It may take a little time before American tourists can fly into Cuba as easily and freely as they can into Mexico or Jamaica. But inch by inch, the doors are being pried open by US government regulators seeking to normalize relations with the largest country in the Caribbean—the “communist satellite” they embargoed over 50 years ago, leaving it to Canadians, Mexicans, South Americans, and Europeans to develop and enjoy.
But with President Obama’s recent announcement that the US and Cuba will begin “normalizing” their relations, Canadians and other nations who have had Cuba all to themselves will be facing stiff competition—for business development as well as for beach chairs.
Starting on January 15, 2015, the US commerce and treasury departments activated new rules to encourage freer business, trade, and tourism between the two countries.
Though for the time being, American vacationers and tourists will still only be allowed to travel through Cuba in supervised groups and tour companies, organizations will be able to offer trips without all the red tape that has burdened travel in the past.
American companies will now be allowed to export telephone, computer, and internet technologies to Cuban firms and individuals, who up to now were forced to deal with other, more distant sources, such as Canadians, Mexicans, Europeans, and Brazilians.
Related: Should Canadians Invade Cuba?
The US will now allow US citizens to bring home $100 worth of rum and cigars (a total of $400 in total goods), the Cuban government will allow its citizens to rent out homes or apartments to visitors legally (they have been doing this “under the table” for years). It will also now be permissible to use American credit or debit cards in Cuba; travel agents and airlines will be able to fly into Cuba without special licences; insurance companies will now be allowed to provide travel, health and life coverage for individuals residing in or visiting Cuba; and American banks may open accounts to allow authorized transactions.
Construction firms may ship building materials and equipment to private firms to upgrade private buildings, and hotel and resort operators will be encouraged to upgrade facilities to a standard more acceptable to Americans. As one hotel receptionist was quoted in US media, “How do I explain to (an American tourist) that the taxi didn’t come because it doesn’t have tires or that there’s no water in the rooms?”
The transition to free up trade and relations between the US and Cuba will still take time, and there remain many Cubans in the US (among them high-profile legislators with Cuban roots) who oppose the coming rapprochement and will do what they can to slow it down and defeat it.
But the truth is that it has begun, it is likely to continue, and individuals and organizations that have had Cuba to themselves will from now on have to share.
Stay with us. We’ll keep you updated. And any of you travelling to Cuba over the next few months are invited to let us know how any of these changes have affected you—if they have.