Here’s Why Cuban Cigars Are Illegal in the United States

Cigars are made by rolling dried and fermented tobacco leaves for smoking. They come in different shapes and sizes and are made of three components: filler, binder leaf, and wrapper leaf. Cigars may also have a printed band with the manufacturer’s logo. Some modern cigars have two bands, such as Limited Edition, indicating the year of production, which is especially common with Cuban cigars.

Cuban professional rollers or torcedores handcraft approximately 100 million premium cigars every year by combining leaves from different tobacco varieties. The cigars are sorted by color, checked for flaws, and boxed for sale. Since Cuban cigars are among the most sought-after product from this Caribbean country, many cigar enthusiasts often ask, “Are Cuban cigars illegal?”

Are Cuban cigars illegal in the United States?

The answer is yes. It is illegal to bring Cuban cigars into the US. After the Cuban Revolution of 1959, the government imposed a trade embargo with the United States, making it illegal to import products from Cuba, including tobacco and cigars, into America.

Today, American citizens are not allowed to purchase or consume Cuban cigars or any other imported products from Cuba while they are on US soil or in any of its territories. Although there have been some recent changes with the Obama administration, Cuban cigars are still illegal in the US, and it is unlikely that this will change soon.

According to the US Customs and Border Patrol, starting from September 24, 2020, people allowed to travel to Cuba cannot bring back alcohol and tobacco products acquired in Cuba as accompanying baggage for personal use when returning to the United States.

However, individuals under US jurisdiction can purchase Cuban goods, including alcohol and tobacco, in other countries for personal consumption outside the United States. It is also important to note that individuals authorized to go to Cuba can consume alcohol and tobacco products during their stay in Cuba for personal use.

So, this US Border Patrol guideline answers the question, “Are Cuban Cigars legal in the US?” They can consume cigars in Cuba but not bring them into the US.

Why are Cuban cigars illegal?

Box of Cigars

The trade embargo enforced in February 1962 made it illegal to bring Cuban cigars into the US. The embargo stopped all imports from Cuba and was implemented by President John F. Kennedy to take a stand against the Communist regime of Fidel Castro. The embargo also aimed to weaken Castro’s power during the Cold War. Even today, after 60 years, the embargo persists.

The President released a memo on June 16, 2017, titled “Strengthening the Policy of the United States Toward Cuba.” On November 8, 2017, the Departments of State, Commerce, and the Treasury declared some modifications to execute the policies stated in the June 2017 memo.

The modifications included a new rule that authorized travelers to bring back $100 worth of alcohol and tobacco products (cigars and cigarettes) acquired in Cuba for personal use. However, this was revoked on September 24, 2020, with the latest memo issued by the Department of State.

It is important to note that even though Cuban cigars are illegal in the US, Americans can still purchase cigars from other countries, such as Nicaragua and the Dominican Republic, that share similar characteristics with Cuban cigars. This is because these countries have not been affected by the US embargo against Cuba and are allowed to import tobacco products into the US.

Are there exceptions to the Cuban Cigar Ban?

In 2016, President Obama made a temporary exception to the embargo and lifted the ban on Cuban rum and cigars. The ban was lifted in conjunction with re-establishing diplomatic relations and loosening travel and economic policies between the US and Cuba.

In September 2020, President Trump reinstated restrictions on Cuba, claiming that it was a “state sponsor of terrorism,” and also imposed new sanctions. Consequently, the embargo on Cuban cigars still exists in the US. It is important to note that Cuban cigars are a significant portion of Cuba’s exports, accounting for approximately 20 percent.

It is still illegal to bring back alcohol and cigars despite the announcement made by the Biden administration on May 16, 2022, regarding the relaxation of some Cuban sanctions and regulatory changes to promote communication, travel, and commerce between the United States and Cuba.

It is important to remember that breaking the laws and regulations surrounding Cuban cigars can result in serious civil and criminal penalties. Americans should always remember that Cuban cigars are illegal in the US and must not attempt to purchase or transport them across international borders.

Bunch of Cigar in a Case

Are there consequences in Buying and Selling Cuban Cigars in the US?

Illegally importing Cuban cigars can lead to severe penalties. Your cigars could be seized, and you might face a fine of up to $50,000. Depending on the situation, you could even face criminal charges.

Moreover, you could also face criminal charges if you purchase Cuban cigars abroad and get caught trying to smuggle them into the US. It is important to note that the government can investigate cases even when you no longer possess cigars or other products.

