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    In Hemingway's Footsteps: What the Cuba Thaw Means to an Average American

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    Amid the thaw in relations between the US and Cuba and the historic three-day visit of President Obama to the island, let’s have a look at what Americans who wish to visit the destination can now expect, following in the footsteps of Nobel Prize winner Ernest Hemingway who became an almost permanent fixture in Havana.

    Amid a thaw in diplomatic relations between the US and Cuba, many still wonder what has changed as a result of the US's new policy with the Caribbean island nation, even though the embargo on Cuba remains in place.

    Here are some of the changes in the US regulations.

    The US restrictions do not yet allow Americans to visit Cuba for tourism. However, there are 12 permitted categories to legally travel to the island.

    Among the allowed activities, are professional research, participating in an athletic event, performing in a concert, working on a humanitarian project or taking part in educational activities, supporting civil society in Cuba or promoting the Cuban people’s independence from Cuban authorities.

    Previously many of these activities required applying for a specific license and maneuvering a labyrinth of government bureaucracy. Now many US citizens can essentially "self-license" if they believe their travel to Cuba meets the legal requirements.

    Air Traffic Between the Two Countries

    Until recently, US travelers with licenses often had to fly via a third country. Now there are multiple daily flights from Miami and more flights being added from destinations such as Tampa, New York and Orlando operated by major carriers.

     Esperanza, Villa Clara, Cuba
    © Flickr / lezumbalaberenjena
    Esperanza, Villa Clara, Cuba

    However, seats still must be booked through third-party charter companies as airlines won't be able to sell tickets to Cuba directly until the United States and Cuba negotiate a new civil aviation agreement.

    Regulations issued by the Department of Commerce in September now allow American companies to establish offices and premises in Cuba and airline crews to stay overnight on the island. They also allow the sale of equipment related to aviation safety to Cuba.

    Lodging in Cuba

    Cuba seems not to be really ready to receive a huge influx of visitors, as there are not enough good hotels, and infrastructure.

    Just few days ago US hotel company Starwood Resorts signed a deal to "refurbish and manage" two hotels in Havana. The step represents the first time a US hotel chain has operated in Cuba in over fifty years.

    Cuba
    © Flickr / Adam Kahtava
    Cuba

    And Airbnb, a website that offers hotels, apartments, villas and rooms for rent, announced that it will open up its listings in the country to all visitors starting on April 2nd.

    Both companies had to receive special authorization from the US Treasury Department to expand their offerings.

    Cuban Cigars Will Soon Be Available to Americans

    The change in regulations also make it legal for the first time in decades for an American to buy and smoke a Cuban cigar while abroad.

    A tobacco worker roll cigars at the Corona cigar factory in Havana, Cuba, Thursday, Feb. 26, 2015
    © AP Photo / Ramon Espinosa
    A tobacco worker roll cigars at the Corona cigar factory in Havana, Cuba, Thursday, Feb. 26, 2015

    The Commerce Department has made it legal for Americans traveling in a third country, like France or England for instance, to buy and smoke a Cuban cigar while abroad.

    Americans can now bring back up to $400 in souvenirs, including $100 worth of cigars.

    $100 still doesn't buy you very much. The problem is most boxes of Cuban cigars in state-run stores sell for much more than $100, with a box of premium Cohiba cigars usually going for over $400.

    The State Department records suggest that Secretary of State John Kerry, who inaugurated the embassy in Havana in August, brought back an $80 humidor, $80 worth of cigars and a bottle of rum.

    Cuban La Corona cigar factory fits cigars known as Punch, into aluminum casings as they are prepared for exportation in Havana (File)
    © AFP 2019 / ADALBERTO ROQUE
    Cuban "La Corona" cigar factory fits cigars known as "Punch," into aluminum casings as they are prepared for exportation in Havana (File)

    The Use of Credit Cards

    American travelers to Cuba may open a bank account there and pay for expenses with an American credit card.

    In reality, few people who take the short trip abroad have cause to open a bank account. But ATMs are few and far between in Cuba, and many establishments do not have the means to process credit card payments.

    Magnets for sale decorate a tourist shop, one showing an image of U.S. President Barack Obama smelling a cigar, at a market in Havana, Cuba, Monday, March 16, 2015
    © AP Photo / Ramon Espinosa
    Magnets for sale decorate a tourist shop, one showing an image of U.S. President Barack Obama smelling a cigar, at a market in Havana, Cuba, Monday, March 16, 2015

    So, cash is still the king for some time to come.

    Cruise Ships Sail to Cuba

    Under the new regulations, owners of cruise ships and passenger ferries can operate between the United States and Cuba without a license, so long as the people they are carrying are licensed to travel there.

    The infrastructure to accommodate a cruise ship is available since ships owned by non-American companies, which are usually smaller than American ones, have been sailing to Cuba in recent years.

    The government had awarded licenses to a handful of ferry and cruise companies earlier this year, including Carnival Corporation, which said in July that it would begin sailing to Havana in April.

    South Florida ferry company CubaKat has already announced planning trips by sea to Cuba.
    South Florida ferry company CubaKat has already announced planning trips by sea to Cuba.

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