Currently, full-time professionals (DOC) and students pursuing a graduate degree (DOC) may travel to Cuba to conduct research under what is called the "general license."


Travel to Cuba is restricted by the U.S. government's Trading with the Enemy Act (1917), which grants the power to prohibit financial transactions in time of war. It has been used to structure the economic embargo on Cuba since 1961. The embargo is enforced through the Cuban Assets Control Regulations (CACR), issued in July 1963, as revised and amended over the years. There are criminal and civil penalties for violating the sanctions.


The financial prohibition means that U.S. citizens cannot spend money on travel to Cuba. All U.S. citizens and permanent residents wherever they are located, all people and organizations physically in the United States, and all branches and subsidiaries of U.S. organizations throughout the world are subject to the Cuban Assets Control Regulations, 31 CFR Part 515, issued by the U.S. Government July 8, 1963 under the Trading with the Enemy Act (1917).


Over the years, however, some travel to Cuba has been permitted, on the bases of exceptions to the ban on spending money on travel-related transactions. U.S. citizens, permanent residents, and others located in the United States may travel to Cuba according to the provisions of Treasury Department regulations that identify and explain the authorized exemptions to the prohibitions. The Treasury Department's Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) administers the regulations.


While the Bush administration tightened restrictions on travel significantly in 2004, eliminating people-to-people travel and drastically cutting back the opportunities for educational exchanges with Cuba, in February 2011 the Obama administration recently restored much of what existed before 2004. The 2011 changes provide a general license for study in Cuba and other educational exchange activities (as well as specific licensing of people-to-people/cultural exchanges).


An explanation of the current regulations is provided in May 2012 Comprehensive Guidelines for License Applications to Engage in Travel-Related Transactions Involving Cuba (PDF). Further information can also be found at the OFAC website, and "Cuba: U.S. Restrictions on Travel and Remittances," a Congressional Research Service summary prepared by Mark P. Sullivan in July 2012 (PDF), and Cuba: What You Need to Know about U.S. Sanctions against Cuba.