TL;DR Travelling to Cuba will disqualify you from the US ESTA, to enter US after visiting Cuba, you will need a B-1 or B-2 visa.
As part of the US visa waiver program, the Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA) allows travellers from many countries, mostly Europe, Asia, and Oceania, to visit the US without a visa. However, in 2016, the ESTA eligibility rules changed as a result of the Terrorist Travel Prevention Act of 2015, which disqualified travellers who reside in or visit any of the countries on the US State Sponsors of Terrorism (SSOT) list from the ESTA, meaning that they must obtain a visa to visit US. As one of his final acts as US President, Donald Trump added Cuba to this list, effective January 2021. This means that traveling to Cuba after January 2021 will immediately disqualify you from ESTA eligibility and you will need a B-1 or B-2 visa to enter the US, even for transit.
These rules do not affect the visa approval process; you will not be penalized for visiting Cuba. It is simply an unfortunate effect of the US terrorism prevention laws.
- ESTA rules do not affect Canadians, who, in most cases, do not need a visa to enter the US
- If you already have a visa or green card, this rule change does not apply to you
According to the CBP website, if your visa is cancelled due to the SSOT rules, you can get an expedited visa appointment if your travel is for medical, business, or humanitarian purposes.
The US Visa is the Solution
We encourage you to keep your Cuba travel plans, and either avoid the US or get the visa. Although wait times can be long, and the visa is more expensive, it is valid for multiple entries for up to 10 years.
If you want to visit the US with an ESTA, you should go to the US first and not fly directly to Cuba; instead, go through a third country (e.g. Mexico, Panama, Canada, etc). Your ESTA should remain valid until you board your flight to Cuba.
Frequently Asked Questions
If my visa is cancelled because of Cuba travel, can I reapply for it?
No, you will not be visa eligible as long as Cuba is on the State Sponsors of Terrorism List
If I Went to Cuba Before 2021, Will I Be Ineligible for the ESTA?
No, according to the CBP website, only travel after January 12, 2021 when Cuba was added to the SSOT list will disqualify you.
“The U.S. Department of State designated Cuba as a State Sponsor of Terrorism (SST) on January 12, 2021.With limited exceptions, a traveler who is found to have visited Cuba on or after this date is not eligible for travel under the Visa Waiver Program (VWP) using an Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA) and must apply for a visa to travel to the United States.” - from the Customs and Border Patrol FAQ
Is Cuba a Terrorist Country? Is it Dangerous?
No, neither the Trump nor the Biden White House have been able to satisfactorily justify putting Cuba on this list. It is a commonly held belief that this decision is political.
If I Keep US Travel Separate from Cuba Travel, Will I Keep My ESTA?
Travellers have tried to avoid having their ESTA revoked by keeping Cuba and the US off the same flight itinerary, or even off the same passport if they are dual citizens. Sometimes their ESTA is still revoked, it appears that some airlines report manifest information to the US. However, even if it works, when it comes time to renew the ESTA, you will be required to disclose which countries you have visited. Not doing so would be a violation of US law.
I’m Canadian, Does This Apply to Me?
No, most Canadians do not require a visa to visit the US.
Does this Apply to Latin Americans?
Only to Chile, the rest of the countries require visas to visit the US.
Will Cuba Affect my Global Entry?
No, if you are a US citizen or resident travelling legally to Cuba, it will not affect your Global Entry.
Should I Postpone my Trip to Cuba?
No, the Biden Administration shows no indication that it will change Cuba’s status on the SSOT list. If you want to go to Cuba, don’t let the US politics stop you. Either avoid the US or get a visa.