New changes in US policy towards Cuba that took effect on September 21, 2015 have expanded the range of business and commercial activities that US persons can undertake in Cuba. At the same time, it is important to move ahead only with a full understanding of the remaining obstacles to doing business in Cuba.
On top of the changes introduced in January, 2015 and in addition to the renewal of full diplomatic relations in July, 2015, the following openings are relevant to US persons interested in doing business in Cuba:
Travel to Cuba
- Travel by vessels between US and Cuba only (no stops in third countries permitted)
- Ability to open and maintain bank accounts in Cuba, if authorized to travel to Cuba
- Close family relatives can also now accompany those persons in the twelve (12) categories of US persons authorized to travel to Cuba under a general license (no need to apply for permission so long as certain conditions are met)
Establish Business Presence in Cuba
- Providers of telecommunications and internet-based services can establish a commercial presence, including through joint ventures and licensing agreements
- News bureaus, exporters of authorized US goods to Cuba (agricultural and construction materials primarily), providers of mail/parcel/cargo services, providers or carriers of specified travel services, organizers of educational activities can establish and maintain a physical presence, such as an office, retail outlet, or store in Cuba
- Ability to hire Cubans in Cuba and US nationals to work in Cuba
- Ability to open and maintain bank accounts in Cuba and to conduct online payment platforms for authorized transactions
- Ability to export to Cuba certain goods needed to establish and maintain a physical presence in Cuba
Emergency Health Service
- Provision of ambulance and other emergency-related medical services to travelers in Cuba
The US embargo against Cuba remains in place. Everything is banned or restricted unless permitted by the changes introduced since January of 2015. Furthermore, the penalties for breaking the embargo remain in place. And persons interested in importing into the U.S. Cuban products, made by independent entrepreneurs only, will still have to pay a higher tariff than those placed on the same goods coming from other countries.
The Cuban government remains in control of most sectors of the Cuban economy. As a result, many commercial activities and processes remain restricted or opaque. US Secretary of Commerce, Penny Pritzker, recently traveled to Cuba to initiate a regulatory dialogue between US and Cuban officials aimed at easing restrictions. As the Cuban government seeks to have the embargo lifted, however, it may view such commitments as appropriate to be made only in the context of similar commitment to lift the embargo – an action required by the US Congress.
Not knowing how long this stalemate will continue, persons interested in doing business in Cuba should be encouraged by these openings. Proceed cautiously and with legal advice. Contact us to learn more about doing business in Cuba.