What's changing on US-Cuba policy
© Getty Images

President Obama has announced a host of significant changes in U.S. policy toward Cuba. 

Here’s a look at the highlights. 

Renewed diplomatic relations

The United States will launch talks with Cuba to re-establish diplomatic relations cut off between the two countries for more than 50 years. This will include the U.S. opening an embassy in Havana.

The two countries will work on issues like combating the drug trade and environmental protection, according to the White House.

Secretary of State John KerryJohn Forbes KerryShould President Trump, like President Obama, forsake human rights in pursuit of the deal with a tyrant? GOP Senate report says Obama officials gave Iran access to US financial system Democrats conflicted over how hard to hit Trump on Iran MORE said Wednesday that he looked “forward to being the first Secretary of State in 60 years to visit Cuba.”

Loosened travel restrictions

The travel embargo on Cuba remains in place, but Obama is making it much easier to get a license to travel to Cuba.

A dozen different licenses allow Americans to travel to Cuba, and requirements for getting them will be relaxed. The licenses include those allowing Americans to visit family members on the island nation 90 miles from Florida; those allowing for educational activities and religious and humanitarian visits; journalism; public performances including sporting events; certain export transactions; support for private foundations; and support for the Cuban people.

Authorized travelers will also be able to use their U.S. credit and debit cards in Cuba, something not previously allowed. That could make it much easier for people to go to Cuba.

Bringing back goods

The plan will change the restrictions on Cuban goods being brought back by travelers, which could be popular with visitors and could help Cuba’s economy.

Under the new rules, authorized visitors will be allowed to bring back $400 worth of goods — including $100 worth of alcohol and tobacco products combined. In the past, it has been illegal to bring back any of Cuba’s famed cigars and rum.


Some restrictions on exporting goods to Cuba will be lifted, allowing U.S. companies to send to Cuba some materials used for building private residences, products that can be used by Cuban entrepreneurs and agricultural equipment.


Cuba since 1982 has been designated a state sponsor of terrorism, something that turns much investment away. The White House has asked the secretary of State to start a review of the designation and offer a report within six months.

Sending money 

It will be easier for people in the U.S. to send money to Cuba under the changes. 

U.S. financial institutions can open up correspondent accounts in Cuba to make it easier for people in America to send money to relatives in Cuba.

Billions already are sent annually by Cubans living in the United States. 

The White House is also lifting certain restrictions on particular types of financial remittances sent to Cuba.

Setting up the Internet

The new rules will allow Internet providers to set up shop in Cuba. Telecommunications providers will be able to buy infrastructure in Cuba, which the White House says has an Internet penetration rate of just 5 percent. Companies will also be allowed to export communication-related goods to Cuba.

Maritime borders

The U.S. says it is ready to invite Mexico and Cuba to talks about unresolved questions about maritime boundaries in the Gulf of Mexico.

Human rights

Republicans are ripping the deal for doing little to improve human rights in Cuba. The White House appears to have dropped its opposition to a Cuban presence at the 2015 summit of the Americas in Panama, but says has that Cuban civil society “must be allowed” to participate.

Third-country transactions 

“U.S.-owned or -controlled entities in third countries will be generally licensed to provide services to, and engage in financial transactions with, Cuban individuals in third countries,” according to the White House.

Additional general licenses will be issued to unblock the U.S.-based accounts of Cuban nationals, allow Americans to participate in professional meetings and conferences with Cubans and allow foreign ships to come to the U.S. after engaging in certain humanitarian activity in Cuba.