Americans looking to travel to Cuba will soon be able to jump online, find a flight and head straight down after the U.S. Treasury and Commerce Departments unveiled a set of rules Thursday that ease travel and trade restrictions to the island nation.
One of the most notable changes — which take effect Friday — is that Americans will no longer need to get approval from the U.S. Office of Foreign Assets Control before embarking on a trip to Cuba.
As long as Americans certify they are traveling through one of 12 approved categories — which include educational, religious and humanitarian trips — they can simply head to the island. Traveling to Cuba solely as a tourist remains prohibited.
U.S. air carriers will be able schedule flights there without getting a special license from the government after the Federal Aviation Administration and Department of Homeland Security update their rules to accommodate the new flights.
“Cuba has real potential for economic growth, and by increasing travel, commerce, communications and private business development between the United States and Cuba, the United States can help the Cuban people determine their own future,” Treasury Secretary Jacob Lew said in a statement Thursday.
President Obama announced the decision last month to normalize relations with the communist country after more than five decades of political and economic isolation. The historic deal includes the establishment of embassies in Washington and Havana.
Americans in Cuba had been restricted to spending $188 a day in Cuba for hotels, meals and other incidentals, but that limit will be lifted under the new rules. For the first time, Americans can also return to the USA with up to $100 in Cuban rum and cigars and a total of $400 in goods. In addition, U.S. residents will be able to use their credit and debit cards on the island, a move that is currently restricted and forces Americans to pay for their entire trips in cash.
U.S. companies will be able to sell more resources directly to Cuba’s small-business sector. More than 500,000 Cubans work outside the state-run system, and the new rules allow Americans to provide microfinancing to those businesses and sell them a wide variety of materials, equipment and tools.
The regulations open the door for American firms to help build up the island’s struggling telecommunication industry. U.S. businesses will be allowed to sell communication devices, software, hardware and services to improve Cuba’s infrastructure, including Internet-based services.
U.S. companies will be able to sell environmental equipment to Cuba to help the country improve air and water quality and protect its coastlines from oil spills and other disasters.