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US Embargo against Cuba - Consular Information Sheet

Posted May 09, 2004 by publisher in Cuba Politics.
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U.S. Department of State | Bureau of Consular Affairs

COUNTRY DESCRIPTION: Cuba is a totalitarian, police state which relies on repressive methods to maintain control. These methods, including intense physical and electronic surveillance of Cubans, are also extended to foreign travelers. Americans visiting Cuba should be aware that any encounter with a Cuban could be subject to surreptitious scrutiny by the Castro regime’s secret police, the General Directorate for State Security (DGSE).

Also, any interactions with average Cubans, regardless how well-intentioned the American is, can subject that Cuban to harassment and/or detention, amongst other forms of repressive actions, by state security elements. The regime is strongly anti-American yet desperate for U.S. dollars to prop itself up. The United States does not have direct diplomatic relations with Cuba, but provides consular and other services through the U.S. Interests Section in Havana. The U.S. Interests Section operates under the legal protection of the Swiss government but is not co-located with the Swiss Embassy.

ENTRY REQUIREMENTS/TRAVEL TRANSACTION LIMITATIONS: The Cuban Assets Control Regulations of the U.S. Treasury Department require that persons subject to U.S. jurisdiction be licensed to engage in any transaction related to travel to, from, and within Cuba. Transactions related to tourist travel are not licensable. This restriction includes tourist travel to Cuba from or through a third country such as Mexico or Canada.

U.S. law enforcement authorities have increased enforcement of these regulations at U.S. airports and pre-clearance facilities in third countries. Travelers who fail to comply with Department of Treasury regulations will face civil penalties and criminal prosecution upon return to the United States.

Licenses are granted to the following categories of travelers and they are permitted to spend money for Cuban travel and to engage in other transactions directly incident to the purpose of their travel under a general license, without the need to obtain special permission from the U.S. Treasury Department:

- U.S. and foreign government officials traveling on official business, including representatives of international organizations of which the U.S. is a member;

- Journalists and supporting broadcasting or technical personnel regularly employed by a news reporting organization;

- Persons making a once-a-year visit to close family relatives in circumstances of humanitarian need;

- Full-time professionals whose travel transactions are directly related to professional research in their professional areas, provided that their research: (1) is of a noncommercial academic nature; (2) comprises a full work schedule in Cuba, and (3) has a substantial likelihood of public dissemination;

- Full-time professionals whose travel transactions are directly related to attendance at professional meetings or conferences in Cuba organized by an international professional organization, institution, or association that regularly sponsors such meetings or conferences in other countries;

- Amateur or semi-professional athletes or teams traveling to Cuba to participate in an athletic competition held under the auspices of the relevant international sports federation.

The United States maintains a broad embargo against trading with Cuba, and most commercial imports from Cuba are prohibited by law. The sale of certain items, including medicine and medical supplies, and agricultural commodities have been approved for export by specific legislation. The Department of the Treasury may issue licenses on a case-by-case basis authorizing Cuba travel-related transactions directly incident to marketing, sales negotiation, accompanied delivery, and servicing of exports and re-exports that appear consistent with the licensing policy of the Department of Commerce. The sectors in which U.S. citizens may sell and service products to Cuba include agricultural commodities, telecommunications activities, medicine, and medical devices. The Treasury Department will also consider requests for specific licenses for humanitarian travel not covered by the general license, educational exchanges, and religious activities by individuals or groups affiliated with a religious organization.

Unless otherwise exempted or authorized, any person subject to U.S. jurisdiction who engages in any travel-related transaction in Cuba violates the regulations. Failure to comply with Department of Treasury regulations may result in civil penalties and criminal prosecution upon return to the United States.

Additional information may be obtained by contacting the Licensing Division, Office of Foreign Assets Control, U.S. Department of the Treasury, 1500 Pennsylvania Avenue NW, Treasury Annex, Washington, DC 20220, telephone (202) 622-2480; fax (202) 622-1657. Internet users can log on to the web site through http://www.treas.gov/ofac/

Should a traveler receive a license, a valid passport is required for entry into Cuba. The Cuban government requires that the traveler obtain a visa prior to arrival. Attempts to enter or exit Cuba illegally, or to aid the irregular exit of Cuban nationals or other persons, are contrary to Cuban law and are punishable by jail terms. Entering Cuban territory, territorial waters or airspace (within 12 miles of the Cuban coast) without prior authorization from the Cuban government may result in arrest or other enforcement action by Cuban authorities. Immigration violators are subject to prison terms ranging from four years for illegal entry or exit to as many as 30 years for aggravated cases of alien smuggling. 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 16 th Street NW, Washington, DC 20009, telephone (202) 797-8518.

