Travel to Cuba for Educational Activities
Accredited schools and universities will find that these new regulations eliminate the need for students, faculty, and staff to apply for a Specific License. Instead, travel to Cuba is permitted under a General License as long as the individual is participating in a structured educational program that will provide credit that is accepted by the US institution sponsoring the student.
For legal Cuba travel for Americans, participants in these programs must carry a letter on official school letterhead that has been signed by a designated representative of the sponsoring institution at all times. OFAC defines a designated representative as the dean, academic vice president, provost, or president responsible for overseeing the institutions Cuban travel program.
The letter should clearly state that travel to Cuba is part of a structured educational program and that the individual is a student enrolled in a graduate or undergraduate degree program, a staff member, or a member of the faculty. It must also state that a student’s studies in Cuba will be accepted for credit towards their degree, even if the course is offered by a different university than their own.
As long as the sponsoring institution offers a student credit towards their degree for courses taken in Cuba, it is now possible to legally participate in study programs arranged by schools in Cuba.
General and Specific Licenses
There are two license options for Americans looking to travel to Cuba- General and Specific licenses. Here, we will explain both options.
A General License for US travel to Cuba is created through a do it yourself process rather than by submitting an application and awaiting approval. Fast, free and convenient, a General License simply requires you to prepare all of your own documentation in a way that meets all OFAC guidelines.
Eligibility is met by University and College Students, Faculty and Staff, Professors, K-12 Teachers, and other Education Professionals
looking to visit Cuba for study and educational purposes, professionals looking to visit Cuba for professional research that applies to their jobs, and to groups and individuals sponsored by a religious organization for religious purposes.
"It is the responsibility of individuals wishing to engage in travel-related transactions involving Cuba to demonstrate or document that their proposed activities in Cuba are authorized by a general license or, with respect to qualification for specific licenses, that they meet the application criteria set forth in the Application Guidelines."
(quoted from OFAC May 2012 Revised Guidelnes)
The specific license is much more complex and much lengthier and must be submitted to OFAC. Specific licenses are required for noncommercial academic research or teaching not covered by a general license, people to people educational exchanges, religious activities and professional research not covered by a general license, humanitarian projects, support of the Cuban people, and freelance journalism as well as other professional or educational work and research not covered through the general license program. Approval is dependent on the response received from Washington, and the wait can take anywhere from six weeks to months or even years. There is no guarantee that an individual or institution applying for a specific license will receive approval, and many applications are met with a denial or with a request for more information.
Specific License for People to People Exchanges
Under the rules for a Specific License, US Cuba travel is once again authorized for educational exchanges that do not involve academic study as long as those exchanges take place with the support of an organization that organizes and sponsors these programs in order to facilitate and promote people to people contact. In these instances, the licenses are offered to the organizations sponsoring the people to people exchange.
It is important to note that, as of 2012, many organizations and individuals are experiencing strong difficulties in receiving Specific Licenses and renewals of existing People-to-People licenses. There has been a great deal of speculation as to the cause of this, in light of the easing of US Cuba travel restrictions and we are working hard to follow the story as closely as possible. Notice that such difficulties refer to People-To-People specific license only, it does NOT affect General Licenses that remain in place
Specific License for Academic Seminars, Workshops, and Conferences
US graduate and undergraduate degree granting institutions can also utilize the Specific License to sponsor and co-sponsor seminars, conferences, and workshops related to Cuba and to global issues involving Cuba. Furthermore, attendance at these events by faculty, staff, and students of the licensed institution is now allowed by OFAC regulations.
How to Arrange Authorized Travel to Cuba under a General or Specific License
Whether you are traveling to Cuba under the provisions of a General License or Specific License you must make travel arrangements to Cuba using the services of a Cuba Travel Service Provider, and you may board flights leaving from US (currently only charters operating direct flights from USA to Cuba) or a third country such as Mexico or Canada.
You can make your travel arrangement with a US based OFAC- authorized Travel Service Provider (TSP) that will require you to produce a copy of your General or Specific License before selling travel services to you or with a Cuba Travel Service Provider based outside US jurisdiction such as a Canadian or Mexican based Cuba Travel Service Provider.
