Getting a Cuba General License
Updated January 15, 2018
If you've begun planning a trip to Cuba you've probably run into mentions of a Cuba General License for travelers. By now you might be wondering: what is it, how do I get it, is it hard to get? Here's what you need to know before you go.
And before your trip, make sure to check out:
- Cuba FAQ
- You Can Still Travel to Cuba: Update 2018
- Cuba Info for Americans
- Our homepage on Cuba
- Contact us with your Questions
Americans: You can still travel to Cuba independently
with a General License!
What is a General License? (Hint: It's not really a license)
You don't actually need a printed license to meet the requirements to travel to Cuba, even under the new Trump Cuba policies. The Cuba General License is a declaration - all you need to do is choose one of the twelve categories of legal travel and report that category, if asked. Typically this is only declared when you book a flight, sometimes when you book lodging, and upon return to the United States.
Bottom line: the general license makes travel to Cuba easy!
There are twelve categories under the Cuba general license.
You can choose from eleven of them to travel to Cuba independently. Those categories are:
- Family visits
- Official business for the US government, foreign government and certain intergovernmental organizations
- Professional research
- 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
For the twelfth category you must travel with a licensed tour company based in the US:
- Educational activities and people to people travel
Many travelers qualify for the support for the Cuban people general license. It is usually the best license to use for independent trips, but our travel planners can help you decide if it's the right category for you.
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 many 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 with local organizations
- Eating in locally owned restaurants (yum)
- Learning to cook Cuban food (also yum)
- Taking dance lessons
- Touring a tobacco farm and learning how to roll cigars
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. But no one is going to go counting hours exactly, so you shouldn't either. The basic guideline: don't spend your entire vacation in Cuba sunning yourself on the beach and drinking Cuba Libres. Yes, you could spend a day or two at the beach, but you also need to learn something and contribute to the local economy.
I know this can be confusing, send me a direct message if you have any questions and I will be happy to answer.
People To People Exchange Travel
Trips that fall under the people to people category are educational exchanges for group travel. 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 involve group travel through a licensed tour company that ensures educational requirements are met and that you maintain a full-time schedule throughout the trip. These trips can be rather rigorous in terms of schedule intensity, but you will likely have some down time to chill out and drink a mojito or two.
You may not choose this category to travel independently. You must go with a company licensed in the US.
The other categories are for very specific types of trips like visiting family that still lives in Cuba or visiting as part of a larger humanitarian project. If one of these licenses is appropriate, you declare it at customs and show proof of your qualifying activities under that license.
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 can be time consuming, so I recommend having one of my handpicked Cuban travel experts help you out to take the stress out of planning.
A daily itinerary is necessary as travel is not yet permitted solely for tourism from the US. 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, but 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.