In an effort to prevent international child abduction, many governments have initiated procedures at entry/exit points. These often include requiring documentary evidence of relationship and permission for the child’s travel from the parent(s) or legal guardian not present. Having such documentation on hand, even if not required, may facilitate entry/departure.

The Cuban Air Force shot down two U.S. registered civilian aircraft in international airspace in 1996. As a result of this action, the President of the United States and the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) issued an “Emergency Cease and Desist Order and Statement of Policy,” which allows for vigorous enforcement action against U.S. registered aircraft that violate Cuban airspace. Additional information is available through the FAA’s Internet web site at http://www.intl.faa.gov, (click on ‘Americas/Spain and then ‘ Cuba ) or by telephone at 202-267-3210.

In addition to the appropriate general or specific license, aircraft and vessels seeking to travel to Cuba must obtain a temporary sojourn license from the Department of Commerce. Temporary sojourn licenses are not available for pleasure boaters. Additional information is available at http//www.bis.doc.gov. Pursuant to an Executive Order issued after the 1996 shootdown incident, boaters departing south Florida ports with the intention of entering Cuban territorial waters also must obtain permission in advance from the U.S. Coast Guard. The U.S. Coast Guard provides automated information at 1-800-582-5943.

DUAL NATIONALITY: The Government of Cuba does not recognize the dual nationality of U.S. citizens who are Cuban-born or the children of Cuban parents. These individuals will be treated solely as Cuban citizens and may be subject to a range of restrictions and obligations, including military service. The Cuban government may require U.S. citizens, whom Cuba considers to be Cuban, to enter and depart Cuba using a Cuban passport. 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 United States. There have been cases of Cuban-American dual nationals being forced by the Cuban government to surrender their U.S. passports. Despite these restrictions, Cuban-American dual nationals who fall ill may only be treated at hospitals for foreigners (except in emergencies). See the paragraph below on Consular Access for information on Cuba’s denial of consular services to dual American-Cuban nationals who have been arrested.

SAFETY AND SECURITY: Photographing military or police installations or personnel, or harbor, rail, and airport facilities is forbidden.

In the opening months of 2003, there were numerous attempts to hijack aircraft and ocean-going vessels by Cubans seeking to depart from Cuba. In several cases, these attempts involved the use of weapons by the hijackers. Cuban authorities failed in their efforts to prevent two air hijackings, largely because of weak security procedures at satellite airports. U.S. citizens, although not necessarily targets, may be caught up in any violence during an attempted hijacking. Accordingly, U.S. citizens may wish to avoid travel by public transportation within Cuba.

The United States Government has publicly and repeatedly announced that any person who hijacks (or attempts to hijack) an aircraft or vessel (common carrier or other) will face the maximum penalties pursuant to U.S. law, regardless of that person’s nationality. In Cuba, hijackers will be sentenced to lengthy prison terms at a minimum, and may be subject to the death penalty; on April 11, 2003, the Government of Cuba executed three suspected hijackers, nine days after taking them into custody.

The waters around Cuba can be dangerous to navigate. Since 1993 there have been at least eight shipwrecks 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. Note that it is not permitted by law for U.S. persons to use such repair services in non-emergency situations. Any U.S. person who makes use of Cuban repair facilities should be prepared to provide documentary evidence demonstrating the emergency nature of that activity. The government of Cuba often holds boats as collateral to assure payment for salvage and repair services. Transferring funds from the U.S. to pay for boat repairs in Cuba is complicated by restrictions codified in U.S. law relating to commercial transactions with the Government of Cuba. A Treasury license is required for such payments.

