How to get in trouble traveling to Cuba
Published April 08, 2013
It appears that Jay-Z and Beyoncé's trip to Cuba is above board after
all. That's at least what Reuters is reporting, citing a source close to
The two music stars were in Cuba last week, where they toured Old
Havana, posed for pictures with local schoolchildren and dined at the
renowned restaurant La Guarida. The trip also sparked the interest of
two Republican congressman from Florida who questioned what kind of
license – or special permission – allowed them visit to the island.
Traveling to Cuba is technically not illegal, but the United States does
prohibit its citizens from spending money in Cuba without the proper
While it's true that travel to Cuba has gotten a whole lot easier due to
easing of travel restrictions for Americans, travelers must take part
in tours to Cuba that encourage "people to people" contact. There are
exceptions for students, journalists, Cuban-Americans and others with
legal reasons to travel there.
Getting caught can result in 10 years in prison and $250,000 in
While most people's trips won't garner the public scrutiny of Jay-Z and
Beyoncé, here are some ways you might still catch some heat if you don't
follow the rules.
1. Don't Get a License
You can't simply book a flight and a hotel and head to Cuba. To get
into the country legally, you need to travel with a Cuba travel
organization that has an official license from the U.S. State Department
Americans. There are about a dozen of these licensed organizations now.
2. Hang Out On The Beach
Tourist activities — like visiting the beach or scuba diving — are
prohibited from itineraries. According to Treasury Department
guidelines: "Each traveler must have a full-time schedule of educational
exchange activities that will result in meaningful interaction between
the travelers and individuals in Cuba." This means your days will be
spent going to museums, a hospital or a local Communist Party block meeting.
3. Purchase Tickets From a Local Travel Agent
You can find anything on the Internet, including contact details for a
local agent who will be more than happy to sell you a ticket directly —
by cash. Also, there are other third party agents that arrange travel
to Cuba, usually through a third country. (By the way, the Cuban customs
and immigration officials know not to stamp the passports of Americans
entering the country.) You can do the same if you want to book a hotel
room or a car.
4. Ignore the U.S. government if it comes a calling
Say you're busted by U.S. customs official when bringing something back
to the U.S. that you bought in Cuba. If you get a questionnaire from
Treasury Department's office, which oversees financial dealings with
Cuba asking for details –ignore it. That's what happed to Zachary
Sander. After a protracted to and from in which Sanders sued the U.S.
government, he finally agreed to settle the case and pay a fine of $6500."