You Can’t Go There: Visiting Off Limits Countries
By Marie Javins
So, you want to GoNOMAD to a country the State Department forbids you to visit. Do you ignore the warnings and threats of imprisonment, go anyway and hope you don’t get into trouble or worse?
There is currently only one country for which U.S. passports are not valid: Cuba. These restrictions are not because Cuba is inherently dangerous (we’re allowed to go to most dangerous countries), but because the U.S. has economic embargoes against Cuba for political reasons and can fine or imprison those who disregard these sanctions.
It is possible to travel illegally to Cuba, and many Americans do. But whether you agree or disagree with the politics involved, travel to “off-limits” countries poses an ethical problem for the responsible traveler: how do your tourism dollars affect countries and governments?
Tourist Dollars are Key
Tourist dollars on a local level can mean the difference between starving and subsisting to people already living in difficult circumstances. You cannot, however, support the citizens of a country without inadvertently funding their government as well; the cost of your visa alone goes straight to the regime in question.
Educate yourself thoroughly about the political climate of the country you want to visit. If you agree with the State Department’s position, but plan to go anyway, try to avoid patronizing government-owned hotels and shops. Travel on a grassroots level, trading only with privately-owned businesses and local people.
There are other, more practical considerations as well. The U.S. does not have an embassy in Cuba. If you get into trouble or have a medical emergency, you will need to rely solely on local assistance. Your travel insurance may not be valid in “off-limits” countries, and the U.S. trade sanctions may mean there are shortages of medications or foods that are considered standard at home. And then there is the threat of being fined or imprisoned when you arrive back in the States.
If you are planning to travel to Cuba, take all necessary precautions. Check your travel and health insurance carefully, read up on the political situation, check resources regarding visas and passport stamps, consider the consequences of your actions and be prepared to understand what “off-limits” really means.
Find out more about travel to Cuba from InsightCuba in NY.
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