US/Canadian Visiting Cuba – Bad idea or not bad idea?
January 15, 2011 1:27 PM   Subscribe

US/Canadian Visiting Cuba – Bad idea or not bad idea?

Variations on this question have been asked a couple of times before (here, here), but the most recent question is a couple of years ago, and there are some specifics to our situation I wanted to ask about:

My partner and I are thinking of going to on a vacation in Cuba.

We both live in Canada. I am a Canadian Citizen. She is a dual citizen- Canada and the US.

Based on what I’ve read, it’s illegal, under US law, for her as a US citizen to visit Cuba as a tourist, even if she travels on her Canadian Passport.

I’m sort of torn. On the one hand: Cuba seems like a really interesting trip for us (Somewhere where we can divide our time between lazing around on a beach, and then actually getting to see an interesting part of the world). On the other – I’m someone who hates doing risky things, especially risky things that involve immigration laws, borders, etc.

If it matters (and it might): While we both live in Canada, we go to the US a fair bit. I’m there for work with some frequency, and find all the paperwork daunting and a hassle each time I go. While it’s not an immediate plan for us, it’s not inconceivable that our lives might lead us to live in the US some day, in which case I’d probably want to use my partner’s status as a US citizen to help me get a Green Card.

I’m looking for tips from the Green. Am I over-worrying this? Is it the sort of thing that, while technically illegal, pretty much never creates problems for anyone? Or is it the sort of thing that realistically could come back to haunt us some time in the future?

Any thoughts much appreciated!
posted by PersonPerson to Law & Government (24 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite

Wikitravel has some information about Americans visiting Cuba, which you may find useful if you haven't seen it already.
posted by Maximian at 1:35 PM on January 15, 2011

There is extensive information on the US Department of State's web site about the legal ways in which US citizens can travel to Cuba.
posted by dfriedman at 1:36 PM on January 15, 2011

Funny coincidence. I just ran across this a minute ago. Obama administration relaxes Cuba restrictions.
posted by PareidoliaticBoy at 1:36 PM on January 15, 2011

I've heard that the Cuban customs does not stamp US passports. However I must ask... If she has dual citizenship, does she have a CDN passport? I should think that there would be no trouble using it alone to go to Cuba... The catch is whether or not you will have a stop over in USA and have to go through US customs.
posted by Gungho at 1:40 PM on January 15, 2011

Response by poster: Thanks all!

Interesting news about the new relaxation on travel regulations! As near as I can tell, it doesn't change our situation much. As the linked article says "the new measures do not allow US tourists to travel to (Cuba)". I had a look at the various categories of travel that are allowed, and I don't think any of them apply to us...
posted by PersonPerson at 1:42 PM on January 15, 2011

Response by poster: Gungho: She has passports from both countries. If she were to go to Cuba, she would certainly travel on her Canadian passport.
posted by PersonPerson at 1:43 PM on January 15, 2011

Yeah...I think being that she lives in Canada and has a Canadian passport to travel under there is a pretty small chance anyone is going to notice/care. That isn't a 0 possibility mind you, but an educated guess puts it at pretty small. FWIW it isn't you who would be dong anything risky at all, but your partner.

Kind of a related question that might have affect: How often do you guys come to the US? Never vs several times a year might make a slight difference in assessing the slight risk.
posted by edgeways at 2:00 PM on January 15, 2011

Can't help on the technical aspects, but can report that Cuba's a wonderful place to visit with much to see, from Hemingway's finca to the scores of '50s American cars trudging to and fro, held together no doubt with bailing wire and Gorilla Glue, and lots of Spanish colonial buildings tragically falling apart but at least not "renovated" and stuffed with Pizza Huts. Good thing: Rent bikes and cycle all over. People are friendly.
posted by fivesavagepalms at 2:02 PM on January 15, 2011

Response by poster: edgeways: Yeah, if we had no connection to the US, I wouldn't worry. But like I said - we go there a lot, and I work there sometimes, and can see wanting to live there some day.
posted by PersonPerson at 2:07 PM on January 15, 2011

Cuba doesn't even stamp Canadian passports, never mind american ones. On arrival, they give you a cuban visa on a piece of paper, and you have to hand it back on departure. There's no evidence in your passport you were ever there.

Also, when i've been to cuba, there's always been americans at the same hotel/resort to me. (Generally they are people who live near the Canadian border, and just drive up and fly to cuba from a Canadian airport.) I really don't think you've got anything to worry about.
posted by Kololo at 2:09 PM on January 15, 2011 [1 favorite]

Well, it seem as the relationship thaws that the travel restrictions are slowly being relaxed, and in time might well-be eliminated. Additionally, the category of "students and religious groups" is pretty broad, and likely subject to varying degrees of interpretation. This clearly offers all sorts of room for skirting the ban, or outright fudging of the facts. I am sure that others with more direct experience will along to offer their advice, but I'd certainly say that things are becoming less onerous for everyone, American or not.I don't think that Cuba stamps Canadian passports, but even if they do, how is American customs going to determine that that you and your wife didn't travel from Canada to Cuba as part of a religious group of beaver worshippers?

