Can Americans Travel to Cuba?

Former President Jimmy Carter is visiting  Cuba this week. But aren’t Americans banned from traveling to Cuba?

Under the 1963 Cuban Assets Control Regulations, you’re not technically banned from traveling to Cuba, but you can’t spend money there, which makes a trip almost impossible. There are, however, three ways for Americans to legally visit Cuba:

1. If you’re a full-time journalist, government official, member of an international organization, athlete, or visiting relatives or doing academic research, you may visit the island at any time.

2. If your trip is “fully hosted,” meaning all your Cuba-related expenses are covered by a foreign citizen or organization that you don’t reimburse, you’re also home free.

3. If you’re planning to travel with an educational or religious institution or for humanitarian projects or free-lance journalism, you can apply to the Department of the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control for a license, a process that generally takes several months. According to the Carter Center, that’s what the former president’s delegation did. But if you’re just interested in taking some sun, don’t waste your time: OFAC does not give licenses for pleasure travel.

If you’re caught visiting Cuba illegally, OFAC can fine you $7,500 for a single trip, and up to $10,000 for any additional trip.

Bonus Explainer: Are the Cuban travel restrictions constitutional? In 1984, the Supreme Court ruled by a narrow margin in Regan v. Wald that the travel restrictions were authorized in light of Cold War national security concerns. The court hasn’t considered the restrictions since the end of the Cold War—and it might rule differently now.

Next question?

Explainer thanks Nancy Chang and Anna Gavieres of the Center for Constitutional Rights, and Deanna Congileo of the CarterCenter.