Cuba is a developing country under the communist rule of Fidel Castro. The United States has no direct diplomatic relations with Cuba.
The Cuban Assets Control Regulations of the U.S. Treasury Department require that persons subject to U.S. jurisdiction have a license to engage in any transactions related to travel to, from and within Cuba. Transactions related to tourist and business travel are not licensable. This restriction includes tourist or business travel from or through a third country such as Mexico or Canada.
Transactions are authorized by general license for U.S. and foreign government officials traveling on official business, including representatives of international organizations of which the U.S. is a member; journalists regularly employed by a news reporting organization; and persons making a once-a-year visit to close family relatives in circumstances of humanitarian need. The Treasury Department considers specific licenses on a case-by-case basis for other humanitarian travel, telecommunications activities, educational exchanges, and for travel in connection with professional research and similar activities. Additional information may be obtained by contacting the Licensing Division, Office of Foreign Assets Control, U.S. Department of The Treasury, 1500 Pennsylvania Avenue, N.W., Treasury Annex, Washington, D.C. 20220, telephone (202) 622-2480; fax (202) 622-1657. Information is also available by fax at (202) 622-0077 from a touch-tone or fax machine telephone. Internet users can log on to the web site through http://www.treas.gov/ofac/. Failure to comply with these regulations may result in civil penalties and criminal prosecution upon return to the United States.
Should a traveler receive a license, a passport and visa are required for entry to Cuba. For current information on Cuban entry and customs requirements, travelers may contact the Cuban Interests Section, an office of the Cuban Government, located at 2630 16th Street, N.W., Washington, D.C. 20009, telephone (202) 797-8518.
Cuban authorities strictly control entry into and exit from Cuba. Unlike many countries in the Caribbean, Cuba requires a valid passport for entry. Proof of citizenship other than a valid U.S. passport is not acceptable to Cuban authorities. Attempts to enter or exit Cuba illegally or to aid the illegal exit of Cuban nationals are punishable by jail terms.
Entering Cuban territory, territorial waters or airspace without prior authorization from the Cuban Government may result in arrest or other enforcement action by Cuban authorities for violation of Cuban law. Any vessel or aircraft that enters the 12-mile limit off Cuba would be inside Cuban territorial waters or airspace and thus subject to the jurisdiction of the Cuban Government. If persons enter Cuban territorial waters or airspace without prior permission, they may place themselves and others at serious personal risk.
On February 24, 1996, the Cuban military shot down two U.S.-registered civil aircraft in international airspace in violation of international aviation law. As a result of this action, the President declared a national emergency, invoking emergency authority relating to the regulation of the anchorage and movement of vessels, and the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) issued an "Emergency Cease and Desist Order and Statement of Policy" that allow for vigorous enforcement action against U.S.-registered aircraft that violate Cuban territorial airspace. Pursuant to an Executive Order issued after the 1996 incident, boaters must coordinate their travel plans to Cuba with the U.S. Coast Guard. Additional information is available through the FAA and the U.S. Coast Guard.
In recent years, a series of small bombs have been detonated in Havana hotels and nightspots frequented by foreign tourists. The explosive devices have been small, but they were potentially dangerous and in one case caused the death of one individual. While U.S. citizens have not been specifically targeted, caution should be exercised in public areas. Travelers should also be alert for unattended packages or bags in public areas.
The waters around Cuba can be dangerous to navigate. There have been at least eight shipwrecks since 1993 involving U.S. citizens. U.S. boaters who have encountered problems requiring repairs in Cuba have found repair services to be expensive and frequently not up to U.S. standards. The Government of Cuba often holds boats as collateral to assure payment for salvage and repair services provided. Transferring funds from the U.S. to pay for boat repairs in Cuba is often complicated due to the U.S. Treasury Department restrictions in place against the Government of Cuba. A Treasury license is needed to authorize such payments
There have been published and unpublished reports of an increase in crime against foreigners and Cubans. The reports include details about residential break-ins involving murder and theft. Tourists, Cuban nationals and visiting businessmen have all been victims of crime. These crimes have involved burglary, breaking and entering of a house or apartment, rape, assault, and murder of visitors, as well as petty theft and pick-pocketing. For up-to-date information, please contact the U.S. Interests Section of the Swiss Embassy in Havana.
