Monday, November 30, 2009

The Real Costs of Cuba Travel

The Real Costs of Cuba Travel

As we all return from our Thanksgiving holiday, the Christmas travel
season begins and with it the harsh realities of current travel issues
facing all licensed travelers from the U.S. to Cuba.
While we can debate the significance of Cuba's recent war games, "Cuba
Begins War Games with U.S. Invasion in Mind" or what is
on the minds of the Cuban people right now, "Cubans Fear Hard Times
Ahead, Impatient for Change" ,
the reality here is that the high travel season to Cuba starts now and
with it the array of exorbitant costs faced by travelers due in part to
the perversion of market forces that the travel ban and lack of normal
relations create and Congress and the Administration continue to ignore.
The charter companies themselves have to deal with all sorts of special
fees and taxes paid to both the U.S and Cuban governments and airport
authorities. And when you inquire why these charges are what they are,
the reason given is the same – Lack of normal relations and travel
restrictions make the process more expensive.
The ultimate victim are the travelers themselves as they have to pay
these fees and costs or they do not travel to Cuba. Who would ever
believe traveling to Cuba from the U.S. can cost well over a thousand
dollars when it is all said and done? Who is profiting from this self
imposed misery?
So what are the approximate costs to travel to Cuba for a Cuban
American? On average they must:
1) If You Are Cuban American - Obtain Two Passports – One U.S. ($100)
the other Cuban. Cuban Americans have to travel with a Cuban passport in
most cases. Cuba charges as much as USD$450($375 plus any travel agency
fees) to obtain a Cuban Passport which must be authorized every two
years, "habilitado" at an additional charge. A complete list of Cuban
consular services and fees are located at
These fees are quite high compared to other countries, but when asked
for the rationale of these high fees, the answer is the same – lack of
normal relations and travel restrictions and limited diplomatic
personnel to staff interests sections and process consular matters all
lend themselves to higher fees and longer wait times.
[Note to President Obama and President Castro – can the U.S. and Cuba
agree to send and hire more consular staff to each respective Interests
Section to process visas and passports?]
Americans have to purchase a visa to visit Cuba. That cost is USD$70.00
2) Pay exorbitant airfare and departure taxes - The lack of competition
and burdensome regulations drive the costs of the charter airfare, which
not only has to pay the leasing of airplane equipment and crew, but also
pay landing fees and other airport related fees. Then on top of this,
the charter company has to charge enough to pay its employees and
benefits and make a profit.
Currently, approximate charter airfares are running at:
Miami-Havana Roundtrip for $600 [ Who would believe this is what is
being charged for a 45 minute fight ] I have heard from friends in Miami
who are paying as high as $700!
New York-Havana Roundtrip for $900 [Who would believe this is what is
being charged for a 3.5 hour flight]
Then there are airport departure taxes in the U.S. (usd $50) and Cuba
(usd $30)
3) Pay Excess Baggage fees – Each traveler is permitted 44 pounds of
luggage total. Once you go over that you are charged up to usd$2.00 per
pound. Why can't this be normalized so that travelers are allowed up to
two pieces of luggage at 50 pounds per piece without overage charges as
is the practice on other airlines? The reason of course given– travel
restrictions and the lack of normal relations.
4) Pay Customs duties – Cuban Americans are charged customs duties based
on the weight of their luggage and the goods they bring with them to
Cuba. This can add significantly to the cost for the Cuban American
5) Pay Foreign Exchange Tax – I recall when the U.S. dollar circulated
as a parallel currency in Cuba during the first part of this decade.
There was no ten percent surcharge or tax on exchange. Then the Bush
Administration fined UBS Switzerland 100 million dollars in 2004 for
exchanging dollars for the Cuban government. The Cuban government was
effectively being isolated in the international banking system by our
government. The result though was Cuba created its own foreign exchange
system to insulate themselves financially from this kind of turmoil;
departing from reliance on the dollar; and imposing a ten percent
surcharge on all U.S. dollar exchanges to cover their risk on banking
issues. So the Cuban American traveler and the American traveler all now
face effectively a 20 percent exchange tax – 10 percent for the currency
being used – the U.S. dollar and an additional 10 percent.
[Note to President Obama – can you use your executive authority to stop
penalizing foreign banks that engage in U.S. dollar transactions for
Cuba? The impact of this could immediately create conditions to remove
the 10 percent surcharge all U.S. travelers face.]
This harsh reality for the Cuban American and American licensed
travelers to Cuba is one that should be changed. The Congress failed to
discuss this in the recent hearing in the Foreign Affairs Committee. Do
the Congressmen even care about our own citizens? With the dysfunctional
focus on human rights and travel, exactly how is this travel reality
anyway connected to improving human rights in Cuba? There is no
correlation of the high costs of current travel to Cuba with improving
human rights there, only a select group of businesses and government
authorities profiting on this absurdity. Our contribution to improving
human rights in Cuba will be through our ending Cuba's political and
socioeconomic isolation from the United States. Congress has the power
to bring down these costs by lifting the travel ban now.
If you have information about other Cuba travel related costs or
specific numbers, please do not hesitate to send them to us at

The Real Costs of Cuba Travel (30 November 2009)

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