Apparently the American Chamber of Commerce of Cuba in the United States is out of business. We just bought the domain name. So, if you are looking for AmChamCuba information, we have posted their popular “Considering a Trip to Cuba” page.
ARE YOU CONSIDERING A TRIP TO CUBA?
This article provides information compiled by AmCham Cuba about travel to Cuba from the US based on information and observations both culled from members of this American chamber of commerce-in-exile, and as published by reliable sources. This article does not pretend to be all-inclusive and, while information was accurate at the time of printing to the best of our knowledge, we caution all potential travelers to verify facts at the time of travel. Besides general information and a summary of legal requirements, we cite web sites or telephone numbers where more detailed information can be gathered, and offer contact information for some Travel Service Providers and other organizations which can help you prepare for a trip to Cuba. US libraries commonly have recent tourist guides and magazines containing Cuba travel information.
It is very time-consuming, but quite do-able, to arrange legal travel to Cuba by persons subject to the laws of the United States (i.e. US citizens and permanent residents and others going to Cuba from the US). Allow about two months. Travelers from the US will need to have not only a valid passport but also a US government-issued license and a Cuban visa. In view of the complicated intersection of US and Cuban laws and policies, would-be travelers should verify their own qualifications for US licensing and check details of steps needed with appropriate authorities before making non-refundable deposits for travel to Cuba. If difficulties are anticipated and avoided by careful planning, tourists will cherish a visit to this restive, physically unspoiled, achingly beautiful island-nation.
I. US legal requirements
The Office of Foreign Assets Control of the US Treasury Department (OFAC) is the regulating US government agency on US-Cuba travel and financial transactions allowable on the island under US law. Persons subject to US laws, including Cuban-Americans who wish to travel to Cuba, must do so under an OFAC General or Specific License. OFAC regulations are available on the Internet at http://www.treas.gov/ofac , or call 202-622-2480 or -2520. Other official information on Cuba and on travel to Cuba by persons subject to US laws, including current alerts for crime or natural disaster, is available at the State Department’s Office of Cuban Affairs (http://www.state.gov/p/wha/ci , click on Cuba, or tel. 202-647-9273), and the Bureau of Consular Affairs (http://www.travel.state.gov/cuba.html , tel. 202-647-9272).
General US License:
An OFAC General License allows individuals to travel to Cuba at any time without seeking specific permission for each trip. This license generally applies to individuals who qualify as government personnel, established press, professional researchers, representatives of international organizations of which the US is a member, and those who have family in Cuba. It also applies to travelers who will be fully-hosted meaning that neither the traveling individual(s) nor any non-Cuban entity pays, directly or indirectly, for any part of the trip.
Specific US License:
An OFAC Specific License states the purpose of a visit and has an expiration date which limits the dates of travel. It can be issued for single or multiple visits, and must be obtained by writing to OFAC specifying proposed dates, length of stay, purpose of the visit, name, title and background of the traveler. This license may be available to students and teachers participating in educational exchange, free-lance journa-lists, researchers, individuals on humanitarian missions, members of religious organizations, and businesses. To ascertain the category under which you may qualify, contact OFAC at the phone or web page listed above.
Both US licenses currently allow most travelers to spend up to $195.00 per day (the US government rate for daily support of its staff as of mid-2001) on hotels, meals, transportation, etc. Different regulations apply to “fully hosted travelers” and the media. OFAC permits US government-licensed visitors to Cuba to return with up to $100 of products of Cuban origin, except that there is no limit on the purchase of artwork and informational materials such as books, posters and movies. All receipts should be retained.
US citizens reentering the US via third countries may not bring back goods of Cuban origin.
ll. Cuba legal requirements
After a US license has been obtained, a US citizen must get a Cuban official or tourist visa or travel card. A Cuban tourist visa can be acquired through an authorized travel service provider, a non-US travel agent, or at the ticket counter of a non-US airline providing travel to Cuba from another country. An official Cuban visa is required to conduct any authorized business, and may be obtained from the CUBAN INTERESTS SECTION of the Embassy of Switzerland, Washington, DC. (2630 16th St. NW, Washington DC 20009, tel. 202-797-8518 to 797-8520, fax 202-797-8521).
Cuba has specific requirements for persons born in Cuba depending on their date of departure from that country.
III. Who can help you plan a trip to Cuba?
Following are some travel agencies and organizations that arrange US-authorized travel to Cuba. AmCham Cuba has not evaluated the records or successes of particular organizations.
The US Cuba Trade & Economic Council, Inc. maintains an informative website about Cuba issues including travel.
Island Travel and Tours, Ltd. arranges specialized individual and group tours including study tours on many topics ranging from anthropology to theater. It offers complete services including visa and travel license application assistance (http://www.islandtraveltours.com or tel. 866-488-8687)
Marazul Tours arranges individual and group visits in flexible degrees of detail and publishes current information on Cuba travel (http://www.marazultours.com , tel: 800-223-5334.)
