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 Is this all outdated or is it illegal for people from USA to go to Cuba?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?

  • 2
    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, 2011 at 21:35
  • 1
    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. Oct 7, 2011 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. Oct 30, 2012 at 5:52
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    I have voted this question a duplicate of this more recent one in light of recent political changes in the situation. In the interest of providing visitors with the most recent information, this seems appropriate. And hopefully that question will one day be closed as a duplicate explaining why it is now legal for US citizens to visit Cuba...
    – Flimzy
    Aug 19, 2015 at 15:03

3 Answers 3


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."

  • Hah, you're right.
    – Beaker
    Oct 9, 2011 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, 2011 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.
    – Beaker
    Oct 31, 2011 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, 2011 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 :)
    – Beaker
    Nov 2, 2011 at 1:02

Update as of March 18, 2015

Restrictions for US citizens traveling to Cuba have been relaxed even more:

(...)While tourism is still barred by statute, the new rules amount to permission for any American who wants to travel to Cuba to plan an educational sojourn there, as long as they keep records of their activities for five years.

Travelers who fill their days with museum visits, cultural sightseeing and conversations with Cubans about their society, and keep a daily journal, could meet the requirements. American officials suggested that there would be little policing of the comings and goings of those making people-to-people trips.

Update as of January 15, 2015

In December, 17 2014 Obama announced modifications to the travel regulations and the embargo against Cuba in general. The details can be found in the following page:

Fact Sheet: Treasury And Commerce Announcement Of Regulatory Amendments To The Cuba Sanctions

Summarizing, although it is still technically illegal for US citizens to visit Cuba as regular tourists, the restrictions have been relaxed and there are a lot more of possible scenarios that make it possible to travel there, for example it is not longer required to apply for an explicit permission, traveling with a specialized company that has a permit is enough. On top of that, US credit cards can now be used in Cuba, and US citizens are now allowed to spend money in Cuba.

There is an ongoing debate in the US government currently about whether to lift the embargo entirely or not.

My old answer:

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
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.

  • 8
    Why would posting this information be illegal?
    – Beaker
    Oct 31, 2011 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, 2011 at 7:26
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    Maybe that's why Michael Moore took people there in a boat in the documentary Sicko? Oct 31, 2011 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, 2011 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.
    – Relaxed
    Dec 18, 2013 at 13:26

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.

  • 1
    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, 2014 at 18:59
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    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, 2014 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, 2014 at 10:42

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