How to be like Beyoncé and Jay-Z (in visiting Cuba)

The musical power couple, Jay-Z and Beyonce, are spending their fifth wedding anniversary in Cuba. However, the fact that they're in Cuba raises a whole bunch of issues since travel there is a whole host of laws forbidding Americans to visit Cuba.

Cuba has been under US sanctions for nearly 50 years, effectively barring transactions between Americans and Cubans. In order to engage in any type of financial transaction with Cuba, you need a license from the Treasury Department. Typically, licenses from the Treasury Department are applicable to non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and charities and not to your average citizen. There are "People to People" exchanges, designed so you actually spend time learning from musicians and writers - not just beach time. They tend to be quite pricy - around $6,000 for a 8 day trip. If you're a legitimate journalist (not a blogger) or a researcher , then it'll be easier for you to get a license to travel.

"But Nick! I can easily go to Cuba if I go through a third country, like Mexico or Canada or..." Absolutely you can. However, a few things: The first being your credit cards and ATM cards won't work if they're from a US bank. Also, anyone flying from Canada has to cross US airspace so your name and passport number will be on a list with DHS. And then there's the pesky part of coming back, with border agents flipping through your passport might notice multiple entry/exit stamps from a Caribbean island or Mexico and wonder where you went. Even more obvious is the distinct Cuban passport stamp, which, despite being a great memory of your trip, is a surefire way to say you violated Treasury Department laws. And bringing back souvenirs, such as Cuban cigars, is also illegal (even through a third party country.)

Since it's technically legal to go to Cuba but illegal to spend money there, there are a number of tourist agencies who try to skirt this by having the trip prepaid - like an all-inclusive resort. These also draw the ire of the Treasury Department.

There's also ethical concerns: the Cuban government doesn't do a great job with human rights, and since the tourism industry is 100% government owned, money you spend supports the Cuban government. It might not sit well with some, especially if you've heard stories of family in Cuba from people who have fled.

My advice? Despite the allure of Havana and the retro nature of Cuba, there's a chance that your trip will cost you a hefty amount in fines. But if you're like Jay-Z or Beyoncé, those fines are mere pocket change.



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  • Whereis, correct on the details of the law.

    However, I probably travel as much as you, if not more (an not because I want to), and having to go to Cuba for work, there are benefits that actually do get to Juan Cuban, because the money earned from visitors from the US (not tourists), do end up in his pocket. Not to mention that the US is the only country that has travel and trade restrictions to Cuba. The rest of the world invests there, though they have the government as their 51% partner. (Sounds a little like here, although we in the US do that through the tax code).

    Regarding the passport stamp -- even if a person travels to Cuba from a third country, he is given a "temporary passport" or visa, which is then stamped, not your passport. I have been there legally and it is the same. No passport stamp. However, it is noted, I suppose, on Immigration and Customs computers somehow, I am sure.

    If a US citizen or a foreign national living in the US goes through a third country, then manages to get in trouble or get caught, they can face fines up to $250,000, felony charges and loss of passport for up to ten years. Why? Because you are trading with the enemy.

    By OFAC (Office of Foreign Asset Control) law --OFAC is a division of the US Treasury --all trips to Cuba have to be "all inclusive" with payments made prior to cover all necessities. This does not draw the "ire" of the Treasury; it is their rules.

    That said, Cuba is very much a police state. The economy has improved there somewhat due to the greater travel of Cuban-Americans to Cuba and a big influx of hard currency. Access to the internet, to television to radio broadcasts and other media is greatly restricted.

    But the Cuban people do benefit from visitors from the US (legal and illegal), because Cubans cannot make it on the 5-7 dollars a day average wage. All Cubans work about three jobs. The lucky ones are in the tourist trade (the rest of the world visits), and the unlucky ones are doctors, teachers and other professionals, who earn the average salary, but maybe -- just maybe-- somebody in their household works associated with Cuban visitors.

  • Just to note, that "artists" are allowed to travel to Cuba, so long as they are invited and asked to perform. Not sure if the dismal duo performed, but if they did, their trip was legal -- or they went for humanitarian, educational or religious reasons.

    If you are a credentialed journalist, you can go too.

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