When I tell people what I do and where I work (Cuba Travel Services) their first response is “Wow, I didn’t think people from the US were allowed to go to Cuba!” Most people don’t even think it can be done, but like many questions the answer is often “it depends”. On what? Well, it depends on the purpose of your travel. Then of course a series of probing questions follow because it’s complicated and it really does depend.
So instead of telling you about all the categories and regulations which OFAC (Office of Foreign Asset Controls) operates under when it comes to traveling to Cuba, my goal today is to break it down and focus on only one form of travel- general vs. specific or students vs. alumni.
The main question is: Are you a student who’s getting school credits when you travel to Cuba? If the answer is yes then you wouldn’t need a license at all from OFAC because this falls under their General Category. If the answer is no and you are alumni and no credits will be granted then the association would have to travel under a specific license (often a people-to-people license) and this has to be granted by OFAC. The process takes 3-4 months and the sample itinerary provided to OFAC needs to be bullet proof, meaning that it has to clearly demonstrate that “meaningful interaction between the travelers and individuals in Cuba” will take place.
So that answers the question, as a student you are better off as long as you get school credit from your institution because there is no drawn out process. If you’re part of an alumni group; however, you now would have to travel under a license whether it’s granted to your own alumni association or another organization. I think of this license as an umbrella, you can’t travel to Cuba from the US without an umbrella (it doesn’t have to be your umbrella but you have to have one).
For more information please refer to OFAC’s COMPREHENSIVE GUIDELINES FOR LICENSE APPLICATIONS TO ENGAGE IN TRAVEL-RELATED TRANSACTIONS INVOLVING CUBA at http://www.treasury.gov/resource-center/sanctions/Programs/Documents/cuba.pdf