Americans can now purchase Cuban cigars when traveling in another country.
Ahead of President Barack Obama’s visit to Cuba next week, the Department of the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control has announced that has eased various restrictions for Americans regarding Cuba.
One of those changes will allow Americans traveling in other countries to consume Cuban-made goods, including Cuban cigars and alcohol.
This change is different than the one passed in late 2014, which allowed those traveling to Cuba to bring back up to $100 of Cuban alcohol and tobacco products.
The language in the new rules specifically indicates that any of the Cuban-origin goods purchased in a “third country,” i.e. not Cuba, are not able to be imported back to the U.S.: (emphasis ours)
Dealings in merchandise subject to section 515.204, including Cuban-origin goods, for personal use. OFAC is adding section 515.585(c) to authorize individuals who are persons subject to U.S. jurisdiction and who are located in a third country to engage in the purchase or acquisition of merchandise subject to the prohibitions in section 515.204, including Cuban-origin goods, for personal consumption while in a third country, and to receive or obtain services from Cuba or a Cuban national that are ordinarily incident to travel and maintenance within a third country. This provision does not authorize the importation of such merchandise into the United States, including as accompanied baggage. OFAC is making a conforming change to section 515.410.
Previously, consuming Cuban cigars or alcohol abroad was considered illegal, though the law was rarely abided by and enforced even less.
Other changes including easing restrictions on “person-to-person” visits and an easing of restrictions on banks from operating within Cuba. The hope behind the latter is to reduce the fee charged to change American currency to the Cuban CUC. Despite the fact that the CUC is based entirely on the American dollar, at a 1:1 ratio, exchanging $100 in Cuba will result in 87 CUCs. Part of that is due to the banking restrictions which make it inefficient for American dollars to be exchanged outside of Cuba.
Despite both the changes regarding how Americans can consume and purchase Cuban cigars when traveling, a substantial roadblock exists before Cuban cigars can legally be found at U.S. retailers. It seems likely that legalizing the importation sale of Cuban cigars in the U.S. will require the embargo to be lifted, something that will require Congressional action.
President Obama will be the first sitting U.S. president to visit Cuba in nearly 90 years.