HAVANA (AP) – American travelers who’ve 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 U.S. travelers will be able to use at 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 U.S. travelers carrying cash when traveling to Cuba and another step in normalizing commercial relations between the two countries,” Stonegate president and CEO Dave Seleski said.
MasterCard announced in January it would begin handling U.S. 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 U.S. lifted a ban on U.S. banks and credit card companies from doing business in Cuba as part of the normalization.
The number of U.S. travelers to the island surged by more than 50 percent in the first six months of 2015, according to statistics compiled by the University of Havana. U.S. tourism to Cuba is still prohibited, though Americans can travel under one of 12 authorized 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.
According to Stonegate and Cuban officials, more than 10,000 sites on the island now accept credit cards. Customers frequently complain that they often do not work or function slowly. Many other businesses do not accept credit card payments.
On Wednesday, officials with Cuban state company Cimex said the government plans to expand credit card processing to commercial and retail outlets throughout Cuba in early 2016. According to state figures, 2,300 new credit terminals have been installed in 2015, a 28 percent increase.