Americans now are able to travel to Cuba on their own much more easily, after a fifth round of restriction easements were implemented by the U.S. government on Wednesday.
A new policy stipulates that Americans can travel to Cuba by themselves on “people-to-people” educational trips, rather than having to be part of an organized group tour approved by the U.S. government. Visitors must keep a record of their itinerary for five years, but don’t need to submit it unless requested.
Preceding restriction easements allowed U.S. government-approved trips by groups for educational purposes, but did not allow individual visits. The new policy states that Americans will need to have a full-time schedule of authorized activities “intended to enhance contact with the Cuban people, support civil society in Cuba, or promote Cuban people’s independence.” This broad-based policy allows for a plethora of cultural experiences, such as visits to museums and other popular sites.
This is one of the main policy changes that are preceding President Barack Obama’s historic visit to the island, beginning Sunday. It will mark the first visit there by a U.S. president in nearly 90 years.
Waves of U.S. policy changes and a surge in visitors to Cuba have left some groups and individuals confused about travel matters. Here are a few major updates:
–Any American can now travel to Cuba under 12 categories of legally permissible purposes, which include meetings and other professional activities, as well as journalistic assignments.
–Cuba still isn’t easily accessible by Americans, but it’s about to get much easier. Previously, Americans needed to take chartered flights and routes through third countries to get to Cuba. But the United States has opened the door to restoring commercial air traffic. The first of up to 110 daily commercial flights are expected to begin later this year. Also, some cruise lines have received U.S. government approval to travel to Cuba, and are awaiting the green light from the Cuban government.
–Due to a recent surge in travel to the island, most hotels are at or close to 100 percent capacity, and the top rental homes and apartments are already booked through the fall. The U.S.-based Airbnb provides a new option, allowing customers to search listings of private homes, known as “casas particulares,” in Cuba, and pay by using a credit card from the United States.