Question: What are the travel requirements for going to Cuba? Is it possible to fly out of Tijuana, Mexico, to Cuba with a U.S. passport? Are there any other ID or passport cards required?
Hamm responds that while it is possible to reach Cuba by crossing into Mexico, it is not worth the risk. She notes that “criminal penalties for violating the Regulations range up to 10 years in prison, $1,000,000 in corporate fines, and $250,000 in individual fines. Civil penalties up to $65,000 per violation may also be imposed.”
That’s fair enough. Only two people have ever been successfully prosecuted before under 31 CFR Part 515 and it is iffy whether this law would survive a court challenge, Regan v. Wald aside. Still, Hamm is correct that it is currently unlawful for a non-Cuban to travel to Cuba without a license.
She then writes about the difficulty of actually obtaining a ticket to Cuba–
Even if you want to travel independently to Cuba (with or without a license), just getting there may present problems. When I tried to view Tijuana to Havana on Kayak.com, I got this message: “Due to United States travel restrictions, we are unable to display travel itineraries that include Cuba.” Riverside travel agent Sonia Robledo told me last week that she tried to search for fares (at my behest), and she was also denied access.
It is true that any U.S. based travel website will not sell tickets to Cuba to the general public. Even the foreign sites of companies like Expedia and Travelocity do not sell tickets to Cuba. Enter in HAV or Havana and nothing will come up.
But there are others ways to book tickets to Cuba that are relatively straightforward. Avianca-Taca does not sell tickets to Cuba on its U.S. site, but does on its other worldwide sites. I searched for a Bogota – Havana flight on Avianca’s Mexico site and found a r/t for 6109MEX or about 512USD. Add a Los Angeles – Bogota r/t as a separate reservation and there is no need to travel down to Tijiuana to begin the journey.
Lesser known online travel agencies like Opodo (below their German website) also sell tickets to Cuba and accept U.S. credit cards–
USA Today‘s Laura Bly reports about a man named Zachary Sanders who recently settled a 13-year dispute over a 1998 trip to Cuba by paying a $6,500 fine. But if you look deeper into his case, he was not fined for spending money in Cuba (under U.S. law it is spending money, not actually visiting Cuba that is banned), but for failing to return a form to the Office of Foreign Assets Controls detailing his expenditures in Cuba. Sanders also falsified his U.S. arrivals form (not declaring he had been to Cuba) and failed to declare illegal contraband, a box of Cuban cigars.
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I am not going to tell you to flout U.S. law and travel to Cuba. I see grave constitutional conflicts with such travel restrictions and the Obama Administration has wisely halted the petty threats of fine to missionaries and tourists that the Bush Administration engaged in, yet until Congress rolls back the failed embargo, you still travel to Cuba at your own risk. My Cuban trip report will be forthcoming and note that I traveled legally under a journalist licence from the Treasury Department. But the point of this post is merely to say that if you want to get to Cuba, making an airline reservation to get you there should not be a deal-breaker.