Travel to Cuba - Implications for Education Abroad Programs

June 20, 2017


Starting in 2011, the Obama administration issued a series of regulatory changes to open travel and begin the process to normalize relations with Cuba and to further engage and empower the Cuban people. The sweeping changes affected diplomatic and economic relations between the United States and Cuba, and broadened the categories of acceptable travel to Cuba licensed by the Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) of the US Department of Treasury.

On June 15, 2017 President Trump rolled back some of those changes, but appeared to keep intact those most directly affecting education abroad programs. Under the new policies, the Trump administration will eliminate individual people-to-people travel and limit trade opportunities with certain entities related to the Cuban military. The executive branch agencies responsible for enforcing the Cuban embargo are expected to release new regulations by the end of July. Until then the current regulations remain in place. Read the official Presidential Memorandum on the White House website.

As long as the statutory trade embargo and travel ban are in effect the US Departments of Treasury and Commerce determine the regulations regarding travel and engagement with Cuba and the Cuban people. Full normalization requires an Act of Congress to restore relations between our two countries. Visit to learn more and take action.

Travel Under a General License

Under the 2015 and 2016 regulatory changes, travel in all 12 existing categories previously authorized by specific license is now authorized by general license. Individuals who meet the conditions laid out in the regulations will not need to apply for a specific license to travel to Cuba: no further permission from the Office of Foreign Assets Control is required. The two categories most applicable for the education abroad community address education activities and activities of private foundations or research or educational institutes; the complete list of 12 categories can be found here.

Tourist travel from the United States to Cuba remains prohibited.

The general license for educational activities authorizes faculty, staff, and students at US academic institutions and secondary schools to engage in certain educational activities in Cuba; in return Cuban scholars may engage in certain educational activities in the United Sates. The license also authorizes activities to facilitate licensed educational programs in Cuba. Further, US and Cuban universities may now engage in academic exchanges and joint non-commercial academic research and allow persons subject to US jurisdiction to provide standardized testing services and certain internet-based courses to Cuban nationals. For a complete description of the general license allowances and restrictions, see the Code of Federal Regulations, 21 CFR 515.565(a) and (b).

American entities organizing or conducting certain educational activities are one of the few categories that are authorized to establish and maintain a physical presence, such as an office, in Cuba. These entities may now employ Cuban nationals in Cuba as well as persons subject to US jurisdiction in Cuba (and such persons may maintain a domicile in Cuba). They are also authorized to open and maintain bank accounts to facilitate authorized transactions. For a complete description of what this general license authorizes and the restrictions that apply, see the Code of Federal Regulations, 31 CFR 515.573.


(Updated April 18, 2017)

  • There are no specific spending limits for American citizens on authorized expenses while in Cuba.
  • Authorized travelers from the United States are allowed to make transactions ordinarily incident to travel within Cuba, including payment of living expenses and goods for personal consumption.
  • Under a new general license, authorized travelers from the United States may open and maintain bank accounts in order to access funds while located in Cuba and are allowed to use credit and debit cards issued by US financial institutions. However, travelers are advised to check with their financial institutions before traveling to Cuba to determine whether the institution has established the necessary mechanisms for its issued credit or debt card to be used in Cuba. Credit and debit cards are not widely accepted in Cuba.


U.S. Department of Treasury Office of Foreign Assets Control

U.S. Department of Commerce Bureau of Industry and Security

U.S. Department of State

The White House: Office of the Press Secretary

U.S. Department of Transportation