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Americans and Cuba Travel - the Facts, Resources, Related Experiences [only]

Old May 10, 2015, 9:31 am
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Last edit by: JDiver
WARNING: Trump speech in Miami today, June 16, 2017, announced (using the words "effective immediately") reinstatement of the tourist travel ban to Cuba. "Trump will re-impose the requirement that "people-to-people" travelers can only come to Cuba with heavily regulated tour groups. " for USA citizens and residents, that bans individual "self certified" travel to Cuba under the current OFAC 12 categories described below. That means (expensive) group travel for most, currently offered by travel and cruise companies (those will be allowed to continue).

US airlines will be allowed to continue to serve Cuba, but the new restrictions will mean most planning to travel individually will not be able to usevthese carriers (unless on authorized or licensed group travel).

Those groups with travel arrangements will probably have to make significant itinerary changes to conform with the policy's ban most American financial transactions with branches or businesses operated by the military-linked Armed Forces Business Enterprises Group (GAESA), a conglomerate involved in many economic sectors in Cuba - including many hotels, state-run restaurants and tour buses.

Trump's recalibration of policy will most immediately affect the latitude of U.S. citizens to travel to Cuba. Under Obama's relaxation of travel regulations, U.S. citizens could designate the purpose of their travel under one of 12 specific categories, which included the broadly defined "educational" travel and "people-to-people" travel. This "self-designation" mechanism contributed to a surge in travel over the last two years, with more than 600,000 tourists visiting the island in 2016.

But Trump's new restrictions eliminate the self-designation process, and according to the Treasury Department's Office of Foreign Assets Control, "will end individual people-to-people travel." Unless U.S. travelers qualify for one of the specialized categories of traveljournalism, religious work or academic research, for examplethey will have to travel with licensed tour groups and prove they spent all their time in Cuba doing people-to-people activities. The new directive empowers the Treasury Department to audit U.S. travelers and immigration officials will be able to demand records and journals from returning travelers to demonstrate they are in compliance with the new restrictions. Those who are not could face hefty government fines.

Under the new Trump regulations, those restrictions have been expanded to prohibit U.S. citizens from staying in, eating at, or spending any money at numerous state-owned hotels and other businesses that fall under the umbrella of Cuba's Business Enterprise Group (GAESA). GAESA, a conglomerate of economic entities controlled by the Cuban military, oversees up to 60 percent of the economic activity in Cuba. Besides hotels, GAESA controls restaurants, tourism buses and other economic and tourist-related agencies.

Trump's directive means that U.S. visitors will no longer be able to stay at some of Havana's most popular hotels, among them the elegant Saratoga favored by U.S. senators, governors and Congressional representatives who have visited Cuba over the last several years, and the Santa Isabel, where former President Jimmy Carter stayed during his two trips to the island. The five-star Gran Manzana Kempinski Havana Hotel that opened just last month also falls under the GAESA umbrella and will be off-limits to U.S. citizens. As a guide for future travelers, the State Department plans to publish a list of prohibited hotels and businesses they will now have to avoid. Link to source.
"WHEN DOES IT TAKE EFFECT?"

"The details of Trumps new policy remain unwritten. In a presidential directive he signed at the end of his speech, he ordered the Treasury and Commerce departments to draw up new regulations to replace elements of Obamas policy changes. White House officials said that actual changes remain months away." (Washington Post - link)

"The new realities of U.S. travel to Cuba will be determined by the regulations that federal agencies will produce as a result of the new policy. A presidential memorandum gives the government 90 days before it even starts to rewrite Cuba travel regulations, meaning it could be many months before it's clear what the change means for American travelers.

The Treasury Department said individuals who bought an airline ticket or rented a room or car before Trump's announcement could make additional travel-related purchases for that travel under the Obama policy, even if their trip to Cuba takes place after the new, stricter Trump regulations go into effect." (abc news - link)

Verify arrangements already made with your airline, travel provider, AirBnB, etc.

Please keep an eye on OFAC modifications, Cuba travel policies in the US etc. on the State Department site, etc. (see below). Once OFAC controls allow it, travel of U. S. tourists to Cuba will undoubtedly thrive.

