Traveling in Cuba can be one of those life transforming experiences. Here we present some practical information to help make that a reality. If you are not subject to US law, skip this next section.
For US Citizens or Residents - US Law
To go to Cuba legally, even if you are not a US citizen but a resident, however temporary, you need a Treasury license, which you obtain from OFAC, Treasury's Office of Foreign Assets Control. If you are Cuban-American or married to one, you can go to Cuba once a year under a "general license" for humanitarian reasons (grave illness in the family, etc) and you need only to notify he Cuban government via a form, but you do not need to get a license from them before leaving. If you are a "U.S. or foreign government official traveling on official business, including a representative of international organizations of which the U.S. is a member; or a journalist regularly employed by a news reporting organization," you also qualify for this "general license." Otherwise you need to get a license from OFAC to avoid being at risk for large fines. Check it out for yourselfat the following site. http://travel.state.gov/cuba.html
There are a surprising number of categories which qualify for a treasury license: full time students, musicians, dancers, anyone going to Cuba for professional reasons, journalists, and so on.The treasury tends to encourage group travel and frowns on individual researchers.
In all the years of the travel restrictions, very few people have been prosecuted. The Office of Foreign Assets Control in the Treasury Department recently said there have been only 16 criminal prosecutions for nine violations since 1983. Nine of the cases have been in the past three years.
Many folks have gone to Cuba openly without a license. The penalties on record are stiff: $750,000 fine and up to 10 years in jail, but until failry recently fines have been minimal.
A disturbing trend began in '97 and continues : high fines for persons unfortunate enough to be caught without a license, typically when they go through customs with Cuban products they are bringing back, but sometimes through more mysterious means. Fines, which in '97 averaged around $1,000, are now going up to $6,000 and $7,000 and in one case to $30,000! Traveler, beware! The situation has gotten to the point where people are getting together to create a legal defense organization to defend the right to travel.
Note that Cuban Americans and Americans who are married to Cubans have a general humanitarian license to go down once a year in case of a grave problem such as a serious illness in the family. This license, unlike other licenses, is not one the recipient actually needs to apply for and have physically in hand, though they are responsible for notifying the Treasury of their departure through a Treasury form.
Others who need to apply for a license should be warned.Licenses may not come or may come too late for travel if you don't give yourself plenty of lead time, and put in for a date ahead of the one you need. Also note a recent disturbing trend of denying more of these licenses than has been the case in the past, possibly due to pressure from the Miami Cubans, who are incensed when Americans travel to Cuba.
We do not recommend going through the Bahamas. US Customs there have been known to confiscate religious objects. When you travel via Cancun, you pass customs in the U.S. Via Canada, you pass US customs in Canada, but they are more civilized. Do not bring cigars back, they are very illegal... and if you've been bad and have asked the Cubans and the Mexicans not to stamp your passport (bribing the Mexicans $20), then be sure to tell the truth if the customs agent asks you where you've been. Note: you have to ask both the Cubans and the Mexicans to do this or they will stamp the passport. It is a worse sin (a felony) to lie to a federal officer than to go to Cuba without a licence.
Excess baggage: the regulations on this vary from airline to airline. Generally, anything over 44 pounds (20 kg) is considered excess. Cubana is among the strictest, and will even refuse to take on excess bags or charge $7 a pound. Mexicana is among the most generous, charging only $1 a pound.
Tourist visas for anyone, American or not, as long as you were not born in Cuba, are easy to obtain and come as a part of your travel package when you buy your ticket. Visas for journalists and researchers declared as such are a separate matter and require an application to the Cuban Consulate in your country (Washington, DC for the US). Cuban Americans born in Cuba also need to get special permission as they are viewed with somewhat more suspicion.
Be sure to understand some essentials of Cuban law. You will need to have a hotel room or private accomodation arranged in Cuba before you get there, or at least have one to declare to Imigracion when you arrive. Cuban citizens can be fined $1,000 (a fortune in Cuba) for having a foreigner as an overnight guest if they themselves don't get permission from imigration or pay $100/month or more for a license to do this on a commerical basis (ALL ROOMS OFFERED THROUGH HAVANAROOMS ARE LICENSED FOR RENTAL). This fine can be doubled if not paid in 30 days, after which they go to jail at the rate of $1/day. Cubans can get permission to have a foreign friend stay at their house, but this requires them to declare you at imigration and you will need to go to present your passport. As of spring '99, this procedure has been simplified and anyone can have a foreign guest by paying for a $50 stamp ahead of time with imigration, which gives one permission to have a foreign guest for a predetermined stay.
