It’s OK to visit your parents in Cuba without a visa, but how do you know?

Question: I am a US citizen. I just recently found out that I cannot leave the United States without getting a visa. I also am confused about the restriction on visiting my parents in Cuba without a visa. The same rule applies to me, but I have no parents in Cuba. I want to go and visit them soon to let them know I am here, but I don’t know when that will be. Any ideas?

Answer: This is a tricky question, and there is a lot of confusion, because of current and likely pending travel restrictions to the Communist-run island of Cuba, where you might or might not be allowed to travel. (As an example, some U.S. government agencies, including the State Department, suggest that travelers who are not visitors need to apply for a U.S. visa, but others suggest they can travel to Cuba as long as their purpose for traveling is not “official” in nature and they don’t stay more than 90 days. Read more about the question about your own situation in this article from the Miami Herald’s Travel Section.)

You need to consider a couple of issues with regard to this travel question.

The first is that because you are not a citizen, you do not need a visa for travel to Cuba, but you can visit without one if you are a U.S. foreign student, in a “study abroad” or on a “humanitarian” religious mission, or in groups with the approval of the State Department.

Because this is your first question, let’s address that question first:

If you are traveling as a tourist, it might be worthwhile to apply for a U.S. visa to Cuba. There is no delay in getting a visa, and you can arrive at a Cuban airport, taxi stand or airplane. To process your visa, your travel documents should be handed to an officer at the airport.

If you are visiting a non-U.S. citizen, you don’t need a visa for that purpose, but be aware that your passport can be impounded if you are caught without one. As a result, it might be best to refer to the previous question and let someone familiar with both the U.S. and Cuban travel environments you should know more about answer this question for you.

The second issue, and the most relevant to your question here, is that there is confusion about whether it’s OK to go to Cuba without a visa, as long as your goal is to visit your parents. Since there are some pretty subjective points there, you should consult the professionals. Read the U.S. State Department’s Miami Herald article to learn more.

In fact, if you were in the same situation and you had some clarity about the rules in Washington, it might be worth traveling to the Bureau of Consular Affairs at the U.S. Embassy in Havana to get a U.S. visa, especially if you already were prepared to travel with a visa in hand.

Planning to travel to Cuba over the holidays or in the foreseeable future? Don’t travel to the country until the rules are clearer.

© 2016, The Washington Post.

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