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Passports

All travelers to Cuba must possess a valid passport, a return ticket, travel insurance policy with medical coverage, and a visa or tourist visa. Unlicensed U.S. citizens may be allowed a stay of up to 90 days upon entry. British citizens are granted 30 days upon entry. This can be extended for another 30 days within Cuba. Canadian citizens are granted a visa for 90 days. This can be extended for 90 days only.

For Residents of Australia -- Contact the Australian Passport Information Service at tel. 131-232, or visit www.passports.gov.au.

For Residents of Canada -- Contact the central Passport Office, Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade, Ottawa, ON K1A 0G3 (tel. 800/567-6868; www.ppt.gc.ca).

For Residents of Ireland -- Contact the Passport Office, Setanta Centre, Molesworth Street, Dublin 2 (tel. 01/671-1633; www.foreignaffairs.gov.ie).

For Residents of New Zealand -- Contact the Passports Office, Department of Internal Affairs, 47 Boulcott Street, Wellington, 6011 (tel. 0800/225-050 in New Zealand or 04/474-8100; www.passports.govt.nz).

For Residents of the United Kingdom -- Visit your nearest passport office, major post office, or travel agency or contact the Identity and Passport Service (IPS), 89 Eccleston Square, London, SW1V 1PN (tel. 0300/222-0000; www.ips.gov.uk).

For Residents of the United States -- To find your regional passport office, check the U.S. State Department website (travel.state.gov/passport) or call the National Passport Information Center (tel. 877/487-2778) for automated information.

Visas

Tourist visas are generally issued by the ticketing airline or travel agent. (If you book a flight with Air Canada, the visa is included in the price.) In a worst-case scenario, the visa can usually be bought on the spot upon clearing Customs.

For U.S. and Canadian citizens, tourist visas cost around US$23/C$23, depending upon the issuing agent, and are good for up to 90 days although Customs agents will sometimes issue them for just 30 days, or until the date of your return flight, unless you request otherwise. They can be extended for another 30 days (90 days for Canadians) once you arrive in Cuba for an additional minimum CUC$25 fee. (The fee is related to your length of stay.) In order to extend your tourist visa, you must personally go to any immigration office in the country. An additional 90-day extension for Canadians can be granted once at any immigration office for a cost of approximately CUC$25. For further information in Canada, contact the Cuban Embassy at www.embacubacanada.net, the Cuban consulate in Toronto at cubacon1@on.aibn.com, or the Cuba tourist board in Canada at www.gocuba.ca.

In the U.K., if you buy a ticket for an independent flight, you will need to purchase a separate tourist visa. Some travel companies are charging exorbitant costs for this (up to £50). While the visa is also available from the Cuban Embassy in London for £15 plus postage (www.cubaldn.com), the cheapest, most efficient and reliable place to get a visa is directly from www.visacuba.co.uk. U.K. citizens are granted entry for 30 days. This can be extended once at any immigration office for an additional 30 days for CUC$25. It is then possible to request another 30 days but this must be referred to the provincial immigration office and there is no guarantee of success.

Note that when seeking a tourist visa extension, you need to purchase bank stamps (sellos para la visa) for the value of the extension you need before going to the immigration office. To avoid making unnecessary journeys, ask your hotel or casa particular to call the local immigration office and ask the price of the extension before heading to a branch of the Banco de Crédito y Comercio, the only bank authorized to sell the stamps.

In the event you need a specific work visa, or if your travel agent or airline will not provide you with the tourist visa, you should contact the Cuban consulate or embassy in your home country.

For Residents of the United States -- While it is not illegal for U.S. citizens to travel to Cuba, most are prohibited from spending any money in Cuba. This, in effect, is the "travel ban." The complicated prohibition, which allows for various exceptions, is governed by the U.S. Treasury Department and the Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC). For more information, visit www.treas.gov/offices/enforcement/ofac/programs/cuba/cuba.pdf.

The Treasury Department grants certain licenses. Some of these licenses are implicit, such as those for full-time journalists and government workers on official business. Other licenses must be applied for on a case-by-case basis with the U.S. Treasury Department. Since September 2009, Cuban Americans can now visit close relatives in Cuba for as long as they and want as often as they want, subject to per diem payment restrictions (http://aoprals.state.gov), currently US$179 per day for stays in Havana. See the U.S. Treasury Department rules for definition of close relative.

