American Express says yes to doing business in Cuba

Posted: 25-Jan-15 18:05

US credit card company American Express will be in talks to launch operations in Cuba, following the Obama administration's historic softening of trade restrictions with Cuba. Its American customers were not allowed to use its debit and credit cards while travelling on the island until the recent changes allowed this.

American Express says yes to doing business in Cuba

Following the Obama administration's historic softening of trade restrictions with Cuba, credit card company American Express has declared it will be in talks to launch operations there – along with rival MasterCard. Marina H. Norville, an American Express vice president, has said that the move is "consistent with [President Obama's] announced policy change".

Unlike MasterCard, which already has an infrastructure in place (in the form of non US bank-issued cards, used by tourists), AmEx will be starting from zero. Being a US-based company, its American customers were previously not allowed to use its debit and credit cards while travelling on the island.

The recent changes allow this, and also allow US banks to open correspondent accounts at Cuban financial institutions to process authorised transactions.

For British travellers, UK government advice tells travellers to check with their bank and card providers that their cards will work in Cuba:

"US Dollars aren't accepted as legal tender; you'll be charged 10% commission to exchange them... if your bank can't confirm this then you should bring Sterling or Euros in cash, or travellers' cheques. American Express travellers' cheques are not accepted in Cuba. Travellers' cheques and credit cards drawn on American banks are not accepted."

While MasterCard will stop blocking Cuban transactions on March 1, 2015, it's unclear when AmEx will begin its Cuban operations. It's fair to say that at best, the company is cagey about forthcoming plans. Norville has said:

"I can't tell you when our cards will be working in Cuba, but we are planning to do business [there]".

In a recent AmEx Open Forum post, the potential for American business in Cuba takes several attractive forms. General licences giving officially approved reasons for US-Cuba travel now have more categories than before, which will allow more American tourists into the country. More tourists mean more spending – and more tourists needing help planning holidays mean more companies set up to help them do so. An improved telecommunications infrastructure is also cited – which could see the fall of high costs for tightly controlled internet access, which is legally open to tourists only at present.

Of course, this is all dependent on if the trade embargo is fully rolled back by US Congress. Recent events have given American and Cuban businesses reasons to be optimistic that will happen.


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