U.S. and Cuban negotiators will meet in Washington Friday. On the agenda: whether Cuba should be taken off the U.S.’s list of state sponsors of terrorism. Cuba wants off that list, and American banks are watching the negotiations closely. So are U.S. travelers, who can’t use their credit or debit cards on the island.
Right now, Americans can pay for hotels and plane tickets to Cuba in advance. But once you get there, “all of your expenses, you need cash for them,” says Philip Peters, president of the Cuba Research Center in Alexandria, Va., who was traveling in Havana when we spoke.
“You’re going to rent a car, you’re going to rent a cell phone, you’re going to feed yourself,” he says. “You’re going need about $200 a day in cash.”
Peters says, if Cuba were taken off the terrorism list, U.S. banks would be more willing to do business there.
Geoff Thale, a Cuba analyst with the advocacy group Washington Office on Latin America, says right now, banks are leery.
“What may seem like, to the bank, an innocent banking arrangement, could lead to substantial fines,” he says.
But Thale says, even if Cuba were taken off the list, U.S. banks would still be cautious.
Case in point: MasterCard is removing its block on U.S. card transactions in Cuba this Sunday. But, that doesn’t mean your bank will clear them. MasterCard says you should contact your bank before you go to ensure your card will be “supported on the island.”
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