Getting a Cuba General License (2019 Update)

Getting a Cuba General License (2019 Update)

ViaHero · Updated June 10, 2019

If you've begun planning a trip to Cuba you've probably heard of a Cuba General License. And since the legal situation around Cuba travel seems complicated (trust us, it actually isn't), you're probably confused about what it is. But wonder no more: here's what you have to know about the Cuba General License. Once you give the article a read feel free to message us any questions you still have!

Want to make the most out of your trip? Tap into our network of local travel planners—Heroes—who build unique, locally-curated trip plans, designed just for you. Get started.  

What is a General License? (Hint: It's not really a license)

You don't actually need a printed license to travel to Cuba, even under the new Trump Cuba policies. Having a Cuba General License simply means that:

a. You've chosen to travel under any of the US government's 11 permitted categories of legal travel to Cuba (Support for the Cuban People is usually the easiest).

b. You're meeting the criteria to travel under that category.

Typically, you only have to declare your category when you book a flight, sometimes when you book lodging, and upon return to the United States.

Bottom line: it's really easy to get a Cuba General License! 

The 11 Categories

There are eleven categories of legal travel under the Cuba General License (formerly 12 before Trump's 2019 Cuba travel restrictions). They are:

  • Family visits
  • Official business for the US government, foreign government and certain intergovernmental organizations
  • Journalism
  • 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
  • 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. 

The former 12th category, People to People, was eliminated on June 5, 2019. It was primarily used by group trips and cruises companies; we'll talk more about that in a minute.

Cuban tourist card

Support for the Cuban People

Most people qualify for the Support for the Cuban People General License category because the exact terms of the Support for the Cuban People 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:

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 bottom line: there are a million Support for the Cuban People activities. With just a little know-how, it's easy to plan an amazing trip that's 100% legal. That's where our local trip planners come in. ViaHero's in-country travel experts can plan your Cuba itinerary, built around your interests, travel style, budget, and what you specifically want to see and do—all while making sure it conforms to the Support for the Cuban People regulations—for just $30/day. Learn more here

People To People Travel

Before it was eliminated on June 5, 2019, the People to People category covered educational exchanges (translation: group travel and/or tour groups). These involved group travel through a licensed tour company that ensured educational requirements were met. Cruises to Cuba often used this category so their passengers could take Havana tours or shore excursions. Again: as of June 2019, the People to People category has been eliminated, and cruises to Cuba have ended.

Other Categories

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. 

If you're still not sure which license category to choose, send us a direct message or contact one of our Cuban travel experts - we are happy to help you figure it out! 

Required Documentation

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 and difficult to figure out legally—so we recommend having one of our Cuban travel experts help you!

Conclusion

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 (very) 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. So what're you waiting for? Have a Cuban local start planning your legal trip!

Have more questions about Cuba? Here is a list of local Cuban Travel Experts who can help you or you can message us any questions you have. And before your trip, make sure to check out:

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