I am not actually going to Cuba
February 8, 2007 5:23 AM   Subscribe

Hypotheticafilter: If my wife (UK Citizen) pays for everything on a trip to Cuba from the UK, will I (US Citizen) still be guilty of "Engaging in Trade with an Enemy"?

The legal issues of US citizens going to Cuba has been raised here (and elsewhere) many times before and I'm pretty sure I understand the basic rule:
USians are not prohibited from actually setting foot on Cuban soil, just from giving them any money for anything. There are exceptions for people acquiring special licenses.

So let's eliminate the "if"s and "but"s. Were we to travel from the UK to Cuba for a holiday and have my wife pay for the hotels, meals, trinkets, curios, mojitos, and cigars using her named UK Bank card, have I broken any of the Department of Treasury's regulations? Let's say I don't even take my wallet and never handle any cash or coin.

We return to the UK and then at some point in the future go back to the US to visit or even live. (Now I know that in most cases, Cuban officials no longer stamp US Passports, but let's say they did) Am I going to have hell to pay? How would I prove that I didn't actually spend any money? Is my wife grandfathered under the US restriction because we share a bank account?

How about something more simple... Would I get in trouble for smoking a Cuban cigar in the UK? (not that I'm saying I did, just askin')
posted by medium format to Law & Government (16 answers total)
Well, they sell cuban cigars in the UK, so I imagine you can smoke 'em. I know I did when I was over there.
posted by notsnot at 5:38 AM on February 8, 2007

This document on the Treasury website specifically says that prepaid travel through a party in a third country is not permitted. They are talking about the case where the third party is a travel agency, but the same logic may apply.
posted by smackfu at 5:39 AM on February 8, 2007

Cuban tourist visas are little pieces of paper. No marks go in the passport at all. And that was on my UK passport, for which there'd be no ramifications at all even if there had been a stamp.
posted by talitha_kumi at 5:46 AM on February 8, 2007

How about something more simple... Would I get in trouble for smoking a Cuban cigar in the UK? (not that I'm saying I did, just askin')

I vaguely remember a US law being discussed a couple of years ago, where it would be illegal for US citizens to use Cuban products no matter what country they consumed them in. The article talked about how this would be difficult to track (for example a lot of sugar in Europe comes from Cuba). I can't find the article or any reference to it though, so perhaps this was a proposed law/idea that never went anywhere.
posted by mikepop at 5:48 AM on February 8, 2007

  • in theory, Americans aren't supposed to buy Cuban products overseas, even for consumption overseas. There were a lot of articles about this maybe 2 years ago, when Bush tightened the travel restrictions. In practice, well, who cares? You can have it confiscated if you try to bring it into the US though.
  • even if they do stamp your passport, it's unlikely anyone's going to care. I do have a Cuban stamp in my passport, and have never been asked about the trip on re-entering the US, which I've done 15-20 times since then. It's not even really blatant, it doesn't say Cuba anywhere, just MARTÍ (the name of the airport) and the date.
  • There are specific rules about third-party payment in Cuba. Last time I looked into it it required pre-approval or officially-permitted third-parties, not just "my wife" or "my friend." This was policy in 2004 or so, and I'd believe smackfu's link as to the new situation...

    But, things have been changing. All the current policies are online.

  • posted by whatzit at 5:50 AM on February 8, 2007

    Best answer: I disagree with Smackfu that your wife paying for a trip to Cuba is considered prepaid travel. You are not paying your wife in advance to then spend thee money while you are there. Your darling bride, out of the goodness of her heart and from the depths of her pocket is paying for the trip herself. No quid pro quo. I think you have no problem whatsoever going to Cuba and having your wife pay.

    You would prove you didn't spend the money if questioned (but really that is a very low probability) by showing them your wife's named UK credit card receipts. Simple. I do not think your wife is included in the restrictions in any way, shared bank account or not, if she is not a US citizen.
    posted by JohnnyGunn at 6:28 AM on February 8, 2007

    Are you concerned about breaking sacred and holy US regulations, or are you concerned about getting caught?

    Seems unlikely that you'd be caught. Not that I'm any sort of expert, but the only circumstance I've heard of where American tourists get caught is when they go straight to and from Cuba with a connection in Canada or Mexico.

