Documents Needed to Sail to Cuba

As of February 2016, US Flagged boats are still prohibited from sailing to Cuba for vacation, however, in 2015, the restrictions have relaxed and it may be possible to qualify for the 3 required documents (OFAC/US Treasury Dept for individuals; BIS US Dept of Commerce for vessels and US Coast Guard Form 3300).  (See Disclaimer at End!)


Note, I didn’t say it’s easy, I said possible.  You still have to qualify under one of the 12 Office of Asset Control/US Treasury Dept General License categories. There’s still a myriad of red tape required.  Here are the “rules” as I understand them.  And if you don’t qualify under one of the legal categories, you can always pay to join a regatta or rally which seems to be how many US boats are currently traveling to Cuba.

Here’s how we received legal approval to sail s/v Winterlude to Cuba Spring 2016.  We needed 3 things …

  1.  OFAC letter (written by me) documenting why we qualify for a General License and the technical license category.
  2. SNAP-R/BIS Commerce Dept Export Permit
  3. USCG Form 3300

TreasuryOFAC Letter:  US Flagged Boats can sail to Cuba if they self-qualify for a OFAC (Office of Foreign Assets) License for 14 days max.  You must fall into one of the OFAC/US Treasury Departments twelve categories.  If you can prove that you fall into one of the categories, the process is to write yourself a letter documenting why you qualify for the license. This license applies to the PERSON only, not a boat.  If there are two of you aboard, both need documentation in the letter specifying qualifications.  Click the links for the categories and the latest explanation of the details from OFAC:

OFAC – Licensing Instructions including 12 Categories

Cuba FAQ Updated: 1.26.2016 (download PDF here)

The boat no longer needs the a US Commerce Export License (BIS) for a 14 day duration as of Sept 2015.  However, if your business will take longer than 14 days, you must apply for and receive an approved SNAP-R Export License for your boat. Here’s the link to apply for a SNAP-R. We applied and received our SNAP-R – it took a couple of months and several telephone conversations.

USCGIn addition, ALL US flagged vessels hoping to sail to Cuba must apply and receive a US Coast Guard Form 3300 and have it aboard. Here’s a link to the Form 3300.  Fill it out and fax it to the fax number on the form.  Allow at least two weeks to get the approved form back.  You will likely receive several telephone calls from different US Coast Guard personnel before your application is approved and returned to you.  We requested to receive ours via e-mail and it was no problem.  NOTE:  Rosa Garrison is no longer involved in Form 3300 approvals.  Currently (Feb 2016) you’ll be dealing with Joseph Wilson who was very responsive for us.

FURTHER NOTE:  If your dates change – all sailors know the futility of trying to pick a date for a weather window more than 2 weeks in advance – the US Coast Guard would like for you to send in a revised dates version.  Supposedly this can be expedited, however you have to fill out the entire form again and change the dates – we simply crossed out the old date and filled in a new date, but were informed that wasn’t correct procedure.  Aaarrggg…. as I said, it’s not easy but it is possible!  We were told by Rosa Garrison (the previous person in charge of Form 3300) that as long as your dates were within a week either side of the date on your Form 3300, you were OK.  Outside of that, you need to fax your approved Form 3300 along with the new date Form 3300 for expedited approval.  It took almost 10 days to get our “expedited” form back.

Once there, no tourism is allowed, only “official business” based on your self-declared license category. Keep your receipts and make sure the purpose of your trip is well-documented.  No mojito receipts allowed!  🙂 Because I’m a writer, we qualify under the Journalistic Activity category.  In advance, I have documentation from sailing magazines for articles as well as documentation for a potential new book.  As I understand it, a blog alone doesn’t qualify as journalistic activity, but that’s just what OFAC told me on the phone.

Our SNAP-R BIS license states we can sail to Cuba anytime between Oct 2015 – Oct 2016 and doesn’t limit our time there; however, Cuba only allows US citizens to check in for 30 days, renewable for another 30 days.  Then you have to leave Cuban territorial waters for 24 hours and the process starts over.

DISCLAIMER!  These procedures changed several times over the months that I was applying for legal licenses to sail to Cuba.  I’m sure the future will be no different.  In fact, there’s a US Commerce/Treasury Dept conference call on February 23 that may change the SNAP-R regulations again.   Click here for the link announcing the call.   I have NO idea if this will affect sailing to Cuba in your own vessel, but best to check.

Buena Suerte! (Good Luck) & Safe Travels!   Jan



  1. Strange to hear about this kind of procedure from the land of the free. I was under the impression, travel permits are only necessary in China, the Soviet Union or similar.

    As if all that visa-crap wasn’t bad enough that you need more hassels from your motherland.

  2. Congratulations. A very well written and concise article that correctly covers the procedures involved to legally travel to Cuba. I would only add that it isn’t difficult to qualify under one of the 12 general license categories. Indeed, it seems to be ‘unofficial’ US policy to make it as easy as possible to qualify.
    I’ll be leading a sailing rally to Cuba in late May and I’ve found that people want to ‘rally’ as much for the social and logistical reasons more than as, in this case, to ‘qualify’ for travel to Cuba.

    Wally Moran
    co-author of Cuba Bound, a cruising guide to Cuba’s North Coast

    • Thanks Wally! The way the weather is going, we may see you in Cuba in late May! You’re right about people that want to “rally” enjoying the camaraderie as well as the logistical support – we’ve met several that departed from here (Stock Island Marina) on the Conch Cup Regatta and returned. Their only regret was that the weather shortened their planned time in Cuba by a day on the front end and another day on the back end. To a person, they all want to spend more time exploring Cuba. 🙂 Cheers! Jan

  3. Great article – thanks for the info.
    We’re hoping to sail to Cuba in November, and I have been researching our options.
    We plan to sail to Mexico from Cuba without returning to the US first. Do you know of any restrictions on that? I haven’t been able to find anything out there that either requires us to return to the US or if we’re free to move on.
    Thanks in advance!

    • Hi Rikke! I cannot imagine any restrictions from Mexico to Cuba and then on to another country. But I honestly don’t know. I’d call the USCoast Guard info number and find out. Even if you’re not coming back to the US, the USCG patrols the Florida Straits outside the Cuba 12 mile territorial waters and if they stop you as a US flagged vessel, even if you’re not headed to the US, I imagine they’d expect you to have a Form 3300 (and self-qualify under one of the 12 categories). Here’s the phone number for questions on the Form 3300 305-415-6809. On the other hand, if you don’t get stopped …. 🙂 🙂 🙂 Cheers! Jan

  4. Jan – that’s good advice. Get the form and be on the safe side. That way, should you get stopped, you’re good to go, even if you aren’t returning stateside.

  5. Marta Degen says:

    Excellent commentary . Apropos , if anyone needs to fill out a OPM 1203-FX , my husband found a template document here

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