Travel to Cuba - Implications for Education Abroad Programs

June 13, 2016


Over the past 15 months, the Obama administration has issued five rounds 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 will affect diplomatic and economic relations between the United States and Cuba, and broaden the categories of acceptable travel to Cuba licensed by the Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) of the US Department of Treasury.

Regulatory changes in March 2016 further ease travel restrictions for American citizens, allow travelers to use U.S. credit and debit cards, allow authorized travelers to open and maintain bank accounts in Cuba, and expand other travel, banking, business and telecommunications-related activities. Although the US Departments of Treasury and Commerce can ease certain regulations regarding travel and engagement with Cuba and the Cuban people, it will require an Act of Congress to remove the US trade embargo, end the travel ban, and fully normalize relations between our two countries. Visit to learn more and take action.



  • US citizens who meet the requirements of a general license require no further authorization from the Office of Foreign Assets Control to travel to Cuba. However, travelers must retain records related to their transactions and demonstrate a full-time schedule of authorized activities.
  • Individuals are now permitted to travel to Cuba for self-directed people-to-people travel, provided that they satisfy all record keeping requirements; previously, the general license authorizing educational travel required travelers to be accompanied by an authorized sponsoring organization.
  • Authorized travelers may now open bank accounts in Cuba and can use credit or debit cards issued by US institutions. Many US financial institutions have not established operations in Cuba and are additionally limited by telecommunication challenges. Authorized travelers should plan accordingly.
  • People-to-People programs and educational activities are rapidly expanding in Cuba. International educators interested in developing programs to Cuba should note that while there may be a strong interest in such programs in both countries, capacity may be limited in the short-term.
  • 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.
  • These 2016 provisions do not apply to recreational and tourist activities. Tourist travel from the United States to Cuba remains prohibited under law.


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 insitutes; 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 insititutions 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 March 28, 2016)

  • 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.
  • Travelers returning from Cuba are authorized to import no more than $400 worth of merchandise to the United States; no more than $100 of that merchandise may consist of alcohol or tobacco and the merchandise may be imported for personal use only.
  • 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.


The 2016 regulations allow for an expansion in education exchanges that promote people-to-people contact, such as study abroad and co-curricular activities. People-to-People exchanges are defined as educational exchanges that do not involve academic study pursuant to a full degree program. Travelers in this category must participate in a full-time schedule of activities that are intended to enhance contact with the Cuban people, support civil society in Cuba, promote the Cuban people's independence and result in meaningful interactions. In March 2016, the Obama Administration announced an expansion of academic and people-to-people exchanges under the auspices of the US Department of State, including with the Hubert H. Humphrey Fellowship Program and the Benjamin A. Gilman International Scholarship Program. In addition, $1 million was pledged to support the 100,000 Strong in the Americas innovation Fund to support Cuba-specific 'Innovation Competitions' in Cuba and the United States.

The expanded general license allows travelers to engage in educational exchanges in Cuba either individually or under the auspices of an organization that is subject to US jurisdiction and sponsors exchanges to support people-to-people contact. Travelers utilizing this general license must ensure they maintain a full-time schedule of educational activities.


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