What Does The New Policy On Cuba Mean For You?
So what will the new Cuba policy mean for anyone that wants to travel to Cuba? Some think this is a step forward and some think this is a step in the wrong direction, what do you think? The article below gives an outline of what things look like at this point and where they may go in the near future. It is followed by a video of the Presidents Cuba speech and some reaction from the House.
Today’s announcement doesn’t mean Americans will be able to head to Havana for Spring Break.
President Obama said today that travel to Cuba will be “easier for Americans.”
But that doesn’t mean Americans will be able to head to Havana for Spring Break.
“I do think it is a big step,” says Patrick Haney, chair of the political science department at Miami University. But he adds that it’s not as simple as “the veil has been lifted and anyone can hop a plane tomorrow and fly to Havana. We’re not in that world.”
Americans have been able to travel legally to Cuba in recent years through people-to-people exchange programs licensed by the federal government. Those are guided tours with strict agendas.
John McAuliff, executive director of the Fund for Reconciliation and Development, which has done people-to-people tours, says normalizing relations with Cuba will make the island more accessible to Americans. But only for those going for purposes that fit within approved categories.
“I think it’s very clear that people can go as long as they are going for non-tourist purposes,” he says. “It includes people-to-people. It includes conferences. It means Americans can organize conferences in Cuba of any kind. An auto dealer association can organize conferences to Cuba.”
And they will be able to use their American U.S. debit and credit cards on the ground.
It will probably be weeks before it’s completely clear what this development will mean for travel to Cuba. None of the changes will take effect until the Treasury Department issues new regulations.
The White House has released a fact sheet trying to address other lingering questions. Here’s what we know so far.
Who can travel to Cuba?
According to the White House, authorized travelers can get general licenses if they are traveling for the following reasons: “(1) family visits; (2) official business of the U.S. government, foreign governments, and certain intergovernmental organizations; (3) journalistic activity; (4) professional research and professional meetings; (5) educational activities; (6) religious activities; (7) public performances, clinics, workshops, athletic and other competitions, and exhibitions; (8) support for the Cuban people; (9) humanitarian projects; (10) activities of private foundations or research or educational institutes; (11) exportation, importation, or transmission of information or information materials; and (12) certain export transactions that may be considered for authorization under existing regulations and guidelines.”
Note: It says nothing about Americans who want to take a beach vacation.
How can people travel to Cuba?
The White House says that travelers who fit into the 12 categories “will be able to make arrangements through any service provider that complies with the U.S. Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) regulations governing travel services to Cuba, and general licenses will authorize provision of such services.”
So far, Americans have only been able to travel to Cuba via people-to-people tours that tend to be expensive because they require more staff and charter transportation. Those tours usually transport travelers around in buses and make them stick to a pre-approved itinerary. Travelers can usually only stay at government-approved hotels and eat at government-approved restaurants. They are not allowed to roam on their own.
Steve Cox, executive director of International Expeditions, which does people-to-people tours, says they typically cost $3,000 to $4,000 a trip.
“It’s very expensive the way the rules work for these trips to operate,” he says. “Someone from Canada, someone from Europe can go relatively, reasonably priced whereas with Americans it’s higher.”
McAuliff says he believes that Americans will soon be able to make their own arrangements to get to Cuba. That means they will probably be able to take public transportation in Cuba, rent a car, or stay at a bed and breakfast.
“Instead of a $4,000 trip, you’re talking about a $2,000 trip,” he says.
But it will probably be easier for the companies that do people-to-people tours to get their licenses now, he says. So perhaps, costs will go down in general.
Cox says that organized tours will still be necessary because Cuba is not an easy place for travelers.
“Cuba really isn’t ready for travel by mass Americans,” he says. “There’s not enough hotels there. They’re at capacity now.”
What can American travelers bring back with them?
The White House says that “licensed U.S. travelers to Cuba will be authorized to import $400 worth of goods from Cuba, of which no more than $100 can consist of tobacco products and alcohol combined.”
Yes, that means you can bring back cigars and rum.
Will American commercial airlines be able to offer more flights to Cuba?
For now, some U.S. airlines such as JetBlue Airways fly charter flights to Cuba.
“We recognize the potential demand for more travel options among people who need to travel between the U.S and Cuba,” JetBlue said in an email. “We would be interested in further expanding the successful charter program we’ve operated into Cuba over the last three years.”
But most other airlines say it is just too soon to tell what they will or won’t be able to do.
“We’re aware of today’s announcements but it’s too soon to determine if or how they will impact our service footprint,” said Southwest Airlines in a statement.
Contributing: Ellen Creager, Detroit Free Press
Original article published: www.usatoday.com/story/travel/destinations