Global Exchange specializes in educational and volunteer visits (http://www.globalexchange.org or tel. 800-497-1994).
VETS2CUBA organizes trips for veterans to establish contacts between US and Cuban veterans, to learn about Cuban society, and to communicate what is learned to the American people (http://www.vets2cuba.org or tel. 415-841-9635).
Cross Cultural Solutions offers a Cuba Insight program which allows travelers to communicate with the Cuban people and see their everyday lives through visits to tobacco farms, cigar factories and art studios (http://www.crossculturalsolutions.org or tel. 800-380-4777).
Elder Hostel organizes trips for seniors (http://www.elderhostel.org or tel. 877-426-8056).
For a complete list of OFAC-authorized Travel Service Providers, visit http://www.treas.gov/ofac/cubatsp.pdf, or call OFAC at 202-622-2480.
IV. What have been the experiences and lessons learned by recent US travelers in Cuba?
Carry US dollars in cash, especially small bills! “The best hotels take only US dollars and do not welcome resident Cubans or pesos.” Neither ATM nor credit cards issued by US banks are accepted, nor are US travelers or personal checks. The US embargo prohibits US banks from processing transactions that occur in Cuba. Travelers checks from non-US banks are accepted at most hotels with a substantial service charge.
Phone cards from US telecommunications companies can not be used. Prepaid phone cards provided by the Cuban telephone company can be bought in Cuba. Direct dialing to the US is available at most hotels.
Medical care in Cuba can be excellent, especially for those paying in US dollars, but many US medications are not available. US medical insurance payments may be difficult in Cuba. Travelers should check with their medical insurer regarding coverage outside the US and in Cuba specifically. Should medical emergencies arise, the traveler will need to secure authorization form OFAC to spend the necessary funds in Cuba and seek reimbursements from the covering US insurance company. Travel agencies can arrange for Cuban medical insurance for travelers.
Flights to Cuba from the US: Charter carriers offer direct flights from New York, Los Angeles, and Miami. They generally require travelers to pay for flights by cash or money order and to begin check-in procedures up to 4 hours before flight departure. No commercial carriers provide direct air service between the US and Cuba.
Luggage restrictions are very tight, both as to size and weight. Travelers arriving by plane from the US face rigid enforcement of limits, which may vary depending on the origin of the flight. Surcharges for exceeding the limits are steep. Recently, maximum weight has been restricted to 100 lbs., with additional charges placed on weight above 44 lbs. Luggage is subject to x-ray screening for illicit items before acceptance by carrier officials.
Hotel and food prices are comparable to those in other Caribbean destinations, but quality of service is often considered poorer. It is possible to arrange a stay at a family-run B&B (casa particular) as well as luxury hotels. In Havana, meal prices may be similar to those in New York City. Small home restaurants (paladares) are also costly. Nightclub prices are very high.
Transportation in Cuba: Taxis are available at the airport and at major hotels and include both classic cars models and a new bright yellow, open-air VW-like bug. While rental cars, with and without chauffeurs, are available, insurance protection should be carefully checked. Cubans tend to honor written, signed contracts. Roads are poorly maintained and driving at night is not advised, due also to the possible presence of bicycles, pedestrians and farm animals. Most Cubans travel by foot or bicycle or hitch rides from passing cars. They also rely on infrequent, barely scheduled, very crowded and theft-prone buses shaped like and called camelos (camels).
Some US newspapers (e.g. New York Times, Washington Post) have published recent articles on travel to and in Cuba as have several US magazines (e.g. Time Jan. and Cigar Aficionado May-June 2001.
V. Delights, cautions, and risks
The US media has many accounts of marvelous seaside vacations and elegant night-clubbing in Cuba, also successful briefings by officials, frequently facilitated by sponsoring travel agencies and organizations, and rewarding contacts with friendly residents. Responsible observers hail the educational and medical levels achieved by much of the population. Beautiful books report on historic districts, the rich countryside, and the extraordinary beaches and rich farming areas.
The Internet and press also often report on successful meetings by traveling US officials interested in promoting democracy and by leaders of various US interest groups with Cuban dissidents. However, dissidents participate with varying candor, often limited English, and translators whose accuracy varies according to their own fears and mandates. Furthermore, while Americans and other tourists do visit most of the island, there are persistent accounts of intermittent tailing by Cuba’s police, also of Cuban identification of contacts made by prominent American leaders and academicians. Tourists from the US should be aware that Cuba continues to be concerned that tourists will take home too-graphic reports of Cuban poverty, black-market activities, drugs and prostitution, or human rights threats.
In the event of difficulties, contact the US Interests Section of the Embassy of Switzerland in Havana at tel. 33-3551/9. Travelers are encouraged to visit the web site of the Bureau of Consular Affairs (http://www.travel.state.gov ) to review assistance available to Americans abroad. Groups interested in receiving briefings from the US Interests Section in Havana are encouraged to call its Public Affairs Office at 537-33-3551 to 33-3559.
