Might American patients travel direct to Cuba again?

President Joe Biden is planning to reverse many of the sanctions and regulations imposed on Cuba under the Trump administration. This includes reducing restrictions on travel, investment and remittances for the island nation perceived to disproportionately hurt Americans and ordinary Cubans. This will re-open tourism and in the longer-term may allow Americans to become medical tourists directly and legally rather than travelling via Canada or South America.

The United States has had an embargo with Cuba dating back to 1963 that restricts trade and tourism with the island nation, except for certain deals on food and medicine, which only Congress can formally remove.

In 2016, the US opened up travel to Cuba for Americans, but not individual travel, individual or group medical tourism or group tourism. US citizens may travel to Cuba through scheduled tour groups for religious, journalistic, educational or cultural exchange purposes, through approved agencies as approved by the U.S. Treasury Department. There are other categories, and the rules are complex.

President Obama began loosening US economic and travel sanctions against the communist-ruled island as part of an effort to end decades of hostility. President Trump reversed all that.

The Trump rules meant that American travellers are banned from staying at dozens of Cuban hotels, determined by the State Department to be connected to government security services. Properties under the ban include the Paradisus Río de Oro Resort & Spa, the Royalton Cayo Santa María, the Meliá Cayo Santa María and the Iberostar Ensenachos.

Americans are also barred from using a wide array of restaurants, stores and other enterprises deemed by the US government to be owned wholly or in part by the Cuban military and security services. US travellers returning from Cuba to U.S. ports and airports are required to maintain proof of their activities in Cuba.

In 2019, the Trump administration imposed restrictions on Americans travelling to Cuba, and limited commercial flights and charters to Havana airport.

One result of the US embargo and Trump anti-Cuba campaign has been to make the island more popular with, and more politically close to, China and Russia.

With the advent of the pandemic, Cuba requires all travellers to now present proof of a negative COVID-19 PCR test before entry, except for Canadians. The test must be taken no later than 72 hours before travelling to Cuba. The certificate must be issued in two languages – the language of the country of origin and English.

Upon arrival, tourists will have to take a second test, the result of which will be provided in a day. Until the results of the second test are available, the visitors need to quarantine at the hotel or private residence where they are registered to stay. The test is carried out in the air terminal and if a guest tests positive and is asymptomatic, the guest is sent to an isolation area in a medical hotel. If the guest deteriorates, he or she goes to a state hospital.

Canada is a rich source of tourism and medical tourism, so the Cuban government is helping returning Canadians obtain the PCR test needed to go home. Tests will be carried out for Canadian tourists at state international clinics in Cuba, and tourism officials are also working towards testing at hotels in the near future, within the main destinations of Varadero, Cayo Santa Maria, Cayo Coco and Holguin.