On December 17, 2014, President Barack Obama announced a greater opening of activities between the U.S. and Cuba. As a result that U.S. government has recently issued many regulations to allow travel to Cuba that was previously not allowed or required special licenses in advance of the trip. The following is a summary, but not a comprehensive list, of the rules that govern people-to-people travel to Cuba by boat. Please keep in mind the below rules are subject to change without notice.

U.S. Requirements for Individuals Travelling to Cuba


U.S. restrictions on travel to Cuba are administered by the Office of Foreign Assets Control (“OFAC”) of the U.S. Department of the Treasury.  U.S citizens and permanent residents may only travel lawfully to Cuba if they fit within one of 12 categories of authorized travel or if they receive specific permission from OFAC. 

One of the 12 categories of authorized travel allows travel to Cuba to participate in People-to-People ("P2P") exchanges.  OFAC emphasizes that P2P travel must be educational in nature and must involve a full-time program of educational activities.  This emphasis distinguishes P2P travel from “activities that are primarily tourist oriented, including self-directed educational activities that are intended only for personal enrichment” which remain prohibited.

P2P travel is authorized where the following five conditions are met:

  1. The exchanges take place under the auspices of an organization that is a person subject to U.S. jurisdiction and that sponsors such exchanges to promote people-to-people contact.
  2. Travel-related transactions pursuant to this authorization must be for the purpose of engaging, while in Cuba, in a full-time schedule of activities intended to enhance contact with the Cuban people, support civil society in Cuba, or promote the Cuban people’s independence from Cuban authorities.
  3. Each traveler has a full-time schedule of educational activities that will result in meaningful interaction between the traveler and individuals in Cuba.
  4. An employee, paid consultant, or agent of the sponsoring organization accompanies each group travelling to Cuba to ensure that each traveler has a full-time schedule of educational exchange activities.
  5. The predominant portion of the activities engaged in by individual travelers is not with individuals or entities acting for or on behalf of a prohibited official of the Government of Cuba …. or a prohibited member of the Cuban Communist Party….

It is important to note that each traveler must qualify individually to travel to Cuba.  In addition, OFAC requires travelers and sponsoring organizations to keep certain records, which must be furnished to OFAC upon their request.


U.S. Requirements for Boat Travel to Cuba


In the past, it was necessary to apply to OFAC for specific permission to travel to Cuba by boat.  That is no longer the case as boat travel to Cuba is now authorized under the following conditions:

  1. All travelers must be engaged in authorized travel to Cuba, such as under P2P exchanges.
  2. The boat itself must be eligible for “temporary sojourn” to Cuba under an export license or “license exemption” from the Bureau of Industry and Security (“BIS”) of the U.S. Department of Commerce..  A BIS “license exemption” allows boats to carry authorized U.S. travelers to Cuba and to remain in Cuba for up to 14 days, subject to compliance with several minor requirements.  Longer stays require a BIS export license.

In addition, before leaving to Cuba, the vessel must have a Coast Guard permit to depart from the 12-mile territorial sea and thereafter enter Cuban territorial waters.  It is important to provide plenty of time for the Coast Guard to approve the permit request.


Cuban Requirements for Visiting Cuba by Boat


In general, Cuba allows U.S. citizens or permanent residents to arrive in Cuba by boat.  However, there are specific exceptions. Perhaps the most important, is that any boat traveler that was born in Cuba, must receive approval in advance from the Cuban government. Cuba has eight approved ports of entry for arriving into Cuba.  Although, the necessary paperwork can be handled upon arrival, we suggest that much of it be completed and processed in advance to avoid any problems or unnecessary delays.