Traveling to Cuba, via Bahamas
December 21, 2009 4:06 AM   Subscribe

How does one intrepid traveler explain the double stamp to the feds upon return to US soil from a trip that may or may not include Cuba?

So, I have a friend (really its not me) and US citizen that is headed to Cuba for a few weeks. She plans to fly from a US city to Nassau, Bahamas, then quickly hop on a plane, fly to Havana. Stay a few weeks, return to Nassau, back to same US city. Presumably, her passport will have two stamps: one on say Christmas entering Bahamas, one on say January 15 entering Bahamas.

I realize there are other AskMes with answers about various odds and ends of travel to Cuba as an American citizen.

Her question is relatively specific:

Why do you say upon re-entry when the US re-entry officials notice you have two stamps of entry to the Bahamas a few weeks apart? The obvious question seems to be "so where were you for those few weeks?"

Do you lie and say you were in a different Carribean country? Do you ask the Bahamanian officials not to stamp twice? Do you cross your fingers and hope they don't?

I would love the answers to come from those who might have insight, not really looking for "she's asking for trouble dude" kind of answers. (Cause she gets that.)

Any advice would be appreciated, thanks.

*Obviously, no general or otherwise liscence has been garnered.
posted by RajahKing to Travel & Transportation (14 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Response by poster: Yes - Cuba won't stamp.

But Bahamas will stamp twice - b/c she's entering twice, once from US once from Cuba. So American officials say - why did you enter Bahamas twice? Where were you in that gap?

That's the question.
posted by RajahKing at 4:32 AM on December 21, 2009

Sorry, I misunderstood the question. It sounds, then, like the real question is whether the Bahamian immigration authorities stamp passports.

Some countries do, some don't.

One possible way to get the answer you want is to call the Bahamian Embassy and ask them if they stamp passports. But I wouldn't mention the side trip to Cuba.
posted by dfriedman at 4:36 AM on December 21, 2009

I have read about this concerning going to Cuba from Mexico, and people say to ask the Mexican immigration person not to stamp, and they are quite cooperative, especially with a bit of a "schmear", but that doesn't answer this specific question about the Bahamas.

I would ask on a forum that's specifically about this, although I have no recommendations at the moment. When I last researched this, googling travel to Cuba, stamp passport, etc etc, got me to specialized threads on travel forums.
posted by DMelanogaster at 4:40 AM on December 21, 2009

She went to puerto rico?
posted by milarepa at 4:45 AM on December 21, 2009

Best answer: First, call the Bahamian Consulate in New York (contact info here) and just say that you're an American citizen who's traveling soon and that you're wondering if you can enter the Bahamas with just a birth certificate and state-issued photo ID. They'll ask if you've got a passport; tell them that you just want to make sure it's OK to reenter the Bahamas with something else in case your passport gets lost/stolen or something on "the other islands you're visiting" on your vacation.

They might get your meaning, or not, but I would bet that given the dependence of the Bahamas on tourism, they're only going to require the bare minimum the US forces them to - which is, as of now, a requirement for American citizens entering/leaving the United States to use a passport. Not leaving the Bahamas, not entering the Bahamas. Just entering/leaving the United States. Nowhere does it say that you have to use the same document at both ends of a trip.

There seems to be a wealth of evidence that you don't need a passport to enter the Bahamas at all.

TimaticWeb, which is what many airlines use to determine if you've got the right documents to enter a new country (they pay if you don't, so they're interested in getting it right!), says that you CAN use an original/certified copy birth certificate with raised seal and photo ID - if she was getting on a plane today (see the date at the top), this is the requirement she'd be held to. Link.

This link gives details on what's needed for a US citizen embarking in the Bahamas bound for Cuba needs, and this link for the reverse journey. Note that re-entry to the Bahamas, as stated above, does not require a passport - only the birth certificate/ID combination.

The only hitch is that entry to Cuba, as you can see, seems to require a tourist card that must be obtained prior to arrival in Cuba and in the country of embarkation. It apparently is available at airline ticket counters, according to this page. More here on the tourist card if you scroll a bit.

So I would do this:

• Use passport to buy tickets and travel to/from the US.
• Use passport for first entry to Bahamas.
• Obtain tourist card for Cuba in the Bahamas - details here.
• Use birth certificate/photo ID combination to leave Bahamas.
• Use passport for entry to/departure from Cuba. They stamp the tourist card, not the passport (but it wouldn't hurt to say "por favor, en la carta" when you're at the immigration desk). Apparently this card doesn't stay in your passport.
• Use your birth certificate/photo ID combination to check in for your flight back to, and re-enter, the Bahamas.
• Use your passport to depart the Bahamas and reenter the US.
posted by mdonley at 5:25 AM on December 21, 2009 [5 favorites]

10 years ago, I went to Cuba. I changed planes in Jamaica, but without clearing immigration in Montego Bay. When i returned to the US, there weren't any new stamps in my passport. I explained to the US Immigration officer that i had been to Jamaica and left it at that.