CRIME :Although crime against U.S. and other foreign travelers in Cuba has generally been limited to pickpocketing, purse snatching, or the taking of unattended items, the U.S. Interests Section has received increased reports of violent assaults against American citizens in connection with robberies. In cases of violent crime, Americans should not resist if confronted, as perpetrators are usually armed with a knife or machete and often work with partners. In one incident in late 2003, an American citizen apparently was beaten to death in a street attack.

Pickpocketings and purse snatchings usually occur in crowded areas such as markets, beaches, and other gathering points, including Old Town Havana. Travelers should use caution in all such areas and are advised not to leave belongings unattended, nor to carry purses and bags loosely over one shoulder. Visitors should avoid wearing flashy jewelry or displaying large amounts of cash.

Extremely limited expressions of open market activity are permitted by the regime, but the Cuban Government’s tolerance of this non-state economic activity is diminishing. Travelers should be aware that in an effort to survive the government of Cuba ‘s war of attrition, home restaurants, known as “paladares,” sometimes maintain two different menus, one for customers that have been recruited by “finders” and another menu for the rest. Some paladares may have no menu, allowing adjustment of prices upward at the end of a meal. The number of paladares has been decimated from an estimated high in 1996 of 1562 to 200 in 2002, due to high taxes ($800 per month, irrespective of profits), crushing fines, and narrow, if not negative profit margins.

The loss or theft abroad of a U.S. passport should be reported immediately to the local police and the U.S. Interests Section. U.S. citizens may refer to the Department of State’s pamphlet, A Safe Trip Abroad, for ways to promote a trouble-free journey. The pamphlet is available by mail from the Superintendent of Documents, U.S. Government Printing Office, Washington, D.C. 20402, via the Internet at http://www.gpoaccess.gov, or via the Bureau of Consular Affairs home page at http://travel.state.gov

MEDICAL FACILITIES: Medical care does not meet U.S. standards. While medical professionals are generally competent, many health facilities face shortages of medical supplies and bed space. Many medications are unavailable so travelers to Cuba should bring with them any prescribed medicine in its original container and in amounts commensurate with personal use. A copy of the prescription and a letter from the prescribing physician explaining the need for prescription drugs facilitates their entry into the country.

MEDICAL INSURANCE: The Department of State strongly urges Americans to consult with their medical insurance company prior to traveling abroad to confirm whether their policy applies overseas and if it will cover emergency expenses such as a medical evacuation. U.S. medical insurance plans seldom cover health costs incurred outside the United States unless supplemental coverage is purchased. Further, U.S. Medicare and Medicaid programs do not provide payment for medical services outside the United States. However, many travel agents and private companies offer insurance plans that will cover health care expenses incurred overseas including emergency services such as medical evacuations.

When making a decision regarding health insurance, Americans should consider that many foreign doctors and hospitals require payment in cash prior to providing service and that a medical evacuation to the U.S. may cost well in excess of $50,000. Uninsured travelers who require medical care overseas often face extreme difficulties. When consulting with your insurer prior to your trip, ascertain whether payment will be made to the overseas healthcare provider or if you will be reimbursed later for expenses you incur. Some insurance policies also include coverage for psychiatric treatment and for disposition of remains in the event of death.

Useful information on medical emergencies abroad, including overseas insurance programs, is provided in the Department of State’s Bureau of Consular Affairs brochure, Medical Information for Americans Traveling Abroad, available via the Bureau of Consular Affairs home page.

OTHER HEALTH INFORMATION : A variety of tropical maladies, notably viral meningitis and dengue fever, occasionally break out inside Cuba, including in urban areas such as Havana. Conjunctivitis is also endemic in Cuba. Exposure to disease vectors is not limited to remote and less-sanitary areas, and some urban neighborhoods are subject to heavy public insecticide spraying. Hepatitis A is common, particularly in the summer months, and immunoglobulin is not readily available.

