One way to visit Cuba easily and productively is as a student of Spanish. Following is a description prepared by the University of Havana with comments about US licensing options.
University of Havana
Faculty of Foreign Languages
Intensive Spanish Language Courses for Foreigners
Types of courses
I. Spanish language (Elementary, Intermediate and Advanced)
Course of 20 hours of class (one week) : 100 CUC
Course of 40 hours of classes (two weeks) : 200 CUC
Course of 60 hours of classes (three weeks) : 240 CUC
Course of 80 hours of classes (four weeks) : 300 CUC
II. Spanish language (higher level)
Course of 80 hours of classes (four weeks) : 360 CUC
III. Cuban Culture
Course of 60 hours of classes (three weeks) : 360 CUC
(This course is given in alternating months.)
IV. Spanish language (longer term)
Course of 320 hours of classes (four months) : 960 CUC
(For this level course one ought to have already finished the elementary level.)
Course of 480 hours of classes (six months) : 1392 CUC
(This course is for those who don’t speak Spanish at all.)
V. Spanish language (full academic year)
Course of 512 hours of classes (nine months) : 1798 CUC.
(This program begins only on the first Monday of October. To form a group, it is necessary to have at least 5 students of the same level. Classes are for 60 hours in the months of April, July and December.)
The classes are given in the Spanish Department in the Varona building on the university hill.
The courses start the first Monday of every month except in August.
The 20, 40, 60 and 80 hour courses (one to four weeks) are for students with a tourist visa. They do not have to apply for an academic visa.
For registration, a classification test will take place. Once the students are classified by levels, they will only be able to change level during the three first days of the course (if they think that is necessary) with previous authorization from their professors and head of the department.
The classes are given Monday to Friday from 9:00 am to 12:30 pm. One session of class is equivalent to 45 minutes.
Payment will be made in cash at the Economy Department during the first week of the beginning of the course.
At the end of the course the student will receive a certificate. It is necessary to have attended 80% of the classes to obtain the certificate.
To participate in courses longer than four weeks, students need an academic visa. You can obtain this visa in your own country or obtain it through our department after the first three days of the course and 10 days before its expiration: (bring 2 photos for the registration)
To obtain the academic visa from the Cuban consulate in your own country, you should communicate with the Department of International Academic Service of Havana University 30 days in advance <email@example.com>.
To change an academic visa in the department, you have to register in the courses for a period of more than 4 weeks.
The process for visa change requires ten working days, and the following documents have to be presented:
1. Passport and Visa
2. Photocopy of lodging permit (we don’t accept either permits from friends or girlfriends house, unless legally married.)
3. Stamps for the following value: (Buy stamps in the Bank at 23d and P streets)
--40 CUC for one month
--40 CUC plus 25 CUC for two months and 40 CUC plus (25 +25) for three
--40 CUC in addition to10 CUC for more than three months
4. For more than three months, 4 1 X 1 photos for identification card.
5. Photocopy of the departure flight ticket.
6. Copy of the accommodation payment receipt from where you stay in Cuba
For temporary permission to travel out of Cuba, inform the department 20 days in advance about the departure.
If you change your lodging, please inform the Department of International Relations of the University at the following address: Street J # 556, 25 / 27 Vedado.
Students from the US are not able to study longer than eight weeks without prior agreement between their school and the University of Havana.
For further information, contact <firstname.lastname@example.org>. Please inform her at least one week before classes of your intention to enroll.
UPDATE 11/1/16 The category to use while studying Spanish is the individual general license for people to people travel that relies completely on the travelers own judgement and integrity. It is the category to check on the form provided by the air carrier. No license application or report is required, but the traveler must retain records for five years substantiating a full time program of educational exchange activities. It is important that the purpose of study is conceived as a vehicle for engagement with the Cuban people, not for personal benefit. More information about the license is here http://tinyurl.com/P2Pindiv
An alternative for Americans who are registered in a US school is an authorizing letter from their college or university. Their school can determine how much credit and at what level based on its own testing after return.
US schools can also establish a direct relationship with the University of Havana if they want to create a language study program for a group of students.
This is covered by OFAC's general license guideline: “Participation in a formal course of study at a Cuban academic institution, provided the formal course of study in Cuba will be accepted for credit toward the student’s graduate or undergraduate degree”
Cuban Americans who want to improve their language skills can use their general license. Americans who are not students could come in a people to people group incorporating language study.
Conceivably the general license for religious organizations could also be used if knowledge of Spanish facilitates religious purposes and time outside of study is spent on religious activities. Language study could also arguably be for the purpose of enabling more effective professional research and fall within a visit using that general license. (My own opinion; not OFAC guidance.)
The simplest way is to enter Cuba is on a tourist visa via a commercial flight from the US or third country air carrier and upgrade to an academic visa after enrollment if you plan to study longer than four weeks.
Rooms are available in private bed and breakfasts and modest hotels near the university at $30 to $35 per night. Costs are less in the low season and may be negotiable for longer term stays. Meals and incidentals per day should be budgeted at $30 to $50. All visitors to Cuba are required to purchase health insurance, usually from the US airline.
Cuba/US People to People Partnership
64 Jean Court, Riverhead, NY 11901