Whether you’ve been inspired by Camila Cabello’s song “Havana” or have always wanted to see what communism looks like firsthand, travel to Cuba is still possible from the United States in 2018, despite President Trump’s travel restrictions to the Caribbean nation.
What is the new policy for Americans traveling to Cuba?
“Travelers can continue visiting Cuba legally,” says Peggy Goldman, Founder and President of Friendly Planet Travel, a U.S. tour company. But if they book their tickets or hotel stays online, they will need to provide proof that they fall under approved categories of travel. Alternatively, visitors can visit the island with operators like Educational Experiences Abroad, Friendly Planet Travel or Cuba Educational Travel.
Now, after a rollback of former President Obama’s easing of restrictions, Goldman explains that, “what Trump did was take away that independent style of travel. Americans can continue to visit as long as they comply with the twelve ways that you can travel to Cuba.”
“The announcement alone dampened the American enthusiasm for going to Cuba,” says Brendan Sainsbury, Lonely Planet’s Cuba expert.
Although the rules essentially roll back travel restrictions to the pre-Obama era of Cuban-American relations, the linchpin in the new policy, as Goldman calls it, is that visitors cannot use any services that benefit the military. Staying at an airbnb or casa particulare is still allowed.
How will the new restrictions impact Cuban businesses?
“If American tourism goes down, it will hit [the Cubans],” says Sainsbury, a British national. But in the next breath Sainsbury points out that Americans have been visiting Cuba illegally for decades. “We don’t profess that but it’s a fact, you see that on the ground”
“Everyone thinks it will get worse and worse and we will have to wait for the next president,” says Juan, a 24 year old Cuban who works in the tourism industry. Although he believes small hospitality businesses will continue to open, “it would only be for Europeans.”
As the island heads into their high tourism season, Juan says that many Cubans are nervous about the impact of the recent restrictions.
In the first six months of 2017, some 300,000 Americans visited Cuba, more than twice last year’s number in the same time span, according to the government. Tour companies estimated that of those vistors, 40,000 Americans traveled to Cuba outside organized groups, under the people-to-people category.
Goldman says, “The man who calls himself the king of business is actually putting a stake in the heart of business in Cuba.”
If you’re still planning a trip to Pearl of the Antilles, check out our expert tips below.
You need to purchase a visa beforehand.
Travelers can either order a visa ahead-of-time through a website, or book it directly through the airline. While there are 12 types of American travel that are still allowed, independent people-to-people educational travel is no longer a valid reason for visiting Cuba in 2018. This is one of the biggest changes, so make sure you fall under one of the categories listed here.
If possible, pack Euros.
Using ATMs is still hit or miss with American currency, so pack all the dollars you will need. Buying Cuban currency with American dollars results in a 10% fee, so if possible, bring Euros as there is no surcharge.
Document your trip
New regulations stipulate that you have to document your entire trip to prove that you were on the Caribbean island for one of the 12 purported reasons. Generally, tour managers are responsible for making a report of the itinerary, itemizing how each part complied with the requirements. Before booking, make sure that your operator is in compliance.
“Right now there is a lot of confusion,” says Goldman. “The day that Trump made those announcements, and even until today, people call and they want to be reassured that if they go on one of our trips they will be traveling legally.”
In the second paragraph, tourists was changed to visitors.
In the fifth paragraph, tourists was changed to visitors.
In the thirteenth paragraph, tourism was changed to independent people-to-people educational travel.
This was deleted: This poses a problem for American visitors to the communist country because, “except for a few hotels, the rest are owned and operated by a governmental agency,” says Goldman. She suspects that business travelers will especially be impacted, as few the hotels in Cuba are privately run or operated.