New Cuba Travel Regs Sized Up

By Dawn Gable

Photo by Elio Delgado

As foretold by US President Obama on January 14, 2011, the Office on Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) has just amended its regulations regarding travel and remittances to Cuba by US citizens and organizations. The new regulations reactivate, to varying degrees, all of the 12 categories of permissible travel that Bush II halted except “humanitarian”.

Through a mixture of general licenses, which do not require special permission from OFAC, but do require tedious record keeping, and specific licenses, which require a sometimes grueling application process, opportunities for educational, religious, people-to-people, and journalistic travel have been expanded. In addition all US citizens can now send limited remittances to certain Cuban nationals living on and off the island, while religious organizations can receive unlimited funds.

The changes outlined below were couched in strong rhetoric intended to reassure the world that these changes do not signify a deviation from Washington’s 50-year-old, failed regime-change policy, but merely an adjustment in tactics. The administration reiterates time and again that the purpose of all contact with the island is to support the Cuban people’s independence from Cuban authorities.


General licenses allowing:

  • All faculty and staff, including adjunct and part-time staff, of accredited US graduate and undergraduate degree-granting academic institutions to travel to Cuba.
  • Students to participate in academic activities in Cuba through any sponsoring US academic institution, whether or not it is the institution where the student is pursuing a degree, or to study at Cuban academic institutions, as long as the study will be accepted for credit toward the student’s degree.
  • Graduate research sponsored by an accredited academic institution.
  • US teachers to instruct classes at Cuban academic institutions for no less than 10-weeks.
  • Stipends or salaries to be paid to Cuba nationals for teaching or engaging in scholarly activities at sponsoring US institutes.

Specific licenses allowing:

  • Accredited graduate or undergraduate institutions to sponsor or cosponsor academic seminars, conferences, workshops related to Cuba or global issues involving Cuba.
  • Faculty and staff of sponsoring institution to attend above stated events and others to participate, provided that the licensee takes part in organizing or running the event.

In addition, the 10-week formal course of study requirement has been removed and academic institutions as well as religious organizations may open accounts at Cuban financial institutions for the purpose of accessing funds in Cuba.


Religious organizations can now travel to Cuba on a general license to engage in religious activities, while a specific license is needed for religiously motivated travel independent of an organization or otherwise not covered by the general license.


All travel in this category is subject to specific licensing. It pertains to educational exchanges that do not involve academic study pursuant to a degree, but rather are under the auspices of organizations that promote people-to-people programs (e.g., Global Exchange and Sister Cities).


The already existing specific license for freelance journalist is expanded to include projects other than writing “articles”.


A general license now authorizes:

  • Anyone to send $500/quarter to any Cuban national, however this provision is subject to numerous recipient exclusions. (e.g., employees of state run media, ministers, certain Party members, employees of certain ministries, etc.).
  • Unlimited remittances to religious organizations to support religious activities.
  • Unlimited remittances to close relatives who are studying in Cuban institutions.

Lastly, most restrictions on transactions with Cuban nationals who have taken up permanent residence outside of Cuba have been eliminated, with important exceptions and verification requirements.

There are many details that are not addressed specifically by the regulations that will presumably be ironed out as travelers challenge the boundaries.

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