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Q&A: Can Americans Travel to Cuba on a Cruise? (ID: 1839) (Photo: Diego Grandi/Shutterstock)

Can Americans Travel to Cuba on a Cruise? And More Questions Answered

Q&A: Can Americans Travel to Cuba on a Cruise? (ID: 1839) (Photo: Diego Grandi/Shutterstock)
Executive Editor, U.S.
Chris Gray Faust
Melinda Crow

Mar 1, 2023

Read time
3 min read

One of the biggest questions raised frequently in the US travel industry is this: Can Americans travel to Cuba? That's because the past decade saw the more-than-sixty-year travel embargo to Cuba eased just long enough for some lucky Americans to have enjoyed cruises to Cuba, both on specialty cruise lines and even on mainstream lines.

However, the short window of opportunity closed on June 5, 2019, when U.S. policy changes again blocked tourist travel to Cuba.

Travel to Cuba from, or transiting through the United States by any person considered to be under U.S. jurisdiction (which includes U.S. citizens located anywhere, as well as anyone located in the U.S., regardless of citizenship) must abide by the regulations of the Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC), under the Department of Treasury.

As of June of 2022, those regulations allow twelve types of general travel authorizations, but retain the restriction on travel strictly for tourist activities.

Here are some things Americans should know about the status of sailing to this long off-limits country.

Is There Still an Embargo on Travel to Cuba for U.S. Citizens?

Havana, Cuba (Photo: Sean Pavone/Shutterstock)

Yes, the embargo is still in place, but travel to Cuba is allowed for certain types of trips. But even on the trips that are allowed, travelers to Cuba may not use U.S. credit and debit cards during their travels (this was briefly allowed in 2016 and early 2017).

What Kind of Travel to Cuba Is Allowed for U.S. Citizens?

Havana (photo via Shutterstock)

The major allowances for Cuba travel fall under work-related reasons. Journalists can enter Cuba, for example, as can performers and athletes, or people attending performances or sporting events. Meetings and conferences are also now allowed.

What Still Needs to Happen for the Travel Embargo to Be Lifted?

The Trump Administration announced new travel restrictions that will end cruises to Cuba departing from the U.S. (Photo: RHIMAGE/Shutterstock)

Only Congress can completely lift the embargo, which was first imposed in 1960 as a ban on trade during Dwight Eisenhower's administration. At the time, communist rebels led by Fidel Castro had recently come into power and were nationalizing American oil refineries and other private businesses, without compensation.

President John F. Kennedy extended the embargo to travel in 1963, after the Cuban Missile Crisis. Current regulations are enforced through a number of congressional acts.

Will Congress Take Action and Lift the Travel Embargo to Cuba?

It's unlikely that will happen anytime soon. Although many Americans want to visit Cuba and the Obama administration worked steadily to improve relations with the country, President Trump undid much of his predecessor’s work to normalize relations.

There is also a strong block of Cuban-American lawmakers, as well as Republican political leadership, who oppose normalization.

Has President Biden Changed Anything in Regards to Cruise Travel to Cuba?

In 2022, the Biden administration reversed the Trump ban on air travel to destinations beyond Havana. It is now possible to fly to far more destinations within the country. There has been no change in restrictions on cruise passengers, however.

Can Cruise Ships Go to Cuba?

The inaugural visit to Cuba for Empress of the Seas in April 2017 (Photo: Royal Caribbean)

Yes, cruise ships owned by non-American companies have been traveling to Cuba for years. The only cruise line currently calling at Cuban ports is Marella Cruises, a U.K.-owned company, formerly owned by Thomson, and sailing under the TUI brand.

As recently as January 2023, four cruise lines -- Carnival, Norwegian, Royal Caribbean and MSC -- were ordered by a Federal District Judge in Florida to pay millions in fines in a complicated legal battle.

The Federal District Judge cited that the cruise lines committed “trafficking acts” by conveying U.S. citizens to Cuba to engage in “prohibited tourism” between the years of 2015 and 2019. It remains to be seen whether that ruling will withstand the anticipated appeals and how it might impact the future of cruising to Cuba by American-owned companies.

Can Americans Travel to Cuba on a Cruise Ship?

Empress on the Seas arriving in Cuba (Photo: Royal Caribbean International)

The short answer is "not yet." Your trip would still have to fall under certain guidelines and your schedule can't include free time. In other words, you can't just be a tourist, which is what mainstream cruise passengers are considered.

Can US Citizens Travel to Cuba via Cruise Ship from Another Country?

Montego Bay (Photo:Lucky-photographer/Shutterstock)

US citizens also cannot simply fly to Montego Bay, Jamaica, where Marella sails from and take that cruise because the regulations apply to U.S. citizens wherever they are.

What Are Some Things to Do in Cuba?

Sidecar tour (Photo: Zaneta Cichawa/Shutterstock.com)

Cuba has a distinct culture, with food, music and architecture that are celebrated around the world. It also has pristine beaches, wonderful diving and snorkeling spots, beautiful natural landscapes, a wonderful colonial architectural legacy and an extraordinary history. That being said, there are nearly endless things to do in Cuba.

Can Americans Buy Cuban Cigars And Rum Legally Now?

According to the U.S. Treasury, which has published a regularly-updated FAQ:

“Persons authorized to travel to Cuba may purchase alcohol and tobacco products while in Cuba for personal consumption in Cuba. Please note that effective September 24, 2020, authorized travelers may no longer return to the United States with alcohol and/or tobacco products acquired in Cuba as accompanied baggage for personal use.”

The same applies to alcohol and cigars purchased in third countries. They may be consumed in third countries, but may not be imported into the U.S.

Updated March 01, 2023
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