Costa Rica's high speeding fines. Also, "People-to-People Groups" to Cuba

By David Tykol
This item appears on page 2 of the December 2011 issue.
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Dear Globetrotter:

Welcome to the 430th issue of your monthly foreign travel magazine, for well over 35 years providing a forum in which people can share discoveries of exciting destinations; give their candid opinions on airlines, cruise lines and travel companies; offer packing tips and, through it all, express their thoughts about travel.

Gran Teatro de la Habana on the Paseo del Prado — Havana, Cuba. Photo by Randy Keck

The bulk of what you read in this magazine is written by ITN subscribers, travelers like you. Some are among the most traveled people on Earth, while others have written impressions and comments inspired from their first trips overseas. Each of you has something to add.

You’ll also read articles by longstanding columnists and, now and then, ITN staffers — plus all the travel news and interesting items that we can get to fit.

Pay special attention to our advertisers, who help keep this magazine dancing along and who deserve consideration when you’re planning your next trip.

 

One subscriber submitted a great piece in the last issue and I’ll bet you’re wondering who it was.

I have apologized to Carl S. Chavez of Graeagle, California, for our leaving his name off of his feature in the November issue. He wrote the article “Narrowboating Through the English Countryside” and did not intend to do so anonymously. We were shocked to discover our error.

Heading off potential inquiries about a byline in this issue — yes, the full, legal name of the author of the feature on Mexico is Margo.

 

James Harrison of Charlottesville, Virginia, sent in this caution: “Recently, Costa Rica drastically increased fines for speeding, and I thought you might like to know that driving even 20 kilometers per hour over the limit can earn a fine of $600. I haven’t been to Costa Rica for about a year, but I have friends there and they are warning everybody about this. Cameras that photograph speeding cars have been set up near the main airport and other areas where tourists rent autos and tend to congregate.”

ITN staff looked into that. From January to September 2011, 234 people died on the roads in Costa Rica, and 61 of those deaths were attributed to high-speed accidents.

On Sept. 8, 2011, 16 cameras began operating in the San José metro area and the country’s central valley to monitor traffic and issue citations to drivers exceeding the speed limit. Each camera can take pictures of several lanes of cars at a time, noting their speeds and recording their license plate numbers. A total of 450 cameras are planned to be installed throughout Costa Rica in the next few years.

On the first three days of operation, the 16 cameras caught an average of 2,616 speeders per day. By Sept. 30, that number had dropped to 250 per day.

A government spokesperson said that the number of traffic accidents decreased from 4,700 in May to 3,100 throughout September.

Each ticket is issued against the OWNER of the car, not the driver. Rental car companies are given daily updates of tickets so that when a vehicle is returned with a violation recorded against it, the fine can be collected from the customer at that time.

The fines start at $600 for drivers going 20 kilometers per hour over the speed limit and increase to $800, depending on the speed. In some cases, one to three years of prison time can even be imposed.

There has been an outcry from the population over several aspects of the system, including the high fines ($600 equals more than a month’s wages for the average Costa Rican worker), poor signage, a difficult payment process, inadequate notification and the legality of charging the owner and not the driver.

 

As announced by the US government in January 2011 (March ’11, pg. 72), American citizens now may visit Cuba for “purposeful travel” (opening the door to more than just diplomats, journalists, those with agricultural contracts, etc.). Since then, many organizations and businesses in the US have had their licenses to run educational-exchange programs (“People-to-People Groups”) restored or granted and are beginning to offer programs to Cuba again or for the first time.

Under the US Department of the Treasury, the Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) states on its website, “The OFAC only licenses People-to-People Groups that certify that all participants will have a full-time schedule of educational exchange activities that will result in meaningful interaction between the travelers and individuals in Cuba. Authorized activities by People-to-People Groups are not ‘tourist activities’… .”

In other words, don’t expect to lay around on the beach. You’ll have an agenda.

The OFAC also states, “Authorized travelers to Cuba are… subject to daily spending limits and are prohibited from bringing any Cuban ‘souvenirs’ or other goods into the United States, with the exception of information and informational materials.”

In the “People to People” category of travel, American citizens may legally travel from the US to Cuba only with firms licensed by the OFAC. A required letter of authorization will be provided to the traveler by the tour operator.

