At the start of 2021, Cuba was added to the United States’ list of State Sponsors of Terrorism. This affects travellers who wish to use the ESTA USA. This article contains more information on how this would impact your travel to the United States of America.
Changes in ESTA requirements July 2023
On 6 July 2023, U.S. Customs and Border Protection modified one of the safety questions on the ESTA application form. The ESTA is a travel authorization available to travellers from most European countries to travel to the US without a visa. That is why the changes in the application form impact millions of potential travellers to the United States, as it is a popular travel destination.
The modification concerns question number 9 in the ESTA application form, which asks if the applicant has visited certain countries. The question previously only showed concerns for visits to Iran, Iraq, Yemen, North Korea, Sudan, Somalia, and Syria. Cuba was added to this list on 6 July 2023. Those who have been to either one of these aforementioned countries since 1 March 2011, are in most cases no longer authorized to apply for an ESTA.
How will this affect my trip to the United States?
The recent change has an impact on all travellers who have been to Cuba since 1 March 2011, and who wish to travel to the US using an ESTA. If you have never been to Cuba, or your visit took place before 1 March 2011, then there is no need to worry. In this case, you can just apply for the ESTA, as long as you comply with all other requirements.
Have you been to Cuba on or after 12 January 2021? Then you can no longer travel to America with an ESTA, nor can you apply for a new ESTA. A previously granted ESTA that is not yet expired will lose its validity effective immediately in the case of a trip to Cuba. In this case as well, the ESTA cannot be used to travel to the United States.
Have you been to Cuba between 1 March 2011 and 12 January 2021? Then you could still apply for an ESTA elsewhere. However, in this case you cannot file an ESTA application on this website, regardless of the travel purpose or the duration of your previous stay in Cuba.
What alternatives are there to the ESTA?
For European travellers, the ESTA is by far the easiest and cheapest way to comply with the American visa requirement. In case you are ineligible for the ESTA, the only alternative would be to apply for a USA visa. To apply for a visa, you need to schedule an appointment at the United States embassy or consulate, and take the mandatory interview. The wait times for an appointment depend on the demand, but you should at least take a minimum waiting time of several weeks to several months into account.
How Cuba ended up in this situation
The fact that Cuba was added to the American list of State Sponsors of Terrorism happened during Donald Trump’s presidency. Trump executed strong policies against Cuba and made travel between Cuba and the United States of America nearly impossible. Moreover, numerous economic sanctions were introduced. Eventually, Cuba became a part of the terrorism list of the United States.
Cuba being marked as a sponsor of terrorism does not only have consequences for the US and Cuba, but also for travellers from other countries who have been to Cuba. A previous visit to Cuba is a reason for the US to screen a traveller more thoroughly. This is also why these travellers can no longer apply for an ESTA, since the inspection procedure of an ESTA application is faster and only scratches the surface compared to that of visa applications.
Precise rules remain unclear
It was at the beginning of 2021 that Cuba was named a state sponsor of terrorism, but the exact implications for travellers long remained unclear. At first, it seemed like the new travel restrictions would only impact travellers who had been to Cuba on or after 12 January 2021. This had also been confirmed by various official sources, among which several American Embassies in Europe.
However, on 6 July 2023, safety question number 9 of the ESTA application form was changed without notice. Since then, travellers who have been to Cuba since 1 March 2011 but still before 12 January 2021, have to submit additional information for their ESTA applications.