Information on vaccinations and other health precautions, such as safe food and water precautions and insect bite protection, may be obtained from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s hotline for international travelers at 1-877-FYI-TRIP (1-877-394-8747); fax 1-888-CDC-FAXX (1-888-232-3299), or via the CDC’s Internet site at http://www.cdc.gov/travel For information about outbreaks of infectious diseases abroad consult the World Health Organization’s website at http://www.who.int/en Further health information for travelers is available at http://www.who.int/ith

TRAFFIC SAFETY AND ROAD CONDITIONS: While in a foreign country, U.S. citizens may encounter road conditions that differ significantly from those in the United States. The information below concerning Cuba is provided for general reference only, and may not be completely accurate in a particular location or circumstance:

Safety of Public Transportation: Fair
Urban Road Conditions/Maintenance: Poor
Rural Road Conditions/Maintenance: Poor
Availability of Roadside Assistance: Fair

Driving is on the right-hand side of the road; speed limits are normally posted and generally respected. In the past two years the number and variety of motor vehicles on Cuban roads has increased significantly. The higher traffic volume has been accompanied by a marked increase in the rate of accidents, and reports suggest that accidents involving motor vehicles are now the leading cause of accidental death in Cuba. Passengers in automobiles are not required to wear seatbelts and motorcyclists are not required to wear helmets, as these are not generally available on the local market. Many accidents involve motorists striking pedestrians or bicyclists. Drivers found to bear responsibility in accidents resulting in serious injury or death are subject to prison terms of up to 10 years, and Cuban authorities may prohibit drivers of rental cars who are involved in accidents from leaving the country until all claims associated with an accident are settled.

Taxis are available in busy commercial and tourist areas; radio-dispatched taxis are generally clean and reliable. Travelers should be aware that licensed taxis available near hotel areas are often driven by DGSE agents, or the drivers report to the DGSE, as a part of the regime’s efforts to follow the activities of foreign visitors. However, travelers should not accept rides in unlicensed taxis as they may be used by thieves to rob passengers. Buses designated for tourist travel, both between and within cities, generally meet international standards for both cleanliness and safety. Public buses used by Cubans, known as “guaguas,” are crowded, unreliable and havens for pickpockets. These public buses will usually not offer rides to foreign visitors.

Although the main arteries of Havana are generally well-maintained, secondary streets often are not. Many roads and city streets are unlit, making night driving dangerous, especially as some cars and most bicycles lack running lights or reflectors. Street signage tends to be insufficient and confusing. Most Cuban cars are old, in poor condition and lack turn signals and other standard safety equipment. Drivers should exercise extreme care.

The principal Cuban east-west highway is in good condition but lacks lights and extends only 2/3s of the way from Havana to the eastern tip of the island. The extension of that highway on to the east is in poor condition in many areas, with washed out sections and deep potholing. Night driving should be strictly avoided outside urban areas. Secondary rural roads are narrow, and some are in such bad condition as to be impassable by cars. Due to the rarity of cars on rural roads, pedestrians, bicycles, and farm equipment operators wander onto the roads without any regard to possible automobile traffic. Unfenced livestock constitute another serious road hazard.

Rental car agencies provide roadside assistance to their clients as a condition of the rental contract. Cuban authorities may prohibit drivers of rental cars who are involved in accidents from leaving the country, even if they are injured and require medical evacuation, until all claims associated with an accident are settled. Travelers should not permit unauthorized persons to drive the rental vehicle. Automobile renters are provided telephone numbers to call in Havana or in other places where they might be motoring; agencies respond as needed with tow trucks and/or mechanics. A similar service is available to foreigners resident in Cuba who insure cars with the National Insurance Company.

AVIATION SAFETY OVERSIGHT: Although licensed travelers can travel between the United States and Cuba aboard charter flights, there is no direct commercial service linking the two countries. In early 2003 there were a series of hijackings from smaller Cuban airports that raised serious questions about their level of security. For further information, travelers may contact the Department of Transportation within the U.S. at 1-800-322-7873 or visit the FAA Internet home page at http://www.faa.gov/avr/iasa/index.cfm

Because of serious concerns about the operation of the Cuban flag carrier, Cubana de Aviacion, as well as other Cuban carriers on-island, particularly regarding its safety and security standards, maintenance regime and history of fatal accidents, including the hijacking concerns noted above, U.S. Interests Section staff and official visitors to Cuba are instructed to avoid flying aboard either the domestic or the international flights of any Cuban airline, including Cabaña de Aviation. Americans considering travel on any Cuban airline may wish to defer their travel or pursue private means of transportation.

The Department of Defense (DOD) separately assesses some foreign air carriers for suitability as official providers of air services. For information regarding the DOD policy on specific carriers, travelers may contact DOD at (618) 256-4801.

