Save on Cuban Cigars

by Female Abroad

Most people when you mention Cuba they automatically think “Cuban Cigars” and where there are quite a few different brands of actual Cuban cigars, the Cuban government knows that no matter the brand, people will buy them. Being in Cuba with a husband that has started to become a cigar aficionado we of course had to hunt out some Cuban’s to add to his humidor. However as we were flying from Canada to Cuba then Cuba to the US, then onto a cruise, and then flying back to Canada from the US we also had to navigate every country’s laws and limitations on what we could bring through their customs.

Before we left I quickly brushed up on this information, for the USA we could bring back one box of sealed Cuban cigars with the government’s official seal on it. Did not sound too bad, if we were going Canada to Cuba and back then we would be able to bring more back but as the US is the most stringent we had to stick to their guidelines. (as of late 2021 the rules have changed again - keep reading for more on that.)

When we finally got to Cuba we checked into our Air BnB and then headed downstairs to meet our drive and guide who would be with us for the next day and a half. As we were in Cuba for a very short time we hired a local guide to help us navigate the city and make the most of our time. The driver did not speak any English but our guide was in school to be a psychologist and did this as a side job because she liked practising her English. The one thing most Cuban’s will not tell you is that even if you are a doctor it is extremely difficult to make a living because the wage is set by the government so there is no such thing as paid overtime or raises; you are paid what you are paid depending upon your job.

As the guide and driver were flexible to what we wanted to do, we made sure to let her know that we needed to get some Cuban cigars either that day or the next day. We had landed late in the day and on a Friday so pretty much everywhere was closed except for the cigar shop that was located in Castillo De Los Tres Reyes Del Morro and as it was a tourist location, it was still open. After exploring the city a bit and eating we headed to the fort. The gate staff stopped us and tried to get us to pay entry but our guide spoke with them and promised we would only go to the cigar shop so they relented.

I wish that we had time to explore the fort as it seemed really interesting but we stayed true to our word and walked along the left wall all the way to the shop. Once inside we were greeted by the world’s longest Cuban cigar which snaked around the entire shop inside a plastic case. While I was tracing the cigar to try to find the beginning of it my husband had honed in on the cigars he was after, the Montecristco. However, they were more expensive than they are at home - must be the tourist price - he mused to me as he browsed all the other cigars that lined the shelves. He decided on a sample pack that had one of every major Cuban cigar so at least he could give all of them a try.

As we left our guide mentioned that it was one of the most expensive stores in the city but as we were with them the next day and heading out of town to Vinales, we would look again tomorrow.

The next day, bright and early, we all met up again and headed on our drive out to Vinales but stopped at a Tobacco Plantation along the way. A mama hen and her chicks greeted us as we all pilled out of the car and headed into a questionable looking shack. “Coffee! Cigars!” a boisterous gentleman said as we entered. One thing I had not looked at before coming was when the tobacco growing season was and it turned out that we were there in the off season and the only tourists around. Nothing too wrong with that as our hosts provided as much coffee as we could drink and as many cigars as we could smoke while walking around back to see how they dried the cigar leaves before receiving a rolling demonstration. Once the education was done, it was time for the hard sell - U$ 2 per cigar.

We were shocked to learn about the price and inquired about how it was so low. Our guide explained that tobacco growers grow for the government which takes 80% of the produced crop to turn into cigars at their factories. Each farm produces leaves for a specific brand and they happen to produce for the Habana brand. The 20% that the farms are left with, they are allowed to roll and sell them but they cannot be sold under the brand name so you are technically getting the same Habana product but at 1 / 10th of the price.

It made perfect sense and my husband’s eyes lit up. I however had to remind him that as per the current US government’s laws, the cigars had to be in a sealed, government stickered box and these clearly are not. Right at that moment, the tobacco host pulled out a little piece of worn paper that stated the US government’s rules on bringing cigars in the country and highlighted the point that buying from them fit the rule as they have available them. While this little sheet of paper is very handy, there was no date on it and with how worn it was it was definitely something I questioned.

We relented and purchased a couple cigars, after all if customs takes them can you really argue at $2 per stick? For the four we purchased, it was worth the risk.

Once in Vinales we found the one cigar store but the prices were even worse than they were in Havana so we gave up our hunt. Our guide said that if we had come to Havana earlier in the week then we would have time to explore the different shops in town, take a tour of the government factories, and price things out but as we were leaving the next morning we would just have to be happy with what we had.

On our way to Miami, we had to fill out a customs declaration form on the plane and there was nothing stating that the cigars had to be in a government box so as soon as we landed and I got some cell coverage I jumped on US Customs & Border website to see what the rules on cigars were and they had changed. In the week since I looked, we were allowed to bring back Cuban’s and there was nothing about the box having to have a government seal on it.

As of late 2021 however, it is now illegal to bring and tobacco products or alcohol back from Cuba to the USA so the government keeps flipping / flopping on what they want to do. However if you are travelling to Cuba but returning directly to Canada, the UK, or the EU then you can bring back up to 50 cigars. If you have to make a connecting flight try to book one that does not go through the USA or if you have to go through the USA then make sure your luggage is checked all the way through to your final destination or else there is an extremely good chance they will be confiscated when you go through US customs.