Can a Canadian citizen travel to Cuba via Canada on a US passport?
January 3, 2005 8:05 AM   Subscribe

My husband is a Canadian citizen and resident who also holds an American passport. His Canadian passport has expired and he doesn't have time to renew it before a trip we are planning to take with my parents (he also can't find his birth certificate). We're booking last-minute, and a lot of good deals for Cuba are coming up. Is it at all possible for him to travel to Cuba through Canada on his U.S. passport? [+]
posted by anonymous to Clothing, Beauty, & Fashion (13 answers total)
The author of this book went to Cuba through Mexico with a U.S. passport. Apparently the customs agents in Cuba won't stamp your U.S. passport if you ask them nicely. If it does get stamped, you'd likely have problems with U.S. immigration, but I'm not sure Canadian immigration would care.

I don't have any first-hand experience with this, though, so caveat lector.
posted by savetheclocktower at 8:14 AM on January 3, 2005

The US State Department is definitely calling any travel to Cuba, unless you fit one of their categories, a no-no for any American citizens, with criminal penalties possible.

Which doesn't mean it's not possible, or that you couldn't get away with it anyway, but that's the official line.
posted by occhiblu at 8:22 AM on January 3, 2005

And I think I misunderstood your question. If you live in Canada now, then this is more applicable. The relevant bit:

Dual citizens (of Canada and some other country) who choose to travel on their non-Canadian passport will not be allowed to return to Canada if they only have a Canadian citizenship card to prove their Canadian citizenship. The citizenship card is not a travel document and has few security features to prevent tampering. Only a valid Canadian passport proves your Canadian citizenship. Canadian citizens will not be given a visa for their non-Canadian passport. If, however, your second nationality is from a country (e.g. France) where nationals do not require a visa to visit Canada, you don't need a to prove your right to enter Canada when travelling on your other passport.
posted by occhiblu at 8:36 AM on January 3, 2005

I've always heard that Cuban customs guys will happily stamp a piece of paper inside your US passport, which you can remove when going back to the states.
posted by mathowie at 8:51 AM on January 3, 2005

Considering the US is still at "war" with Cuba, this is the equivalent of travelling to Germany back in 1940.

If you plan to live in the USA after this, I would consider letting the US have any knowledge of your visit to Cuba exceedingly stupid. Taking a risk with your future moving plans is a bad idea, and any hope that your passport can remain unmolested after the trip is just hope -- not a guarantee.

Of course, you *could* "lose" your passport before you go to the US, if it does get stamped. :) The contortions necessary to deal with that problem would pale in comparison to being charged with treason or something equally wacky.
posted by shepd at 9:18 AM on January 3, 2005

During my visit to Cuba, it appeared as though the customs agents had an unofficial policy of not stamping American passports, from what I could tell (hell, they didn't even stamp my Canadian passport). Also, since you would have to be going through Canada, you could always lose the passport before re-entering the US, as shepd mentioned.

P.S. I really don't think you're going to get charged with treason; the punishment for visiting Cuba used to be a large fine, no?
posted by Krrrlson at 9:37 AM on January 3, 2005

Any Canadian Consulate will give you a passport on short notice if you can show an emergency ned e.g. Airplane tix

How about a link to these travel bargains to cuba...
posted by Fupped Duck at 9:57 AM on January 3, 2005

I can't imagine the US would care about your having visited Cuba when not a US citizen, though; the State Department says only that it's illegal for US citizens to travel there without specific permission. If it's legal to travel to Cuba as a Canadian, then you haven't violated any international laws. That's like saying the US will throw you in jail if you're a Dutchman who's smoked pot in Amsterdam.

livii, though, another concern might be visas, since they seem to be required for both US and Canadian citizens (though I don't know where your citizenship is), both in terms of the time it'll take to get them and what documentation you'll need to get them. Passports are often required for such things.
posted by occhiblu at 10:15 AM on January 3, 2005

Best answer: You're basically playing the odds here. What's the cost of going some place other than Cuba for your vacation, versus what's the cost of you husband getting caught. Fines for bringing a Cuban cigar into the United States are about $500 per cigar. I don't know what fines for visiting are, but likely quite a lot higher. There's also the possibility of jail time, but my impression is that's fairly unusual.

The odds of him getting caught may not be terribly high, in ideal circumstances (he's travelling from a Canadian city on his Canadian passport) but these aren't ideal circumstances anymore, since he'd be travelling on his US passport.

