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Here's What The New U.S.-Cuba Rules Mean For Travelers

freedigitalphotos.net/Arvind Balaraman

A promise that travel to Cuba would be easier for Americans was part of President Obama’s historic announcement this week that he’s taking steps to normalize relations.

What will the easing of sanctions against Cuba mean for the average traveler -- as well as for people who want to do business there?

We asked reporter Mimi Whitefield, who covers the Latin American economy for the Miami Herald.

Here are a few things you need to know.

Below is an edited transcript.

For people who have no family in Cuba, if they want to just take a pleasure trip to Cuba tomorrow, can they do that now?

The president's announcement did not cover trips to Cuba for tourism. His policy all along has been [that] travel to Cuba by Americans needs to be meaningful, purposeful travel. He did outline 12 categories of authorized travel for Americans. Presumably, if you fall under these categories, you will not need to get prior approval from the United States' government to go to Cuba. You will, however, still need to get a visa from the Cuban government.

What about sending money to Cuba if I have family there? What's changed?

Well, the level of remittances has increased. It used to be $500 per quarter. It has increased to $2,000. 

As opposed to remittances, if I would rather travel to Cuba to bring stuff there to friends and family, what am I permitted to bring in?

It really depends more on the Cuban government than the U.S. government. Alan Gross, for example, who was just released this week, got in trouble with the Cubans for bringing in what they call "military-grade telecommunications equipment." That could still be a problem. They are pretty liberal in terms of the types of goods that families might bring in, but they do require people to pay duties on what they're importing to Cuba.

What can people bring back from Cuba?

That's changed. Under the new rules, a U.S. traveler can bring back $400 worth of merchandise, and that includes $100 of alcohol and tobacco products. That means that you can light up a Cohiba [and] have a bottle of Havana Club rum, but commercial sales of these products are not allowed in the United States. This would just be for your personal use. 

What about people who want to do business with Cuba now? How does this policy shift affect them?

The president did authorize several measures that should increase trade with Cuba. For example, the commercial export of building materials will be allowed. These are building materials that are intended for private Cubans who might want to do home improvements or build a house. Another area where exports will be allowed is goods intended for small private farmers, [like] seeds [or a] small tractor. Another category is merchandise that would support the establishment or expansion of a small private business in Cuba. 

Christine DiMattei is WLRN's Morning Edition anchor and also reports on Arts & Culture.
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