U.S.-Cuba Policy Changes Take Effect

Beginning tomorrow, American travelers returning to U.S. soil after an authorized trip to Cuba will be allowed to bring back, for the first time in years, up to $100 worth of cigars. It's one of many U.S-Cuba policy changes taking effect on January 16.

President Barack Obama put these plans into motion with a historic speech on December 17, and the U.S. Treasury Department announced this morning that the changes would be entered into the Federal Register tomorrow, officially beginning a new day for U.S.-Cuba relations.

"Today's announcement takes us one step closer to replacing out of date policies that were not working and puts in place a policy that helps promote political and economic freedom for the Cuban people," said Jacob J. Lew, treasury secretary. "These revised regulations, together with those issued by the Commerce Department, will implement the policies on easing sanctions related to travel, remittances, trade, and banking announced by the president on December 17."

The changes that will also go into effect tomorrow include:

  • the ability for travelers to charge items to American credit and debit cards;
  • the removal of a per diem limit for expenses on authorized visits by Americans to Cuba;
  • the ability for travel agents and airlines to provide travel and services to Cuba without a specific OFAC (Office of Foreign Affairs) license;
  • increase of remittances to Cuban nationals from $500 to $2,000 per quarter (excluding "certain prohibited Cuban government and Cuban Communist Party officials," according to the Treasury).

Some things won't change. This doesn't open the gates for free travel to Cuba for Americans—such travelers have to meet one of a dozen categories to be able to go.

And some of these changes will have little real impact. Credit cards in Cuba have only so much use. While you can charge things in large hotels, the reality is that the city of Havana remains a cash economy. Even if an American credit card does begin working, its use on the island will be sorely limited, as few restaurants and cigar shops are geared to accept charges for purchases, even with credit cards backed by European, Canadian or South American banks, which have long worked.

Cigar Aficionado has written extensively about the $100 limit on cigars and what it can-and cannot-buy. In short, it's less than a proper box in most cases. Click here for more details.

"Kevin, I'm uncertain about your situation. Darryl, the answer is no. " —February 8, 2015 18:39 PM
"Can I bring back some Cuban cigars from my trip to Spain." —January 22, 2015 21:21 PM
"What if I'm a non-US citizen coming to the US from Cuba? Can I bring in cigars?" —January 19, 2015 01:17 AM