Scientists on the roof of INSMET (Cuban Institute of Meteorology) during the December 14, 2011, visit, with Havana in the background. Left-to-right: Juan Carlos Peláez, Daniel Martínez, Anne M. Thompson, Alan Robock, Pablo Varona, and Mario Gutiérrez.
The President of the AGU Atmospheric Sciences Section, Anne M. Thompson, and the Past President, Alan Robock, took an exciting trip to Cuba in December, 2011. It was Dr. Thompson’s first trip to Cuba and Dr. Robock’s fourth trip. The entire trip is described in the Atmospheric Sciences Newsletter, Vol 6, No. 2. The trip was sponsored by the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) and the Richard Lounsbery Foundation, and its purpose was to stimulate scientific collaboration between American and Cuban scientists. The most common reaction to this trip was, “Isn’t it illegal for Americans to travel to Cuba? How did you do it?” They flew on a charter from Miami to Havana (there are more than 10 such flights every day), and there are other American cities with flights to Cuba as well as commercial and charter flights from Canada and Mexico.
It is not illegal for Americans to travel to Cuba.
But, because of the economic embargo, Americans need a license from the U.S. Treasury Department to spend money in Cuba. However, there exists a General License that applies to researchers and those attending international meetings in Cuba. This General License applies to all such activities, and no further action is needed for such scientists. You can just go to Cuba, and when you return to the U.S. tell the immigration officer that you traveled under the General License. The entire set of rules is explained at
The relevant portion of the general license for scientists is listed below.
E. Full-time professionals conducting professional research or attending certain professional meetings
1. Professional research. Full-time professionals are authorized to engage in Cuba travel-related transactions and such additional transactions that are directly incident to conducting professional research in their professional areas pursuant to §515.564(a)(1) of the Regulations, provided that their research (1) is of a noncommercial academic nature; (2) comprises a full work schedule in Cuba;
(3) has a substantial likelihood of public dissemination; and (4) does not fall within certain categories listed in § 515.564(c)-(e).
2. Professional meetings organized by an international professional organisation. Full-time professionals are authorised to engage in Cuba travel-related transactions and such additional transactions as are directly incident to travel to Cuba to attend professional meetings or conferences in Cuba pursuant to § 515.564(a)(2), provided that (1) the
meeting or conference is organized by an international professional organization, institution, or association that regularly sponsors meetings or conferences in other countries; (2) the organization, institution, or association sponsoring the meeting or conference is not headquartered in the United States unless it has been specifically licensed to sponsor the meeting; (3) the purpose of the meeting or conference is not the promotion of tourism in Cuba or other commercial activities involving Cuba that are inconsistent with the Regulations; and (4) the meeting or conference is not intended primarily to foster production of any biotechnological products.