AmCham Cuba wishes American tourists in Cuba to have a marvelous time, but also urges them to be governed by prudence and to observe both US and Cuban laws.
FORMER MISSION STATEMENT OF AMCHAMCUBA
AmCham Cuba is a non-profit organization of American businesses, investors and organizations interested in doing business in Cuba when conditions permit. It is the continuation of the American Chamber of Commerce which operated in Havana before 1960. It looks forward to returning to Cuba when US-Cuba business relations are restored. When it gets back to Cuba, AmCham Cuba will support American firms in that country, as do all American chambers of commerce abroad.
Businessmen who led the American Chamber of Commerce in Havana registered it as a non-profit corporation in Florida in 1960. Its present Board of Directors is comprised of representatives of some of the corporate members, large and small, who constitute AmCham Cuba, namely BellSouth, Chiquita Brands, Fluor Daniel, Goya Foods, Joint Corporate Committee on Cuban Claims,still represented by James A. Powers, Marriott International, Porter Wright Morris & Arthur, and Quantum Financial Advisors. In addition, scholars, reporters, and other individuals reflecting various points of view about Cuba are individual subscribing members of AmCham Cuba.
Until it is appropriate to re-open its doors in Cuba, AmCham Cuba works to help interested American companies position themselves for the resumption of trade and investment on the island. As a member of the US Chamber of Commerce, it shares mainstream business views. It does not lobby or take political positions. It focuses on providing information and serving as a contact point for US firms who want to “land running” when American firms can again conduct business in Cuba. It does so by means of:
- regular meetings in Washington and Miami where expert speakers offer analyses of US-Cuba relations, Cuba’s investment climate, and other issues related to planning for doing business in Cuba;
- a newsletter offering accurate and objective information on business developments in and affecting Cuba; and
- a meeting ground where American business leaders can network and get to know experts on Cuba.
The chamber advocates a policy that would allow US firms to pursue commercial opportunities in Cuba, while seeking to follow international business practices and principles that are sound and ethical and are consistent with US national interests.
FORMER PROGRAMS AND SPEAKERS AT AMCHAMCUBA EVENTS
In addition to invitations to events and objective, monthly newsletters, corporate members receive in-depth studies of Cuba’s economy and laws at no cost, discounted fees for special events, and opportunities to sponsor lunches where they sit with honorees.
Speakers at AmCham Cuba have included:
scholars, lawyers, government officials, and non-profit organization experts on Cuba, as follows:
Thomas Donohue, President/CEO, U.S. Chamber of Commerce
Richard E. O’Leary, Board Members, U.S. Chamber of Commerce and Chairman, H Enterprises Int’l.
Dr. Charles A. Barrett, North American Committee of Canada
Kenneth M. Crosby, Merrill Lynch
George R. Harper, Esq., Steel Hector Davis LLP
Ambassador Alan P. Larson, Assistant Secretary of State for Economics
Dr. Jorge Sanguinetty, DevTech Systems, Inc.
Tad Szulc, Journalist and Author
Hon. William D. Rogers, former Under Secretary of State
Col. William Barrett Taylor (ret.)
Ambassador Timothy Towell (ret.), Foreign Policy Group and Business Affairs
Gareth Jenkins, President, Cuba Business, Ltd., Hon. Dennis DeConcini, former U.S. Senator (D-Ariz..), Dr. Jorge A. Sanguinetty, Pres., DevTech Systems, Dr. Jesus M. Fernandez, former Cuban official, Willard A. Workman, Vice Pres. Intl., U.S. Chamber of Commerce, Thomas E. Quigley, U.S. Catholic Conference, Dr. Jaime Suchlicki, University of Miami, Msgr. Octavio Cisneros, Brooklyn, NY, and Jose E. Sirven, Esq.; Holland & Knight
Ambassador Stuart Eizenstat, Under Secretary of Commerce and President Clinton’s envoy on Cuba, Georgie Anne Geyer, syndicated columnist, Robert Muse, Esq., Ambassador Michael Ranneberger, Coordinator of Cuban Affairs, State Department, Hon. William D. Rogers, Esq., Arnold & Porter, and former Under Secretary of State and Assistant Secretary for Inter-American Affairs, and Matias Travieso-Diaz, Esq., Shaw Pittman Potts & Trowbridge
Dr. Peter Hakim, Pres., Inter-American Dialogue, Dr. Edward Marasciulo, Pax World Service, Lourdes Miranda, Pres., Miranda Foundation, Dr. Richard A. Nuccio, Special Advisor to the President and Secretary of State for Cuba, Peter Reitz, Executive Director, Pan American Development Foundation (PADF), and Prof. Wayne Smith, Johns Hopkins U., School of Advanced Intl. Studies, and President, Center for International Policy (CIP)
Ambassador Michael Skol, Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Inter-American Affairs, and David W. Wallace, Chairman & CEO, Lone Star Industries, and Chairman of the Joint Corporate Committee on Cuban Claims