1963 saw restrictions on trade and travel between the US and Cuba, but last week President Obama announced that the US will restore diplomatic relations with Cuba and move on from the disagreements if five decades ago. It took a year and a half of discussions, including negotiations helped along by Pope Francis, and was finally ended by a phone call between the two nation’s Presidents. So how will this newfound international friendship change life for you as a traveler?
There will be a US embassy opening in Havana, Cuba.
An embassy is important because it is a space where an ambassador can use during the course of their diplomatic mission. Having an embassy is a vital first step towards opening up more tourism, since the embassy is who you will contact - they are like the spokespeople for your country. You’ll turn to them if you lose your passport, or if there’s another type of emergency you would go to the American embassy for safety and possibly evacuation.
Right now those with a general license can travel to Cuba, which includes those with a close relative in the country, people on government business, certain researchers and journalists, and telecommunications providers. (See more below, under The US will lessen restrictions on remittances, travel, and banking). The embassy is like a safety net to US travelers in Cuba, which is why its construction is so vital.
There will be a conversation about Congress lifting of the 54-year trade embargo
This means mutual trade, commerce, and money flow between the two countries. The embargo was imposed briefly by President Dwight D. Eisenhower in 1960, and then by President John F. Kennedy after further negotiations and operations during the Cold War failed. Now, institutions from the US can open accounts at Cuban financial institutions. Congress will have to decide what to do about the embargo, but some items will be allowed for export such as building materials, items that support telecommunications, etc. The embargo is the last major piece of discontent between the two countries.
Cuba will allow more Internet access.
In a country where you need to have a license, ask permission, and join a group to travel between countries, freedom in any capacity is an impressive step forward. In 2011 only about 25% of Cubans had internet access - and to Americans who are always used to be connected electronically somehow, the thought of being in a new country with no wireless lifeline may be too startling. Now the Cuban government is calling the internet a “priority,” which is good because they will need a lot of equipment to get their island en route to the 21st Century. A country that has internet - which means it can be held accountable for its actions by its people who would otherwise spread data all over the world wide web - can only make you feel safer while you’re there.
The US will lessen restrictions on remittances, travel, and banking.
Secretary of State John Kerry has been put in charge of removing Cuba from lists of countries that sponsor terrorism, which is always a good first step. This means it will be easier for families to visit each other between countries, and to organize travel for performers. These travelers will be allowed to use their credit and debit cards when they are in Cuba, and will be allowed to import up to $400 worth of goods - so it’s a great time to put in an order for some Cuban cigars.
However, as of now ordinary tourism will still be banned. So if you had visions of sipping margaritas on the beach, they will have to be put on hold - it’s only charter flights going to Cuba for now. The fact that families and performers can go back and forth is an encouraging first step though, and as business grows between the two countries it will only be a matter of time until opportunities for tourism open up as well. At least when you do finally make your way 90 miles across that ocean, you’ll know your debit cards will work and there will be Wifi waiting. Cuba will also need time to get ready for American tourists: they need to create docks and other structures that can accommodate cruise ships, as well as expand or build hotels that can handle the volume of US Tourists. There are also no American companies down there - no McDonald’s, no Starbucks - but after the embargo is lifted, that should change.