Medical care does not meet U.S. standards. Many U.S. medications are unavailable. It is useful for travelers to Cuba to bring with them any prescribed medicine, which is for their personal use. A copy of the prescription and a letter from the physician explaining the need for prescription drugs facilitates entry into the country. U.S. medical insurance is not always valid outside the United States. Travelers have found that, in some cases, supplemental medical insurance with specific overseas coverage, including provision for medical evacuation has proved to be useful. Useful information on medical emergencies abroad, including overseas insurance programs, is provided in the Department of State, Bureau of Consular Affairs brochure, Medical Information for Americans Traveling Abroad, available via the Bureau of Consular Affairs home page at http://travel.state.gov and autofax service at (202) 647-3000.
In Cuba, traffic moves on the right. A national highway in fair condition runs the length of the island. In general, roads are poorly maintained in all parts of the country. Some dirt roads become impassable during the rainy season. Few roads or city streets are lighted, so night driving is not advised. Most Cuban cars are old and in poor repair, therefore, drivers should exercise extreme care. The abundance of bicycles, pedestrians, and occasional wandering farm animals on Cuban roads are additional reasons for driving defensively.
While in a foreign country, a U.S. citizen is subject to that country's laws and regulations, which sometimes differ significantly from those in the United States and may not afford the protections available to the individual under U.S. law. Persons violating Cuban laws, even unknowingly, may be expelled, arrested or imprisoned. Penalties for possession, use, or trafficking in illegal drugs in Cuba are strict, and convicted offenders can expect lengthy jail sentences and fines. Those accused of drug-related crimes and other crimes can expect lengthy legal proceedings and delayed due process.
On February 15, 1999, the Cuban Legislature unanimously approved the "Law of Protection of National Independence and the Cuban Economy," which contains a series of measures aimed at discouraging contact between U.S. and Cuban citizens. These new measures are aimed particularly at the press and media representatives, but may be used against any U.S. citizen coming into contact with a Cuban, due to the law’s vague language and exceptionally broad reach. The law provides for periods of incarceration of up to thirty years in aggravated cases. U.S. citizens traveling in Cuba should be aware that they may be subject to these extraordinary measures and that they may unwittingly cause the arrest and imprisonment of any Cuban they come in contact with.
S. citizens and residents traveling to Cuba under a general or specific license from the U.S. Treasury may spend money on travel in Cuba without obtaining special permission from the U.S. Treasury Department; such expenditures may only be for travel-related expenses at a rate not exceeding the U.S. Government’s per diem rate (currently $195 per day). U.S. Treasury Department regulations authorize any U.S. resident to send up to $300 per quarter to any Cuban family (except for families of senior government and Communist party leaders) without a specific license from the Office of Foreign Assets Control. Treasury Department regulations also authorize the transfer of up to $1,000 (without a specific license) to pay travel and other expenses for a Cuban national who has been granted a migration document by the U.S. Interests Section in Havana. For further information, travelers may contact the Office of Foreign Assets Control.
CREDIT CARD RESTRICTIONS: U.S. citizens and permanent resident aliens are prohibited from using credit cards in Cuba. U.S. credit card companies do not accept vouchers from Cuba, and Cuban shops, hotels and other places of business do not accept U.S. credit cards. Neither personal checks nor travelers checks drawn on U.S. banks are accepted in Cuba.
CUBAN-BORN U.S. CITIZENS: The Government of Cuba considers virtually all Cuban-born U.S. citizens to be solely Cuban citizens. These individuals may be subject to a range of restrictions and obligations, including military service in Cuba. The Cuban Government does not recognize the right or obligation of the U.S. Government to protect U.S. citizens that the Cuban Government views as only Cuban citizens. The Government of Cuba has consistently denied U.S. consular officers the right to visit incarcerated U.S. citizens when Cuba regards them as its nationals. This includes attempts to ascertain information concerning their welfare and proper treatment under Cuban law. U.S. citizens whom Cuba may consider to be Cuban nationals are required by Cuban law to enter and depart Cuba using Cuban passports. Using a Cuban passport for this purpose does not jeopardize one’s U.S. citizenship; however, such persons must use their U.S. passports to enter and depart the U.S. and to transit any countries en-route
The U.S. does not maintain an embassy in Cuba. U.S. citizens who travel to Cuba may contact and register with the U.S. Interests Section of the Swiss Embassy, located in Havana at Calzada between L&M, Vedado; telephone (537) 33-4401 through 33-4403. Hours are Monday-Friday, except Cuban and American holidays, 8:30 a.m. to 5:00 p.m.
There is no access to the U.S. Naval Base at Guantanamo Bay from within Cuba. U.S. citizens who register at the U.S. Interests Section in Havana may obtain updated information on travel and security within the country. Transportation and communication within Cuba, including Havana, can be extremely difficult. Telephone service within Cuba is poor. It may therefore be difficult for the U.S. Interests Section in Havana to assist distressed U.S. citizens, should an emergency arise.