For nearly the past two years, Americans visiting Cuba were allowed to bring back up $400 of goods per trip, of which up to $100 worth could be tobacco products and alcohol, which almost certainly meant rum and cigars. Soon, that limit will go away.
On Friday, President Obama issued a presidential policy directive that will lift that cap and make several other changes in the relations between the two countries to help promote business and trade.
For travelers, the most noticeable change will be the removal of the $100 limit on what they are allowed to bring back in terms of Cuban tobacco and alcohol as long as they are for personal use and pay the normal duties that would apply.
There will also no longer be a limit on these products purchased in countries other than Cuba, previously Americans were able to legally purchase Cuban cigars abroad, but could not bring them back to the U.S.
This means Americans can bring 100 Cuban cigars, valued less than $800, duty free every 31 days; anything over that amount is subject to a flat 4 percent rate of duty. That’s the same policy that applies to bringing cigars back from any other country.
Online and mail order sales remain prohibited as does importing Cuban cigars for anything other than personal use, meaning it is still illegal for retailers in the U.S. to sell Cuban cigars.
The president said the directive “takes a comprehensive and whole-of-government approach to promote engagement with the Cuban government and people, and make our opening to Cuba irreversible.”
Beyond this change, the directive will now allow U.S. businesses to sell consumer goods online directly to Cubans without requiring a license first. The Office of Foreign Assests Control will also be lifting a regulation that prevented a ship from docking at a U.S. port to load or unload cargo if it had been in Cuba within the past 180 days.
Other regulations are being streamlined to help U.S. nationals provide money and support to the Cuban people and the country’s infrastructure. On the educational front, Cubans will now have expanded opportunities to receive scholarships and grants to study in the United States, including for scientific research and religious activities. Clinical and non-clinical medical trials of Cuban treatments will soon be allowed to be conducted in the United States.
While the changes do not end the embargo, they are seen as another significant step taken by the Obama administration in normalizing relations between the two countries, and will be the guiding document for all federal agencies going forward. The next president could certainly issue a directive undoing all of President Obama’s changes, though that would take a significant amount of time and likely be counter to the general sentiment of both countries’ populations.
Additionally, the directive explicitly says it will not seek a regime change, but that the U.S. “will continue to make clear that the United States cannot impose a different model on Cuba because the future of Cuba is up to the Cuban people.” It calls on the Cuban government to offer respect for universal human rights and fundamental freedoms for every individual.
All of the changes will go into effect on Monday when they are published in the Federal Register. The full directive can be read here.