The impact of Cuban tourism on Costa Rica is imminent.
The U.S. Treasury says new rules relaxing restrictions on trade and travel with Cuba will be implemented beginning today.
Under the new rules, Americans will not need to apply for a license to be able to travel to Cuba for any of a dozen approved reasons, including family visits, education, and humanitarian and religious work. Travel agents and airlines will be allowed to provide authorized services without a license. But general tourism to Cuba remains banned.
But maybe not for long.
White House spokesman Josh Earnest said President Barack Obama would like to see all travel restrictions removed.
“However, there are limits on what the president can change in that relationship using his executive authority,” Earnest said. “So we certainly would welcome congressional action that would make it possible for people to travel to Cuba solely for the purposes of spending time on the beach in Cuba.”
Starting today, that commercial activity will expand. U.S. travelers will be allowed to import up to $400 worth of goods purchased in Cuba for personal use, including $100 worth of tobacco and alcohol.
The new rules will also raise a limit on remittances. Americans will be able to send up to $8,000 to Cuba a year, up from $2,000 previously, and take $10,000 with them when they travel to the country. They will also be able to use credit and debit cards.
As a result of the action by the U.S.
president, United Airlines said Thursday that it planned to serve Cuba with flights from Houston and Newark, New Jersey, subject to government approvals.
Other airlines are likely to follow. Delta Air Lines and JetBlue Airways said they would look into adding services.
Cuba is just 90 miles from the U.S. coastline, and its beaches rival any in the world. The country already hosts 3 million tourists a year, compared to the 2 million who come to Costa Rica. And the statistics here include some 400,000 Nicaraguans.
Cuba has a sophisticated medical tourism business and there also is a thriving sex tourism industry, one of Costa Rica’s mainstays. Prices are considerably lower in Cuba, too, when compared to Costa Rica.
Plenty of U.S. citizens travel there now, but those who were not endorsed by the U.S. government faced massive fines if caught.
Under the new rules, there also are restrictions, but U.S. official are likely to look the other way. Many U.S. citizens visit Cuba via México and even Costa Rica. They make sure Cuban officials do not stamp their passports.