The General Customs of the Republic of Cuba prohibits the importation of any unmanned aerial system by passengers arriving on the Island.
This means that if you are not a Cuban, you are not permitted to bring a drone into the country or fly one there. If you try to bring in a drone, it will be confiscated at customs.
What qualifies as unmanned aircraft or drones?
According to article 1 of the Cuban Decree, unmanned aircraft are aircraft intended to fly without a pilot on board, and include those that are piloted remotely.
In the case of model aircraft, they are those used for recreation or sports exclusively by members of the Cuban Aviation Club, an institution in charge of organizing air sports in the country.
Those employed in aerial work perform specialized services in the fields of agriculture, construction, mapping, filming of events, observation and patrol, search and rescue tasks, inspection of aerodromes, fighting against bird hazards, announcement aerials, news programs, and other ways of capturing images.
What are the regulations established by the Cuban Decree?
Article 3.1 of the Decree text prohibits the use, manufacture, and importation of drones, as well as their components, parts and pieces, for uses other than model aircraft and aerial work.
Similarly, it is stipulated that aircraft cannot fly over military zones, nor do so within 8 kilometers of airports, airstrips, and other areas.
They must not cause interference with radio signals, or disturb or observe the private life of people, their activities, goods, and belongings without their consent.
Drones used in model aircraft, as established in article 14 of the Decree, are restricted from carrying out flights over concentrations of people, public events, vehicular traffic routes, and recreational centers.
They are also not permitted in abnormal and unstable weather conditions, and pilots must not make technical modifications or add devices to aircraft.
Additionally, drones used for aerial work are prohibited from flying at night or over concentrations of people and public events without authorization. You must not make modifications that alter the certified parameters.
Drones are not permitted to transport people, animals, dangerous substances, or objects. You cannot capture images for photography, filming, recording, or other similar activities without established permission.
These rules not only include so-called drones, but also any toy or other type of object operated through the use of a remote control, such as small toy helicopters that do not exceed the maximum flight height of a few meters.
The prohibition also applies to all means used in model aircraft, and no pilot is exempt from complying with these rules, including foreign tourists who enter the Island.
Therefore, if you intend to travel to Cuba, it is advisable to bear in mind that if you, as a visitor, transport a drone or any other type of flying object, whether or not it includes a photographic or video camera, the General Customs of the Republic of Cuba will apply in the same way.
Prohibition on bringing drones to Cuba
For you as a passenger who arrives in Cuba with a drone or with any object that is capable of flying, this prohibition means that your drone will be confiscated upon entry.
However, the Customs authorities grant you the possibility of taking your equipment when you leave the country.
This is granted even to Cuban citizens who reside permanently in Cuba, as long as they expressly request the reshipment of their equipment before the same Customs officer who made the retention.
The term established to regain possession of any equipment retained by the General Customs of the Republic of Cuba is 30 calendar days from the date of entry of the passenger to the Island.
The merchandise custody service by the Customs authorities is free if the passenger picks up the equipment during the first 5 days after the retention.
How to request authorization to operate drones in Cuba
Resolution 6/2021 of the Ministry of the Revolutionary Armed Forces (MINFAR) determines that requests to carry out model aircraft activities within the approved flight zones must be submitted to the Joint National or Regional Center for Flight Planning by authorized personnel of the Cuban Aviation Club.
If you want to request flight permission outside of these approved flight zones, you need to make the request to the authorities of the Cuban Institute of Civil Aeronautics, and will be approved by the Chief of Anti-Aircraft Defense and the Revolutionary Air Force, who also designates, modifies, or eliminates these zones.
With regard to aerial work, interested citizens can request it from the GEOCUBA Business Group, which manages the authorization before the MINFAR.
In the case of aerial work carried out by drones imported on a temporary basis to be exhibited or used in fairs, exhibitions, and other technical, sporting, or cultural events, the requests are processed and executed by the entities that are part of the GEOCUBA Business Group.
Is it possible to import drones to Cuba?
Unmanned aircraft, their components, parts, and pieces intended for use in aerial work, and model aircraft can be imported by the GEOCUBA Business Group and the Cuban Aviation Club, respectively, after receiving authorization from the Aeronautical Authority.
What happens if you disobey the legislation?
The following things are illegal in Cuba in regards to drones:
- Carrying out flights for aerial work without having registration in the Registration Registry
- Not having the accreditation documents, or they are false or outdated
- Allowing the unmanned aircraft to operate without having the corresponding insurance.
- Failing to comply with the specific requirements or mandatory conditions during the flight.
- Flying outside authorized areas or coordinates.
- Modifying the content of the requested aerial works.
You can also get into trouble if the operator is in a state of alcoholic intoxication or under the influence of toxic drugs or hallucinogenic, hypnotic substances.
Also prohibited are performing displays, demonstrations, and technical test stunts without authorization, allowing the taking of photographs, filming, or other material in areas where air operations are limited, restricted, or prohibited.
In addition, it is prohibited to fly outside the radio frequency bands and approved powers. Nor can you manufacture or assemble drones without the production having been authorized by the relevant authorities.
Don’t modify technical characteristics without proper authorization or allow the aircraft to carry out operations without complying with the established maintenance.
The sanctions for incurring any of these offenses are the imposition of fines of 2,000 to 5,000 Cuban pesos, depending on the seriousness and nature of the violation.
It may also include the temporary suspension or cancellation of the airworthiness certificate and the remote pilot’s license for a period of one month to one year or until the end of the period of validity of the documents.
Likewise, the confiscation of the drone and its components is ordered as an accessory measure due to risks or effects on air navigation, national security, the use of the radio spectrum, and the privacy and integrity of individuals.
In the case of recidivism, the amount of the fine may increase up to 50%, depending on the seriousness and nature of the breach.
If you’re a tourist traveling to Cuba, you are not permitted to bring a drone with you, nor would you be allowed to fly one if you managed to get one past customs.
National or foreign natural and legal persons who wish to bring drones into the country to be exhibited or used in fairs, exhibitions, and other technical, sporting, or cultural events, must request a temporary import permit for their subsequent re-export from the Aeronautical Authority, which exercises control of the imported medium until it leaves the country.
This can be a long approval process. In fact, documentation is required from five government authorities, including the Armed Forces and the Cuban Civil Aviation Authority. A decision could take up to 30 days and it may not be in your favor.
It is required that you mention the type of drone in question, the pilot’s name, and camera you will be using.
Lastly, to fly a drone in Cuba, you have to be accredited by the IACC, and your health and agility will be rigorously examined.