Is Cuba Travel in Danger for US Citizens?

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cuban-flagLast week, news broke that the de facto Cuban embassy in Washington, the Cuban Interests Section (CIS), had to shut down all visa operations except for what it labeled as “humanitarian cases.”

This decision was no surprise. Back in November, the CIS’s U.S. bank, M&T, decided to stop all banking services for foreign missions. The bank gave the CIS a two-month extension to find a replacement. Both the CIS and the U.S. State Department looked for a new bank, but no one would take the offer. The CIS blamed the longstanding U.S. trade embargo, which enforces additional regulations and oversight on banks dealing with Cuba.

With the U.S. Visa program shut down (except for special cases), is it still possible to travel to Cuba?

Yes, U.S. citizens will still have the opportunity to go to Cuba through the approved cultural exchanges. The trouble with banking does not impact U.S. government policies. However, there may be more hassle for tour providers.

For U.S. citizens, the easiest option to visit Cuba remains a People-to-People program run by established tour providers. Those companies usually handle the visa process for you, sending you the paperwork and processing it after you send it back to them.

“It’s only a problem with the banking,” says Insight Cuba’s president, Tom Popper. “It’s not going to affect our travelers too much.”

National Geographic Expeditions confirmed that “there are several workarounds” to the current situation. “Having the visas waiting in Cuba when you arrive,” was one alternative. Another option was contacting Havana directly, rather than going through the CIS.

It’s important to remember, a People-to-People trip to Cuba isn’t a typical leisure vacation. It requires educational activities, interaction with artists, educators, and other locals to be granted a license by OFAC.

Tour providers are confident that the CIS banking problems won’t impact their business in the near future, but there are questions about long-term issues.

Tour provider Friendly Planet noted, “we do have a contingency plan for later in the year.”

Smithsonian Journeys is booked up for the year so, “there’s not any reason for us…to worry about it at this point.”

Insight Cuba’s Popper explains why they are not overly concerned:

There’s always something that underscores the problem with traveling to Cuba. We’ve all been in contact with Cuba. They (Cuba) are working on an alternative way. Historically, the CIS has not been the processors of visas; charters used to secure visas directly from Havana. There are alternative measures that have been in place before.

Cuba continues to be difficult to visit for U.S. citizen, but the CIS closing doesn’t mean you can’t find a good way to explore the country.



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