Once in Cuba, be aware that some Cubans are eager to hustle you and that this can be severely punished - prostitution can get the woman 5 years in jail and, under the new laws, 20 years or more for the pimp. There is a crackdown under way and all kinds of informal street vending is being punished by fines and jail time. Ordinary Cubans walking the streets with foreigners are automatically subject to a check of ID papers to the point where many Cubans refuse to walk with foreigners as they could be fined if their papers are not in order.
In general, Cuban police lean over backwards not to molest tourists since they are dependent on tourism for income.
Personal security on the island is in general quite good. Until recently, crime was little known. That is changing with the continued economic hard times and we have seen a rise in crime in certain areas such as Old Havana (Habana Vieja) and parts of Santiago, where purse snatchings and muggings have been common. Because of this, there is now extra vigilance by the police who have taken to asking for IDs a lot more frequently and crime has gone down. Such ID checks are common in tourist and high visibility areas such as the Malecon along the Havana shore. It is less common in non-tourist areas. There are recent changes in the penal code which drastically increase prison sentences, though prisoners are eligible for parole after serving half of their sentences unlike, say in the US where parole is increasingly not part of the picture. A Cuban can get a jail sentence of up to 70 years for fighting with or attacking a tourist. Even so, best to consult local Cubans on which are the safe areas and which are not. However, with the recent crackdown, people report foreigners feel they can walk the streets again...
The level of crime even in the worst places is probably not comparable to US levels, though hard numbers are not easy to come by. Many Cubans are in fact supportive of the current crackdown as there is a tremendous personal fear triggered by a few murders. They have nothing to compare this to, and are unaware that their murder rate is far, far less than what can be experienced in any major U.S. city.
Credit cards, including Visa/MasterCard, and travelers' checks are recognized in Cuba so long as they are not from a US bank. The US dollar is recognized everywhere and travellers need not change into pesos. Some have reported that US based CityBank traveller's checks work but American Express definitely does not. Perhaps this is a result of some past dispute.
Since no US based travelers' checks or credit cards can be accepted, US travelers either pay in cash or use alternatives from third party countries. One easy to establish Canadian card is Transcard, a debit card where you can deposit funds before your trip, even if you do not live in Canada. And, if you travel through a third country, you can buy travelers' checks there, such as Thomas Cook checks, before getting into Cuba, and they will be recognized in Cuba.
Western Union: $30 to send any amount up to $300 and that only once every 3 months.
TransCard: a Canadian firm with better rates: from $50 to $250, $12.69 fee; from $250 to $500, $16.90 fee. Check out their web site at http://www.transcardinter.com. The recipent in Cuba, including any Cuban citizen, gets a plastic debit card which can be fed in Canada via money order, wire transfers, bank checks, etc. That debit card is recognized in Cuba at many banks for cash withdrawals and merchants for direct purchases. This is the fastest way to work the transfer once you have a card set up for someone, which can take up to 2 weeks, especially outside of Havana. 905 305 7703.
Antillas Express: delivers money, food, and medicine to the door of anyone you choose, anywhere in Cuba. Money has to be sent via money order or cashiers check. They charge 8% per $100. Food & medicine can be handled in two ways: First, they have catalogue which they will send to you free of charge and you can pick out items to send. You can also send your own items, either way the cost is $10 per/lb to Havana & $13 per/lb outside of Havana and it will take from 1-2 weeks. Types of foods: (non-perishables) grains in plastic, powdered items (milk/formula), canned food etc... NO CLOTHING!!!
The firm claims to deliver the amount, to the door, anywhere in Cuba in 1-2 days, but it is safer to assume a 1 to 2 week period especially outside of Havana. Note: Primarily, they speak spanish, but if you ask for an english speaker it's no problem, another plus is that they are open very late.