Entry Requirements

Cuban officials now stamp all passports on entry and exit. The former practice of winking and stamping U.S. citizens in and out on a separate sheet of paper no longer takes place.

The Cuban Assets Control Regulations of the U.S. Treasury Department require that persons subject to U.S. jurisdiction obtain a Treasury license before engaging in any transaction related to travel to, from and within Cuba. Transactions related to tourist travel are not licensable. This restriction includes tourist travel to Cuba from or through a third country such as Mexico or Canada.

Additional information may be obtained by contacting the Licensing Division, Office of Foreign Assets Control, U.S. Department of the Treasury, 1500 Pennsylvania Avenue NW, Treasury Annex, Washington, DC 20220, telephone (202) 622-2480; fax (202) 622-1657, or via the web at Office of Foreign Assets Control.

For current information on Cuban entry and customs requirements, travelers may contact the Cuban Embassy, an office of the Cuban government, located at 2630 16th Street NW, Washington, DC 20009, telephone (202) 797-8518.
Further information, added 11 Jun 2016:

NOTE: When you arrive in the USA, DO declare Cuba on the U S Customs form 6059B. The USCBP officers generally do not care or give your travel to Cuba via Antigua or Cancn a second thought. But failing to disclose your travel to Cuba to a Federal agent? That's a violation of 18 U. S. Code 1001, commonly called "making false statements", a felony punishable by up to five years in Federal Prison. Nope, you wouldn't, but such an offense would jeopardize GE / APHIS / PreCheck, etc. and could certainly incur enhanced scrutiny on re-entering the USA or flying into / out of a U.S. airport.

18 U.S.C. 1001 link

NOTE: Travel to Cuba is still regulated (Jun 2016). American residents must meet one criterion of twelve categories of allowed travel to Cuba.

Tourist travel to Cuba is prohibited under U.S. law for U.S. citizens, permanent residents, and others subject to U.S. jurisdiction. (USDOS)
"Travel to Cuba for tourist activities remains prohibited by statute. There are, however, 12 categories of authorized travel. The Department of Treasury's Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) has issued general licenses in all 12 categories of authorized travel, subject to appropriate conditions. This means that individuals who meet the regulatory conditions of the respective general license they seek to travel under do not need to apply for a specific license from OFAC to travel to Cuba.

The 12 categories of authorized travel to Cuba are: family visits; official business of the U.S. government, foreign governments, and certain intergovernmental organizations; journalistic activity; professional research and professional meetings; educational activities; religious activities; public performances, clinics, workshops, athletic and other competitions, and exhibitions; support for the Cuban people; humanitarian projects; activities of private foundations or research or educational institutes; exportation, importation, or transmission of information or informational materials; and certain authorized export transactions.
"

U.S. Embassy, La Havana, Cuba (link)

Certain spend and other requirements must be met, in accord with regulations issued by the U. S. Treasury Department's Office of Foreign Assets Control (link to PDF), and the Cuba Assets Control Regulations of 16 Mar 2016, 31 CFR 515 (link to PDF).

timaticweb2 through United Airlines, 10 Jun 2016:

Summary (US Citizen or Resident traveling from USA to Cuba, return ticket and normal, current passport with at least two blank visa pages at hand)

Conditional, The traveler will need to hold travel documents as detailed below.

Type: Notice

Cuba - Destination Visa

Visa required.

The following are exempt from holding a visa:

Passengers with a Tourist Card (Tarjeta del Turista) issued to visitors traveling as tourists.

Additional information:

Tourist Cards (Tarjeta del Turista) must be obtained prior to arrival in Cuba and are available at:
- Cuban Embassies or Consulates;
- Authorized Airlines;
- Travel agencies.

Tourist Cards (Tarjeta del Turista) grant a max. stay of 30 days to nationals of USA, and extension of stay for additional 30 days.

The length of stay must be covered by USD 50.- (or equivalent in other convertible currency, in cash or traveller's cheques) per person per day, unless passenger has previously contracted the touristic activities with MINTUR in Cuba.

Important

Former nationals of Cuba who left Cuba before 1971 must hold passports endorsed "Habilitado" for HE-11.

