Travel to Cuba! Here’s What Americans Can Expect…

The President’s actions on Cuba today don’t yet allow for increased tourism, though that’s the next logical step.

Wednesday’s announcement that the U.S. will move toward restoring diplomatic ties with Cuba will also make it easier for Americans to travel to Cuba and do business with the Cuban people by extending general licenses, officials said. While the more liberal travel restrictions won’t allow for tourism, they will permit greater American travel to the island.

Here are the current changes to policy:

  • The State Department will consider removing Cuba from its list of sponsors of terrorism.
  • The US will expand export of goods and services to Cuba, inc;luding construction materials and communications equipment. (Only 5% of Cubans have access to the internet today, that will eventually change.)
  • US credit and debit cards will be able to be used in Cuba, and travelers will be permitted to mport up to $400 worth of items (including $100 in alcohol and tobacco). There’ll be a run on Cuban cigars, although I ‘understand’ they aren’t as good as they once were.
  • Permitted remittances to Cuban family members will be increased to $2,000 per quarter.

Scott Mayerowitz has an Associated Press piece useful for laying out the volume of existing travel between the US and Cuba. American has the most robust operation already flying 12-14 charter flights a week. JetBlue operates there on a lesser scale predominantly from Fort Lauderdale, and Delta used to fly there but hasn’t in two years.

As far as who can travel there currently, “close relatives of Cubans, academics and people on accredited cultural education programs can visit… [a]bout 170,000 authorized travelers made the trip last year”

For years of course Americans have traveled largely to Mexico but also to Canada and elsewhere as a jumping off point for purchase of separate tickets to Cuba. There have been occasional run-ins with US authorities over this, especially when US financial records show spending dollars in Cuba, but for the most part there’s been lax enforcement.

While Cuba will certainly see a boom in tourism when things open up, much of it will be curiosity factor at first. There’s a whole lot of infrastructure investment that will need to happen before it becomes a world class tourism destination, and there really aren’t top end accommodations presently although as Mayerowitz notes Spanish chain Melia hotels has 26 properties there currently.

I expect that Cuba won’t be an especially good use of miles, as Florida and the Caribbean are not presently most of the time, but being able to travel there freely – eventually, and many now expect (and have expected for some time) – will certainly be a boon to Cubans and to the freedom of Americans.

Here’s a Cuban joke, that today’s changes begin to make obsolete.

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. Unless there is more freedom in Cuba, I’m not going. Hopefully, there will be change. When I was living in Miami in the late ’80s, and the Communist world was falling apart, I thought it was only a matter of months before I’d visit! Those Castro boys sure know how to hang on.

  2. My European friends loved visiting Cuba due to the lack of crazy/noisy American tourists! I guess they’ll have to go someplace else to avoid us Americans. 😉

  3. We went to Cuba about five years ago and absolutely loved it – it’s pretty easy to “sneak” in through Mexico. My advice would be to visit before travel is allowed because the easing of restrictions is going to quickly destroy what makes Cuba such an interesting and unique place for a visitor. In a few years it will probably look and feel a lot like the rest of the Caribbean.

  4. Went to Cuba last year – was an amazing trip – looking forward to going back and seeing the changes..

  5. I’ve been tempted to ‘sneak in’ on the spur of the moment from Jamaica or Mexico. But risking Global Entry over it never seemed remotely worth it.

    As for the ‘don’t support oppressive regimes’ meme, no one seems to bat an eye at visiting Vietnam, China or Myanmar. In fact, the general consensus is that by visiting American tourists help break down authoritarianism.

    Looking forward to going asap.

  6. Don’t forget, Air Canada flies from Toronto and (I think seasonally, not sure if they still do) Montreal

  7. I have no problem with diplomatic ties and trade … all well and good. But as a frequent traveller, the second “prisoner exchange” in the same year really concerns me. I don’t want to become a bargaining chip when traveling abroad…

  8. Did the Bahamian tourist industry just crap their pants?

    Air Canada has 5+ flights a day in the high-season out of Toronto. Many more from Calgary, Halifax, Montreal Ottawa (Varadero)

    The comment on infrastructure is out of place. It’s not Palm Beach or Barbados, but it’s not Tobago.

    More Canadians travel to Cuba than any other country except Mexico and the US.

