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Q&A – Understanding latest U.S.-Cuba rules

Q&A: Understanding latest U.S.-Cuba rules
BY AMY SHERMAN ASHERMAN@MIAMIHERALD.COM
01/15/2015 5:40 PM 01/15/2015 9:00 PM

Last month, President Barack Obama announced that the U.S. would
normalize diplomatic relations with Cuba. On Thursday, the Treasury and
Commerce departments announced revised rules related to travel, trade,
banking and other matters. The rules go into effect Friday. Below, some
specific answers to questions about these new rules.

Can anyone travel to Cuba now?

No. Tourism is still banned. The 12 categories of travelers — which
existed before Obama’s announcement — are still in effect. Travelers
allowed to go include those visiting family or for educational,
religious or humanitarian activities. It will, however, be easier to
travel because none of the categories will require a license, which
means people won’t have to seek prior approval from the U.S. government
(previously some of them did). Travel agents and airlines will also be
allowed to provide services without a specific license.

How many cigars and bottles of rum can I bring back if I travel to Cuba?

Visitors can bring back $400 worth of goods from Cuba, including up to
$100 of cigars and alcohol combined.

How can I buy a ticket?

Until now, the U.S. government issued licenses to travel service
providers — many in Florida — who then helped travelers obtain visas and
sold them seats on charter services to Cuba. So-called people-to-people
operators were licensed to provide educational trips that promoted
exchanges with the Cuban people.

The new regulations allow travel agents and airlines to sell tickets
without a specific license from the Treasury Department’s Office of
Foreign Assets Control (OFAC). That means it will be much easier to book
a trip and prices should come down significantly.

How can I fly from the U.S. to Cuba?

Several charter companies offer flights to Havana, Holguín, Santa Clara
and Cienfuegos. Until now, the only way onto those planes was through a
company licensed by OFAC. That could quickly change. But don’t expect
commercial airlines to suddenly flood the market. Like all other route
decisions, airlines need to see if there is a market of travelers
willing to pay high enough airfares.

Can I use my American Express or Mastercard when I go to Cuba?

Yes, eventually. It will take time for banks to establish the
infrastructure needed to handle credit and debit cards in Cuba.
Travelers should first check with their credit card companies to find
out when such services might begin.

Can I open a bank account in Cuba?

Banks — not individuals — can have correspondent accounts at Cuban
financial institutions, but they are in the name of the U.S. depository
institution, not in the name of a specific U.S. individual. The U.S.
institution can use this account to engage in licensed transactions
(such as accepting payments for authorized agricultural sales to Cuba)
on behalf of a U.S. person.

Is there a limit to how much money I can send to Cuba?

The limits on non-family remittances to Cuban nationals per quarter has
risen from $500 to $2,000 (with the exception of Cuba government
officials or communist party officials). There aren’t limits on
remittances for Cuban-Americans helping out family members or those
destined for humanitarian projects or to start private businesses,
including agricultural endeavors.

Can I purchase a smartphone for my relatives in Cuba?

The simple answer is yes, says Cristina Venegas, media studies professor
at University of California Santa Barbara. However, service is limited
and expensive and would have to be provided by a local provider as U.S.
companies are not yet set up to provide the service. “It will take time
to sort all of this out and Cuban telco will have to make adjustments to
policies on their end,” she said.

Many Cuban-Americans already take their relatives unlocked U.S. phones
that are loaded with SIM cards in Cuba.

Can Americans open businesses in Cuba?

No, that is not allowed under U.S. or Cuban law. (Though in reality some
Americans are de-facto business owners in Cuba because they fund
businesses run by their relatives.) The new rules, however, allow for
exports of building materials, agriculture equipment and tools needed
for private entrepreneurs such as auto mechanics or barbers. Most
imports and exports between the two countries will continue to remain
prohibited as a result of these changes, according to a senior
administration official. Also, the embargo remains in place unless
Congress votes to lift it.

Information from the Associated Press was used in this article.

Source: Q&A: Understanding latest U.S.-Cuba rules | The Miami Herald –
http://www.miamiherald.com/news/nation-world/world/americas/cuba/article6702891.html

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