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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