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Can a Felon Travel to Cuba?

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Before their felony conviction, most felons can remember wanting to travel, and many probably did.

They may have thought of traveling abroad before their conviction, and some were able to.

This blog post will address the question of whether a felon can travel to Cuba.

  • Travel Restrictions
  • Why Cuba?
  • Traveling to Cuba
  • Requirements to Enter Cuba
  • Encouraging a Felon to Travel to Cuba


Travel Restrictions

After their release, felons must complete the terms of their sentence, including probation.

During the probation period, felons are restricted from leaving the district in which they reside without permission from their probation officer.

Of course, travel outside the U.S. is out of the question until the conditions of probation have been satisfied entirely.

Once this is accomplished, travel beyond the U.S. border is possible.

Felons are able to obtain a passport, allowing international travel.

Being convicted of drug trafficking or a crime of treason against the U.S. may prevent felons from being able to obtain a passport, as well as for anyone owing at least a certain amount of child support.

Having current legal charges pending can also prevent having a passport.  This is because leaving the country will be interpreted as an unlawful attempt to avoid prosecution, which is a federal crime.

For those felons, legal assistance will be necessary.

Why Cuba?

Why would felons want to visit Cuba?  Well, for the same reasons anyone wants to travel there.  Felons may have served time in prison, but they have the same interests as any other U.S. citizen.

Traveling to Cuba is no exception with many compelling reasons to go there.

Cuba is an island located in the Caribbean Sea.  It is 90 miles from Florida in the U.S.  Cuba is also south of the Bahamas and northwest of the Dominican Republic and Haiti with Mexico to the west.

Cuba was a Spanish possession until it became independent in 1902.

Visiting Cuba can be a wonderful experience with the opportunity to see Havana, the capital of Cuba, with its historical fortifications and landmarks.

Cuba is famous for its beautiful dynamic music and expressive art.

This nation is the cigar capital of the world with the chance to see many cigar factories.

The streets of Cuban cities are filled with American style 1950s cars.  The citizens are warm and welcoming.

There are over 300 white sandy beaches throughout the island.

Many felons’ families may have come from Cuba.

Traveling to Cuba

The main restriction for them flying to Cuba would be if they have a felony warrant outstanding against them.

The other possible issue would be if their name is on what is called the no-fly list maintained by the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) for those suspected of being terrorists.

There are about 3500 names on this list at any time.  So, felons are probably OK for flying.

Going on a cruise is also a popular means of travel to Cuba.

There are two types of cruises, closed loop and open loop.  A closed loop cruise is one that starts and ends in the same U.S. port while an open loop cruise has different starting and final port city locations.

Felons may sail on either type of cruise, although the requirements for a closed loop cruise are less restrictive than for open loop cruises.

U.S. citizens going on a closed loop cruise can depart and enter the U.S. with only proof of citizenship.  This proof consists of an original or copy of a birth certificate and a government issued photo ID.

Open loop cruises require a passport, regardless of the starting or destination port.  Regardless of the type of cruise, having a passport is important for felons in case the ship docks at a foreign port on the route to Cuba.

Requirements to Enter Cuba

Cuba has several requirements all U.S. citizens, regardless of whether they are felons or not, must meet in order to gain entry.

First, the law in Cuba states that they must have a passport, valid at the time of entry.

A visa, or general license, is required, issued by the Cuban Embassy prior to their trip or which can be purchased upon arrival.  This license doesn’t include questions about criminal background.

If you’re in a hurry to get your visa or want someone to walk you through the process, I recommend you use this website to help.

There are 12 categories of travel to Cuba which are permitted:

  • Family visits
  • Official U.S. government business
  • Journalistic ventures
  • Professional research and professional meetings
  • Educational activities
  • Religious activities
  • Public performances, clinics, workshops, athletic and other competitions, and exhibitions
  • Support of the Cuban people
  • Humanitarian projects
  • Activities of private foundations or research or educational institutes
  • Exportation, importation, or transmission of informational materials
  • Certain authorized export transactions

Travelers to Cuba are required to keep a log of the activities related to their reason for visiting there.

President Obama altered the visitation allowance to Cuba to permit “people-to-people” trips much like tourist visits to most countries.  These are visits labelled as educational trips without being part of a group.

Recent White House changes now necessitate traveling in “heavily regulated tour groups” for educational purposes.  However, these stricter changes may not take place for many months yet, currently leaving the Obama regulations in place.

For felons especially, their conduct while in Cuba is critical.  Of course they will want to stay out of legal difficulties.

This would obviously result in significant problems for felons who may find it extremely difficult to gain their release.  For those felons ending up in jail, legal counsel will be necessary.

It is best to strictly obey all laws and be able to leave the country as planned.

Encouraging a Felon to Travel to Cuba

Families of felons who visit Cuba can be helpful to those felons by encouraging them to travel outside the country for a sense of peace and relaxation.  A trip to Cuba can also be a great opportunity to re-connect with their family.

Once the decision has been made to travel to Cuba, be supportive of their making the trip.

It is important to remind them that as a traveler to a foreign country, just being there as an American will bring them under more scrutiny.

For this reason and others, they must obey the laws and not draw the attention of the legal authorities to themselves.

Remind them of their commitment to live an honest life and how legal difficulties while in Cuba will only defeat these efforts and may result in returning to prison.

Approximately 69% of those released from prison return within the first two years.  Don’t let them be one of those statistics.

So what do you think about this blog post about how a felon can travel to Cuba?  Have you or someone you know traveled to Cuba with a felony?  What was that like, and were they successful?   Please tell us in the comments below.

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