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US bank offering debit card for American travellers to Cuba

Published:Friday | November 20, 2015 | 5:09 PM


American travellers who have had to carry wads of cash while visiting Cuba will now have a debit card option.

Stonegate Bank of Pompano, Florida, announced Thursday it is offering a debit MasterCard that United States travellers will be able to use at many hotels, restaurants and other sites in Cuba.

The card will not work at any of the island's ATMs, though the bank said it hopes to make that service available in 2016.

"This is the first step in relieving the burden of US travellers carrying cash when travelling to Cuba and another step in normalising commercial relations between the two countries," Stonegate president and CEO Dave Seleski said.

MasterCard announced in January it would begin handling US card transactions in Cuba, but most credit card issuers still prohibited transactions on the island, making the move largely symbolic.

Presidents Barack Obama and Raul Castro announced plans to restore relations between the former Cold War foes nearly a year ago. The US lifted a ban on US banks and credit card companies from doing business in Cuba as part of the normalisation.

The number of US travellers to the island surged by more than 50 per cent in the first six months of 2015, according to statistics compiled by the University of Havana. US tourism to Cuba is still prohibited, though Americans can travel under one of 12 authorised categories including humanitarian, religious and professional purposes.

New charter flights are now offered to the island from cities including New York and New Orleans, though travel to Cuba is still filled with inconveniences, not least among them being unable to use credit cards.

Jeff Wilson, president of the Geo Central Division for MasterCard, called the new debit option through Stonegate a "milestone".