The New Rules for Buying Cuban Cigars

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Per-Andre Hoffmann / Getty Images

Don't get too excited just yet: Last week’s buzz about the legalization of Cuban cigars is actually just smoke and mirrors. When President Kennedy signed the embargo into law five decades ago, he made it illegal to import Cuban goods into the U.S., and that law stands at the moment, with some exemptions. So are Cubans legal now? No. Close, but — well — no cigar. 

Here's the reality:

1. You’re not going to see Cubans in tobacco shops anytime soon. The rule only allows for bringing them into the country for personal use — not distribution and sales. Stop calling your local tobacconists and asking for a timeline. They don’t know any better than you do.

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2. The new rules (for the time being) will allow you individually to bring $100 or less of Cuban tobacco products back into the country. Given that the average price for a Cuban cigar hovers around $11 American, you won’t be able to bring a full box back of any of the more popular brands at this point.

3. Technically this only applies to people visiting Cuba itself (and for personal use only), not from just anywhere. The policy is, at best, gray on whether you can, say, buy them at duty free. Purchasing them in Canada isn’t technically legal, and purchasing online is still a risk.

4. It's difficult to get approved for a trip to Cuba. Unless you're visiting on business, are a student or a missionary, have immediate family still living in the country, or you're a journalist on assignment, you're still probably not getting in. No vacation time just yet.

5. Before Cuban cigars will be sold in the U.S., there are a bunch of trademark disputes that have to be resolved. See those Cohibas in a cigar shop? They’re Dominican (owned by General Cigar Co.), and they exist because the U.S. doesn’t recognize Cuban trademarks (owned by Habanos S.A.). Legal teams are going to have a field day figuring thais one out.

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This is the start of several years of gradual change. Once they realize all the gray areas mentioned above, the policy will relax some more. Bottom line: It’s about to get a lot easier to find Cuban cigars in the U.S.; it’s going to get a lot harder to prove they’re not contraband, and a lot easier to get them into the country. Just don't try and sell them once you're back.

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