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There is a belief that US citizens would be doing something illegal if they were to visit Cuba.

I remember hearing years ago while in Mexico where lots of people go on sidetrips to Cube that it's not illegal for Americans to visit Cuba but that if they spend any money there they would technically be breaking the law of "dealing with the enemy"?

So what's the real story? Is this all outdated or is it illegal for people from USA to go to Cuba? Or is the thing about them spending money there true? What are the real legal ramifications, if any?

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I have a feeling the legality depends on your reason for visiting there, as there are some reasons that don't need permission. Are you thinking of purely for a tourist visit? –  Gagravarr Oct 7 '11 at 21:35
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I'm thinking just to clear up this question for once and for all for everybody. So a great answer will cover the various possibilities. Good answers might just cover one possibility though. –  hippietrail Oct 7 '11 at 21:39
    
If you are a US citizen intending to visit Cuba, it may be worth checking the Cuba Travel Network. I haven't personally used it, nor am I affiliated with the site, but the tip came from a very seasoned traveler who told that they were able to assist him with most technical details so that he didn't have any trouble. –  MightyMover Oct 30 '12 at 5:52
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3 Answers

up vote 23 down vote accepted

As far as my understanding goes, you can visit Cuba, but you cannot spend money there. The USA has an embargo on Cuba. Wikipedia has a pretty solid article on it. You need a license to actually participate in commerce... but since that includes buying food you in essence cannot go to Cuba.

Licenses are released however. I have a Cuban uncle who goes back once a year. The valid reasons as per wikitravel are:

Professional journalists on assignment in Cuba

Full-time professionals conducting academic research or attending professional conferences

Persons on official government business

The following are issued on a case by case basis:

Persons visiting immediate family in Cuba

Full-time graduate students conducting academic research to be counted toward a graduate degree

Undergraduate or graduate students participating in a study abroad program of at least 10 weeks in length

Professors/teachers employed at a US institution travelling to Cuba to teach

Persons engaging in religious activities

Freelance journalists

Persons engaging in humanitarian projects

Persons engaging in non-profit cultural exhibitions

So in summary, is it open travel? No. Is it possible? Yes. The most common way around this that I have heard is "travel writers."

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Hah, you're right. –  Ginamin Oct 9 '11 at 7:44
    
@Ginamin "you can visit Cuba, but you cannot spend money there". This sentence makes no sense... once you are in Cuba you cannot pass the airport without paying custom fees and (mandatory, local) medical insurance. Once you are in, you cannot get out without paying the airport tax (+-25 USD). So, even if you get there with 50kg of food in your luggage, there is no way to visit Cuba without spending money there. –  yms Oct 31 '11 at 2:38
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@yms *sigh. Yes. Please refer to "but since that includes buying food you in essence cannot go to Cuba." I included the fact you MUST spend money to visit Cuba. Also, please note that arrive at the airport is technically "visiting Cuba" so you contradict yourself in your statement. –  Ginamin Oct 31 '11 at 6:52
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Ginamin, Oh, now that I read my comment again I realized it did not come out right... I did not intend to criticize your answer, it was clear indeed (I also up-voted it if that helps), so I apologize. I just wanted to emphasize the contradictions inherent to this matter. –  yms Oct 31 '11 at 11:56
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@yms I did indeed make that contradictory statement because the law itself is contradictory... almost in an amusing way :) –  Ginamin Nov 2 '11 at 1:02
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As stated in the first answer, it is technically legal to travel to Cuba but illegal to spend money. Travel restrictions are easing up a bit under the Obama administration. You can travel to Cuba now with designated person-to-person tour groups, but the itineraries are limited to education-based activities and not, for example, spending time on the beach.

That being said, yes, it is illegal but it is very rare to actually be prosecuted for breaking this law. I recently went to Cuba illegally and had no issues coming back to the states.

Here's some more info on how I did it.

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Your post about how to go to Cuba is very interesting, but I would prefer you were more careful about generalizations. It took me less than 10 seconds to find a documented example of a tourist that have been fined for doing such a trip. –  yms Jan 8 at 18:59
    
Hey Hippietrail, yes, I've seen that article. It is true people have been fined for travel to Cuba that's why I said it's quite rare, not nonexistent. But you are a right, it does happen, although that case is of travel during 1998 and prosecuted during the Bush administration, when there was a crackdown of travel to Cuba. –  user9828 Jan 9 at 3:09
    
The post you mentioned says "In fact, I’ve heard that no American has been fined for traveling to Cuba in the past 10 years,". This is the generalization I was referring to. I realized now that I assumed you also wrote that post, which might not be the case. –  yms Jan 9 at 10:42
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As far as I know, visiting Cuba without a permission from U.S. Department of the Treasury is illegal.

Title 31--Money and Finance: Treasury
CHAPTER V--OFFICE OF FOREIGN ASSETS CONTROL, DEPARTMENT OF THE TREASURY
PART 515--CUBAN ASSETS CONTROL REGULATIONS
enter image description here

(I wonder if posting this information here is also illegal...)

Even if you do have permission, some restrictions still apply, as stated in this document (CUBA TRAVEL ADVISORY):

Authorized travelers to Cuba are subject to daily spending limits and are prohibited from bringing any Cuban “souvenirs” or other goods into the United States, with the exception of information and informational materials.

Civil and criminal penalties may result from a violation of the Regulations.

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Why would posting this information be illegal? –  Ginamin Oct 31 '11 at 6:55
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It says I can't pay for air travel to Cuba, but can I take a boat? –  Flimzy Oct 31 '11 at 7:26
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Maybe that's why Michael Moore took people there in a boat in the documentary Sicko? –  hippietrail Oct 31 '11 at 7:55
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There is also another law stating that any boat that docks in a Cuban bay, will not be allowed to dock in US territory for the next 6 months, so it will still be difficult to "get there by boat". Michael Moore was fined after all when he arrived from his trip. –  yms Oct 31 '11 at 11:54
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@Flimzy Note that the language implies that these are not the only things forbidden, the text merely list some of the consequences of another, broader, prohibition. –  Annoyed Dec 18 '13 at 13:26
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