Travel arrangements for licensed travelers can be made by an authorized Travel Service Provider (TSP), and travel can be made directly from U.S. gateway cities on regular charter flights. There are hundreds of authorized TSPs. A couple of the most dependable are ABC Charters (tel. 305/263-6829; www.abc-charters.com) and the helpful Tico Travel (tel. 800/493-8426 in the U.S. or Canada, or 954/493-8426; www.destinationcuba.com). If you are unsure about the legality of any other service provider, visit www.treas.gov/offices/enforcement/ofac/programs/cuba/cuba_tsp.pdf.

Be careful about signing on for a "fully hosted" trip. According to the regulations, a U.S. citizen can travel to Cuba without violating the Treasury ban provided he or she does not pay for any goods or services, including food and lodging, or provide any services to Cuba or a Cuban national while in the country. This provision had been widely used by U.S. citizens to buy packages from Canadian, Mexican, or Bahamian tour agencies. However, the Treasury Department has caught on to this tactic and has declared any "fully hosted" trip that is clearly for pleasure or tourism is in violation of the regulations.

Failure to comply with Department of Treasury regulations may result in civil penalties and criminal prosecution upon return to the United States. For more information, contact the Office of Foreign Assets Control, U.S. Department of the Treasury, 1500 Pennsylvania Ave. NW, Treasury Annex, Washington, DC 20220 (tel. 202/622-2000; www.treas.gov/ofac).

As far as Cuba is concerned, U.S. travelers are welcomed with open arms. In fact, as an aid to those seeking to circumvent the Treasury ban, Cuban immigration does not actually stamp U.S. passports, or any for that matter (but you should ask the officer to be sure) -- instead, officers stamp the tourist visa. For current information on Cuban entry and Customs requirements, you can contact the Cuban Interests Section (tel. 202/797-8518).

Visitors from Australia should contact the Consulate General in Australia (tel. 02/9698-9797; http://embacuba.cubaminrex.cu/Default.aspx?tabid=349).

Visitors from New Zealand should contact the Cuban Embassy in Wellington, New Zealand (tel. 04/472-3748; http://embacuba.cubaminrex.cu/Default.aspx?tabid=5903).

Unlicensed Travel -- It is estimated that as many as 200,000 U.S. citizens travel to Cuba each year without a Treasury Department license. The vast majority of travelers use third-country gateway cities like Toronto, Montreal, Cancún, Mexico City, Nassau, George Town on Grand Cayman, or Kingston in Jamaica, and are never questioned or bothered by U.S. authorities upon return.

What to Do If You Get Busted -- Officially, U.S. citizens who violate the ban face up to 10 years in prison, $250,000 in criminal fines, and $65,000 in civil fines, but according to the Treasury, penalties range from $3,000 to $7,500. Just 21 people were penalized in 2006. If you are stopped upon returning from an unlicensed trip to Cuba and directly asked by the Customs and Immigration agents, you should give as little information as possible. United States citizens cannot be compelled to provide self-incriminating information. Furthermore, you cannot be denied reentry into the U.S. for traveling to Cuba. You will likely face a long and uncomfortable search and questioning session, and be sent on your way. This will probably be followed by the receipt of a pre-penalty notice from the OFAC. The letter will request specific information to prove or disprove your alleged travel to Cuba, and to threaten the various fines and penalties. At this point, you should contact the Center for Constitutional Rights (tel. 212/614-6470; http://ccrjustice.org), which runs the Cuba Travel Project and works in conjunction with the National Lawyers Guild (www.nlg.org/cuba) to provide legal assistance to U.S. citizens facing prosecution for traveling to Cuba. Typically, after the initial pre-penalty letter, the OFAC offers to settle the case for a reduced fine in the neighborhood of $1,500 to $2,500. Many travelers have opted to go this route. A very, very small number of cases have ever fully gone to trial.

Some operators and guidebooks recommend lying if asked whether or not you were in Cuba. If you lie, you then place yourself at risk for perjury charges, which in the end are easier for the United States government to prosecute and are potentially more serious. I recommend you say little or nothing about your travel to Cuba, but I don't recommend that you lie. Remember, under U.S. law you have the right to refuse to incriminate yourself.

For Cuban Nationals -- The Cuban government doesn't recognize dual nationality of travelers from other countries who are Cuban-born or are the children of Cuban parents, particularly those who chose exile in the United States. The Cuban government requires some individuals whom it 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 foreign citizenship; however, you will probably have to use your home country's passport to exit and enter that country. Other Cuban nationals and exiles just need a visa, but acquiring this visa is more complicated than acquiring the simple tourist visa used by most other travelers.