9632 Charton Ave
Montreal, Canada H2B2C5
Cuban Interests Section: Washington, DC: a little piece of Havana
in DC! 202 797-8518 and 8519
For the consulate: 202 797-8609, 8610 (frequently busy)
For travel to Cuba, the visa is given by the travel agency/tour operator. Only Cuban Americans, journalists and researchers need to clear their visas through the Cuban Interests Section.
Treasury Department, Office of Foreign Assets Control (FAC)
State Department, Cuba Desk: 202 647-4000
US Interests Section, Havana: 011 53 7 33.35.50 through 59
011 53 7 33.37.00 fax
State Department Travel info on Cuba
Changes in US licensing rules - 5/12/99
Treasury regulations made public May 12, 1999 (www.treas.gov/ofac) state that:
* Universities and nongovernmental organizations in the United States can apply for two-year permits for travel to Cuba, to be used by any member.
* Academic researchers enrolled in degree-granting institutions can travel to Cuba without prior U.S. approval, but may be asked to provide proof of their work when they return.
* The amount that U.S. visitors to Cuba can spend per day is increased from $100 to $185.
* Anyone in the United States, not just Cuban exiles, is allowed to remit up to $300 every three months to friends or relatives on the island, but not to senior Cuban government or party officials. U.S. groups, now banned from sending money, can seek special permission to send money to groups or individuals in Cuba.
* A regulation requiring Cuban exiles to have "an extreme humanitarian need" to qualify for travel to Cuba has been amended to remove the word extreme.
* The process for approving nonimmigrant U.S. visas for Cubans on cultural or scientific exchanges has been significantly quickened.
For further info, consult: www.treas.gov/ofac
State Department Site
To help Americans understand the rules and regulations governing travel to Cuba, the U.S. embargo against the island and other issues, the State Department has unveiled a special Web site, reports The Associated Press.
The Web site address is: http://www.state.gov/www/regions/wha/cuba/index.html
For the first time since the early 1960s, there are now direct passenger flights between New York and Cuba which started Friday Dec 17, 1999. The flights by Marazul Charters go from Kennedy Airport to Havana.
The following companies offer tours and travels to Cuba. Ask them for roundtrip tickets to Cuba. I will try to include their web sites as soon as I find them.
Guamatur: Paraguay #610, Buenos Aires, tel. 312-0503, fax 311-0509.
Holland Travel: Corrientes #753, Buenos Aires, tel. 322-4725,
fax (541 ) 311-05079.
Pegasus: Seilergasse i 6, 1010 Vienna, tel. 515450.
Havanatur Nassau: West Hill St., P.O. Box 10246, Nassau, tel. 322-2796, fax 328-7980.
Havanatour Benelux: Rue van Arteveldestraat 46, 1000 Brussels,
tel. 250-20700, fax 250-23475.
Cubanacón do Brasil: Edifico Italia 21 Andar, Conjuto 212-A,
Sao Paulo, tel. (11 ) 2596712.
Cubanacán Tours: 1255 Université, Suite 211, Montreal, Quebec
H3B 3B2, tel. 861-4444.
Cubanacán Canada International: 372 Bay St., Suite 406, Toronto,
tel. (416) 601-0343, fax (416) 601- 0346.
Hola Sun Holidays: 146 W. Beaver Creek Rd., Richmond Hill, Ontario L4B 1C2, tel. 882-9445, fax 882- 5184.
Magna Tours: 61 Alness St., Suite 203, Downview, Toronto, Ontario M3J 2H2, tel. (416) 665-7330, fax (416) 665-8448.
Guamatur Chlle: Moneda 812 OF 1101, Santiago, tel. 383725.
Caribe Representaciones: Calle 19 #4-74, 2101 Bogot, tel. 284-0162,
COSTA RICA Tikal Tours Apdo. 6398, San José 1000,
tel. (506) 223-2811, fax (506) 223-1916
Emely Tours: Calle San Rco. de Macoris #58, Santo Domingo,
tel. (809) 687-7114.
Cubatravel: 11 S. Anne St., Dublin 2, tel. (01 ) 713422.
