Traveling To Cuba As A Cuban American Has Never Been Easier

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To a Cuban American, the topic of visiting Cuba brings mixed feelings. Do you go and give business to a government that has taken away so much from your family? Or do you not, and constantly hear outsiders speak about how glad they are that they could travel there “before everything changes?”

You see, the prospect of traveling to the island holds a different emotional weight to someone of Cuban descent. Turns out it has a different monetary and political weight as well.

So Can Cuban-Americans Travel to Cuba?

The short answer is yes, but it may cost you more if you were born on the island. Plus, your American citizenship may not be recognized. According to a statement from the U.S. Embassy in Havana:

The Government of Cuba does not recognize the U.S. nationality of U.S. citizens who are Cuban-born. These individuals will be treated solely as Cuban citizens and may be subject to a range of restrictions and obligations.

The Bureau of Consular Affairs states that U.S.-Cuban dual nationals—persons who were born in Cuba but have since become American citizens—will be required to enter and depart the island using additional documentation. If a Cuban-American departed Cuba before January 1st, 1971, he or she will be required to apply for an HE-11 visa from the Cuban government. If a Cuban-American departed the island after January 1st, 1971, he or she will need to purchase a Cuban passport.

According to an article published by NBC last year, an HE-11 Visa costs $250 and could take between 60 and 90 days to attain. Once you’re approved, the visa is valid for only 90 days. A Cuban passport on the other hand costs $430 and is valid for six years, however you need to pay a $230 fee every year to keep it active.

American citizens need only pay an $80 fee for a visa, which they can purchase at the airport right before their departure. If you're an American-born person with Cuban-born parents, you fall into this category.

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Jacques van Dinteren/iStock

Has traveling always been this easy? 

Whether or not you are of American or Cuban descent, most can agree that the lifting of the embargo opens a dialogue between the communist and free world, introducing both sets of people to the customs, traditions, and cultures of each. Of course, Americans could always travel to Cuba, however the barriers have never been lower.

“Cuba has never been closed to U.S. tourism. Over the years depending on the climate of what the relations were, immigration might have vetted you more closely when you entered. Now it’s just a lot more open,” says Myriam Castillo, a Cuban American who has been planning cultural trips to the island through her agency, Bespoke Custom Cuba Travel, since before the embargo was lifted.

“There was a time when you went as an American or in groups traveling from the U.S. and you would get set aside and questioned by a customs agent,” says Castillo. “What were you doing? How much money were you bringing? Now you go in and they barely look at you. I would say that in general it’s become a lot more simple. Cuba on the other hand is very receptive of Americans. They always were to a degree.”

If you are planning a trip, Castillo suggests you book at the end of October and beginning of November—when rates are lowest. After December, prices begin to increase.

What does this mean for Cuban American kids looking to connect?

One of the greatest results of the embargo lift is that it’s giving the children of Cuban immigrants, most of which are now millennials, the chance to connect with a culture they’ve heard so much about. Groups like CubaOne are giving them specifically the opportunity to experience the island from a unique perspective.

“Many young Cuban Americans, their only knowledge of Cuba is through black and white photos, and stories that have been handed down maybe through one or two generations. I noticed that there was a strong disconnect between my generation here in South Florida and our counterparts on the island,” says Giancarlo Sopo, one of the travel group’s founders.

CubaOne is an organization that offers free week-long trips to young Cuban Americans between the ages of 22 and 35, much like Birthright Israel, which offers free trips to Israel for young Jewish people. The purpose of CubaOne is to truly bridge the gap between the Cuba of their parents’ time, and the Cuba that exists today. So far CubaOne has received funding to operate four trips over the coming year, and hopes to raise enough capital to continue its voyages in the future.

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Flavio Vallenari/iStock

Is it safe to travel there if you have Cuban ties? 

With so many additional travel regulations and fees placed on Cubans now living in the U.S., one has to wonder whether or not an organization like CubaOne had to jump any additional hurdles since its focus is bringing their children onto the island. According to Cherie Cancio, another one of CubaOne’s founders, they haven’t encountered any hurdles at all.

“The only hurdle, and it’s not really a hurdle, is figuring out which of our applicants is Cuban born and trying to help them out with what they need. If they have a Cuban passport, have they renewed it? Typically a Cuban passport has a life expectancy of six years,” she states. “Renewing a passport is relatively easy. You could do it in about a day if you do it in D.C. The issues that come about are costs [of traveling], of course, because there’s no consulate outside of D.C. at the moment, and the costs of purchasing the passports and the visas.”

Other than that, the process has gone fairly smoothly.

“For our American born Cuban Americans, we go through OFAC and make sure we’re under the right categories and put the proper information. It’s changed over the last few years," she says. "I remember when I first traveled to Cuba I had to state that I was going to see family, where I was staying, how long I was staying there for. Now when I go, because OFAC has loosened that up, since I am of Cuban descent with direct Cuban family on the island, I can come in and out under the family license.”

For the purpose of its trips, all members of CubaOne’s travel group will be going under OFAC’s people to people license.

While the system is far from perfect, traveling to Cuba has never been easier. Americans, even Cuban Americans who have always opposed the thought of traveling there, have warmed up to the idea, thus ushering a new era of prosperity to island residents and hopefully, a big wave of change.

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