All visitors are required to hold a travel insurance to cover their medical expenses while in Cuba. The travel insurance can be bought on arrival in Cuba, but it is recommended to have it before departure to Cuba. (Reasonable and easy to purchase on arrival. JD)

Added 1/18/2017 All passengers arriving on flights direct from the US are automatically covered by Asistur (Cuban insurance company) medical insurance for 30 days. The cost is bundled into the ticket cost.

These passengers are never asked to provide proof of medical insurance by Cuban immigration at airports as they are aware this has been standard for many years. However it is a different situation dealing with a medical service provider if you actually need to use the insurance or Cuban immigration at places other than the airport if you have reason to extend or change status of your travel visa.

There is an official Asistur one page document that states everyone arriving on a direct flight from the US has Asistur insurance for 30 days. This document, your boarding pass, and your passport will show that you have medical insurance. This document is not available anywhere on line. Nor is it available to passengers even though it should be. So I am providing it for download.

I would encourage anyone flying direct to Cuba from the US to download this one page document, print it out, and carry a copy with them.

http://www.bobmichaels.org/Asistur.pdf
End addition 1/18/2017

Neither visa exemptions nor Tourist Card (Tarjeta del Turista) facilities are applicable to those holding foreign passports stating Cuba as place of birth. They will be considered Cuban nationals, unless holding a document signed by the Cuban Ministry of Foreign Affairs, proving withdrawal of their Cuban citizenship.

Cuba - Destination Health

This information is for guide purposes only. Other health organisations may recommend alternative precautions.

Vaccinations not required
NOTE: US Citizens and Residents must possess a current passport with a minimum of two empty visa (not note) pages.

You must exchange US Dollars to CUC - Cuban Convertible Pesos in authorized locations, and are required to spend CUC in Cuba (not dollars). CUC are not exportable out of Cuba. (Hint: the writer of this wikipost had no trouble exchanging Euro at decent market rates and found Euro accepted in some locations due to the prevalence of European tourists in Cuba.) Some US credit card acceptance is said to occur now, but if so it's a recent change.

At the airport CADECA booth you can change the last of your CUCs. Or you can buy duty-free items or books etc. sold from the government propaganda shop to spend the last of your CUCs.

Please read the extensive U.S. Department of State information regarding Cuba if you are a U.S. Citizen or Resident. Link.

US airlines begin commercial USA - Cuba flights by September 2016

In March, the USDOT accepted airline applications wishing to offer non-charter commercial flights between the USA and Cuba. On June 10, 2016 USDOT issued an order for six US airlines to operate flights between the USA and Cuba, to begin September 2016 HAV / La Habana flight orders to come this summer.)

Source links:

Yahoo! Finance (Link).

USA Today (link): "WASHINGTON Six U.S. airlines were approved to begin the first scheduled flights to Cuba in more than 50 years, the Transportation Department announced Friday.

The airlines were approved to fly from five U.S. cities to nine Cuban cities other than Havana. But the department is still considering which airlines will get a combined 20 daily flights to the capital out of 60 proposals, which will be announced later this summer..."

Reuters: (link) "American (AAL.O) will have nonstop service from Miami, the largest Cuban community in the United States; Southwest (LUV.N), JetBlue (JBLU.O) and Silver Airways will fly from nearby Fort Lauderdale; Frontier will add flights from Chicago and Philadelphia; and Sun Country will serve Minneapolis."

(AA, Delta, Sun Country and others have been serving Cuba with charter flights operated for CTS / Cuba Travel Services for over 25 years.)

Updated 11 Jun 2016 - JDiver
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Americans and Cuba Travel - the Facts, Resources, Related Experiences [only]

Old Jan 13, 2014, 9:33 pm
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Originally Posted by dhuey
The applicable question reads: "Countries visited on this trip prior to U.S. arrival". It does not ask you to state all of the countries you visited, nor does it ask you to affirm that no counties you visited are omitted.
But that seems a very lawerly parsing of the question. We all know they are asking for every country one visited on their trip. Come on.