Havanatur: 24 Rue Ouatre, Septembre 75002, Paris, tel. (1) 47-42-5858, fax (1 ) 42-65-1 B01
Air Conti: Neuhauser Str 34, D-8000 Munich, tel. 089-55179,
Aquarius: Oberanger 36, D-8000 Munich, tel. 89-269065,
Avione: Sternwaldstrasse 26, postach 1430, D-7800 Frieburg,
Caribbean Tours: Hamburger Strasse 131/8 O.G. 200, Hamburg 76,
Intratours: Faszinnationsreisen GMBH, Eiserne Hand no. 19, Frankfurt, tel. 597-0011.
IT Reisen: Habsburgerring 818-20, 500 Koln 1 , tel. 221-256572,
Nautilus Tours: Feilitzcstrasse 24-D-8000, Munich 40, tel. (089) 333091.
Tropícana Tourístík: Berlínerstrasse 161/100, Berlín 31,
tel. (030) 8537041, fax 8534070.
TTW: Grosse Spülingsgasse 15, 6000 Frankfurt M60, tel. 69-468091,
Wessel Tours: Walter Kolb Strasse 9/11, D-6000 Frankfurt M70,
Viajes Espacio: Edif. El Triángulo, Oficina A-X, 7ma Avenida 6-53, Zona 4, Guatemala, tel. 316722.
Cubanacán Italia: Via Fabio Filzi, 33, 20124, Milano,
tel. (39-2) 6671-1219, fax (39-2) 6671-0839)
Havanatur Italia: tel. (3911 ) 669-0632, fax (3911 ) 650-4608
Caribian Vacations: 69 Gloucester Ave., Montego Say,
tel. (809) 952-5013, fax (809) 952-0981
InterCaribe: 111/2 Ardenne Rd., Kingston 10, tel. (809) 929-7865,
fax (809) 926-6607
Kyoei Havanatur: Sanno Grand Bidg., 14-2-2 Chome, Nagata-Cho, Chiyoda-ku, Tokyo, tel. (03) 3581- 7451,fax(03)3581-4725.
Cubanatours: Baja California 255, Edif. B, Despacho 103 Colonia, Hipódromo Condesa, Mexico D.F., tel. 574-4921.
Havanatur Mérída: Calie 60 #448 e/ 49 y 51, Dpto. 113, Col Centro, Mérída.
Taino Tours: tel. 52-5-559-3907, fax 52-5-559-3951
Viajes Divermex: Av. Coba #5, Centro Comercial Plaza América, Local B-6 Quintana Room, tel. 52-988-75487
Viñales Tours: Oaxaca B0, Colonia Roma, México D.F., tel. 208-9900.
Viñales Tours: Av. López Mateos Nte. 1038-9, Plaza Florencia
CP 44680, Guadalajara, tel. 419347.
Cubanacán International BV: Visseringlaa 20 2288. ER Rijswijk, Netherlands. tel. (31-70) 390-5152, fax (31-70) 319-3452.
Serviajes: Km. 4, Carretera Masay, Apto. 2910, Managua, tei. 671894, fax 670387.
Atlantis Tours: Edif. Malina, Local No. 3, P. Baja, Ap. Postal 55-2173, Paitilla, tel. (507) 64-4466, fax (507)64-8370.
Guamatour: Centro Comercial, Bal-Harbour, Punta Paitilla,
Prestige: R. Pascoal de Melo, 133-1 ° esq., tel. (3) 525513,
fax (3) 540961.
Viajes Antillas: Arzuaga #201, Río Piedra, tel. (809) 763-7280.
Mar Cuba: Petrovka 15 #22, 103031 Moscú, tel. (095) 208-1033,
fax (095) 921-7698.
Guama S.A.: Paseo de la Habana 28, Primero Izquierda, Madrid 28036, tel. 4-11-20-48, fax 4-11-34-47.
Baumeler Reisen: Zinggentorstrasse 1, Postfach CH-6002, Luzem,
tel. (041) 509900.
Imholz-Jelmoli: Birmensdorferstrasse 106, Posttach, CH-8036, Zürich, tel. (01 ) 462-6240.
Ideal Tours: Centro Capriles P.V., Locales 10 y 11, Plaza Venezuela, Caraca 1050, tel. 781-9101.