Given your stated aversion to risk this is obviously not a tactic you would likely choose, but do you see how open to interpretation this new policy now makes things? If the Republicans win in 2012 though, this could be entirely reversed. Given that this is a dynamic situation, it's obviously a crap-shoot. So the short answer is that if you want to be absolutely assured of never having this be a problem, then you shouldn't go.
posted by PareidoliaticBoy at 2:20 PM on January 15, 2011

Response by poster: (I guess I can try and spell out the top fear I can have. It is something like this: some time in the future, we decide we want to move to the US. And as part of some application process, we have to list what countries we've traveled to, or are asked specifically if we've been to Cuba. Or something like that. Top option for some people in that situation would be to lie, but being the nervous person I am in these situations, I wouldn't want to perjure myself... )
posted by PersonPerson at 2:27 PM on January 15, 2011

Several of my (US citizen) friends have traveled to Cuba over the past decade, and none of them has ever had difficulties. My understanding is that US travelers need explicit documentation of non-tourist status: my friends were involved in education or performance-related projects while there, and I believe that is explicitly what their visas were for. Hearing about such travels has given me the impression that it is much easier for US citizens to travel to Cuba than it initially appears (dfriedman's link above confirms this).

I don't know if this is your type of thing, but I bet there are some interesting humanitarian programs through which you could do service for part of your visit and take it easy for the rest (though I also am thinking that with a Canadian passport travel should be no problem).
posted by marlys at 2:27 PM on January 15, 2011

A friend of mine who is a US citizen has traveled to Cuba on vacation. He is careful to go via a third country, which is his "cover story" vacation. So for example, you fly from Canada to Mexico, for your "Mexican vacation". Once in Mexico, you take a flight (with an entirely separate airline) from Mexico to Cuba, using your Canadian passport. Return to Mexico. Fly from Mexico to Canada. Do not enter the US. Don't even take the US passport with you.
posted by Joh at 2:41 PM on January 15, 2011

PersonPerson - there's ample evidence that you can easily go to Cuba in a low-risk scenario. If you are worried about an unpredictable possible risk in the future, no one can reassure you of that.

There are lovely vacations to be had in, say, Jamaica or Dominican Republic. :)
posted by Kololo at 4:39 PM on January 15, 2011

I read somewhere that there has never been a U.S. citizen prosecuted for traveling to Cuba.
posted by jayder at 7:50 PM on January 15, 2011

I was there a couple of years ago a met a guy from Chicago who said he'd been living in cuba on and off for a decade.
posted by bonobothegreat at 11:23 PM on January 15, 2011

So I live on Grand Cayman and Cuba is basically next door. I have been there a few times (last time in August last year). Though I'm not a US citizen - I can confirm they don't stamp passports - it's a slip of paper that they retrieve on exit - always feel disappointed that I have nothing to show stamp-wise that I've been there in my passport. I know a lot of ex-pats here (Canadians, US citizens, Brits, etc.) and Cuba is the long weekend, cheap booze, rent a house and drink rum all day, destination of choice for many. Everyone goes there - no one worries about it. These folks are all professionals (accountants, lawyers, bankers, etc) and I've never heard of downstream consequences for them (other then the hangovers). You can get there direct from Canada I believe on some charter flights, or a lot of folks jump a direct flight to Cayman (4 hours on AC or Westjet from Toronto ) and then it's a quick hour back up in the air to Havana.

Also my advice is to go now - my visits have only been over a two year period but every time I go the number of old cars on the road seems to be decreasing, more people are walking around on their cell phones, I see more signs with URLs and email addresses on them - basically it's getting a little more modern and a little less of a time warp back to the 50's every day (which is great for the locals - I don't begrudge them at all for wanting to improve their situation and the infrastructure). Still plenty of cool things to see and do - interesting stories to hear from the locals - and you'll have a great time!
posted by inflatablekiwi at 4:51 AM on January 16, 2011

I've said it before, I'll say it again: Cuba does sometimes stamp American passports, even if you nicely ask the customs official not to. If having a stamp from Cuba in your passport is going to be a problem for you, you should keep that in mind.
posted by The corpse in the library at 2:08 PM on January 16, 2011

I'd go now before another republican gets elected president and reverses everything.
posted by freakazoid at 5:28 PM on January 16, 2011

I am not a lawyer, but I am a dual citizen who went to Cuba. They don't stamp /any/ passports - you get a travel card which they then stamp. There is no record of the visit on your Canadian passport. Presumably this is to make it easier for those who visit Cuba and then subsequently the US, as opposed to the oft-stated misinformation that they only avoid stamping US passports.

While they do research you extensively while processing your green card, I'm pretty sure they can't punish you retroactively for doing something that was legal as a citizen of Canada at the time. They could probably ding your wife but it's probably never going to come up. This is not something they are enforcing, really.

I travel to the US a bunch and find US customs/immigration to be polite and efficient people who have more pressing issues then where I get my sunburns. No one has ever asked me about any of it on an official basis.
posted by SassHat at 8:09 PM on January 16, 2011

Response by poster: SasssHat - I guess that's a good point. It is, of course, legal for *me* to visit Cuba now. Even in my largely hypothetical scenario where we end up applying for a green card for me some time in the future - it seems pretty far fetched to imagine that part of that investigation would consist of asking whether my *wife* had ever been to Cuba. And... of course.. there would be no actual documentation of that trip...
posted by PersonPerson at 9:28 PM on January 16, 2011

Unless you (or your partner) applies for a US Federal job that requires a security clearance of some type, you really should be just fine and no one will ask. Even then, as long as you don't come across as hiding it you should be fine.
posted by edgeways at 8:24 AM on January 17, 2011

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