Are Cuban Cigars Legal in the United States?

The Updated Legalities for Cuban Cigars in the United States

Cuban cigars for sale
Cuban cigars may not be illegal too much longer. Holger Leue/Lonely Planet Images/Getty Images

Cuban cigars are now legal in the United States when it comes to traveling abroad and bringing them back into the country for personal use. However, if U.S. citizens attempt to sell Cuban cigars within the United States, they may be subject to fines and other penalties.

Cuban Cigar Legalities

The new guidelines for Cuban cigars mandate that the cigars you bring back from your trip have to be for personal consumption and not for any type of reselling purposes. The monetary value cap on goods allowed in from Cuba has been lifted, with some caveats. The returning U.S. resident, who's 21 years old or older, can bring back up to 50 cigars, the law says.

The cap on purchased items without having to pay a customs duty is $800 in value. After that cap, there is a fee for travelers to pay to import the goods. Previously, Americans could bring back not more than $100 worth of alcohol and tobacco products combined and $400 of purchased items.

Cigar smokers who want to try a Cuban cigar may do so in Cuba and in additional countries while traveling. For example, Canada and Mexico are not very far from many American cities, and those who are planning a Caribbean cruise will find Cuban cigars for sale on many of the islands. There is, however, a problem with counterfeit Cuban cigars being sold to American tourists. To improve the chances of getting the real thing, make your purchase from a reputable cigar store and not one of the many street vendors that you will see near the port.

The Forbidden Fruit

In general, Cuban cigars are the best in the world. However, a particular Dominican, Honduran, or Nicaraguan cigar can taste better than a particular Cuban cigar. Being Cuban does not automatically make a cigar great, but it does make it the forbidden fruit and therefore desirable to some cigar connoisseurs. Cubans are what all other cigars are compared to.

Tobacco plants and manufacturing techniques are likely similar between the Latin American and Caribbean countries, and the industry in Nicaragua, the Dominican Republic, and other nations may also have even been influenced by Cuban expats. Every tobacco's flavor, though, is distinct (though within regions may be similar) because of the soil it grows in.

Top Legal Cigars: The Best and Just as Expensive

Expect to pay as much for top Dominican and Nicaraguan cigars as you would pay for many mediocre Cuban cigars. Cuba knows its cigars are worth a premium and prices them that way. The most expensive Cubans are those that are hand rolled. Machine rolled and packed cigars are less expensive.

The best Dominican cigar available, although very expensive and extremely rare, is arguably the Fuente Fuente Opus X. The Padron 1926 could be considered the best cigar from Nicaragua. Depending on your individual taste, these cigars will top just about any Cuban cigar if you are searching for an alternative around a similar price point.

Don't Look Like a Commercial Reseller

The maximum amounts of goods that you can bring home from Cuba for personal use have been eliminated, but the embargo is still in place, which prevents people and businesses from selling Cuban cigars in the United States, regardless of the country they were purchased in. You can bring Cuban cigars home for yourself and for gifts for your friends and family, though.

Even though restrictions have been eased, you don't want to come home with such a quantity that will make you look like a commercial enterprise or reseller. Commercial importers from the United States bringing goods from Cuba have to go through a formal entry procedure at the $2,500 value level, and the products need to have been purchased from independent Cuban entrepreneurs, which Cuban cigars wouldn't be. The cigar industry in Cuba is state-run. If you bring home that quantity of cigars, it could raise suspicions of the Customs and Border Patrol.