How love makes the Cuban passport really pricey

Posted: July 20, 2014 by jennroig in Articles, English
Tags: , , , , , ,

Make no mistake: Cuba is a poor country. The situation is not as desperate as it can be in some African failed states, or some of the poorest countries in Latin America, but for sure the Cuban economy is in bad shape. Still, the Cuban passport is insanely pricey, considering the average salary of USD 20/month.

Cubans who live in Cuba must pay 100 CUC to request a new passport or to renew it.

Theoretically,1  CUC = 1 USD. Thus you may find many online currency converters telling that. However, CUC can only be exchanged inside the island, the actual rate being 1USD = 0,80 CUC. So, in real life, we are talking about USD 125. But let’s calculate according the official numbers and pretend that it’s 100 USD.

In comparison, US passport costs 165 and it’s valid for 10 years. The Australian passport costs AUD 244 (USD 229) also valid for 10 years. I have learned that some countries, such as New Zealand, issue passports only valid for five years, where it costs NZD 134 (USD 116). There’s actually an interesting debate in NZ about this five years validity and how citizens are paying a lot more than other countries for the document. Still, they don’t spend in five years more than Cubans spend in six.

Compared to emerging economies, specifically Latin American economies, Cuba is supposed to have the second most expensive passport. Chile is said to have the most expensive document of the region, as reported by Chilean publication La Tercera. However, that news item dates back to May 2013. By now, those CLP 48,900.00 represent USD 86. Cuba’s CUC doesn’t flow because its value is fixed by the government. So, Cuba’s no longer the up-runner but the champion.

This is how the extensions (prórrogas) look like

This is how the extensions (prórrogas) look like

That’s not it. The passport expires every six years, but every two years, for some random reason I can only imagine responds to the government’s desperate need for cash, the passport needs an extension, which costs 20 CUC/USD. Two extensions are required, so make it 40.

By the end of a 6 years period, Cubans have paid 140 CUC/USD for a passport that doesn’t rank high in the global ranking of passports. According an infographic that circulated the Web a while ago, Cubans have access forto 61 countries, either without need f visa, or with a visa granted on entry. According this other ranking, Cuba ranks 111 out of 221 nation-states.

Sure, you could need a passport to go out once in a life time, or travel every six year with a new passport and skip paying the extensions -and make it worthwhile because it’s a great price to pay. But in general, that’s not what usually happens. A passport is such a huge investment, that an individual would only consider it given very specific, heavy reasons, such as living permanently out of the country with a spouse or with a work contract, going out as student for some postgraduate program, or going out as some foreigner’s fiance or a tourist, again with plans to not coming back.

Historic Diaspora – Recent migration patterns

Cuba has always been a nation in diaspora, probably since the moment it conceived itself as nation, as a separate entity distinct from the Spanish Metropolis. There have been historical Cuban communities in cities in the United States, France, Dominican Republic, Spain, Puerto Rico… However, since the early 60’s Cubans have been leaking out of homeland in a steady trend, which skyrocketed since the 90’s. Reuters reported in July 2013 that “The number of Cubans leaving their country [reached] levels not seen since 1994 when tens of thousands took to the sea in makeshift rafts and rickety boats”. According the annual demographic report for 2012 that Reuters referred to, “46,662 Cubans migrated permanently in 2012, the largest annual figure since more than 47,000 left the communist-ruled island in 1994 after what international observers dubbed the ‘Rafter Crisis’.”

All those tens of thousands -maybe a few millions- Cubans that were born in the island but are living elsewhere, every time they want to visit their homeland, they need to travel with a Cuban passport. For them, the same requirements apply: there’s a fee for renewal plus the fee for both extensions. There’s no unique amount, each consulate has determined prices to its various services.

In fact, I always suspected Cubans had to pay for one of the most expensive passports in the world, but never before I had taken the time to research and make the maths. Today I did it, and this is evidence.

Country First Time & Renewal Fees (USD) Extension (USD) Total (USD)/6 years
USA 375 180 735
Australia 356 178 712
Canada 298 149 596
Brazil 293 134 561
Japan 276 138 552
Denmark 253 127 507
Germany 250 121 492
The Netherlands 243 121 485
Spain 243 121 485
Finland 243 121 485
Egypt 243 121 485
China 238 119 476
Russia 241 113 467
Argentina 245 110 465
Mexico 216 108 432
Ecuador 206 100 406
Chile 200 100 400
Cuba 100 20 140

There are a few facts that will, or should, catch your eye:

Prices is the United States are far higher than in any other place. Go figure the reason.

Chilean prices are lower than other Latin American countries, even though they are all closer to Mexico, where the passport is elaborated. FYI there are some countries where Cuban passports can be issued outside Cuba, I’m aware it’s France for Europe and Mexico for South and Central America.

Denmark’s prices are the highest of the list, but everything is expensive in Denmark anyway. I bet numbers for Norway and Sweden must crazy as well, but not close to the USA.

In 20 years, an American will spend USD 330 while a Cuban have spent USD 2450. In the case that Cuban have naturalized, then you add the price of the American passport.

Bringing context to the table

– I converted all local currencies using Oanda’s currency converter. Values correspond to 07/20/2014.

– I picked the countries using data available on the website www.cubadiplomatica.cu

– My selection is random. I researched data about countries where I have lived, or I have visited, or I know of some Cuban friend or colleague living over there.

– To better visualize the differences, go to this chart in Datawrapper.

Finally, one last thing. Why does love makes the passport even more expensive?

Once a Cuban leaves his or her country, there is no actual need for extensions. No other country in the world demands it, and I have seen confusion in the faces of immigration officers from different countries when examining my passport. They don’t really get it, but as it’s any of their business, they move on. The only reasons why Cubans in the USA spend more than 700 dollars, Cubans in Canada pay almost 600 and those in Brazil pay 561 for that document, within a six years period, it’s out of love and longing for their families that remain back in Cuba. There’s no other explanation.

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