Returning from Cuba to the United States

  Returning from Cuba
OFAC Interrogation Form
Harassment by OFAC After You Return Home

Responding to OFAC " Requirement to Furnish Information"Letter
Responding to OFAC “Pre-penalty Notice” Letter

This article was written during the Bush administration.  A year into the Obama administration the law has NOT changed significantly.

Returning from Cuba

[The following does not constitute legal advice. Although we strive to provide quality information, we make no guarantees, claims, or promises about completeness or adequacy of the information provided. Legal advice must be specifically tailored to individual situations, and laws are constantly changing. Nothing contained herein substitutes for consultation with a competent legal counselor.]

If you are under United States (US) jurisdiction (a US passport or green card holder) and travel to Cuba without a license, the sticky point is when you return to the US.

Despite people's focus on stamps in the passport, this has not been the way travelers' visits have been detected. Border agents rarely look at passports thoroughly enough to map out the owners travel from the entry and exit stamps.  Travelers often provide much more visible evidence of there travels (i.e. tags and stickers on their luggage, wearing or carrying souvenirs, etc.)

Returning to the US by air, you must complete a form which requires you to lists the countries you have visited. Prior to the Bush administration, people could admit that they went to Cuba and most breezed through US customs. Some were asked if they have Cuban goods and a verbal “no” was usually sufficient carry on.

Friendly-treatment still happens – some customs agents say nothing. But it is now more likely that you will receive scrutiny. Some officers give a little lecture. Others scour bags for rum, cigars and other souvenirs to confiscated. Sometimes passports are copied and notes taken. Some visitor to Cuba are treated like they are on the FBI's "Ten Most Wanted List" or a terrorist (remember the department of government that makes the rules for visiting Cuba is an "anti-terrorism" agencies). The interrogators can be belligerent and intimidating, you won’t be told that you have any rights, like the right to remain silent and not incriminate yourself. These guys have training, practice, complete control over you and seemingly few scruples. If you try to exercise your rights be prepared for hostility, threats and retaliation such as long baggage searches. You may feel like you are returning to a heavy-handed, non-democratic country. But despite all the theatre, under normal circumstances, you won’t be denied re-entry, you won’t be arrest and the harassment doesn't mean you will have to pay a penny of fine!

When you enter the U.S. you will have to fill out a form asking a few question about where you went and the value of goods you are bringing back. Legally, to avoid perjuring yourself, you need to list that you visited Cuba and all the other country you transited through, and, ideally, to be able to say the value of items you are returning from Cuba with is zero dollars. If asked about a license (see “Traveling to Cuba”), your best position is to explain how you qualify for a “General license”. If asked for information beyond the details covered on the custom’s form you should try to refuse to give self-incriminating information and say “I have been advised by counsel to not answer any further questions.” The customs agents may tell you to fill out an OFAC form that asks for the details of your trip and expenditures. Legally there is probably a limit to how much US government can compel you to tell them about how much you spent for any portion of your trip, who you met, who you travel with, who you did business with, etc. If you intend to refuse to answer their questions and fill out the forms, expect to be searched by a cross customs agent. You are advised to not carrying any paperwork, receipts or goods that identify or indicate any expenditure in Cuba. Without a license, any goods of Cuban origins, regardless of where they were bought, are subject to seizure and can be used as evidence that you had transactions with Cubans. The interrogation and search may be the last you hear from the government.  Or several months later the ugly beast might rear its head again.

Harassment After You Return Home

Rough approximation of OFAC Interrogation Form, with comments in [square brackets].

1) Did your trip qualify for a general license?

2) Do you have a specific license?

Interview Questionnaire:

Date: _______________            Time:  ____________              Port of Entry: ________

Name:  ______________             Date of Birth:  _________       SSN ______________

Address: ______________________________________

Passport #:  ____________          Country: _______________

Home & Work telephone numbers

1) Specific travel dates to/from Cuba? [It is not illegal to travel to Cuba, but OFAC seems to have formulas on how much you should have spent for each day you stayed in Cuba, even if they have no evidence.]

2) Purpose of trip?  [Either a category of general license, or education, religious, cultural/sports, humanitarian are recognized categories, but require a specific license]

3) How did you traveled to Cuba?

A. Name of Airline: [It is not illegal to do business with or to travel on Mexican (Aero Caribe), Canadian, Jamaican or other non-Cuban owned airlines.]
B. Who paid for airline tickets?  [If you traveled on a legal airline it doesn't really matter if you paid for your ticket, but OFAC makes its own rules and may misuse the information.]
C. If someone else paid for the ticket, provide name and mailing address: [Again, if it is a legal airline it should make any difference, but  it looks more like a "fishing expedition" or "witch hunt" than constitutionally sound question.]
D. How was payment made? [Assuming it's their business, cash or money order would be good methods.]
E. Airline receipts?  [If you travel on a legal airline it doesn't really matter, except that OFAC may misuse the information.]

[The rest of the questions attempt to focus more on what transpired in Cuba, so you will want to be much more careful about your answers.]

4) Provide the names and location of all hotels or places of lodging? 
[OFAC wants to use names of lodging as a proxy for you having spent money.  If you are part of a group program there is no reason you would have taken notes on all of this.  Further more, in that OFAC is likely to miss use any information you provide to incriminate you, you might want to invoke your 5th Amendment rights.]

5) How much money did you spend on:     Food     Hotels    Transportation     Merchandise     Entertainment     Expenses
[If you haven't already this would be a good time to invoke your 5th Amendment rights.]

If you claim that someone else paid for all expenses in number 5, who paid your expenses?  [If you claim the 5th above you would answer this.]

List all Cuban merchandise purchased that you are carrying? 
[Ideally nothing.]

6) Any receipts? [Ideally none.]

7) Provide names, etc., for any entity that assisted in arranging your travel: 
[Because the question could include information you got from a website or Lonely Planet publication and clearly legal portions of your travels that had nothing to do with Cuba, it is part of OFAC's fishing expedition and witch hunt.  It is probably overbroad, but there will be no judge there to raise an objection to.]

How much did you pay? [Are they asking about for the taxi to your home town airport, the tip to the porter, air plane ticket to an connecting city, etc.  The question is probably overbroad.]


Return to OFAC: Travel, Trade, Licenses and Legislation


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