ViaHero · Updated August 13, 2018
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!
What is a General License? (Hint: It's not really a license)
a. You've chosen to travel under any of the US government's 12 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 12 Categories
There are twelve categories of legal travel under the Cuba General License.
- 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
- 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 bottom line: you can'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.
W know this can be confusing, so send us a direct message if you have any questions and we'll be happy to help!
People To People Exchange Travel
Trips that fall under the people to people category are educational exchanges for group travel. These involve group travel through a licensed tour company that ensures educational requirements are met and that you maintains 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.
The bottom line: 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 and difficult to figure out legally—so we recommend having a Cuban travel experts help you!
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!