Last Wednesday, the State Department announced that it was lowering the severity of the travel alert for Cuba. The new recommendation is that Americans “reconsider” traveling to the island nation.
The announcement comes after a nearly four-month period in which the State Department advised that Americans not travel to Cuba under any circumstances. Tensions are still running high between the two countries after the sonic attacks last September, which prompted the State Department to set the “do not travel” warning.
An updated travel advisory system was implemented by the State Department last December as a way to be more clear and concise for the benefit for U.S. citizens traveling abroad. “The Department of State is improving our communications with US citizen travelers to provide clear, timely and reliable safety and security information worldwide,” said Assistant Secretary of State for Consular Affairs Carl Risch.
The current system has four tiers, whereby every country is assigned a particular security level:
- Level 1 – Exercise normal precautions.
- Level 2 – Exercise increased caution.
- Level 3 – Reconsider travel.
- Level 4 – Do not travel.
It is important to note, however, that the levels are only advisories, and that citizens are not prevented from traveling due to this system. Travel to specific countries must be specifically prohibited by other measures implemented by the U.S. government in order to bar citizens from traveling to those places.
As for how Cuba fits into this system, the State Department has dropped the advisory level from a level 4 to a level 3, simply advising travelers to rethink their plans to travel to Cuba. The level 4 status came amidst fruitless investigations into the sonic attacks that have been plaguing both U.S. and Canadian diplomats and their families since the middle of last year. President Trump has openly blamed Cuba for the attacks, mainly based on the implication that the Cuban government was unable to stop it or provide any details and thus is responsible for what happened within its borders.
Despite lowering the travel risk status of Cuba, the U.S. government is showing no signs of peeling back increased travel regulations that have been implemented under the Trump administration. Under the Obama administration’s regulations, a U.S. citizen could travel to Cuba as long as they fit into one of twelve travel categories, the most popular of which was “people-to-people educational activities” meant to foster cultural exchange and learning experiences. Traveling under this category, U.S. citizens could travel solo to Cuba as long as they provided an itinerary compliant with those goals.
The Trump administration has closed this loophole, requiring “people-to-people” travel in a group with a designated guide who schedules all of the educational activities. However, U.S. citizens can still find wiggle room in the new regulations to travel solo to Cuba. According to Janet Moore, owner of Distant Horizons, a company that helps travelers get to Cuba, you can enter the “support for the Cuban people” category and legally travel to Cuba alone. Under this category, you can easily meet the requirements simply by spending your money on private services such as guides, musical groups, licensed drivers, or by bringing and giving out gifts like medicine or sporting equipment wherever you go.
Although U.S.-Cuba relations have certainly taken a few steps back in the past year, the State Department’s reduced warning might point to some baby steps towards a better relationship. Either way, you can still head to Cuba on your own, even though Uncle Sam advises against it.