Friday, December 19, 2014

Cuban Travel

From USA Today:
"What normalizing relations with Cuba means for travelers"

President Obama said today that travel to Cuba will be "easier for Americans." But that doesn't mean Americans will be able to head to Havana for Spring Break. "I do think it is a big step," says Patrick Haney, chair of the political science department at Miami University. But he adds that it's not as simple as "the veil has been lifted and anyone can hop a plane tomorrow and fly to Havana. We're not in that world." Americans have been able to travel legally to Cuba in recent years through people-to-people exchange programs licensed by the federal government. Those are guided tours with strict agendas. The White House has released a fact sheet trying to address other lingering questions. Here's what we know so far.

Who can travel to Cuba?
According to the White House, authorized travelers can get general licenses if they are traveling for the following reasons: "(1) family visits; (2) official business of the U.S. government, foreign governments, and certain intergovernmental organizations; (3) journalistic activity; (4) professional research and professional meetings; (5) educational activities; (6) religious activities; (7) public performances, clinics, workshops, athletic and other competitions, and exhibitions; (8) support for the Cuban people; (9) humanitarian projects; (10) activities of private foundations or research or educational institutes; (11) exportation, importation, or transmission of information or information materials; and (12) certain export transactions that may be considered for authorization under existing regulations and guidelines."

How can people travel to Cuba?
The White House says that travelers who fit into the 12 categories "will be able to make arrangements through any service provider that complies with the U.S. Treasury's Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) regulations governing travel services to Cuba, and general licenses will authorize provision of such services." So far, Americans have only been able to travel to Cuba via people-to-people tours that tend to be expensive because they require more staff and charter transportation. Those tours usually transport travelers around in buses and make them stick to a pre-approved itinerary. Travelers can usually only stay at government-approved hotels and eat at government-approved restaurants. They are not allowed to roam on their own. Steve Cox, executive director of International Expeditions, which does people-to-people tours, says they typically cost $3,000 to $4,000 a trip. "It's very expensive the way the rules work for these trips to operate," he says. "Someone from Canada, someone from Europe can go relatively, reasonably priced whereas with Americans it's higher." McAuliff says he believes that Americans will soon be able to make their own arrangements to get to Cuba. That means they will probably be able to take public transportation in Cuba, rent a car, or stay at a bed and breakfast.

What can American travelers bring back with them?
The White House says that "licensed U.S. travelers to Cuba will be authorized to import $400 worth of goods from Cuba, of which no more than $100 can consist of tobacco products and alcohol combined." Yes, that means you can bring back cigars and rum.

Will American commercial airlines be able to offer more flights to Cuba?
For now, some U.S. airlines such as JetBlue Airways fly charter flights to Cuba. "We recognize the potential demand for more travel options among people who need to travel between the U.S and Cuba," JetBlue said in an email. "We would be interested in further expanding the successful charter program we've operated into Cuba over the last three years." But most other airlines say it is just too soon to tell what they will or won't be able to do. "We're aware of today's announcements but it's too soon to determine if or how they will impact our service footprint," said Southwest Airlines in a statement.

^ One  of the cool things of being an American-Canadian was that I could use my Canadian passport to go to Cuba (if I ever wanted to) while I couldn't with my American passport. Soon I won't be able to say that. Although I have heard from lots of people who have gone to Cuba and say that it's not that cheap or fun. You can't go out on your own, you usually have to stay at hotel resorts with other foreigners and pay hundreds more for basically nothing. Cuba is not the place you go to is you want a sunny, fun time on the beach. It's where you go if you want to see what a communist time-capsule. ^

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