I’m planning a trip for early April to Cuba via Mexico. Apart from travel books, I haven’t found much information for Americans “sneaking” over. Some questions for anyone that has visited or knows someone that has, especially recently:
I’ve read that Cuban customs will NOT stamp your passport if you request it (sometimes in exchange for a bribe); that they will BUT with a non-descript stamp that does not say Cuba; and that they will with a stamp that US customs can easily recognize. Can anyone confirm or deny the contradictory info?
Will I need a Cuban tourist card for entering from Mexico, and how far in advance? Will Cuba want to see a Mexican travel card? Lonely Planet suggests obtaining them… I’m curious if it’s truly necessary.
Lastly, what are the ramifications of being caught on the way back into the US? Should I worry about having real problems (or a nasty fine), what with the current international strife?
I’m an American, and I visited Cuba a few years ago. My trip was legal, however, since it was through my university. At Cuban customs, they will not stamp your passport, at all. Instead they will issue you a “temporary visa” that they will stamp, and you will need to keep this with you while in the country (they want it back when you leave the country). Castro’s doing his best to bring in tourism, so they do a lot to cater to US tourists (this is the same reason Havana is perfectly safe to walk around at 3 am as well, since messing with tourists is a big no-no down there). I have no idea about the consequences of getting caught by US Customs, since I went legally. But I do recall reading just last month that Customs has been catching 3 times as many people going to Cuba than when Clinton was in office. This has been something of a priority for the Bush administration.
That said, I met many Americans when I was there. Meals and hotels are dirt cheap by Caribbean standards, the beaches are fantastic, and the nightlife and cultural attractions are first-class. Also, you’ll be delighted to learn that they use US dollars down there for currency (which I’m sure you’ve learned from reading the tourist guides). But since you can’t use US credit or ATM cards or travellers’ cheques down there, the down side is you need to arrive with lots of cash. Bring many small bills, since so much stuff is no more than a dollar or two.
Disclaimer: Of course, I don’t condone going illegally. There are legitimate travel agencies in the States that can arrange for you to go legally, on what are deemed “cultural” visits. Which means, they get you into the country with all the proper paperwork, and you get to have some fun w/o fear of arrest. And that way (or the way I went) you get to bring back cigars/rum/etc legally!