CRIMINAL PENALTIES: 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 heavy fines. Those accused of drug-related and other crimes face long legal proceedings and delayed due process.

Cuba’s Law of Protection of National Independence and the Cuban Economy, contains a series of measures aimed at discouraging contact between foreign nationals and Cuban citizens. These measures are aimed particularly at the press and media representatives, but may be used against any foreign national coming into contact with a Cuban. The law provides for jail terms of up to 30 years in aggravated cases. U.S. citizens traveling in Cuba are subject to this law, and they may unwittingly cause the arrest and imprisonment of any Cuban with whom they come into contact. For more information, please contact the U.S. Interests Section’s American Citizens Services Unit at the address or telephone number provided below.

CONSULAR ACCESS: U.S. citizens are encouraged to carry a copy of their U.S. passport with them at all times, so that, if questioned by local officials, proof of identity and U.S. citizenship are readily available.

Cuba does not recognize the right or obligation of the U.S. Government to protect Cuban-born American citizens, whom the Cuban government views as Cuban citizens only. Cuban authorities consistently refuse to notify the U.S. Interests Section of the arrest of Cuban-American dual nationals and deny U.S. consular officers access to them. They also withhold information concerning their welfare and proper treatment under Cuban law.

SPECIAL CIRCUMSTANCES:

CURRENCY REGULATIONS: Since the Cuban government legalized the use of dollars in July 1993, U.S. dollars are accepted for all transactions.

U.S. citizens and residents traveling under a general or specific license from the U.S. Treasury Department may spend money on travel in Cuba; such expenditures may only be for travel-related expenses at a rate not to exceed the U.S. Government’s per diem rate. U.S. Treasury regulations authorize any U.S. resident to send up to $300 per calendar quarter to any Cuban family (except 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 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 should contact the Office of Foreign Assets Control.

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.

CHILDREN’s ISSUES: Cuba currently does not allow adoption of children by U.S. citizens. For general information on international adoption of children and international parental child abduction, please refer to our Internet site at http://travel.state.gov/children’s_issues.html or telephone the Overseas Citizens Services call center at 1-888-407-4747. The OCS call center can answer general inquiries regarding international adoptions and will forward calls to the appropriate country officer in the Bureau of Consular Affairs. This number is available from 8:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m. Eastern Standard Time, Monday through Friday (except U.S. federal holidays). Callers who are unable to use toll-free numbers, such as those calling from overseas, may obtain information and assistance during these hours by calling 1-317-472-2328.

U.S. REPRESENTATION/REGISTRATION: The U.S. Interests Section (USINT) represents American citizens and the U.S. Government in Cuba, and operates under the legal protection of the Swiss government. The Interests Section staff provides the full range of American citizen and other consular services. U.S. citizens who travel to Cuba are encouraged to contact and register with USINT’s American Citizen Services section. USINT staff provide briefings on U.S.-Cuba policy to American individuals and groups visiting Cuba. These briefings or meetings can be arranged through USINT’s Public Diplomacy office.

The Interests Section is located in Havana at Calzada between L and M Streets, Vedado; telephone (537) 33-3551 through 33-3559. Hours are Monday through Thursday, 8:30 a.m. to 5:00 p.m., and Friday, 8:30 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. After hours and on weekends, the number is 33-3026 or 66-2302. Should you encounter an emergency after normal duty hours, call these numbers and request to speak with the duty officer.

U.S. citizens who register at the U.S. Interests Section in Havana may obtain updated information on travel and security within the country. There is no access to the U.S. Naval Base at Guantanamo Bay from within Cuba. Consular issues for Guantanamo Bay are handled by the U.S. Embassy in Kingston, Jamaica. For further information on Guantanamo Bay, please contact the U.S. Embassy in Kingston at telephone (876) 929-5374.

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updated April 22, 2004 | This replaces the Consular Information Sheet dated May 30, 2003, to update all sections.

This information is current as of today, Sun May 09 2004.

Member Comments

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On May 10, 2004, curt9954 wrote:

What a load of crap! Having traveled to Cuba several times, I know that 90% of the statements made by the U<S consulate are false

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On May 11, 2004, publisher wrote:

I actually thought this was fairly written and objective considering the source.