Tighter limits on bras and cigarettes: Inside Cuba’s new customs rules

The Miami arrivals terminal in at Havana’s Jose Marti airport.
The Miami arrivals terminal in at Havana’s Jose Marti airport.
Image: Reuters/Desmond Boylan
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Car tires, flatscreen televisions, and shampoo are among the items being restricted in Cuba’s new clampdown on what travelers can bring into the country. This week, the government released a 41-page list (Spanish) of new custom rules that outlines exactly what can be brought in and in what amounts. The list, which includes curbs on butter and cheese among other items, reflects just how much Havana wants to control this vital flow of goods for ordinary Cubans.

The government said the new restrictions are intended to stop abuse by “mules” who have illegally imported supplies in bulk to sell on the black market. It provided one such example of a passenger who in a single year made several trips to the United States and brought back 41 computer monitors and 66 TVs.

The new measures have touched a nerve with some Cubans, who took to microblogs to vent their frustrations at what they said were rules meant to protect state monopolies. The state newspaper, Granma, which openly criticizes the government only rarely, wrote on Monday (Spanish) that with the new rules, ”one would be deluded to think that such problems [of abuse] are fully resolved.”

Many Cubans depend on friends and family members who travel between the US and Cuba to bring back hard-to-find, high-quality goods, which can range from the basics (soap, socks, and children’s toys) to luxuries (flat-screen TVs, computer monitors, and video-game consoles). Travelers to Cuba reportedly bring in nearly $2 billion of products a year.

Some of the new restrictions include: a maximum of 10 kg (22 lbs.) of detergent (the previous limit was 44 kg or 97 lbs) , only 20 cigarettes (previously one carton or 200 cigarettes were allowed), and perhaps most strangely, a limit of only 24 bras (compared with 48 before). Overall, a passenger’s imported items cannot surpass a total worth of $1,000, with the estimate decided by the government—$250 for a video-game console, for example.