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PLEASE NOTE: CCR has closed its Cuba Travel Project and is no longer operating a hotline. Below please find some general information and links that may be helpful.
Up-to-date Federal Regulations Regarding Travel to Cuba:
We recommend you take a look at the most recent federal regulations regarding Cuba travel. Click here to view an up-to-date version of the regulations: http://www.ecfr.gov/cgi-bin/text-idx?c=ecfr&tpl=/ecfrbrowse/Title31/31cfr515_main_02.tpl
History of CCR's Cuba Travel Project:
The Center for Constitutional Rights has consistently criticized the prohibition of travel to Cuba as an irrational policy that violates international law, infringes unjustifiably on the rights of Americans, and injures both Cubans and Americans alike. Since 1997, CCR has worked to rescind the travel restrictions enforced as part of the embargo and has represented over 425 individuals accused of violating the travel ban. These individuals were subjected to unconstitutional, Kafkaesque investigations and prosecutions that resulted in hefty fines, particularly following the tightening of travel restrictions under Bush administration regulations passed in 2004.
GENERAL INFORMATION ABOUT TRAVEL TO CUBA:
This information is taken from CCR's 2009 publication, "Know Before You Go."
Before and During Your Re-entry
The law requires that you be honest when you are required to provide information, but also allows you to assert your right not to provide information when you can. You should consult an attorney in advance of traveling to decide what questions you should answer and what questions you should refuse to answer.
Customs officials are legally authorized to question and search travelers prior to departure from the U.S.
If you are questioned, do not volunteer any information and, above all, do not lie. It is a federal crime (under 18 U.S.C. § 1001) to make a false or fraudulent statement to a government agent. However, you do not have to volunteer any information either. Should officials try to seize anything of yours at this point, you should object strenuously, demand a receipt that fully describes the item seized, and contact legal counsel as soon as possible.
Returning from Cuba
It is never too soon to start focusing on your return and re-entry meeting with U.S. Customs and Immigration agents. Whether or not you are traveling legally, you may be questioned, searched, harassed, temporarily detained (possibly missing a connecting flight), or threatened, but you will almost certainly be let go, unless you are suspected of a crime other than an embargo violation. Your legally (or illegally) obtained goods or materials may or may not be seized from you. Or you may simply be told “Welcome to the United States and have a nice day.”
In light of your rights and obligations, there are specific things you should know in anticipation of re-entry. They are:
Authorities are entitled to ask the questions listed below, to search your luggage and your person, and to seize contraband. If you are subjected to a body search (other than the content of your pockets), or if agents seek to seize anything from you, you may politely but firmly object and ask to speak to your lawyer. You may also demand a list of anything seized and can refuse to sign any form that gives agents your permission to take the items.
The standard questions by customs inspectors are:
After Your Return
You have successfully navigated the re-entry process. As the pleasant memories of your trip begin to fade, you might receive a letter from OFAC, entitled “Requirement to Furnish Information” or “Administrative Subpoena” suggesting that you have violated the embargo, and that you are “required” to answer certain questions within a short period of time (usually 20 business days). Individuals generally have a right to refuse to answer these questions by asserting Fifth Amendment privilege. At this point, you should consult an attorney who knows the Cuba travel regulations and is familiar with OFAC procedures. Because of the short deadlines for response, you should contact an attorney immediately upon receiving any notices from OFAC.
Many individuals in previous years have received an “Offer of Expedited Penalty Settlement” offering to resolve the matter without further proceedings in exchange for a payment to OFAC. Such letters have sometimes preceded even the “Requirement to Furnish Information”/”Administrative Subpoena” which formerly was almost always the first notice a returning traveler received. You should consult an attorney if you receive such a letter.
One of two things will happen next. You may never hear from OFAC again. (This probably means they did not have tangible evidence of an embargo violation and were hoping you would provide it to them by answering their questions.) Otherwise, you (or your attorney) will get a second letter, a “Pre-Penalty Notice,” from OFAC. You should consult with an attorney before responding to the Pre-Penalty Notice. After responding to the Pre-Penalty Notice, you or your attorney may receive a “Penalty Notice.” It is extremely important that you respond to the Penalty Notice in the time frame allowed and with the right language. Otherwise, you may forfeit your right to contest the charges and also lose any leverage you have to negotiate a favorable settlement. Do not be nervous about these threatening letters, but do consult with counsel. An attorney is almost indispensable at this point and beyond.
Many individuals change addresses between their return to the United States and the time OFAC sends out the above notices (which can often happen months or years after the date of travel). OFAC generally will send all notices to the last address they have on file for you. If you have moved, they will generally not bother to track you down, and if you do not pick up a certified letter, they will not always make further attempts to get the letter to you; rather, they generally will simply claim that you have forfeited any rights to a hearing and other procedural protections because you did not respond to the notices you never received. If you do change addresses following a trip to Cuba, consult an attorney about what steps you might want to take to deal with these potential problems.
This is not a complete discussion of the applicable laws and regulations. It does not cover all possible questions, concerns and contingencies. Since laws, regulations, and their interpretation often change, this information may be outdated by the time you read it. The Center does not guarantee the accuracy of the information contained in this booklet as of any point in time.
Make sure to consult an attorney before planning any trip to Cuba. Do not rely on these materials without first seeking the advice of an attorney about your particular situation and facts. Only a licensed attorney, reviewing your individual facts, may render legal advice.
PLEASE NOTE: The Center for Constitutional Rights no longer accepts Cuba travel clients for direct representation.