Last updated: 09:30 AM ET, Wed March 16 2016

New Rules Further Ease Restrictions on Travel to Cuba

Destination & Tourism | Janeen Christoff | March 16, 2016

New Rules Further Ease Restrictions on Travel to Cuba

PHOTO: Cuba's capitol building. (Photo by David Cogswell)

Ahead of his trip to Cuba, President Barack Obama took more steps toward easing travel restrictions to the country even further and removing some of the last major barriers for U.S. visitors. This is the fifth time in just over a year that the rules of travel to the island nation have changed.

The most recent announcement changes the manner in which visitors can travel to Cuba on what is known as a “people-to-people” educational trip. Under the previous guidelines, U.S. visitors needed to be booked on a group tour with a full schedule of cultural exchange activities.

Under the new guidelines, individual people-to-people educational trips can be booked without traveling in a group.

“Today’s steps build on the actions of the last 15 months as we continue to break down economic barriers, empower the Cuban people and advance their financial freedoms, and chart a new course in U.S.-Cuba relations. Since December 2014, the Treasury Department and our partners across the Administration have progressively reshaped our regulations in order to empower the Cuban people and enable economic advancements for Cubans and Americans,” said treasury secretary Jacob J. Lew in a statement from the U.S. Treasury Department. “Today, we are building on this progress by facilitating travel for additional Americans looking to engage with Cubans; allowing Cuban citizens to earn a salary in the United States; and expanding access to the U.S. financial system as well as trade and commercial opportunities.”

However, there are still a number of rules that U.S. visitors must follow. Travelers are not allowed to just head to Cuba for a beach vacation – yet.

READ MORE: How Americans Can Travel To Cuba Right Now

U.S. travelers, under the new rules set by the administration, can now travel to Cuba on individual people-to-people exchange trips.

The exact guidelines from the Treasury Department are as follows:

“Individuals will be authorized to travel to Cuba for individual people-to-people educational travel, provided that the traveler engages in a full-time schedule of educational exchange activities intended to enhance contact with the Cuban people, support civil society in Cuba, or promote the Cuban people’s independence from Cuban authorities and that will result in a meaningful interaction between the traveler and individuals in Cuba.”

This means that Americans heading to the country on their own must plan a full schedule of educational activities that include interaction with the Cuban people. Options for an itinerary include museum visits, visiting UNESCO World Heritage Sites and other cultural attractions as well as visiting with and creating opportunities for exchanges with the Cuban people. U.S. citizens must keep a detailed itinerary and documentation of their journey for at least five years after the trip takes place.

READ MORE: Charter Services You Can Take to Cuba Right Now

However, there seems to be few plans for detailed oversight of these policies. A statement in The New York Times from Benjamin J. Rhodes, deputy national security adviser for strategic communications indicated that there would be little policing on this matter.

“We have enormous confidence in the American people as ambassadors for the things that we care about,” said Rhodes. “There’s no shortage of opportunities for Americans to build that type of meaningful schedule of people-to-people engagement while they go to Cuba. We believe that’s the best way to connect the Cuban people with the wider world.”

In reference to the progress these new changes will establish to open up travel to Cuba, White House spokesman John Earnst said in a statement: “These changes, coupled with the arrangement recently announced by the Departments of State and Transportation allowing up to 110 nonstop flights daily between the United States and Cuba, will significantly increase the ability of U.S. citizens to travel to Cuba to directly engage with the Cuban people.”

Several restrictions on trade and commerce as well as banking and the payment of salaries to Cubans in the U.S. were also removed. For the first time in more than 50 years, U.S. mail will travel directly to Cuba today.

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