Thursday, June 11, 2015

Cash crunch in Cuba

I stayed at the Hotel Nacional the first time I traveled to Cuba in 1994. My phone charges were way higher than I expected and I didn't have enough money to pay the hotel bill.
I was short $35 or $40, but I had 15 or so rolls of unexposed 35mm film. I asked the desk clerk if he'd take that instead the cash and he agreed.
Tim Golden of the New York Times lent me $25 so I could pay the airport departure tax, and I managed to get out the country.
After that embarrassing episode, I always tried to make sure to bring more than enough cash to Cuba.
Cash is essential because U.S. law has long prevented Americans from using plastic in Cuba. Early this year, that changed.

MasterCard announced that cardholders would be able to use their cards in Cuba starting March 1. The company said:
MasterCard will work with its U.S. issuers to support their Cuba-related activities and decisions. Before traveling to Cuba, U.S. cardholders should contact their bank to ensure the card will be supported on the island.
Since I'm traveling to Cuba this summer, I told my bank about my travel plans.
But three different representatives of Barclays Bank, which issued my MasterCard, said that I could not use the card in Cuba.
A representative in the security department told me today:
You're not going to able use the card over there. If it's in Cuba, I don't think you'd be able to use it.
She said I risked having my card blocked if I tried using it in Cuba.
It might block it, it might not.
The representative added:
If they put out a press release, we haven't been notified.
I read the MasterCard press release to the representative. She put me on hold again and said she'd ask another honcho about the matter. Minutes later she came back on the line and said:
I talked to another supervisor. We looked up what you advised online, and it is true. But like I said, we haven't been notified.
You can't try to use it, but I can't guarantee it'll go through or not. I have to apologize about that.
So I guess I'll take my MasterCard to Cuba and see if it works. At least it's easier than lugging around a Ziploc full of 35mm film.


Anonymous said...

We, in Canada can have separate accounts in our banks for U.S. funds. Can you not have the same for Canadian funds. Then simply get and use a Canadian credit card with a bank that is not a U.S. one. We use Visa but on a Canadian bank. You can also get a Canadian funds MasterCard, but never an American Express. It might be fu.nmfor you to try!

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