NAFSA Practice Advisory: New Regulations on Academic Travel to Cuba as Issued by the Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC)

February 11, 2011

In 2004, the Office of Foreign Assets Control at the U.S. Department of Treasury issued regulations to restrict study abroad in Cuba. The rule, effective June 30, 2004, tightened restrictions on travel to Cuba and established new licensing, programming, and participant requirements for educational travel activities to the country. The 2004 regulations resulted in the cancellation of most U.S. study abroad programs in Cuba and dramatically decreased the number of U.S. students studying there.

On January 14, 2011 President Obama announced changes to some categories of non-tourist travel to Cuba, including travel for academic purposes and people-to-people engagement. The new regulations allow all students enrolled in degree programs at accredited U.S. academic institutions to access programs to study abroad in Cuba. The regulations also ease restrictions on length or time of study, expand opportunities faculty and staff travel to Cuba, and create a special licensing category for other non-credit bearing educational opportunities in Cuba.

The regulations were published by the Department of Treasury's Office of Foreign Assets Control on January 28, 2011.

If you are planning an educational program in Cuba or planning to attend a program in Cuba, you should be familiar with the rules and regulations posted. Violations of The Cuban Assets Control Regulations are subject to civil and criminal penalties and fines.

General Licenses

A general license permits any accredited institutions of higher education in the United States to sponsor travel to Cuba for educational activities carrying academic credit toward a degree, including the following:

  • Allows students to participate in academic activities in Cuba through any sponsoring U.S. academic institution, not only through the accredited U.S. academic institution at which the student is pursuing a degree.
  • Allows participation in a formal course of study at a Cuban academic institution, provided the formal course of study in Cuba will be accepted for credit toward the student's graduate or undergraduate degree.
  • Allows noncommercial academic research in Cuba specifically related to Cuba and for the purpose of obtaining a graduate degree. A student traveling to engage in such transactions must carry a letter on official letterhead, signed by a designated representative of the sponsoring U.S. academic institution, stating that the individual is a student currently enrolled in a graduate degree program at an accredited U.S. academic institution, and stating that the research in Cuba will be accepted for credit toward that degree.
  • Allows faculty/adjunct/part-time/staff at the sponsoring institution to accompany students on academic programs to Cuba.
  • Allows any individual regularly employed in a teaching capacity at the sponsoring U.S. academic institution to teach at a Cuban institution provided that the teaching activities are related to an academic program at the Cuban institution and that the duration of the teaching is at least 10 weeks. Teachers are required to carry a letter from the sponsoring institution.

The regulations specify that U.S. students/faculty/staff participating the activities listed above will be required to carry letters "stating that the Cuba-related travel is part of a structured educational program of the sponsoring U.S. academic institution, and stating that the individual is a member of the faculty or staff of that institution or is a student currently enrolled in a graduate or undergraduate degree program at an accredited U.S. academic institution and that the study in Cuba will be accepted for credit toward that degree."

The general license also allows full-time professionals conducting professional research to travel to Cuba, attend certain international professional organization meetings or conferences in Cuba, and attend certain professional meetings related to the provision of telecommunications services under a general license. The regulations specify that research requires a full work schedule of noncommercial, academic research that has a substantial likelihood of public dissemination and is in the traveler's professional area.

For persons satisfying all criteria and conditions in a general license, no further permission from OFAC is required to engage in transactions authorized by that general license.

Specific Licenses

Specific licenses may be available to institutions, organizations, and individuals for educational, people-to-people, and professional travel that does not qualify under a general license. Types of specific licenses available include: individuals traveling for academic purposes but not under the auspices of an accredited U.S. graduate or undergraduate degree-granting institution; educational exchanges not involving academic credit pursuant to a degree; academic seminars, conferences, and workshops related to Cuba or global issues involving Cuba; professional research; and to attend international professional meetings.

A written application in letter format with relevant supporting documentation must be made to OFAC to obtain a specific license. A specific license applicant must wait for OFAC to issue the license prior to engaging in travel-related transactions as stated here.

For any questions about whether a certain travel-related activity to Cuba qualifies under a general license, please contact OFAC directly. Contact information for the Department of Treasury's Office of Foreign Assests Control can be found on their Web site.

Financial/Transportation/Other

  • Allows a general license category for a U.S. person to send remittances (up to $500 per quarter) to nonfamily members in Cuba.
  • Under a general license, allows a sponsoring U.S. academic institution to pay the stipend or salary of a Cuban scholar to teach or engage in other scholarly activity.
  • Under a general license, allows a sponsoring institution to open a bank account in Cuba to facilitate transactions.
  • Allows all U.S. international airports to apply to provide services to licensed airplane charters.
  • Allows organizations to apply for specific licenses for educational exchanges not involving academic credit.

Key Points

  • Students can participate in a program that must be for academic credit but does not need to be for a minimum length of time.
  • Any student enrolled in a degree program at an accredited academic institution may participate in any credit-bearing academic program abroad hosted by any sponsoring institution.
  • Any faculty or staff at a sponsoring academic institutionis eligible to lead programs or accompany students on such programs to Cuba.
  • Individuals studying or working in an academic capacity in Cuba either through their home institution or through a Cuban institution will be required to carry a letter stating that they are there for academic purposes from that respective institution.
  • Faculty wishing to teach at a Cuban academic institution can do so as long as the duration is no shorter than 10 weeks and they are carrying a letter from the sponsoring U.S. academic institution.
  • These provisions do not apply to tourist activities.
  • The health insurance requirement to enter Cuba will still stand.
  • The guidelines recommend applicants to submit an application to OFAC no later than 45 days prior to the proposed date of departure.

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