Hurdles for Americans who want to travel to Cuba have been effectively relaxed.
Under eased regulations, first announced by President Obama on December 17 and further clarified on Wednesday, U.S. citizens will now be able to legally visit Cuba without having to first obtain a license from the Treasury Department. They still have to abide by certain criteria—mainly purposeful travel, family, aid work, journalism, diplomacy, business, and education. It is unclear how the government can continue to regulate U.S. citizens’ travel purpose without requiring a license, which means it is possible for casual travelers to begin touching down in Havana on Friday.
The landmark move is the most meaningful easing of federal travel regulations to the communist island since the interdiction began in the 1960s. “This is basically the end of the travel ban once they work out the kinks,” Julia E. Sweig, a longtime scholar and author on Cuba, told the New York Times. “At first glance the new regulations look to allow most Americans to travel to Cuba without having to ask for permission in advance and by booking air travel directly rather than through authorized groups and agencies,” she said. “Next move will have to be a civil aviation agreement to allow commercial, not just charter, air travel.”
Airlines and travel agents are now free to provide service to Cuba without having to carry a special license. Once on the ground, travelers may now use their credit cards and spend their money—actions that were explicitly illegal until the president’s recent announcement. Still, vacationers will be permitted to bring back only $400 worth of goods, including $100 in tobacco products.
The 54-year-old Cuban embargo, put in place during the rule of Fidel Castro, is still in place. Only Congress can remove it.