Also, when I applied for my passport, the official wait time was 10 business days, but they had it in my hands in 5 days, which included mailing it to me. That was the regular service. I'm sure if you paid for the expedited service they could have it for you even faster, so don't rule out the possibility that he could simply have his Canadian passport renewed in time.

As an added note, even if he travels on his Canadian passport, if it gets stamped he'd be well advised to avoid ever using it to travel to the US.
posted by jacquilynne at 10:24 AM on January 3, 2005

If you live near a canadian passport office, you might consider showing up early one morning with a sob story. A friend of mine got hers next day from the toronto office after discovering she'd lost hers immediately before a trip.

That said, it's still possible to travel to fidelland on a u.s. passport. Americans are easy to spot at cuban immigration: they're the ones yelling "no stamp! no stamp!" and holding on to their passports for dear life. Make certain that your husband doesn't lose his passport while you're in cuba, i've heard (confirmation, anyone?) that the cubans forward lost american passports to the dreaded u.s. state department.
posted by psychoticreaction at 11:10 AM on January 3, 2005

Best answer: He needs proof of Canadian citizenship to re-enter Canada. I wouldn't leave Canada without that in hand. Driving over the border you might get away with only a driver's license - if they're not feeling too picky - but travelling by air without a .ca passport or birth cert. is a lot riskier. Re-entering Canada with only a US passport and an Ontario driver's license, and no other official papers: they might think he's a US citizen living illegally in Canada or something and be inclined to question him. I have a US passport and an Ontario driver's license and they always want to know if I have my visa with me/what my status in Canada is. You can try expediting a passport renewal - maybe calling the passport office and explaining the situation.

If he is a dual citizen of the US/Canada, even if he used his Canadian passport to travel to Cuba, if the US found out they would still consider him a US citizen that went to Cuba without permission. The fact that he's Canadian too and it's okay to go there in Canada doesn't have any weight with the US; all they care about is their own claim on his citizenship. (link one; link two, relevant portion: "Countries usually frame their citizenship laws with little or no regard for the citizenship laws of other countries. In my son's case, for instance, the US does not care that Canada thinks he is a Canadian citizen, and Canada does not care that the US thinks he is a US citizen.")

I mean, he could travel there on his .ca passport, he could even try to travel there on his US one and just not get it stamped, and there's a good chance you wouldn't have any hassle in the process. But if you plan on moving to the US at some point, and they find out (and it is the sort of thing they can ask about, what countries have you travelled to and why), they won't look kindly on it. So, me personally, I wouldn't do it.
posted by Melinika at 11:25 AM on January 3, 2005

This is from a State Department form (pdf)

WARNING: Transactions relating to travel, trade, and financial dealings with Cuba are restricted under the Cuban Assets Control Regulations, 31 C.F.R. Part 515, the Reporting and Procedures Regulations, 31 C.F.R. Part 501, and the Trading With the Enemy Act, 50 USC App. Section 5(b). 18 USC 1001 provides for up to 5 years imprisonment and a US$10,000 fine for any person who knowingly and willfully makes any materially false, fictitious, or fraudulent statement or representation on this form or in any other information submitted to OFAC. You are reminded that it is illegal to make use of charge cards during your stay in Cuba. Please be advised that each authorized traveler may carry no more than $300 of quarterly remittances to Cuba and may not return with any merchandise acquired in Cuba other than exempt informational materials.


I seem to remember reading that if U.S. Customs finds a Cuban entry mark inside a U.S. passport, they automatically assess a large fine, and it's up to the passport-holder to contest it.
posted by WestCoaster at 1:36 PM on January 3, 2005

You can go, though the State Department (unjustly) considers it illegal. When departing from Mexico to Cuba you buy a tourist visa -- a little card to put in your passport. In Cuba, they'll stamp that. However, you are also going to want to avoid a peculiar departure/arrival stamp in Mexico with no stops in between. For a small fee, Mexican custom officials can generally be convinced to not stamp you or stamp the visa, instead. There is also a departure tax from Cuba ($20, if I remember correctly).

Also, when re-entering the US, it's best not to outright lie; that's a legitimate felony. Hopefully, it won't come up. If you do get caught they fine you, but you have 30 days to contest the fine. At which point you get put on a list of pending court cases. The US government has never proceeded with any of those cases, however, and has no plans at the moment to do so. If they ever did, there are a number of organizations ready to provide pro-bono legal services. It is generally considered that the ban on travel to Cuba will not hold up in court. Presumably, this is why the government doesn't prosecute any of the cases; they just hope the uncertainty and fear regarding fines will keep people from travelling there.
posted by justin at 9:39 PM on January 3, 2005

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