If you’ve always wanted to visit Cuba without breaking the law, you’d better get your passport application in now. Under President Obama, the US Treasury Department has begun to issue “people-to-people” licenses to travel companies, allowing them to take ordinary Americans on guided tours of the island.
According to the New York Times, the government has been taking its sweet time when it comes to issuing the licenses, but nevertheless, eight tour operators have already been given the go-ahead.
Tom Popper, the director of Insight Cuba, one of the travel companies to receive a coveted permit, explained to the New York Times how easy the new permits make it for Americans to visit Cuba: ““All a U.S. citizen has to do is sign up for an authorized program and they can go to Cuba. It’s as simple as that.”
Well, maybe not quite “as simple as that.” At the moment, demand for the tours are quickly outpacing the supply, especially considering how slowly the government is granting licenses to the operators who run them. As Mr. Popper explained to the Times, ““It’s the forbidden fruit. It’s 50 years of pent-up demand for a country that 75 percent of Americans really, really want to travel to.”
Plus, the availability of the people-to-people permits is subject to the prevailing political winds. Between 2000 and 2003, they were available under President Bill Clinton. However, after George W. Bush was elected, the government stopped issuing them completely.
One important point: if you’re envisioning spending your days lounging on a beach resort smoking Cuban cigars and drinking rum, think again. Sure, you’ll have access to rum and cigars, and you might even get some beach time. However, per the Treasury Department, the tours must be “educational,” and the days must be packed with meaningful activities that include interaction with regular Cubans. In other words, you won’t be lounging.
That said, if you like getting off the beaten path and connecting with people from different backgrounds and cultures, you’d probably really enjoy one of these tours. For example, Insight Cuba’s offerings include stays and 4- and 5-star hotels and interesting itineraries like the “Havana Jazz Experience.”
If you want to go, best get your passport application in and reserve yourself a seat. Current processing time for a passport application submitted without expedited service is at least six weeks. With expedited service, you’re still looking at around three weeks unless you make an appointment at one of the 24 regional passport agency offices in the country or use a private expediting company like RushMyPassport. We hand-deliver your application to the Department of State, for processing in as little as 24 hours.
For fast, convenient service, let us handle your passport application today!