Using an ESTA after a stay in Cuba

Travelling with an ESTA to America after travelling to Cuba?

Since 12 January 2021, Cuba has been on the US list of states sponsoring terrorism. The Caribbean island nation is the latest addition to the list that previously consisted of only North Korea, Iran and Syria. This addition may affect travellers who have already been to Cuba and want to use an ESTA.

State Sponsors of Terrorism

The US government considered a number of countries to be State Sponsors of Terrorism. That is, they accuse the governments of these countries of supporting terrorist activities. This could have major consequences for the countries concerned, as they face severe economic, financial and social sanctions.

The list was first introduced in 1979 and then included Syria, Libya, Iraq and South Yemen. Over the years, new countries have been added to the list, but some have also been taken off the list. Today, the following four countries are considered State Sponsors of Terrorism by the United States of America:

  • Syria
  • North Korea
  • Iran
  • Cuba

Designation as a State Sponsor of Terrorism results in far-reaching sanctions for the country in question.

The ESTA USA and the State Sponsors of Terrorism

The sanctions facing countries designated as sponsors of international terrorism also affect travellers going to America. These sanctions have to do with the ESTA requirements. The ESTA is a travel authorisation that allows travellers from certain countries to travel to America visa-free. Instead of a visa, travellers can apply for an ESTA. However, anyone who has ever been to a country on the State Sponsors of Terrorism list may no longer use the ESTA for travel to America. However, this does not apply in all circumstances.

Can I travel with an ESTA if I have been to Cuba before?

Cubaʼs designation as a sponsor of terrorism has caused a stir among travellers. Many travellers who had once visited Cuba in the past were worried about possible future trips to America. For many of them, it was unclear whether they were still eligible for the ESTA. The US government has since made a clarification.

Have you travelled to Cuba before 12 January 2021?

If your last trip to Cuba took place before 12 January 2021, you can still use the ESTA to travel to the US. You will still need to meet all other requirements, and you will need to provide additional information during the application process. However, you cannot apply for the ESTA on this website.

Have you been to Cuba on or after 12 January 2021?

Anyone who has been to Cuba on or after 12 January 2021 is officially no longer allowed to use the ESTA for travel to the United States. In these cases, travellers must apply for a visa with an American embassy or consulate. There is no way around this new regulation, including by applying for a new passport that does not contain Cubaʼs stamp. Ultimately, if you have been in Cuba since 12 January 2021, you can no longer apply for an ESTA. Even if you already have an ESTA, you may no longer use it for travel to America.

If you visited in Cuba before 12 January 2021, you cannot apply for an ESTA on this website.

Opportunities for policy change

During his election campaign, current US President Biden announced a review of policy on Cuba. Additionally, there is strong support in the United States for removing Cuba from the list of State Sponsors of Terrorism. However, no change has taken place so far, and currently there are few indications that this will happen in the near future.

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