For decades the US government has prohibited its citizens from visiting Cuba as tourists, though in the last few years it has been turning a blind eye to the paid-in-full group packages to Cuba offered by travel agencies headquartered in other countries, such as Mexico and Canada, which have become popular with Americans.

You can look up the latest (strict) rules regarding visiting Cuba at the OFAC website, www.treasury.gov/ofac.

 

In my October 2011 column, I listed nations that had signed the Schengen Agreement; participating countries, all in Europe, allow their citizens to pass across their borders without visas.

Jim Stefan of Sarasota, Florida, wrote, “It seems to me that the ‘tiny’ countries were omitted from the list. When I visited Andorra, Liechtenstein, Monaco, San Marino and Vatican City between 2004 and 2008, there were no border formalities.”

I responded that those five nations are not in the Schengen Zone but, apparently, encourage tourism and commerce by making it easy to enter. They also are not EU members, even though all but Liechtenstein use the euro.

Jim e-mailed back, “Andorra and San Marino are low-tax shopping meccas, which would reinforce your tourism theory.”

 

Per Hovland of Rade, Norway, wrote, “Thank you for a first-class magazine, which I read every month. I find most of my trips through the ads in ITN.”

Per’s e-mail included a suggestion I neglected to give him credit for. He asked that we put in alphabetical order the countries on the State Department’s “travel warnings” list that we print each month. (The State Department simply adds the newest-listed countries at the beginning of the list.) His idea made sense, and we’ve been alphabetizing the list since the August issue. Thanks, Per.

Amy Romano of Syosset, New York, wrote, “During a travel discussion with a coworker, I showed her a copy of ITN (which I cannot put down once it arrives). She thought it was a great idea that ITN will send someone a sample copy; please send her one (name and address enclosed), and thank you for the invaluable advice and ideas in each issue.”

Lorilee McDowell of Los Ranchos, New Mexico, wrote, “Hello to my favorite magazine! Please send a sample copy to my friends. They will love it. Thank you so much.”

As you read travelers’ reports in this issue, think about what you can share from a recent trip outside of the US. Someone will appreciate it.

Please login or subscribe to ITN to read the entire post.

Dear Globetrotter:

Welcome to the 430th issue of your monthly foreign travel magazine, for well over 35 years providing a forum in which people can share discoveries of exciting destinations; give their candid opinions on airlines, cruise lines and travel companies; offer packing tips and, through it all, express their thoughts about travel.

Gran Teatro de la Habana on the Paseo del Prado — Havana, Cuba. Photo by Randy Keck

The bulk of what you read in this magazine is written by ITN subscribers, travelers like you. Some are among the most traveled people on Earth, while others have written impressions and comments inspired from their first trips overseas. Each of you has something to add.

You’ll also read articles by longstanding columnists and, now and then, ITN staffers — plus all the travel news and interesting items that we can get to fit.

Pay special attention to our advertisers, who help keep this magazine dancing along and who deserve consideration when you’re planning your next trip.

 

One subscriber submitted a great piece in the last issue and I’ll bet you’re wondering who it was.

I have apologized to Carl S. Chavez of Graeagle, California, for our leaving his name off of his feature in the November issue. He wrote the article “Narrowboating Through the English Countryside” and did not intend to do so anonymously. We were shocked to discover our error.

Heading off potential inquiries about a byline in this issue — yes, the full, legal name of the author of the feature on Mexico is Margo.

 

James Harrison of Charlottesville, Virginia, sent in this caution: “Recently, Costa Rica drastically increased fines for speeding, and I thought you might like to know that driving even 20 kilometers per hour over the limit can earn a fine of $600. I haven’t been to Costa Rica for about a year, but I have friends there and they are warning everybody about this. Cameras that photograph speeding cars have been set up near the main airport and other areas where tourists rent autos and tend to congregate.”

ITN staff looked into that. From January to September 2011, 234 people died on the roads in Costa Rica, and 61 of those deaths were attributed to high-speed accidents.

On Sept. 8, 2011, 16 cameras began operating in the San José metro area and the country’s central valley to monitor traffic and issue citations to drivers exceeding the speed limit. Each camera can take pictures of several lanes of cars at a time, noting their speeds and recording their license plate numbers. A total of 450 cameras are planned to be installed throughout Costa Rica in the next few years.