    If for some reason they stamped your passport with a big MEDIUM FORMAT CAME TO CUBA AND GAVE CASTRO A BIG HUG AND THEY TALKED ABOUT HOW THEY LOVE TERRAISTS AND GEORGE BUSH IS A BIG DOODYHEAD AND OMG HE SPENT LOTS OF MONEY HERE TOO THAT NAUGHTY MAN stamp, a clever person might simply arrange to lose or destroy his passport and get a shiny new blank one before going back to the US, if he were particularly paranoid.
    posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 6:33 AM on February 8, 2007 [1 favorite]

    It is deliberately vague, and I have wondered the same thing. It can be argued that by travelling with your wife, you "caused" money to be spent in Cuba that otherwise wouldn't have been spent.

    Suffice it to say there are two issues.
    1. Is it legal? Nobody really knows. I don't know if it has ever been tested, but I am not a lawyer by any means.

    2. Even if it is, would you be able to withstand the investigation, dunning letters, civil and adminsitrative fines (Criminal sanctions are rarely sought because it requires a trial and high levels of proof i.e. they actually have to put up or shut up)Thus does it mean possibly having to hire a lawyer? Possibly fighting NOT to get your salary or assets attached in a civil forfieture?

    Funny thing is that I heard that when people actually *fight* these civil fines, the gov't usually backs down.
    But don't take my word for it, please!
    posted by xetere at 6:56 AM on February 8, 2007

    Would I get in trouble for smoking a Cuban cigar in the UK?

    Depends. As I recall, the US has laws on the books prohibiting you from going to another country to do something that's legal THERE, but not legal HERE. So, for example, if you fly to Thailand to have sex with a minor, you can be arrested in the US for child molestation. Similarly, if you go to Amsterdam to smoke some weed, you'll get busted. In that case, I don't know what charge would apply, but since the whole idea of the law makes no sense, I can't make sense of the specifics. But, there it is.
    posted by Spoonman at 9:25 AM on February 8, 2007

    If it helps, the law in question is the Helms-Burton Act.
    posted by awesomebrad at 11:09 AM on February 8, 2007

    Spoonman, do you have a citation for any of that? I know that in the UK specific limited laws have been passed about sex abuse of children abroad, and also of war crimes such as date from the Nazi era by immigrants to the UK. I just can't see how any law would be passed in any sensible jurisdiction that said, for example, this 15 year old who had sex with this other 15 year old in The Netherlands while on holiday has committed a crime.

    Or any analogous situation, either. Has the US gone that far?
    posted by dash_slot- at 11:14 AM on February 8, 2007

    tons of us citizens go to cuba. Maybe use cash if this actually worries you. The us gov't isn't spending a lot of time worrying about you buying dinner and some drinks in cuba.
    I have a friend who goes yearly for about a month and uses his credit card. Has been fine for the last ten years.
    posted by henryis at 12:16 PM on February 8, 2007

    Best answer: Re: Legality of a US'ian enjoying a Cuban cigar bought and smoked outside the US.

    From the Department of the Treasury's Office of Foreign Assets Control.
    The question is often asked whether United States citizens
    or permanent resident aliens of the United States may
    legally purchase Cuban origin goods, including tobacco and
    alcohol products, in a third country for personal use
    outside the United States. The answer is no.
    Those who want to read the full Q & A can go here. (Note link to PDF)

    OFAC's Cuba sanctions Web Page.
    posted by xetere at 12:56 PM on February 8, 2007

    RE: Spoonman's reply, and dash_slot-'s question, I'm not really sure Spoonman is right. Obivously this is an extremely untechnical source, but right there inside every US passport it says:

    "Familiarize yourself with local laws and customs of the countries to which you are traveling. While in a foreign country, you are subject to its laws."

    ...now, IANAL, but it seems to me if you were also subject to US laws it would say that somewhere too, hmm? Or are they just trying to not confuse the feeble-minded among us by giving too many warnings?
    posted by jckll at 1:17 PM on February 8, 2007

    I am a prof at a Canadian university which has an academic program linked to our university in Cuba. We frequently have Americans who register for the program, come to Canada, fly to Cuba, participate in the program, bring all of their consumable souvenirs back to Canada and then return to the US (with nothing from Cuba). Our paranoid legal department would not let this one go if there were any problem.
    posted by kch at 10:19 PM on February 8, 2007

    Response by poster: Thanks, all, for the discussion. I am not worried one bit about breaking any regulations. This really was, mostly, a hypothetical question regarding the extent to which the US would reach its legal arms.
    I really doubt they are going to come down on me with an iron fist if I go up the road to my local off-license and purchase/smoke a fine Monte Christo.
    There are recent cases of the laws being enforced with fines and it seems the policy followed by most is one of denial.
    posted by medium format at 8:24 AM on February 11, 2007

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