How to Avoid Problems with US Customs and Cuba
While the official embargo against Cuba by the United States continues into 2009; there is no embargo against travel to Cuba. It is difficult to do so legally, and sometimes within strict guidelines. Most travel is restricted in that money cannot be used to finance the Cuban economy. In that regard, travel permits usually require mention of humanitarian or educational need for going to Cuba. While tourists can go to Cuba, it is necessary not to bring anything back from Cuba; it is harder still to prove no money was spent in Cuba.
It is legal to conduct transactions in Cuba if you have a license or permit to do so. Licenses include journalists, government officials, full-time professionals such as doctors or environmentalists who are doing research or going to conferences, or who have relatives in Cuba. Activities including humanitarian aid, journalism, educational study, religious activities and transmission of information are also permitted with approval. Public performances, competitions and exhibits are also allowed as long as the profits from the event go to a nongovernmental charity which benefits the Cuban people.
It is legal to travel to Cuba. It is illegal to travel directly from the US to Cuba with the intent of spending money or receiving gifts while in Cuba without authorization from the OFAC (Office of Foreign Assets Control). No Cuban produced items, such as cigars or rum, may be bought or transported out of Cuba. Foreign credit cards (Canadian or non US) may be used. This rule applies to all US nationals or corporations which have direct ties to the United States and are in whole or part under the jurisdiction of US law.
As a tourist you can take a trip to either Canada or Mexico, and then travel to Cuba. The initial trip from US controlled territory must be to a friendly nation. Use Jamaica as an alternative destination as there are daily trips from this island to Cuba.
Allowed items into and out of Cuba fall under the information and informational materials category; these include books, magazines, film, photos, tapes, CDs, art or posters. Blank recording devices or material is not part of this category and will be confiscated.