Lonely Planet Writer

White House in new move to ease restrictions on US travel to Cuba

It may be Irish week in Washington with St Patrick’s Day the centre of attention but President Obama still found time yesterday to further improve US relations with Cuba.

US travel restrictions to Cuba relax even further.
US travel restrictions to Cuba relax even further with announcements from the White House this week Image by Cubahora / CC BY-SA 2.0

The administration revealed that it was allowing tourists travelling there for “people to people” educations trips.

US tourists will be able to talk to locals, go on cultural trips without the curtailments that have been in place for decades
US tourists will be able to talk to locals, go on cultural trips without the curtailments that have been in place for decades Image by Kurt Bauschardt / CC BY-SA 2.0

Further changes sees the limit on the use of US currency in Cuban transactions being also relaxed.

Ten dollar bill.
The Obama administration also announced further relaxations of US currency in cuban transactions. Image by 401(K) 2012 / CC BY-SA 2.0

This move would lift restrictions on both commerce and travel ahead of the President’s visit next week to Havana. When he lands in Cuba, it will be the first time a sitting president has visited the country in 88 years.

The New York Times claims that the administration’s actions were among the most important changes in regulations made by the Treasury and the Department of Commerce. They are part of the move towards normalisation announced last Christmas by President Obama and Cuban President Raúl Castro.

Although US citizens are allowed to undertake educational trips to Cuba as part of a tour group, under a tourism ban they are not allowed to travel there except in exceptional circumstances.

The revisions announced yesterday will permit individuals to travel on their own to the country without the need to seek special permission from the US authorities.

By ending this ban, it will alter the main element of the embargo against the Cubans which still applies.

The president has sought several times to have it repealed but Congress, which is Republican-led, has shown little or not interest in the measure.

In effect, the new rules gives the green light to any US citizen who wants to go to Cuba to have an educational stay there.

Tourists going on museum visits, speaking to locals about their society and undertaking cultural sightseeing acitivity, should meet the easier requirements.

US officials have indicated that there will be little policing of those making such people-to-people trips.