  9. @Joey: For Canadians too! Like LX F, Cuba has been an enjoyable refuge from the stereotypical crass American tourists. I wonder how long it’ll take for the first Señor Frog’s to open….

  10. Disagree it won’t a good use of miles, MIA-HAV will be only 9,000 Avios r/t!!! And I bet it’ll be an expensive flight to pay for once it opens up.

  11. Permitted remittances to Cuban family members will be increased to $2,000 per quarter.

    I correct. It will be increased to $8000 FROM $2000

  12. No, it certainly isn’t Tobago.

    More like the worst sections of Detroit.

    For an in depth report, Goggle this:

    “Michael J. Totten: An eyewitness account of Cuba’s shocking wretchedness”

    “Outside its small tourist sector, the rest of the city looks as though it suffered a catastrophe on the scale of Hurricane Katrina or the Indonesian tsunami.

    Roofs have collapsed. Walls are splitting apart. Window glass is missing. Paint has long vanished. It’s eerily dark at night, almost entirely free of automobile traffic.

    I walked for miles through an enormous swath of destruction without seeing a single tourist. Most foreigners don’t know that this other Havana exists, though it makes up most of the city — tourist buses avoid it, as do taxis arriving from the airport. It is filled with people struggling to eke out a life in the ruins.”

  13. Cuba is DESPERATE for you all to visit it and give it your tourist dollars so Cuba govt can continue to support & be BFF w/ North Korea.

    And it’s comical that you all want to tour Cuba before the other people who also want to tour Cuba “spoil” it for you. Cuba would rather support terrorist regimes than provide basic human needs for its own citizens. What the heck is so interesting about seeing that? If you go there, do you plan to help the citizens that are suffering from illness and hunger, or do you just want to gawk at them?

    Also, when tourism w/ Cuba opens, Florida will be an IMMENSELY more dangerous place to live. FL becomes the obvious entry point for all violent nations that Cuba has befriended. Obama continues to endanger Americans. Honestly, this really reeks of a president who is desperate for a mention in history books rather than protecting his own citizens.

    I think it’s naïve to look at this political move as a tourist opportunity. Please consider what values you support before you donate to terrorism in trade for looking at poor people.

  14. As much as I love travel, I feel this is a poorly-timed move by Obama, considering the recent slew of terrorist incidents.. It sends the wrong message from America. Whether directly or indirectly, Cuba supports America’s enemies.

  15. @Lindy

    Thank you so much for all your right-wing talking points! I have friends who have taken humanitarian tours expecting to see what you just cited. While the infra-structure is very old and many times falling apart, the people are not starving. Cuba also has national healthcare (since 1960) and much higher level of health results than many other countries….including the USA.

    Florida becoming more dangerous is just utter non-sense. Americans visit Russia and China everyday. Russia and China are much closer to North Korea’s Geo-politics now than Cuba. Once Cubans get more money in their hands, I expect regime/social change to happen real fast. The Castros are very old and can’t hang on forever.

  16. JohnB, If you haven’t lived in Cuba, you don’t understand. The tours your friends went on may have been “arranged”… perhaps that’s why they didn’t see the conditions. Why try to ridicule my thoughts as “talking points”? I haven’t seen TV lately so if any of my comments coincide w/ anyone’s talking points, it’s coincidence. Sometimes opinions just coincide, but I understand why someone would try to reduce someone else’s thoughts by using the term “talking points”. Life is about strategy rather than learning, no?

  17. It seems that isolating Cuba as a no-travel zone when we can travel to Libya, Iran, Syria, etc.. is a bit ridiculous.

  18. There’s no valid reasoning for the embargo with Cuba any more. Whatever goals were to be achieved 50 years ago, obviously didn’t work.
    We may not be able to change the leadership by forming normal relations, but we can tremendously “water down” their influence by pumping an infinite supply of our American culture.

  19. seems overpriced considering the destination. the itinerary is rather vague. but better than not going, i guess

  20. Yes I much rather book my trips to countries with good human rights records and free elections that are allies of the USA like Singapore, and Saudi Arabia. Right wing presidents for life or monarchies are much better than this island. Beside as long as you have the right to get rich what more rights do you need? Getting rich is all that matters right?

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