Cubans Set To Travel, Now Free To Come And Go

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Starting today, travel for Cubans is a whole new ballgame, mainly because they no longer need an exit visa to leave the island nation. That might not sound like much to get excited about but for Cubans, that exit visa was seen as a major obstacle for those who wanted to travel in the past.

In the past, U.S./Cuban relations have made leaving Cuba difficult for its citizens. To get off the island, travelers had to get a letter of invitation from the person they wanted to visit, pay a $200 fee and get permission to be away from work.

“As far as I know, Cuba is the only country with these rules. They shouldn’t exist,” argued Yenier Prado, who had to wait four months to get his exit permit in a BBC report.

Now, Cuban travelers with a valid passport can stay away for two years instead of 11 months and extend that time further, skipping the fees and permission/invitation to travel. Better yet, Cubans who left illegally over eight years ago will be able to return to Cuba, no questions asked.
The idea is that by making it easier to travel, more Cubans will work and study abroad then come back to Cuba with their new skills and money.

As a developing nation, Cubans will still need visas to visit most places around the planet. The United States issues about 20,000 immigrant visas for Cubans each year. Still, this marks a great step in the right direction.

Over the years, many Cubans tried getting to the United States via homemade rafts and were often picked up by cruise ships in the area, only to be eventually returned to Cuba. That’s because of what is referred to as the Wet Foot/Dry Foot rule, which allows those who make it to the shores of the United States to stay while those intercepted are returned, as we see in this recent video:



[Photo Credit- Flickr User flippinyank]

Travel To Cuba Easier, For Cubans

travel to cuba

Travel to and from Cuba took a progressive turn this week as restrictions dating back a half-century were lifted for Cubans, allowing them to leave the island without going through a time-consuming process. It’s good news for Cubans longing to travel freely in and out of their country and a step in the right direction for Americans, dreaming of a visit to Cuba.

Starting in January, Cubans will no longer need an exit visa permitting departure and a letter of invitation from someone in the destination country. Those restrictions were imposed in 1961 after the Cuban Revolution that occurred between 1953 and 1959, placing Fidel Castro in power. Now, most Cubans will only need their passports, national identity cards and a visa (if needed) from the country they will visit.It’s a move viewed as a next step to allowing free travel to and from Cuba for Americans eager to visit the island. Right now, travel is restricted via the U.S. government’s 1917 Trading with the Enemy Act. Under that act, the restriction is not on travel but on the spending of money in Cuba.

travel to cubaThat act effectively equates to a travel ban because under normal circumstances a visitor would spend on accommodations, food and other necessities.

“Like earlier decisions legalizing the personal sales of homes and cars, this is another step in the direction of loosening restrictions and opening up Cuban society,” said Sarah Stephens, executive director of the Center for Democracy in the Americas, a Washington group opposed to the U.S. embargo on Cuba, in a Reuters report.

Back in April 2011, Gadling reported on new guidelines that allowed journalists plus religious and educational groups to travel to Cuba just about whenever they wanted to. Those rules also allowed Americans to send up to $2,000 annually to Cuba, limited to $500 per quarter (up from $300). Progress is being made.

Still, to get to Cuba, Americans must look to an exception to the rule on spending money in Cuba, allowed by licenses issued by the Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) of the Treasury Department.

Want to go to Cuba?

Cuba Travel Services, Cubalinda and a few other travel agencies specialize in travel to and from Cuba, operate direct flights between the United States and Cuba and can assist licensed travelers with all their travel accommodations.




[Photo Credit: Flickr user Ed Yourdon]

Obama administration lifts some travel restrictions to Cuba

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The Obama administration is going to make travel to Cuba easier than it has been in decades, the BBC reports. Students and religious groups will now be allowed to go to the Caribbean nation, which has not had normal relations with the U.S. since Fidel Castro overthrew the pro-American government in 1959.

Specifically, religious groups will be able to sponsor “religious travel” to Cuba, and Cuban religious organizations will be able to receive remittances from the U.S. Universities and colleges will be able to send students there for educational purposes. Both of these groups will now be able to fly from U.S. airports on chartered flights.

The trade embargo will remain in place, although that was also lightened in 2009 when Obama allowed Cuban-Americans to go visit family and send money. Under the new rules coming into place, any U.S. citizen will be able to send up to $500 per fiscal quarter to non-family members in Cuba to help fund private business projects.

While Americans have been able to travel to Cuba relatively easily by going through third countries, this makes things a lot more straightforward. You still can’t buy Cuban cigars legally in the U.S., but if you meet the criteria you can now enjoy an ice cream like this guy in a photo by user localsurfer from Gadling’s flickr pool.

The reason for these measures is pretty obvious. Having been unable to assassinate Castro or get him deposed over the past 51 years, and having seen that the embargo hasn’t led to regime change, the U.S. government is trying a more subtle approach. By encouraging contacts with religious groups and the intelligentsia, and by funding private enterprise through remittances, Obama hopes to encourage change from within.

Travel to Cuba legally with New York art museum package

Travel to Cuba is still illegal for most Americans, but if you don’t want to challenge the law or take your chances sneaking there and back, you can still arrange a visit. The Katonah Museum of Art, in Katonah, New York, has been authorized to lead a tour group to Cuba.

Participants on the trip, which is scheduled for January 17-23 of next year, will visit Havana and learn about Cuban culture through visits to museums, holy sites, and the homes and studios of 14 Cuban artists. The package costs $4,400 per person for double occupancy($4,600 for singles) and participants must also pay a $700 tax-deductible membership fee to the Katonah Art Museum. The price includes airfare from Miami to Havana, five nights at a five-star hotel in Havana, ground transportation, daily breakfasts and lunches, several dinners, all group activities and sightseeing, and insurance, taxes and visa fees.

Reservations for the trip must be made by October 19 and the Museum does expect the tour to sell out.

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[via Matador Pulse]

Cuba Closer than Ever for Americans

Canada’s southernmost city might as well be called a suburb of Detroit. The Motor City’s skyline is distinctly visible from downtown Windsor, which lies just across the Detroit River. While most border-hopping is for the purpose of shopping or sightseeing, Windsor’s airport is a major gateway to Cuba for US residents.

It is illegal for folks from the US of A to spend money in Cuba. Thus, there are virtually no direct flights. On the other hand, Cuba is just another Caribbean destination for Canucks. No one made a fuss when Canada’s Sunwing Airlines announced a weekly flight from Windsor to the Cuban resort town of Varadero, about 50 miles from Havana. At least, no one made a fuss except the Detroit News, which published a controversial story about Sunwing’s new service:

“While U.S. citizens are mostly barred from spending money on travel to Cuba, officials with the airline and airport expect Americans to make up at least half the passengers on the route.”

Controversial? Not according to Windsor Airport officials, who shrugged the report off by saying that 50% of passenger who fly to Cuba from Canada are already US citizens. Sunwing’s expectations are nothing new.

The punishment for US citizens traveling to Cuba is usually a $5,000 fine, though it can be significantly higher. But most Yankees don’t get caught. Since Cuba does not stamp passports directly, there is no evidence that a traveler ever set foot on the forbidden isle. US customs officials have been known to stake out flights arriving in Canada from Cuba, but US residents can avoid suspicion as long as they don’t head directly for a connecting flight to the US or run straight for the border. (A t-shirt emblazoned with a gigantic red maple leaf might also help).

Photo by Flickr user Mr. Mark