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Can U.S. Passport Holders Travel to Cuba Now?

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By Brett Snider, Esq. on December 18, 2014 9:44 AM

President Obama announced Wednesday that the United States will resume "full diplomatic relations" with Cuba for the first time in more than 50 years.

This historic agreement means that Cuba will now host a U.S. embassy in Havana, and Americans might get a chance at legally purchasing those sought-after Cuban goods (read: cigars). But it might not mean that you can go to Cuba on vacation.

So can U.S. passport holders travel to Cuba now?

Diplomacy, Yes; Open Borders, Not Quite

History buffs will recall that the Cuba trade embargo has been in place since the 1960s, cutting off almost all trade and travel between the two countries. With Wednesday's announcement, President Obama agreed with President Raul Castro of Cuba to set aside this old policy and start diplomatic relations anew, reports The New York Times.

Over the last five decades, there has still been legal travel between the two countries. Those holding non-U.S. passports have an easier time entering Cuba -- flying from Mexico City to Havana is a popular route -- but those holding only American passports might need more.

Even with the embargo in place, Americans have been able to visit Cuba as:

  • Part of religious "mission" trips,
  • Journalists,
  • Students,
  • Teachers,
  • Humanitarian workers, and
  • Full-time professionals attending meetings in Cuba.

Many of these routes to Cuba require special licenses from the Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC), though many of the restrictions have been relaxed during the Obama administration. However, regular tourist travel to Cuba from the United States still isn't a reality.

Why No Cuban Vacations?

While President Obama's actions may have eased the burden of traveling to Cuba for those already seeking a license to travel, the travel ban to Cuba remains in place. A senior administration official told CNN that "[t]he ban still has to be lifted by Congress," and that tourists will have to wait until Congress acts.

Meantime, any announced changes to the administration of the Cuba sanctions program by the OFAC won't take place until it issues its regulatory amendments "in the coming weeks."

Guess we'll put our Havana vacation plans on hold 'til then.

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