Isn't the whole point here that thousands of Americans travel to Cuba through third countries every year and get by with it? They are not prosecuted. They are not even discovered. That doesn't mean that there isn't some risk. It's up to the individual traveler to decide if that risk is worth it. Apparently, thousands do. I must be the only American I know in Costa Rica who hasn't traveled to Cuba, but I want to be the first one in my circle to make a licensed trip there.
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Old Jan 13, 2014, 11:25 pm
  #32  
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Originally Posted by SJOGuy
But that seems a very lawerly parsing of the question. We all know they are asking for every country one visited on their trip. Come on.
We all know that's what the government probably meant to ask. But that's not what the government did ask in this form. All such ambiguities are resolved against the government when we're talking about criminal statutes and criminal prosecutions.
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Old Jan 26, 2014, 9:40 am
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Americans and Cuba Travel - the Facts, Resources, Related Experiences [only]

I'm an American expat living in Canada. My wife (she is Canadian) and I are flying to Holguin this week for her brother's wedding, returning to Canada next week. I am the only American attending the wedding and I'm getting a little paranoid reading some things on this board and elsewhere.

I guess my only real concern is getting my passport (USA) stamped or upon entry into Cuba, Cuban Customs having a problem with my American passport among a plane full of Canadians'. I read further up that Cuban policy is to specifically avoid stamping US passports; this is comforting.

I shouldn't have to worry about completing a US immigration card b/c I'm not returning to the US until probably late February for business.

Any advice to ease my concerns or warnings to reaffirm my paranoia would be most appreciated.
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Old Jan 26, 2014, 9:29 pm
  #34  
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As I mentioned previously, this is policy - but my wife and I both got two exit stamps on two different pages of our US passports in late November 2013.

The quite noticeable 9 cm wide, 2.5 cm high square exit stamp is scarlet, and the header says "REPUBLICA DE CUBA", the footer "JOSE MARTI" and a date in between, with the agent number (168) in upper left and lower right corner.

Nobody said anything, they just stamped; I don't know if others with US passports were getting these exit stamps or not. I have no idea why the woman behind the immigration counter gave us (and two on different pages, seemed to me she was conveying some kind of message, probably not sanctioned by the Cuban Secretara de Relaciones Exteriores), and being licensed I wasn't worried - other than when getting our passports renewed, which we did this month.

I annotated each Cuban exit stamp with the OFAC license number before sending them in to the Passport Agency (we had no problems other than the atrocious reproduction of our photographs - hardly any contrast and very high key, so much you can't really tell we have ears other than outlines or hair color).

The chances you will somehow be held accountable by the US authorities are probably minimal, but it's a risk factor you have to analyze and make an informed decision about.

Enjoy - the wedding will undoubtedly be a huge blowout event!

Originally Posted by JD3030
I'm an American expat living in Canada. My wife (she is Canadian) and I are flying to Holguin this week for her brother's wedding, returning to Canada next week. I am the only American attending the wedding and I'm getting a little paranoid reading some things on this board and elsewhere.

I guess my only real concern is getting my passport (USA) stamped or upon entry into Cuba, Cuban Customs having a problem with my American passport among a plane full of Canadians'. I read further up that Cuban policy is to specifically avoid stamping US passports; this is comforting.

I shouldn't have to worry about completing a US immigration card b/c I'm not returning to the US until probably late February for business.

Any advice to ease my concerns or warnings to reaffirm my paranoia would be most appreciated.
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Old Jan 27, 2014, 9:24 pm
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Americans and Cuba Travel - the Facts, Resources, Related Experiences [only]

Would it be worthwhile to ask the Cuban border agent not to stamp my passport? Or could this trigger concern?
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Old Jan 28, 2014, 12:44 am
  #36  
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AFAIK, they are NOT SUPPOSED to stamp your passport, entering or departing. They usually (as indicated in the OP) stamp the paper form you are issued as a "tourist visa" alone. If you think someone is making a move to stamp, indeed, do ask they not do that. (In my case, nobody asked, the woman, "immigration agent 168" at Jos Mart International Airport, just did it without asking or anything.

Documentation required: American citizens traveling to Cuba are required to have a passport valid for six months beyond the completion of travel in Cuba. Non-citizen U S residents are required to have a current passport of their citizenship country and a residency or alien (Green") card to prove legal residency on their return to the US.

