CCR's Cuba Travel Project

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:

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.

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:

  1. Cuban officials sometimes do not stamp passports upon entry to and departure from Cuba, but if they do, it may be with a small symbol, that looks like a half-inch wide purple square that can easily escape your notice, but is well known to U.S. customs agents. U.S. officials may note that you have been to Cuba either from your passport, or from your customs and immigration re-entry form (see below), or from tickets, receipts or other documents in your possession, or from the clothing you are wearing or have in your luggage, or from the fact that you have come back from Canada with a radiant tan.
  2. All disembarking passengers are required to complete a Customs Declaration that asks you to disclose all countries that you have visited. Again, be aware that it is a federal crime (under 18 U.S.C. § 1001) to make a false or fraudulent statement to a government agent. You should also be aware that individuals traveling under a general license have encountered difficulty when they stated on the form that the purpose of their trip was “pleasure” rather than “business.”
  3. Customs officials are permitted to search you and everything you bring back with you, and have been known to seize goods, receipts, plane tickets, airport departure tax slips, etc.—documents that may be evidence that you engaged in prohibited transactions. In certain circumstances goods you have with you may be seized. Such goods or receipts may be used as evidence of an embargo violation, if you are not licensed. You can object strenuously but politely to any seizure of goods or documents. You may also wish to demand the right to call an attorney, and to insist on a receipt for all goods seized and on photocopies of any seized documents.  Keep in mind that although you may purchase and import informational materials, they may be wrongfully seized by an overzealous agent.
  4. Some travelers routinely bring a copy of the applicable regulations to show the customs agent. This can cut both ways, depending on whether it helps or hurts in your particular case for the agent to know the rules. You can review the most updated regulations here:
  5. If you have a specific license, you may be required by the terms of the license to carry it and to show it to the Customs official; consult with an attorney to find out whether this is the case. If you are traveling under a general license, you may want to carry your journalist, faculty or other credentials, and show them to the Customs agent; again, you should consult with an attorney in advance of travel as to whether this makes sense based on your individual facts, and to decide how much to say to the Customs agent about the circumstances of your travel.
  6. Before you travel, you should consult with an attorney regarding what to disclose on the customs and immigration form or any other forms you are asked to fill out, what you may wish to say or show to prove that you have a license, which routine questions to answer, and which questions you can or should refuse to answer if asked. While being questioned, try to be patient and keep your cool under what may be intimidating conditions. You generally have a right to remain silent, and to be present during questioning of a minor for whom you are taking parental responsibility. Asserting your rights may cause temporary discomfort and inconvenience, but waiving them may provide the government with evidence to find you in violation of the embargo, which may ultimately cost much more in time, hassle, and money. Again, you should consult with an attorney in advance of travel as to whether it makes sense for you to assert Fifth Amendment privilege in response to certain questions. If you are asked to submit to a search of more than your luggage and emptying of pockets, you may wish to object and ask to call your attorney.
  7. Write down the names, titles, and badge numbers of all officials with whom you have contact.

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:

  • What is your name?
  • What is your address?
  • What is your occupation?
  • Was the purpose of your trip business or pleasure?
  • Which countries have you been to, and for how long?
  • How much currency are you carrying?
  • Do you have anything to declare?
  • What do you have in your luggage and on your person?

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.

Last modified 

February 4, 2015