On 4 August 2022, e-Visa.co.uk reported about the anti-terrorism legislation and the fact that Cuba was added to a US list of countries that are seen as state sponsors of terrorism. This new legislation has consequences for travellers who want to apply for an ESTA. More information about the current consequences of this visa legislation for anyone who has visited Cuba can be found here.
ESTA not possible for travellers who have been in Cuba on or after 12 January 2021
In an early August 2022 news item on the ESTA, e-Visa.co.uk reported that travellers who visited Cuba on or after 12 January 2021 can only apply for a visa. This concerns travellers with a passport from a country that is part of the US Visa Waiver Program. These travellers can usually travel to the USA without a visa, but not without an ESTA. Travellers from countries that are not part of the Visa Waiver Program, already have to apply for a visa. Almost all European countries are part of the Visa Waiver Program. Since 2009, travellers from these countries have therefore been required to have their trip registered with an ESTA application. This is a consequence of previous anti-terrorism measures following the terrorist attacks on 11 September 2001.
ESTA or no ESTA for anyone who has travelled to Cuba before 12 January 2021?
Since early 2021, the US government officially considers the Cuban government to be a state sponsor of terrorism. Therefore, the entry requirements are significantly more strict for (certain) travellers who have ever been to Cuba and now want to travel to the US. By now, it is clear that some travellers who would have qualified for an ESTA before the measure now have to apply for a US visa. This applies to travellers who have been to Cuba on or after 12 January 2021. However, both official government coverage and media reports on how far back the measure actually goes, have so far caused confusion.
Amended embassy information
The US Embassy in Paris clearly states that travellers who have travelled to Cuba “on or after 12 January 2021” require a visa. Moreover, the clarification on this official government website states, as expected, that this does not only apply to French citizens. It also applies to all holders of a passport from a Visa Waiver Program country who visited Cuba on or after the specified date. Therefore, it also includes British and Irish travellers. The information on this website has previously been amended by the US government to prevent any mishaps. Nevertheless, travellers who have been in Cuba before 12 January 2021 are not separately mentioned. This has caused a lot of confusion because, at the same time, other official government pages have given conflicting information.
Some travellers who have been in Cuba before 2021 still stopped by US Customs and Border Protection
The US Customs and Border Protection states that, despite the information from the US Embassy, a traveller who has previously been in Cuba “no longer qualifies” for an ESTA. The Spanish Ministry of Foreign Affairs also indirectly refers travellers to this information from US Customs. Other sources previously reported that (only) travellers who have been in Cuba since 2011, now need a US visa. However, this date applies to travellers who have been to other countries listed as state sponsors of terrorism.
However, according to the now updated information from the countryʼs embassy in France, the date regarding travellers who have been to Cuba should be 12 January 2021. The visa requirement therefore does not apply to Cuba trips made between 2011 and 2021 or trips in earlier years. To date, some travellers who visited Cuba years ago have been able to travel to the United States without any issues since the measureʼs implementation. That being said, there have also been several cases of travellers with an ESTA who have been refused at the border because they had travelled to Cuba before 2021.
I have been to Cuba before 12 January 2021 and I want to travel to the United States. What should I do?
It is possible to travel with a visa instead of an ESTA, but it is also an expensive, time-consuming and possibly unnecessary choice. Travellers who have been to Cuba before 12 January 2021 may want to consider bringing additional documents relating to their previous trip to Cuba with them to the United States. However, if in doubt about whether you meet the ESTA requirements, it is best to contact the US Consulate or an embassy about this.
Take note: this news article about the ESTA for the USA is more than one year old. It might contain outdated information and advice, and no rights can therefore be derived from this article. Are you going on a trip soon and do you wish to do know what rules currently apply? Read all about the up-to-date information about the ESTA for the USA.