The Cuban government requires visitors to have a Cuba Visa AKA Cuba Visitor's Visa. Cuban authorities will collect half of this two-part visa document when you arrive; you are required to keep the second half and return it on departure. Additionally, a departure fee of CUC 25 is required; if you are traveling with a group, it may be included with your fees.

You may be asked for your identity papers by uniformed personnel at any time, though it has been reported more frequently among people of color, particularly African-Americans. IMO, leave the passport in the safe deposit box in your hotel, etc. and carry a photocopy of the identification pages.

and

Upon arrival airport in Cuba, usually Jos Mart International / HAV, you will have to fill out and turn in three documents: one a general health information questionnaire (you will be required to have health insurance for Cuba, it's mandatory); two, both sides (left and right) of the Cuban visa document, and three, a Customs declaration (which may not be requested). Your carry-on will be checked prior to baggage recovery and Customs (they are looking for illegal items: pornography, satellite communications gear (e.g. satphones), arms and ammunition, products of animal or vegetal origin, other comm gear including CB radios or walkie-talkies.

Originally Posted by JD3030
Would it be worthwhile to ask the Cuban border agent not to stamp my passport? Or could this trigger concern?
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Old Jan 28, 2014, 5:39 am
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Americans and Cuba Travel - the Facts, Resources, Related Experiences [only]

JDiver, thanks for putting all this information together and responding to my questions. I will report back when I get home.
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Old Feb 2, 2014, 4:49 pm
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The difference with your situation, JDiver, is that you went on a licensed trip. You have nothing to conceal.
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Old Feb 2, 2014, 5:48 pm
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Exactly. Those not on a licensed trip need to make a risk assessment and make an informed choice - and hopefully they will not have arrivals or departure stamps entered into their passport as I did.

I suspect Cuban immigration agents are not supposed to, and the woman did so with some hidden agenda or upset toward US passport holders - and "erasing" such a stamp from a passport is virtually impossible without anything showing at some level.

did
Originally Posted by SJOGuy
The difference with your situation, JDiver, is that you went on a licensed trip. You have nothing to conceal.
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Old Feb 7, 2014, 4:51 am
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Americans and Cuba Travel - the Facts, Resources, Related Experiences [only]

I just returned from a wonderful 7 day trip to Cuba. Again, I'm an American expat living in Canada. I traveled through the "back door" and arrived with a plane full of friendly Canadians (even though about half of the plane was from Quebec... only kidding, they're also quite friendly).

Upon entry and exit at the airport in Cuba my passport was not stamped. I was only asked if I live in Canada by a Cuban border control officer, not sure if this was his own personal interest or something they're encouraged to ask. But all together everything went smoothly. Also no hiccups crossing back into Canada. Between my wife and I we declared over $800 of goods, mostly Cigars (about 80). Now I just need to get a humidor to keep these babies fresh.

A new question: I have a business trip to the US next week followed by a long weekend with some friends before retuning back to Canada. I have Global Entry which I plan to use upon entry into the US. Is there any chance I might get tagged at the GE kiosk for my trip to Cuba? I'd like to bring a handful of Cubans back to share with my buddies but that might be too much to risk at this point.

In addition, I recently applied for Nexus and was conditionally approved for an interview (applied before going to Cuba). Planning to schedule this interview on my return flight to Canada in 2 weeks.
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Old Feb 7, 2014, 12:32 pm
  #41  
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Originally Posted by JD3030
Is there any chance I might get tagged at the GE kiosk for my trip to Cuba?
Possible, but quite unlikely. Since Obama took office, OFAC has essentially stopped pursuing penalties for unlicensed travel to Cuba. See http://www.fas.org/sgp/crs/row/RL31139.pdf (p. 22). It's hard to see why they would go to the effort of tagging unlicensed visitors when they aren't pursuing penalties.

Still, your cigars are contraband. You're rolling the dice with those.

Last edited by dhuey; Dec 19, 2014 at 11:09 am
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Old Feb 9, 2014, 6:34 pm
  #42  
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I agree with dhuey - and cigars, well, those re invitations to confiscation at this time. CDs, DVDs, posters, books, art, etc. are fine; rum, cigars - no dice. And certainly, if I chose to make the attempt, I would not lie about possessing these - especially if one has Global Entry or the like.