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Berlin: Frankfurter Tor 8-A, 1034 Berlin, tel. 589-3409; Airport, tel. 678-8185
Bogotá: Carrera 14 #7920, Bogotá, tel. 621-0793, fax 621-0793
Brussels: Avenie Louise #272, BTEl, Brussels, tel. 640-2050, fax 640-0810
Buenos Aires: Sarmiento #552 e/ Florida y San Martin, tel. 326-5291 , fax 326-5294; Airport, tel. 620-0011
Cancún: Av. Yaxchilan #23, SM-24 M-22 retomo 3, e/ Nit-Cheaven y Tanchacte, Cancún, tel. 860192, fax 877373
Caracas: Av. Rómulo Gallegos con Primera, Edificio Pascal Torre B #133, Paios Grandes, Caracas, t~ 289-3548,fax 285-6313
Cologne: Flughafen Kolh-Bonn Postfach 980213, 5000 Koln, tel. 02203-402190
Frankfurt: An der Hauptwache 7, 60313 Frankfurt am Main, tel. 069-913-0980
Gander: Gander Airport, Canada, tel. 709-651-2489
Guayaqui : Centro Comercial Las Vitrinas, Local No.6l, Calle H La Kenedy, tel. 390727, fax 289911
Kingston: 22 Trafalgar Road #11, Kingston 10, tel. 978-3410, 978-3406
Las Palmas: Calle Galicia #29, Las Palmas, Gran Canaria, tel. (928) 272408, fax (928) 272419
Lima: Jiron Tarata #250, Miraflores, Lima 18, tel. 410554, fax 471363
London: 49 Conduit St., London W 1 R 9F8, tel. 171-734-1165, fax 171-437-0681
Madrid: Calle Princesa #25, Edificio Exágoñó; ~8008 Madrid, tel. 542-2923, fax 541-6642; Airport, te 205-8448
Mexico City: Temistocles #246 esq. Homera, Colonia Polanco C.P. 11550 Deleg. Manuel Hidalgo, Mexico D.F., tel. 255-3776, fax 255-0835; Airport, tel. 571-5368
Montevideo: Boulevar Artigas 1147 #504, Montevideo, Uruguay, tel. 481402
Montreal: 4 Place Ville Marie #405, Montreal, Ouebec H3B 2E7, tel. 514-B71-1222, fax 514-871-1227
Moscow: Karovit Val 7, Corpus 1 , Seccion 5, Moscow, tel. 237-1901, fax 237-8391; Airport, tel. 578-7650
Panama: Calle 29 y Av. Justo Arosemena No.4-14, tel. 507-227-2122 or 27-2291, fax 507-272-2241
Paris: Tour Maine Montparnasse, 33 Avenue de Maine, B.P. 171 , 75755 Paris Cedex 15, tel. 45383112, fax 4538-3110; Airport, tel. 4884-4060
Quito: Avenida de los Shyris y 6 de Diciembre, Edificio Torre Nova Oficina 1 A, Ouito, tel. 5939-2274
Rio de Janeiro: Rua Teofilo Otono 81, CJ 901, CEP 20080, Rio de Janeiro, tel. 021-233-0960
Rome: Via Barberini 86, 4 Piano, Rome, tel. 474-1104, fax 474-6836
San José: De Canal 7, Carretera á Pavas, San José, tel. (506) 290-5095, fax 290-5101
Santiago de Chlle: Calle Fidel Oteiza 1971 #201, Providencia, Santiago de Chile, tel. 274-1819, fax 274-8207
Santo Domingo: Av. Tiradente esq. 27 de Febrero, Plaza Merengue, Local 209, tel. 809-227-2040; Airport,tel.809-549-0345
Sao Paulo: Rua da Consolacao 232, Conjunto 1009, Centro Sao Paulo, tel. 2144571, fax 255-8660
Toronto: Lester B. Pearson Airport, tel./fax 416-676-4723
Vienna: Vienna Intemational Airport, Flughafen Wien, Betriebsges MBH, Postfach 1, A-1300, Wien Flughafen, Austria C-206, tel. 71110 ext. 5671
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