Getting a Cuba General License
If you've begun planning a trip to Cuba you've probably run into mentions of a Cuba General License for travelers. This license is very easy to obtain as you don't actually need a printed license or to visit any government agencies prior to your trip. The license is self-reporting - all you need to do is choose a category and report that category with appropriate supporting documents at customs. This license replaces the time consuming process of applying to travel to Cuba on a case by case basis and alleviates the worry of traveling from a third country like Mexico without applying for travel. Bottom line: the general license makes travel to Cuba surprisingly easy!
There are twelve categories under the Cuba general license. You'll need to select one of the following reasons for travel:
- Family visits
- Official business for the US government, foreign government and certain intergovernmental organizations
- Professional research
- Educational activities and people to people travel
- Religious activities
- Public performances
- 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
- Certain export transactions
Many travelers qualify for the support for the Cuban people or people to people travel Cuba general license.
Support for the Cuban People
The exact terms of the support for the Cuban people Cuba General License category are pretty vague. That's great news for travelers! The non-specific regulations mean that most travel activities qualify so long as you engage with locals. According to this license you are required to participate in activities that will strengthen Cuban society. Such activities could include visiting museums and historical sites, volunteering, eating in locally owned restaurants (yum), learning to cook Cuban food (also yum), taking dance lessons, and the list goes on. Your activities could be (but by no means have to be) associated with a human rights organization that supports the Cuban people. Your free time must be limited to the number of hours you would normally have outside of a full-time work schedule. Basically, don't spend your vacation in Cuba sunning yourself on the beach, drinking Cuba Libres.
People To People Exchange Travel
Trips that fall under the people to people Cuba General License are educational exchanges. These exchanges are permitted as they promote contact between Americans and the Cuban people and promote the independence of the Cuban people from Cuban authorities. These trips are group travel through an educational organization in which an employee of the organization accompanies the travelers to ensure educational requirements are met and that you maintain a full-time schedule throughout the trip. Other than that, you are free to arrange your the details of your travels as you wish.
No matter which Cuba general license category your trip falls under you will need to have a detailed, daily itinerary to present to customs if asked. You should list everything that you plan to do including which cities you will visit, where you will stay, which cultural activities you will participate in, how much leisure time you will have, etc.
This itinerary is necessary as travel is not yet permitted solely for tourism from the U.S. But by engaging in cultural activities with the Cuban people, spending your money in locally owned establishments, and staying off the beaten path of tourists from other countries, you may travel under the loose restrictions of the Cuba general license. The best part: by doing this we truly believe you'll have a more fulfilling and memorable trip than if you'd just zipped over to an all-inclusive beach resort.
If you want to be extra diligent, it could be a good idea to keep a journal of what you do each day during your trip. While we have it on good authority that no one will ask to see such a journal, it can also make a wonderful travel souvenir. Just don't be bummed when customs officers have no interest in reading all of your detailed travel memories and only want to know about your Cuba general license category.