It is possible you could get a curmudgeonly CBP agent with political beliefs who could choose to be nasty - I have seen this over the years, whether it is about Cuba or something else. I think that's the equivalent of what I got in Cuba, and why I got exit stamps in my US passport.

Last edited by JDiver; Jun 11, 2016 at 3:45 pm
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Old Feb 10, 2014, 12:34 pm
  #43  
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Originally Posted by JDiver
And certainly, if I chose to make the attempt, I would not lie about possessing these - especially if one has Global Entry or the like.
Indeed, lying to a law enforcement officer, border agent, or any public official is a really big deal. You mentioned Martha Stewart, upthread. Indeed, had she just kept her mouth shut, it's highly unlikely she ever would have been convicted of anything. She thought she was talking her way out of something, but in fact she talked herself into an obstruction of justice conviction. Ironically, she was never convicted of insider trading, which was the focus of the investigation.

I would never counsel someone to import Cuban cigars unlawfully, but I would emphatically discourage anyone from lying about possessing such contraband if asked by a CBP agent. Don't risk turning a very little problem into a big one.
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Old Feb 16, 2014, 1:53 pm
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Originally Posted by dhuey
Indeed, lying to a law enforcement officer, border agent, or any public official is a really big deal. You mentioned Martha Stewart, upthread. Indeed, had she just kept her mouth shut, it's highly unlikely she ever would have been convicted of anything. She thought she was talking her way out of something, but in fact she talked herself into an obstruction of justice conviction. Ironically, she was never convicted of insider trading, which was the focus of the investigation.

I would never counsel someone to import Cuban cigars unlawfully, but I would emphatically discourage anyone from lying about possessing such contraband if asked by a CBP agent. Don't risk turning a very little problem into a big one.
Agree. The only real issue when returning from Cuba is carrying contraband though I've heard this is not such a big deal in Miami anymore. The one time I was pulled over at a US airport was when I had cigars. Luckily I had a Specific License at the time that allowed $100 worth of booze or cigars. The reason they did that was probably because of the stamp that Cuban Immigration used to put on Page 16 of the US passport, but perhaps they were able to sniff out the cigars.
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Old Mar 16, 2014, 10:40 am
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I just returned from a week and a half in Cuba, as a non-resident US Citizen traveling from Germany via Canada to VRA on a US passport.

Unlike most of the other posters to the thread, I flew into Varadero. Upon presentation of my US passport to the doors at immigration, was turned away for a fairly thorough secondary screening with questions about my visit to Cuba. The questioning took place in the main arrivals hall, and was conducted by three uniformed immigration officers in Spanish. The hall was half full when I was pulled back, and the questioning took about 15 minutes. By the time I was finished, the hall was mostly empty. One of the immigration agents copied my passport details, and took fairly detailed notes, while the other two asked questions.

The questions were:

-Where were you born?
-Are you a German citizen as well?
-Why do you live in Germany?
-How long have you lived in Germany?
-Why did you not take a direct flight from Germany?
-What were you doing in Canada?
-Where did you learn Spanish?
-What is your occupation in Germany?
-What company do you work for?
-Where did you live in the United States?
-What company did you work for in the United States?
-What are you doing in Cuba?
-Where will you be staying in Varadero (and later in Havana)?

I had printed reservations of my hotel, casa particular, (German) insurance, return tickets, and showed them at various times to the immigration officers.

Overall, the order of the questions seemed somewhat haphazard, and not very structured. My feeling was that I was being evaluated on my perceived honesty than the actual answers to the questions.

As a side note, for anyone considering going to Cuba, go before it's too late. The Cubans walking around in Central Havana with brand-new, bright yellow, Nike shoes and Lacoste shirts in state-run commodities stores, alongside their compaeros who aren't as lucky is an outstanding contrast to see. The number of Geeley and Lada cars, alongside the occasional modern E-Class Mercedes or Audi A4s is unforgettable.

I did not have an OFAC license for this visit. When entering the US, I have Global Entry, so don't speak to an immigrations officer. Since I'm a non-US resident, I always leave the "Countries visited on this trip prior to US arrival" blank on the customs declaration form.
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