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U.S. relaxes travel, financial restrictions on Cuba

Obama Eases Cuba Travel RestrictionsObama Eases Cuba Travel Restrictions
Cuban Americans show their Cuban passports as they purchase tickets to Cuba from a travel agent at Marazul Charters on April 13, 2009 in Miami, Florida.Photograph by Joe Raedle — Getty Images

Get your passport ready, because starting Friday, more Americans will find it easier to book a trip to Cuba after decades of stringent limitations on travel.

Following last month’s announcement of normalization of relations with the island nation — located less than 100 miles from the coast of Florida — the Obama administration announced Thursday that it is easing restrictions on travel to the country.

For the past 60 years, Americans have had few legal ways to secure travel to Cuba as a result of an embargo enacted in the 1960s. The embargo was a response to the communist government of Fidel Castro, an ally of the Soviet Union. The policy has been hotly debated in the years since, especially after the collapse of the Soviet Union and the end of the Cold War in the early 1990s.

Starting Friday, Americans will be able to go to Cuba without a specific license if the reason for the trip falls under any of 12 relatively broad categories, including family visits, journalistic activity, professional research or meetings, humanitarian projects and official business of the U.S. or foreign governments. Once you get there, things will be easier too, as American credit and debit cards can be used on the island and the per diem spending rate has been eliminated.

The previously announced change in imports, which allows visitors to bring in up to $400 worth of goods including up to $100 in tobacco products, will also go into effect. Furthermore, non-Cuban Americans living in the United States can now send up to $2,000 per quarter to people living in Cuba, up from $500. This won’t apply to certain members of the Cuban government and the Cuban Communist Party.

Thursday’s announcement “takes us one step closer to replacing out of date policies that were not working and puts in place a policy that helps promote political and economic freedom for the Cuban people,” said Treasury Secretary Jacob Lew in a statement. “These revised regulations, together with those issued by the Commerce Department, will implement the policies on easing sanctions related to travel, remittances, trade, and banking announced by the President on December 17.”

Since President Obama’s announcement in December, the status of the US policy has been hotly debated. A number of Republicans, especially Florida Senator Marco Rubio, have come out strongly against Obama’s decision.

Editor’s note: An earlier version of this story mistakenly characterized the history of the Cuban travel embargo. Though it has been possible to travel to Cuba in the past, restrictions will be eased on Friday. The earlier version also said the new rules about sending money to citizens of Cuba only applied to Cuban Americans. In fact, the new rules apply to non-Cuban Americans. The story has been updated to reflect these issues.