On the first three days of operation, the 16 cameras caught an average of 2,616 speeders per day. By Sept. 30, that number had dropped to 250 per day.

A government spokesperson said that the number of traffic accidents decreased from 4,700 in May to 3,100 throughout September.

Each ticket is issued against the OWNER of the car, not the driver. Rental car companies are given daily updates of tickets so that when a vehicle is returned with a violation recorded against it, the fine can be collected from the customer at that time.

The fines start at $600 for drivers going 20 kilometers per hour over the speed limit and increase to $800, depending on the speed. In some cases, one to three years of prison time can even be imposed.

There has been an outcry from the population over several aspects of the system, including the high fines ($600 equals more than a month’s wages for the average Costa Rican worker), poor signage, a difficult payment process, inadequate notification and the legality of charging the owner and not the driver.

 

As announced by the US government in January 2011 (March ’11, pg. 72), American citizens now may visit Cuba for “purposeful travel” (opening the door to more than just diplomats, journalists, those with agricultural contracts, etc.). Since then, many organizations and businesses in the US have had their licenses to run educational-exchange programs (“People-to-People Groups”) restored or granted and are beginning to offer programs to Cuba again or for the first time.

Under the US Department of the Treasury, the Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) states on its website, “The OFAC only licenses People-to-People Groups that certify that all participants will have a full-time schedule of educational exchange activities that will result in meaningful interaction between the travelers and individuals in Cuba. Authorized activities by People-to-People Groups are not ‘tourist activities’… .”

In other words, don’t expect to lay around on the beach. You’ll have an agenda.

The OFAC also states, “Authorized travelers to Cuba are… subject to daily spending limits and are prohibited from bringing any Cuban ‘souvenirs’ or other goods into the United States, with the exception of information and informational materials.”

In the “People to People” category of travel, American citizens may legally travel from the US to Cuba only with firms licensed by the OFAC. A required letter of authorization will be provided to the traveler by the tour operator.

For decades the US government has prohibited its citizens from visiting Cuba as tourists, though in the last few years it has been turning a blind eye to the paid-in-full group packages to Cuba offered by travel agencies headquartered in other countries, such as Mexico and Canada, which have become popular with Americans.

You can look up the latest (strict) rules regarding visiting Cuba at the OFAC website, www.treasury.gov/ofac.

 

In my October 2011 column, I listed nations that had signed the Schengen Agreement; participating countries, all in Europe, allow their citizens to pass across their borders without visas.

Jim Stefan of Sarasota, Florida, wrote, “It seems to me that the ‘tiny’ countries were omitted from the list. When I visited Andorra, Liechtenstein, Monaco, San Marino and Vatican City between 2004 and 2008, there were no border formalities.”

I responded that those five nations are not in the Schengen Zone but, apparently, encourage tourism and commerce by making it easy to enter. They also are not EU members, even though all but Liechtenstein use the euro.

Jim e-mailed back, “Andorra and San Marino are low-tax shopping meccas, which would reinforce your tourism theory.”

 

Per Hovland of Rade, Norway, wrote, “Thank you for a first-class magazine, which I read every month. I find most of my trips through the ads in ITN.”

Per’s e-mail included a suggestion I neglected to give him credit for. He asked that we put in alphabetical order the countries on the State Department’s “travel warnings” list that we print each month. (The State Department simply adds the newest-listed countries at the beginning of the list.) His idea made sense, and we’ve been alphabetizing the list since the August issue. Thanks, Per.

Amy Romano of Syosset, New York, wrote, “During a travel discussion with a coworker, I showed her a copy of ITN (which I cannot put down once it arrives). She thought it was a great idea that ITN will send someone a sample copy; please send her one (name and address enclosed), and thank you for the invaluable advice and ideas in each issue.”

Lorilee McDowell of Los Ranchos, New Mexico, wrote, “Hello to my favorite magazine! Please send a sample copy to my friends. They will love it. Thank you so much.”

As you read travelers’ reports in this issue, think about what you can share from a recent trip outside of the US. Someone will appreciate it.