Frequently Asked Questions on US Cuba Legal Travel
The following FAQs will help you understand OFAC regulations more completely and will provide more information on licenses and license qualification.
We also suggest taking the time to read OFAC’s latest regulations on their website at the following address:
Additionally, if you are looking for resources on Cuba Legal Services, the link below can prove helpful:
You can follow our blog on US Cuba Legal Travel
where you will receive updates on developments.
Can Americans Travel to Cuba Legally?
Yes, there are many avenues to legal Cuba travel for Americans. In fact, the process is often simple and quick. Please don’t hesitate to give us a call for more information on joining one of our tours.
Who can travel legally?
Individuals falling in the following categories are permitted under current US regulations to travel into Cuba:
Full time professionals attending professional meeting or conferences in Cuba.
Full time professionals conducting research in their specific professions and professional areas while in Cuba.
Accredited universities and schools participating in structured educational programs as part of a for-credit course with their sponsoring US institution.
Members and staff of religious organizations.
Those travelling for official government business.
Persons visiting close relatives who are Cuban nationals.
Persons visiting close relatives who are government employees that have been assigned to the US Interests Section in Havana.
Persons who have received a Specific License to travel to Cuba.
As a full-time professional, do I qualify for a General License?
Yes, provided that you are travelling for the purposes of conducting professional research in your professional area and that the research is of a noncommercial academic nature, comprises a full work schedule while you are in Cuba, and has a substantial likelihood of public dissemination.
Do I need to apply with the government to receive a General License?
No, you do not. Current regulations state very clearly that a person travelling to Cuba on a General License may do so “without needing to write in to OFAC for a letter of specific authorization” (quoted from OFAC regulations)
How does the General License work?
A general license will be prepared and written by you and with no need for further permission from OFAC. You must have the license with you when traveling to Cuba and must present it to US Immigrations officials upon departure (if flying directly to Cuba from a US airport) as well as upon return if asked.
What documents will I need?
When traveling to Cuba under a general license, you must carry with you documentation that proves how you qualify for the license. Your documentation package should include the following:
A professional research license affidavit signed by a notary public. (Download travel affidavit). You must have a notary public witness your signature to this document.
A resume or CV (curriculum vitae).
A written work plan that supports your intention of engaging in a full-time research schedule (will be provided by Authentic Cuba Travel)
A brief letter that describes your research project. (Download sample letter)
A letter from your employer, organization, agency, or other documentation that shows that you are engaged in a professional capacity. Recommended options include a letter supplied by your employer or organization, a pay stub, or a letter explaining your employment if you are self employed.
We also recommend you take a copy of the actual US Treasury Department regulations pertaining to a General Research License with
you to Cuba in case US immigration officers have any questions as to the legality of your trip on return (download a summary
If I qualify for travel via the General License, can I take my family on the trip?
Each traveler must have their own general license. If your spouse is a professional then he or she will also qualify for a general license.
As a college or university professor, can I take my students on legal Cuba tours?
Yes. Thanks to changes in travel regulations as of January 2011, accredited schools and universities are now eligible to take students, faculty, and staff (including but not limited to adjunct and part time staff) to Cuba, provided that they are participating in a structured educational program that is part of a course offered for credit by the sponsoring US institution.
As the leader of a religious organization, can I organize a religious trip to Cuba for members of my organization?
Yes. You are required only to carry a letter on official letterhead that has been signed by a representative of the sponsoring US religious organization who has been designated to be the official responsible for that organization’s Cuba travel program.
As a US Citizen, am I allowed to spend money in Cuba?
Yes, but there are limitations. Licensed travelers are allowed to engage in any transaction that is normally incident to travel within Cuba such as hotel accommodations, transportation, and meals as well as goods that are personally used by the traveler as long as the total expense does not exceed the State Department’s per diem rate for Cuba's provinces during the period of travel.