In short, Cuban cigars are illegal in the United States due to a decades-old trade embargo put in place by the US government. It is illegal to purchase, sell, transport, or consume Cuban cigars in the US, and any attempt to do so can result in severe penalties, including confiscation of the product and civil or criminal fines. It’s important to remember that any transactions involving Cuban cigars are illegal and strictly prohibited.

Common Myths about Cuban Cigars

In 1492, when Spanish sailors initially discovered Cuba, they described tall forests, noisy birds, and people carrying smoking weeds. Spanish colonists started to grow and smoke tobacco, which eventually became a profitable crop due to its increasing demand. In the early 1800s, Cuba established its first cigar factories, and till now, cigars remain one of their major exports as they ship millions of them worldwide.

There are several myths and misconceptions about Cuban cigars. Here are some of these myths:

Cuban Cigars Are Superior to Non-Cuban Cigars

Since Cuban cigars are illegal in the US, it has created a perception that they are superior and of high quality to non-Cuban cigars. This notion is false as several other countries such as Nicaragua, Dominican Republic, Honduras, and Mexico produce excellent cigars with equal or better quality than Cuban brands. It all depends on personal preference and taste when selecting cigars.

All Cuban Cigars Are Counterfeit or Fake

Another popular myth is that all Cuban cigars are counterfeit or fake. It is important to understand that counterfeiting any product, including cigars, is illegal and can be punished with fines and even imprisonment. While Cuban cigars are illegal in the US and, therefore, difficult to get, legitimate sources outside the US sell authentic Cuban cigars.

It’s Legal to Buy Cuban Cigars Online

No, it is not legal to buy Cuban cigars online. According to the US government, buying or selling any Cuban products, including alcohol and tobacco, is illegal in the United States. Even if you buy them from a trusted source outside of the US, you cannot legally import them into the country. While it was temporarily allowed in 2016, the restrictions have been reinstated in 2020.

The Best Alternatives to Cuban Cigars

Since Cuban cigars are illegal in the US, enthusiasts must look for alternatives from other countries. Several countries offer the same quality as Cuban cigars, including Nicaragua, the Dominican Republic, Honduras, and Mexico.

Cigars from Other Countries with Similar Flavors

Nicaragua is known for its cigars with robust flavors, while Honduran cigars tend to have milder flavors. Dominican Republic cigars are also known to be mild and creamy but can sometimes have earthy tones. On the other hand, Mexican cigars usually have a unique flavor profile that blends sweet and spicy notes.

Non-Cuban Cigars Highly Regarded by Cigar Enthusiasts

Non-Cuban cigars such as Padrón Dámaso, Macanudo Mao, Plasencia Alma del Campo, Macanudo Inspirado Black, Regius, and La Aurora ADN Dominicano are some of the best-tasting options for cigar connoisseurs.

All these varieties offer excellent flavors and are highly popular in the US. They provide a great experience, just like Cuban cigars, but without breaking the law.

Tips for Cigar Enthusiasts and Travelers

Enjoying a good cigar is all about choosing the right one and savoring it in its entirety. And if you’re a cigar enthusiast, following these tips will help you enjoy your cigars without any legal repercussions:

Bride and Groom Smoking Cigars Outdoors

Understanding Cigar Laws in Different Countries

The laws and regulations surrounding cigars vary from country to country. Therefore, it is crucial to research beforehand to ensure you know the laws in the country you are visiting. If you are going to the US, remember that Cuban cigars are illegal and will be confiscated if you attempt to bring them across the border.

How to Properly Store and Age Cigars

Cigars must be stored in a cool, dry place and away from direct sunlight. They should also be stored at the right humidity level to preserve the cigar’s taste and aroma. Aging cigars can improve their flavor by allowing them to slowly develop complex notes and become smoother over time.

Exploring Cigar Tastings and Events

Tasting events are great ways to explore and appreciate different types of cigars. They provide a unique opportunity to try various cigars without spending too much money. You can also join cigar clubs or forums to interact with other enthusiasts and learn more about the art of cigar smoking.

Cuban cigars are illegal in the United States due to a trade embargo that was imposed by President Kennedy in 1962. Over the years, despite some temporary exemptions from the embargo, Cuban cigars remain illegal, and any attempt to purchase or sell them can lead to severe penalties, including confiscation of the product and civil or criminal fines. Cigar enthusiasts must understand that buying or selling activities involving Cuban cigars are strictly forbidden and illegal. Therefore, they should always be aware of the laws surrounding Cuban cigars and refrain from importing or consuming them in the US.

About the Author


The information provided on this website is intended for general informational purposes only. It should not be construed as legal advice or legal opinion on any specific matter. The content on this blog is based on the knowledge and experience of the authors up to the date of publication, and it may not reflect the most current legal standards, regulations, or interpretations.

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