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.
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