If you are Cuban-born or the child of Cuban-born parents, you should check with the Cuban embassy or consulate in your country of residence, as well as your local immigration authorities. In Canada, contact the Cuban Embassy, 388 Main St., Ottawa, Ontario, K1S 1E3 (tel. 613/563-0141; www.embacubacanada.net); there are also consulates in Montreal and Toronto. In the U.K., contact the Cuban Embassy, 167 High Holborn, London, WC1 6PA (tel. 0207/240-2488; www.cubaldn.com). In the U.S., contact the Cuban Interests Section, 2630 16th St. NW, Washington, DC 20009 (tel. 202/797-8518).

Customs

What You Can Bring into Cuba -- You may bring in all manner of personal effects, including video and still cameras, personal electronic devices, jewelry, and sports equipment. In addition, visitors may bring in up to two bottles of liquor, a carton of cigarettes, and up to 10 kilograms of medications, provided they are in the original packaging. You may now import personal laptops, flash sticks, MP3 players, DVD players, film cameras, and sports equipment, as well as walkie talkies, satellite equipment, and GPS mechanisms. By law you may only import up to CUC$1,000 worth of any merchandise, and there is a 100% duty on all but the first CUC$50 worth. In practice, most visitors can freely bring in reasonable quantities of basic goods, like dried foods, vitamins, pharmaceuticals, and household supplies, without them being taxed or confiscated.

Note: You may bring unlimited amounts of cash, but you must declare quantities in excess of US$5,000, as you may have trouble exporting large quantities of cash, if discovered upon departure. For current and more detailed information, check out www.aduana.co.cu.

What You Can Take Home from Cuba -- Travelers may export up to 50 cigars with no questions asked. Larger quantities can be exported, provided you show proof that they were bought in official Habanos S.A. outlets. There are restrictions on certain works of art, books, publications, and coins. Consult www.aduana.co.cu for further information. Travelers are officially limited to bringing home two bottles of rum or other spirits, although this limit is rarely enforced. Still, if the Customs officials deem your purchases to be of a commercial nature, you could face fines or confiscation.

To export works of art, you will need a permit from the Registro Nacional de Bienes Culturales (National Register of Cultural Heritage), Calle 17 no. 1009 between Calles 10 and 12, Vedado (tel. 7/831-3362). Theoretically, any reputable gallery or shop will provide you with this permit along with your purchase. Those buying artwork bought at the new artesanía market in Havana can purchase the permit for CUC$2 at a kiosk in the building.

Note: There's a CUC$25 departure tax. You must pay this in cash, so be sure to have it on hand.

For information on what you're allowed to bring home, contact one of the following agencies:

U.S. Citizens: U.S. Customs & Border Protection (CBP), 1300 Pennsylvania Ave., NW, Washington, DC 20229 (tel. 877/287-8667; www.cbp.gov). Note: U.S. travelers bringing back Cuban-made goods will be considered in violation of the Treasury embargo and their goods will be confiscated. It is also illegal for U.S. citizens to import Cuban products even if they never stepped foot on the island. It does no good to try to convince the Customs agent confiscating your stogies that you bought them in a cigar shop in Canada or Mexico or Costa Rica.

Canadian Citizens: Canada Border Services Agency, Ottawa, Ontario, K1A 0L8 (tel. 800/461-9999 in Canada, or 204/983-3500; www.cbsa-asfc.gc.ca).

U.K. Citizens: HM Customs & Excise, Crownhill Court, Tailyour Road, Plymouth, PL6 5BZ (tel. 0845/010-9000; from outside the U.K., 020/8929-0152; www.hmce.gov.uk).

Australian Citizens: Australian Customs Service, Customs House, 5 Constitution Avenue, Canberra City, ACT 2601 (tel. 1300/363-263; from outside Australia, 612/6275-6666; www.customs.gov.au).

New Zealand Citizens: New Zealand Customs, The Customhouse, 17-21 Whitmore St., Box 2218, Wellington, 6140 (tel. 04/473-6099 or 0800/428-786; www.customs.govt.nz).

Medical Requirements

Since May 2010, all visitors to Cuba must carry proof of medical insurance in order to enter the country. You must have all the vaccines recommended for international travel (tetanus, polio, diptheria, hepatitis A, and cholera). Vaccinations for yellow fever and cholera are not required unless you are arriving from a country where they are prevalent.

Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.