This rate is currently set at $90- $147 per day (depending what Cuban province you are travelling to), and you can view current rates and learn more about this rule by visiting the Department of State’s Office of Allowances
What can I bring back from Cuba?
According to US regulations, you may only bring back items that are informational in nature, such as books, films, posters, CDs, and photographs, and artwork. These items are statutorily exempt from regulation and may be freely transported, although blank media such as tapes and CDs are not considered to be informational. Artwork is defined by the government as “paintings, drawings, and pastels (executed entirely by hand), original engravings, prints and lithographs, original sculptures, and statuary in any material”.
Can Americans go to Cuba legally using a Canadian Agency?
Absolutely! The US government’s regulations on this are very clear and state that authorized travelers looking to make their own travel arrangements without using an OFAC-approved, U.S.-based agency must handle their arrangements directly with travel service providers located outside of the United States and not subject to U.S. jurisdiction.
The following is a quote for the current revised (May 2012) COMPREHENSIVE GUIDELINES FOR LICENSE APPLICATIONS TO ENGAGE IN TRAVEL-RELATED TRANSACTIONS INVOLVING CUBA
"Authorized travelers wishing to make their own travel arrangements without the use of a TSP must handle those arrangements directly with travel service providers that are located outside the United States and that are not subject to U.S.jurisdiction."
I want to learn more about the General License
The Regulations currently contain eight (8) General Licenses categories that permitting legal Cuba travel. We will briefly mention them but we will refer to general license number 4 that refers to professional research conducted by full-time professionals.
. Those US citizens “family visitors” that will travel for the purpose of visiting “close relatives” (no more than three generations) who are Cuban nationals or who are currently working for the U.S Government in Cuba.
Official Government Travel
. Refers to officials travelling to Cuba for conducting official business on behalf of the US Government, a foreign government or any intergovernmental organization of which US is a member.
. For professional journalists of news organizations or those regularly employed as supporting technicians and broadcasters.
. US full-time professionals that will conduct professional research in their professional areas, attend certain professional meetings or conferences, or participate in certain telecommunications-related professional meetings.
. This license provides authorization for traveling to Cuba to faculty, staff, and students of accredited U.S. graduate and undergraduate degree-granting academic institutions that will involve the following (quote directly from OFAC updated regulations May 2012):
(a)(1) Participation in a structured educational program in Cuba as part of a course offered for
credit by the sponsoring U.S. academic institution;
(a)(2) Noncommercial academic research in Cuba specifically related to Cuba and for the
purpose of obtaining a graduate degree;
(a)(3) Participation in a formal course of study at a Cuban academic institution, provided the
formal course of study in Cuba will be accepted for credit toward the student’s graduate or
(a)(4) Teaching at a Cuban academic institution by an individual regularly employed in a
teaching capacity at the sponsoring U.S. academic institution, provided the teaching activities
are related to an academic program at the Cuban institution and provided the duration of the
teaching will be no shorter than 10 weeks;
(a)(5) Sponsorship, including the payment of a stipend or salary, of a Cuban scholar to teach or
engage in other scholarly activity at the sponsoring U.S. academic institution; or
(a)(6) The organization of, and preparation for, activities described in (a)(1)-(5) above by
members of the faculty and staff of the sponsoring U.S. academic institution.
. US based religious organizations (including members and staff) can travel under a general license to participate in a full time program of religious activities consistent with US foreign policy.
Those US citizens travelling to Cuba for Religious Activities must carry certain documentation such as letters on official letterhead, signed by a representative of the sponsoring U.S. religious organization responsible for overseeing the religious program in Cuba.
, sales negotiation, accompanied delivery, or servicing in Cuba of telecommunications-related items.
, sales negotiation, accompanied delivery, or servicing in Cuba
of agricultural commodities, medicine, or medical devices.
Please, notice that the information herein is provided as a courtesy and does not constitute legal advice or a legal opinion. We encourage you to read
COMPREHENSIVE GUIDELINES FOR LICENSE APPLICATIONS TO ENGAGE IN TRAVEL-RELATED TRANSACTIONS INVOLVING CUBA