In December 2014, President Barack Obama announced a new policy towards Cuba, ending over 50 years of closed diplomacy to the Caribbean island. As part of the reform, the President outlined a number of progressive steps to once again open relations with the Communist nation closed off from trade in 1961, including re-opening the United States Embassy in Havana, and increasing the license issuing for travel to Cuba.
Though the announcement is the first step in re-opening Cuba to tourists, Americans are not yet immediately welcome to catch the next flight to the island. In reality, the steps are a long, progressive route that may ultimately allow travelers to enjoy the rich culture of Cuba. But today, the policies are still superseded by a complex set of rules and regulations that still govern America's approach towards the country.
So how does the new Cuba policy affect travelers? Here are three ways international travelers will benefit, as well as feel the impact of, the policy shift.
Facilitation of expanded travel to Cuba
Previous to the policy announcement, American travel to Cuba was highly protected and regulated by a number of government agencies. In order to successfully travel to the island nation and be accepted back into the United States, travelers needed to be licensed by the Department of the Treasury, and often needed to have their travel organized by a travel agent or licensed organization.
Although the policy remains the same, the number travelers to Cuba is expected to increased under the President's directive. As a result of the policy change, qualified travelers can be authorized for a travel license under one of the 12 existing travel categories. Those visiting family in Cuba, those visiting for educational or religious purposes, and those traveling for the "Support of the Cuban People" are all able to apply for a travel license from the Treasury Department.
Allowances for personal items from Cuba
Previous to the President's announcement, all Cuban goods were outlawed in the United States due to the embargo on items that began in 1961. But with the change in American diplomatic policies towards Cuba, some goods will be allowed to come back with travelers as a result of their Cuban adventures.
Licensed travelers who are going to Cuba will be allowed a small allowance to bring goods back into the United States with them. According to the announcement, the policy will be a special provision for licensed travelers who are returning from direct travel from Cuba. Now, those coming back will be allowed to bring home $400 worth of goods to the United States. Of the $400, travelers can only use 25 percent, or $100, for tobacco and alcohol - anything else valued outside of that allowance will be confiscated by Customs and Border Protection.
Though the allowance allows limited importation, visitors are still subject to a daily spending limit during their visit set by the Department of the Treasury and the Department of State. In addition, it is unclear how the policy will be implemented by Customs and Border Protection, and how border agents will work with policymakers on the allowance of goods.
Cuban travelers still need travel insurance
While travelers are now encouraged to apply for a travel license to visit Cuba, some regulations will remain in effect for those visiting the nation. In addition to Federal and local laws that are in effect, travelers visiting Cuba are required to hold an active travel insurance policy before they arrive.
In order to enter Cuba by land, air, or sea, foreign travelers are required to hold a non-U.S. medical insurance policy. These policies, commonly included in a overall travel insurance plan, will guarantee payment to a medical facility if a traveler becomes ill or is injured. In this situation, having a medical benefit from a credit card will not count as acceptable travel insurance - instead, travelers will have to provide proof of travel insurance upon arrival. Those travelers who do not have proof of travel insurance will be required to purchase a policy at customs or leave the country.
While the new policies towards Cuba encourages travel, Americans are not yet given a carte blanche pass to visit the embargoed nation. But through understanding how the policies affect American travelers, would be visitors to the old country can make the best decisions to plan the best travel experience.