What is the U.S. trade embargo with Cuba and does it still exist?

The U.S. Embargo Against Cuba is a series of sanctions imposed on Cuba by the United States which have existed since 1960. The embargo and ensuing Cuba travel restrictions are still enforced today however insightCuba is authorized to send any American to Cuba on one of our Support for the Cuban People tours under a general license issued by the U.S. Department of the Treasury, Office of Foreign Assets Control.  

Travel Restrictions: A brief history

1960- In the first trade restrictions on Cuba after the rise to power of Fidel Castro, President Eisenhower placed most U.S. exports to Cuba under validated license controls, except for non-subsidized food, medicines, and medical supplies. The action did not include restrictions on travel.

1962/1963- In February 1962, President Kennedy imposed a trade embargo on Cuba because of the Castro regime’s ties to the Soviet Union. Pursuant to the President’s directive, the Department of the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) issued the Cuban Import Regulations. On July 9, 1963, OFAC issued a more comprehensive set of prohibitions, the Cuban Assets Control Regulations, which effectively banned travel by prohibiting any transactions with Cuba.

1977- In March, the Carter Administration announced the lifting of restrictions on U.S. travel to Cuba that had been in place since the early 1960s. The Carter Administration lifted the travel ban by issuing a general license for travel-related transactions for those visiting Cuba. Direct flights were also allowed.

1982- In April, the Reagan Administration re-imposed restrictions on travel to Cuba, although it allowed for certain categories of travel, including travel by U.S. government officials, employees of news or film making organizations, persons engaging in professional research, or persons visiting their close relatives. It did not allow for ordinary tourist or business travel that had been allowed since the Carter Administration’s 1977 action.

1999- On May 13, 1999, OFAC issued changes to the Cuba embargo regulations that loosened some restrictions on certain categories of travelers to Cuba including travel for the purpose of people-to-people educational exchanges. 

2000- The first specific license for People-to-People Education Exchanges were granted by OFAC.  InsightCuba received its People-to-People Educational Exchange license and was the first to begin sending Americans to Cuba under this license. 

2003- On March 24, 2003, OFAC announced that the Cuba travel regulations were being amended which included the elimination of People-to-People Education Exchange licenses.  InsightCuba sent the last Americans to Cuba at the end of December. 

2009- On April 13, 2009, President Obama directed that all restrictions on family travel and on remittances to family members in Cuba be lifted. The Administration also announced measures to expand the scope of eligible humanitarian donations through gift parcels and to increase telecommunications links with Cuba.

2011- On January 14, 2011 President Obama issued a press release announcing that changes be made to regulations and policies governing:  (1) purposeful travel; (2) non-family remittances; and (3) U.S. airports supporting licensed charter flights to and from Cuba.  These measures will increase people-to-people contact; support civil society in Cuba; enhance the free flow of information to, from, and among the Cuban people; and help promote their independence from Cuban authorities.

On January 28, President Obama’s policy to officially restore People-to-People Educational Exchanges with Cuba becomes official after a seven-year absence. 

2014- On December 17, President Obama and President Castro announce efforts to normalize relations between the U.S. and Cuba. 

2015- January 16, new regulations regarding travel to Cuba are issued making it easier for Americans to travel to Cuba. 

2016- U.S. commercial airlines offer flights from the U.S. to Cuba; people-to-people travel for individual U.S citizens is authorized; President Obama travels to Cuba, marking the first time an American President has visited Cuba since Calvin Coolidge in 1928. 

2017- President Donald Trump repeals individual people-to-people travel roughly more than one year after President Obama introduced it. Group people-to-people travel remains, and the White House leaves many of the Obama travel provisions which increased U.S. travel to the island, intact; The U.S. Department of State creates the first restricted list, instructing U.S. citizens and businesses which Cuban companies they are prohibited to spend money with;  insightCuba and acclaimed world music record label, Putumayo World Music collaborate on a series of tours to Cuba and beyond; Cuba's first luxury 5-star hotel, the Gran Manzanas Kempinski opens in Havana.

2018- Cuba achieves a record breaking 4.75 million travelers. The two leading markets are Canada and the United States. 

2019- President Trump issues new travel regulations barring most commercial cruise ships sailing from the U.S. to visit Cuba. However, cruises originating from countries other than the U.S. continue; President Trump eliminates group people-to-people travel but leaves the remaining 12 categories of travel intact. The Support for the Cuban People category of travel allows for any American to legally travel to Cuba. 


Click here to view insightCuba's specific history regarding legal travel to Cuba.