Trump Changes to Cuba Travel Rules

The Trump changes to Cuba travel rules have finally been issued. The new restrictions are not as onerous as had been feared. They took effect Nov 9th 2017.

What the administration is trying to do is steer visitor money away from the hotels and businesses owned or operated by the Cuban military and direct to individual citizens. It will wind up hurting both, however if it stifles travel to the country.

In June, President Trump initially declared his intentions to limit individual travel to Cuba (authorized tours okay, individual travel not okay) and to restrict business with hotels, etc. associated with the military.

Hotel Nacional, Havana. Allowed for Americans
Hotel Nacional is allowed, not on banned list

Changes to Cuba Travel Rules to Help Tours and Cruises

Commercial flights are still allowed, cruise lines will still continue to visit, and tours will continue to be offered. Some hotels are black-listed but huge numbers are still available. Thus there are a lot of ways to still legally visit Cuba, and I recommend you do; it is a fascinating, exotic country.

It will be more difficult to do individual visits but I will get back to that in a moment.

The big change is that a list of military-related hotels and businesses are now off limits for US citizens.  But, at least the list has been published and now you just need to avoid these. Fortunately there are a lot of hotels very popular with Americans that are still allowed.

Staying at a  casa particular, an individually rented room from a private owner, is still allowed. AirBnB and others operate in Cuba to handle a lot of these rooms…no change to renting rooms. These are great places to stay anyway, since you live in the home of a local Cuban, you can find out more than the typical tourist. You are living with a great source of local information.

I don’t think the immediate effect of these changes are so bad. Most people who have never been to this exotic country will choose to make their first trip with an organized tour, or on a cruise. This is a simple, stress-free way to visit. This type of travel is not affected, in fact they are encouraged. The tour operators will just make changes in the hotels they use to make sure they comply for Americans. Cruises don’t use hotels anyway, so they are good to go.

So, book a tour or cruise and go. They will take care of all the details for you. Unless, you are an adventurer, your first trip to Cuba will be much smoother with a guide to show you around.

Lobby of Central Park Hotel (Parque Central), trying to get flight off island prior to hurricane Irma. It is okay to go here still.

Some Black-Listed Hotels Result from the Changes to Cuba Travel Rules

Blacklisted hotels and businesses: Here are a list of Hotels and Businesses to Avoid. These are the ones the state department said are owned in part or whole by the Cuban military. There are 84 hotels in Cuba that are restricted, 27 in Havana alone. Again, you don’t have to worry about this list if you are on a tour, the tour company will insure the hotel is approved.

I stayed in a casa particular on my last visit. These individually rented rooms are still approved for stays. That will be my  place of stay again on my next trip. I did visit a few hotels there on my trip, mainly to check out bars. Some of these will be allowed places to visit, some not. Here are a few hotels:

Hotel Nacional is still allowed. It sits on a hill overlooking the end of the Malecon. This is a piece of Havana history and a great place for drinks and to watch the sunset.

The big, new, Gran Hotel Manzana Kempinski is off limits, but too fancy for me anyway. Staying right next door at the Hotel Parque Central is allowed. This was our headquarters when we were trying to figure out how to get off the island to avoid hurricane Irma. They had wi-fi so we could use our smart phones. They also had great drinks which helped with our evacuation plans.

As a side note to evacuations, avoid American Airlines. They suck. They cancelled flights off the island two days before the hurricane was close. How the hell are you supposed to leave? Luckily JetBlue kept their flight departures to help visitors get off the island and back home.

Considering staying at at Ernest Hemingway‘s Old Havana haunt, the Hotel Ambos Mundos?  It is now disallowed.

changes to Cuba travel rules effect Gran Hotel Manzana Kempinski in Havana
The new Gran Hotel Manzana Kempinski is now off limits to Americans due to changes in Cuba travel rules.

Now for the confusing part, individual travel.

Tourist travel has never been allowed since the travel ban took effect decades ago. Obama had loosened travel rules so that individuals could travel to Cuba, not just approved, sponsored tours (previously you had to be part of a tour group.)

This is how my son and I last traveled in September. We just checked “People-to-People” as our allowed category of travel. This is just a selection you make at the kiosk to get your boarding pass. No group tour needed, no questions, no hassle, just self-certify that this is your reason for travel, get your boarding pass and go. Actually, it was a little more complicated, but that was the airport’s fault. See blog post.

Now, the new rules say no individual people-to-people travel; this has been eliminated. So, does this mean no individual travel at all? This is the confusing part.

Support for the Cuban People” is an allowed category for individual travel. I quote from the Travel FAQs . (If you don’t like to suffer through government documents, just read FAQ 20).

This general license authorizes, subject to conditions, travel-related transactions and other transactions that are intended to provide support for the Cuban people…

OFAC is amending this general license to require that each traveler utilizing this authorization engage in a full-time schedule of activities that enhance contact with the Cuban people, support civil society in Cuba,…

The traveler’s schedule of activities must not include free time or recreation in excess of that consistent with a full-time schedule in Cuba….

So, I am no attorney and am unqualified to interpret this, but I look forward to see if this might provide a means of individual travel. I also plan on seeing what airlines do, to see if this becomes their default category of travel for flyers to select. If so, you would have to plan your trip and keep some kind of diary showing your “support of the Cuban people”.

I will follow up with this as airlines adapt to the new rules.

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