At the time, I believe lying to an Immigration officer (and falsifying the Immigration documents) was a Federal crime, but there wasn't any mechanism for punishing those of us who may have done that. Things may have changed since then.

I was pretty paranoid about the whole thing....didn't take any pictures, purchased almost nothing to bring home (Ok...a few cigars...), left behind my Cuban guidebook, etc. I got back with no problems, but in retrospect, was probably far too cautious.

PS The Jamaicans (and Air Jamaica) were very, very familiar with this process and made it incredibly simple for Americans to travel to Havana. I was pretty concerned flying down there, but as we were landing in Montego Bay, the flight attendants did the typical announcement of the gates of likely transfer flights, including Havana. As I made my way to the gate (about 2 minutes away in the small Montego Bay airport), there was a woman announcing that anyone who needed Cuban visas should get into a specific line. As i paid for my Havana flight (in cash....all i had was a reservation, booked simultaneously, but separately from the Montego Bay flight), the sales agent asked, "Would you like to pay for your Cuban visa now?". Me: "Why yes, yes I would!" Less than 5 minutes later, ticket and visa in hand, I was on my way to the airport bar.

Could not have been easier.
posted by jindc at 5:38 AM on December 21, 2009

Just a follow up to mdonley, about the Cuban tourist card (what I called a visa, but is the same thing, as far as i can tell). It's a piece of perforated paper. Upon entry, both sides are stamped and one half remains with Cuban immigration. They look at your passport, but stamp the visa. Upon departure, they stamp the remaining half and keep it. In 1999, they also required US$25 in order to let you depart, so be sure to save a few bucks for the end.

The Cubans were just as interested as the Jamaicans in making this process easy. I spoke no Spanish, but there was never any question that they were going to stamp the visa and not my passport. They were really happy to have me (and my US dollars) there.
posted by jindc at 5:45 AM on December 21, 2009

I don't know about Jamaica, but in Mexico there's a special, but unofficial, line for Americans returning from Cuba. You may be hit up for a gratuity for the special service.
posted by electroboy at 6:38 AM on December 21, 2009

It isn't necessarily true that Cubans don't stamp American passports, and I wish people would stop saying this as if it were guaranteed. Sometimes they do, sometimes they don't, and if it's going to be a problem for your friend she shouldn't rely on the kindness of the Cuban authorities. I asked politely, in Spanish, but one of the officials stamped it anyway. (Nobody has ever cared about this, by the way.)
posted by The corpse in the library at 6:43 AM on December 21, 2009

My passport has a couple of Cuban stamps (as the Corpse says, sometimes they do, sometimes they don't) but nobody in the US has ever asked about them. I don't think I have ever returned directly, however, so it wasn't as "obvious" as this example.

Why doesn't she return via anywhere else, somewhere other than the Bahamas? Then there's nothing strange at all. In between the two dates, she was on a boat, right?
posted by rokusan at 6:57 AM on December 21, 2009 [1 favorite]

I suspect that when they stamp a passport, it's because they're not paying attention. Since the US is the only country on Earth that cares about whether you visited Cuba or not, the officials have to remember to make this single exception for the USA, and it's easy to imagine them not remembering or noticing every time on exit (Italy stamp, Italy stamp, USA no-stamp, Canada stamp, Germany stamp, Mexico stamp, USA stamp, Germany stamp, Mexico stamp, whoops). Exit is so lax.
posted by rokusan at 6:59 AM on December 21, 2009

Nah, the guy shook his finger at me and then stamped my passport. It was deliberate. But really, it's never been a problem. (I don't travel much, though.)
posted by The corpse in the library at 7:11 AM on December 21, 2009

There's some info on this page:

(I'm British and am astounded that it is a criminal offence for Americans to visit Cuba! Land of the free anyone? ;-)

Good luck!
posted by richb at 4:23 AM on December 22, 2009

If you hold a dual passport, you must enter and leave the US on your United States passport. You can enter other countries on your alternate passport. That will avoid the Cuba stamp on your US docs.

Depending on your heritage obtaining a second passport isn't all that difficult. Your friend doesn't have enough time to do that, but it's one fairly common situation why someone doesn't have a perfectly logical sequence of passport stamps. There are plenty of others. I've never had a customs agent question why my sequence of stamps wasn't perfectly logical. Half the time they seem to stamp any old page in the book anyway.
posted by 26.2 at 12:51 PM on December 22, 2009

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