No, importing Cuban cigars isn’t legal yet. The embargo signed into law by Kennedy in 1962 still stands. There are just exceptions now that provide a limited number of people with some very limited opportunities (not unlike Communism). Here’s who can get stogies: Diplomats, exiles with family still in the country, journalists, students and business people whose trips are approved by the U.S. by application.
And, even then, you’re only allowed $100 worth of product. Depending on your selections and their prices, that can amount to as few as two cigars. Still, it’s the only way you can get them into the country legally, which is why the illegal trade continues. Here’s how Cuban cigars get to America without learning how to throw a slider.
An oldie but goldie, muling works for Mexican cartels and pretty much every criminal organization in the movies. It will probably work for you too, since border patrols aren’t looking for cigars (necessarily). Typically this creepy arrangement involves you, a broker, and an actual mule, who goes across a border and brings back cigars. You pay the price, plus a premium, and if they get confiscated, you’re out of luck. And you very well might be: Sometimes these guys never bother going across the border in the first place.
In small amounts, you can usually slip past customs with a handful of Cubans from your last trip to Europe without trouble. If the agents do find them, the worst that will probably happen is they’ll be destroyed—sometimes in front of you, but, in all likelihood, during a staff smoke break. Discretion is the key here: remove labels and bands so no one can prove they’re Cuban.
Most of the “Cuban” cigars in the states already are counterfeits with varying levels of authenticity. Habanos, the Cuban cigar parent company, has gone to lengths in recent years to try and make their bands impossible for Dominican producers to counterfeit, but it’s becoming harder and harder to tell them apart from the real thing. And your buddy who met some guy who sells them out of the back of a storefront in Miami is almost certainly getting duped. It’s the same in Mexico, the Bahamas, and anywhere else that professes to have a direct source: They’re lying, and there’s no way for you to prove it until you light one up and it tastes off. Stay away.
This is a better idea than it sounds: A FedEx delivery from Switzerland, London, or even Canada is rarely as suspicious as the guy with a trench coat full of stogies. The only problem? You’re paying big bucks from a retailer (who pays taxes and passes that cost onto you) and you’re often paying big bucks for shipping, all for the hope that nothing bad happens. It’s a gamble that pays off most often enough to make sense.
There are plenty of shady retailers that offer shadily sourced stogies online. You can find these guys by asking your tobacconist or your favorite subReddit for a referral. There is a good chance that you won’t get what you want, but you won’t lose much on the deal.
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