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The flight from Miami to Cuba is less than one hour, and the small island nation hosts more than 3 million visitors a year. Now that the United States has indicated that it wants to relax the embargo restrictions that were imposed on Cuba more than half a century ago, traveling to Cuba is on the minds of many Americans. But these travel enthusiasts also want to know what to do about money and credit cards when traveling to Cuba.
Treasury Department Rules
The Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) of the US Department of the Treasury administers and enforces economic and trade sanctions based on US foreign policy. In the wake of President Obama’s recent initiative to resume diplomatic relations with Cuba, the OFAC announced that it will now issue travel permits within 12 categories. These permits, technically referred to as licenses, cover the following types of travel activity:
- Family visits
- Official business of the U.S. government, foreign governments, and certain intergovernmental organizations
- Journalistic activity
- Professional research and professional meetings
- Religious activities
- Public performances, clinics, workshops, athletic and other competitions, and exhibitions
- Support for the Cuban people
- Humanitarian projects
- Activities of certain private foundations or research or educational institutes
Credit and Debit Card Transactions
U.S. financial institutions are also now authorized to process credit and debit card transactions that occur in Cuba. However, because of the longstanding embargo, Cuba does not have the technology in place to accommodate the widespread use of credit or debit cards. As the tourism climate in Cuba is rapidly changing, it is likely that plastic will become a more viable means of payment in the near future. But until then, travelers will have to rely on cash while in Cuba.
Other Limitations and Considerations
Americans traveling to Cuba may return to the States with merchandise acquired in Cuba worth up to $400 per person, including no more than $100 worth of alcohol and tobacco products for personal use only. The State Department also allows insurance companies to issue travel insurance for U.S. citizens visiting Cuba.
The Cuban government maintains one of the strictest internet policies in the world, so you will probably have a tough time connecting with the outside world while you’re there. You can expect that you’ll have no cell phone reception, and if you need to access the internet, your best bet will be to purchase an internet card in one of the major hotels that allows you to connect to the WIFI for 1 hour. If you plan to visit Cuba, it is also wise to check the exchange rates for international currency beforehand because euros may get a higher exchange rate than US dollars.
Always Play it Safe
As I blogged about last year, financial institutions do not have to process credit card transactions in another country if they don’t want to, even if it is legal to do so. Many of them, for instance, routinely block transactions in other countries that they perceive as being high-risk areas for such things as credit card theft and bank account hacking. For that reason, it is always prudent to talk to your bank before you travel to ensure that your credit or debit cards will work in your particular destination. However, if you plan on visiting Cuba in the near future, chances are that your credit and debit cards won’t work anyways, so be sure to bring a generous amount of cash!