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Cuba Slowly Opening to Travel

There are still restrictions, but once you get there you can load up on cigars.


New U.S.–Cuba travel regulations have made it easier for Americans to visit Cuba and spend money there than it has been for more than a half-century. But you’ll still have to jump through a few hoops.

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As in the past, Americans must travel to Cuba for one of 12 authorized purposes, including family visits, journalistic activities and humanitarian work. Under the new law, however, travelers no longer have to apply for a specialized license from Uncle Sam. Rather, indicating the purpose of your trip is as easy as signing an affidavit. “It’s essentially self-policing,” says Christopher P. Baker, a Cuba travel expert and author of the guidebook Moon Cuba. “If you believe you fall into one of those categories, you can check a box and go.”

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Once you get there, you’ll no longer be bound by the $179-per-day spending limit for Americans. And you may now bring back up to $400 in Cuban goods, including up to $100 worth of rum and cigars. U.S. credit card companies are getting in on the action; MasterCard began allowing transactions in Cuba in March. But it remains to be seen how efficiently Cuban businesses will be able to process credit card transactions.

For now, conventional tourism is still prohibited. The broadest category is so-called people-to-people educational trips, which are open to all U.S. citizens and are typically organized through travel companies. Even so, you’ll have to keep records of your trip for at least five years to prove that you weren’t relaxing on the beach all day. It’s unclear, however, how closely the U.S. Treasury Department will monitor American visitors’ movements.

Opening the island to American tourism will be a gradual process, as airlines work out agreements with aviation authorities and hotel capacity expands. A decade from now, though, vacationing in Cuba could be as no-fuss as a trip to Miami Beach.