A group of friends plans to travel and maintain a full-time schedule throughout their trip by volunteering with a recognized non-governmental organization to build a school for underserved Cuban children with the local community. In their free time, the travelers plan to rent bicycles to explore the streets of Havana and visit an art museum. The travelers’ trip would qualify for the general license because the volunteer activities promote independent activity intended to strengthen civil society in Cuba and constitute a full-time schedule that enhances contact with the Cuban people and supports civil society in Cuba, and results in meaningful interaction between the travelers and individuals in Cuba.
Example 3 to §515.574: An individual plans to travel to Cuba, rent a bicycle to explore the neighborhoods and beaches, and engage in brief exchanges with local beach vendors. The individual intends to stay at a hotel that does not appear on the Cuba Restricted List (see §515.209). The traveler’s trip does not qualify for this general license because none of these activities promote independent activity intended to strengthen civil society in Cuba.
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There are many different ways to travel to Cuba. The “best way” is different for each person. This blog post will give you some insight into what I know about travel to Cuba. Including how traveling to Cuba differentiates from other international travel destinations.
The first thing that you should know is that travel to Cuba is legal for Americans. I know I am writing from a tour agency’s blog, but ultimately, I think you should travel to Cuba in any way that fits you best. For example, maybe you don’t like to be risky in a place that you don’t know…? Or perhaps you prefer the freedom to explore on your own versus being on tour.
This blog will break down the differences between the few and give some information to help you decide which travel option is the best for you. Traveling on your own time and exploring freely definitely has its benefits. You could stop at a specific store you want or spend more time inside a cafe or restaurant. Honestly, I like to do that too. This sort of freedom can give you a bit of space to discover something new when you arrived versus when you were initially making all of your reservations.
How can you travel to Cuba?
Despite any misinformation you may have heard, you can travel to Cuba on your own without a tour or cruise ship. However, there may be some significant benefits to traveling with time to Cuba (at least on your first visit). I will expand on that later in this article.
When traveling to Cuba on your own, especially as an American or someone living in or traveling from the United States, at the very least, you must follow the general guidelines of OFAC’s Cuba regulations. The only license that allows individual travel is “Support for the Cuban People.” A basic overview of the rules listed in this license: You must stay in a Casa Particular (AirBnB) or any privately owned home. No hotels as they are all partially owned by the government. It is hard to justify a license to Support the Cuban people if you aren’t supporting them.
You must have a full-time itinerary, obey the Cuba restricted list, and keep your receipts for at least five years. In addition, you must shop and eat at privately owned businesses and restaurants. In any case, you can take a tour and then wander on your own; many of our guests do it like that. You can start with a Tour, get the hang of Cuba, and then adventure independently. It is a perfect way!
I have been traveling to Cuba for over two years, and I am still learning things every day. Booking a tour is the easiest way because you can stay in a Casa Particular to fulfill your Support for the Cuban People License, again, the license you must use to travel as an individual to Cuba. Otherwise, I recommend at least a whole week in Havana to begin to grasp all of the different cultural experiences available.
The honest case for a Cuba tour is that any Tour, especially ours, is not necessarily relaxing; they are very interactive, busy, and full of different experiences. We at Havana Music Tours allow free time to explore within your itinerary.
Let’s go to Cuba!
The ultimate way to experience Cuba is witha cultural tour like ours. Yes, we are biased, but it is true. From the many testimonials on TripAdvisor, you can read that our guests have a blast. Our tours allow you to “skip the line” and experience the best of Cuba in a short amount of time.
I want to quote one of our guests, Fred, “Even if you speak Spanish fluently (unlike me) or are good at ferreting out obscure events in strange places (which I generally can), there is still no way you will find half of what Mr. Chaz Chambers can introduce you to.” Especially if you are a Cuban music lover, you can’t afford to miss what we have found for you.
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Not just hype, this is truly a transcendant experience. Havana is a city like no other, and this will give you a glimpse of it’s inner soul beneath the weathered... read more beauty. The local musical culture is, in its own unique way, as incredible and high level as New York City, but there
frank blank December 1, 2018
I went to Cuba with Chaz Chambers and his company Havana Music Tours, from the beginning I was immersed in the Cuban culture it was wonderful! We stayed at a... read more lovely casa with breakfast made every morning, we got to explore old Havana, it was filled with the most delicious food!
NORA January 1, 2019
Our visit to the 2022 Havana Jazz Festival with Havana Music Tours was a wonderful experience. Tour director Chaz Chambers and his Cuban wife, Yamilka, looked after all arrangements in... read more a professional and proactive way. They curated an outstanding selection of concerts, informal performances, and visits to musical institutions. Before and after the festival, when no performances were scheduled, they arranged private performances by musicians of their acquaintance, for example an afternoon tour of the "Afro-Cuban Religious Experience" through shrines scattered around Central Havana and a visit to a recording studio to hear a local band rehearse.
Because US government rules do not allow Americans to stay in Cuban hotels, Chaz found housing for us in a series private homes, essentially BnBs, all of them clean and comfortable with ample breakfasts. Most of our other meals were included in the tour: they turned into festive occasions at some of Havana's best restaurants. We traveled around Havana and the nearby countryside in comfortable buses with tourism guides provided by a Cuban government agency.
Chaz and Yami also looked after airport arrivals and departures, Covid testing, money exchange, and record keeping for the US government. Almost everything went smoothly, and when inevitable problems arose (e.g. a delay in Covid testing at the airport), Chaz and Yamilka dealt with them quickly and successfully.
The best thing about Havana Music Tours was the people. Chaz, Yamilka, their assistants Zack and Miguel, tour guides Alejandro and Ernesto, even the bus drivers -- everyone was friendly, attentive, knowledgeable and really, really nice. As well, our fellow tourists turned out to be excellent company, with a variety of ages, backgrounds and musical interests.
We look forward to the next Havana Jazz Festival.
Member24 February 3, 2022
This tour started out with a bang when we were greeted at the airport by the tour leader, Cuban interpreter and our own private taxi in his 1955 Chevy, turquoise... read more and white with red leather interior. We had asked for a vintage car ride thinking...More
Barbara H March 30, 2018
Well organized visit for Jazz Plaza festival. Many other types of music as well. Learned a lot about Cuba. Stayed in great non-government owned casas (so legal per USA)... read more Side trip to Trinidad was beautiful. Excellent gourmet meals. Highly recommend.
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