UPDATE: As of October 2016, you can now bring back up to 100 cigars (worth up to $800) duty-free every 31 days!
The $100 limit on Cuban cigars legally imported to the United States can put a heck of a crimp in your style if you’re a lover of fine Cuban smokes. Brands like Cohibas go for about $25 apiece and even a single Montecristo No. 2 costs about $10. But there are cigars available for just a few bucks each that will allow you to bring home a whole Cuban cigars box.
Bringing Cuban Cigar Boxes to the United States
Most recently, Cuba Journal, a Miami-based newspaper, suggested buying a cuban cigars box of the Sancho Panza Non Plus to bring back to the U.S.
“Geared largely to the Spanish market, as its name would suggest, Sancho Panza is one of Cuba’s undiscovered brands, offering great taste and, even more importantly, great value,” the newspaper says.
Cuba Journal says it found a box of Sancho Panzas at the Casa del Habano in the basement of the Hotel Nacional in Havana. “(A)t just about $4 a smoke, it’s one of the few boxes you can legally bring back under the new travel requirements,” the paper says.
As we explain in more detail in a previous post, U.S. citizens are allowed to travel to Cuba and return to the States with up to $100 worth of alcohol or tobacco or a combination of both. Products acquired in Cuba must be with you in baggage and be “for personal use only.”
Tourists in Cuba use the Convertible Cuban Peso, or CUC, which is valued against the American dollar at an official exchange rate of 1:1. But fees charged for making the exchange bring the effective rate to $1.13 per CUC. So $4 becomes 3.48 CUCs, and $100 is really only worth 87 CUCs.
You’ll have to smoke a couple of your Sancho Panzas to get a box of 25 under the $100 value restriction and bring it home, but it’s a small sacrifice.
Praise for an Affordable Cuban Cigar
Cuba Journal describes the Non Plus as “medium bodied, robust with the signature Sancho Panza nutty aroma. This is a cigar with flavor and character — a wonderful little smoke.”
The Cigars Review editors say, “The medium tobacco taste is perfectly balanced with some woody sweet notes in combination with wood, coffee and cocoa flavours. The taste is quite mellow and we could say ... more mellow than in other models that have been aged for the same years.”
At Cigar Nubs, the reviewer also gave it a 3½-star rating out of 5, but complained of a tight draw and disappointing flavor. “Nothing really blew me away but nothing upset my palate either,” he said. “If I had to sum the entire stick up with one word, I would say ‘unoffensive.’”
A Havana home-stay, or alojamientos (accommodations), guide catering to tourists who may be looking for cigars reminds us that prices fluctuate depending on the cigar shop, the season and the availability of the cigars you’re looking for. Additionally, bad weather has repeatedly damaged Cuba’s tobacco crop in the last few years, which hurts production and availability.
The Havana B&B site quotes prices for 25-count boxes of cigars ranging from $118 for Juan Lopez Selección No. 2s (a robusto) to $250 for Bolivar Coronas Gigantes. Sancho Panza is not on the list of a dozen brands.
But less expensive Cuban cigars can be found if you’re willing to check out several of Havana’s numerous cigar shops, which sounds like a great afternoon to us.
A Cigar Aficionado editor details his hunt a year ago, which turned up a cuban cigars box of 25 H. Upmann Half Coronas for 87.50 CUCs and a box of 10 Montecristo Petit No. 2s for 75.50 CUCs a box.
The B&B group says you’ll invariably run into people outside of Havana cigar shops who’ll tell you they can get you cigars for less. This is a good way to get ripped off. “It's best to say ‘NO’ (forcefully), as it is the only way they understand that you are not interested in buying cigars,” they advise.
Instead, the site suggests, your B&B host may be able to help. Some may know of a clandestine cigar factory, where you can buy cigars for less than state-sanctions hops charge. “There are clandestine factories that produce good quality cigars, as good as those produced in official cigar factories,” as well as some that don’t.
We have our doubts about that advice, but we agree with them that you shouldn’t believe the B&B host or anyone who says they have a relative or friend who works at a cigar factory and regularly sneaks a few home to sell. “That is a big lie because cigar factories have very good security systems and it is virtually impossible to draw cigar boxes clandestinely,” the site says.
The Final Draw
As we’ve said before, it’s likely that, as more cigar-buying tourists from the U.S. arrive in Cuba, Habanos S.A. will begin to more regularly package fewer cigars per box, and/or the importation limit will change. Eventually, of course, we hope to see Cuban cigars on sale in the U.S.
In the meantime, if you get to Havana and are determined to bring a cache of cigars home, shop around in real brick-and-mortar shops and ask for what you want if you don’t see it. Don’t buy on the street and be wary of “helpful” hoteliers or B&B owners unless you’re fully ready to have wasted whatever you spend.