Restricted ESTA entry after Cuba stay

In recent weeks, travelers to the USA have increasingly reported that they have been denied entry to the USA with ESTA. This was always justified in connection with trips to Cuba within the last few years. What is the background of the entry ban and what should those affected consider in the future?

Possible entry problems after travel to Cuba

Several cases are currently causing a stir among travelers to the U.S. in which persons attempting to enter the U.S. with ESTA approval under the Visa Waiver Program are turned away at border control because they have a Cuba entry stamp in their passport or a (dual) citizenship or residence permit from Cuba. In addition, there are increasing reports of individuals who have subsequently had an already approved ESTA revoked - in some cases without notification from U.S. Customs and Border Protection, which administers this program. Some of these travelers only found out at the airport during check-in that they no longer had an authorization and were therefore denied entry.

No uniform statement from the US authorities

For months one can find in the FAQ section of the official ESTA site the note on Cuba that travelers who have visited a "State Sponsor of Terrorism", regardless of the time period, are no longer authorized to enter the U.S. visa-free with ESTA, but must apply for a visa. Cuba was re-designated as a so-called "State Sponsor of Terrorism" in early 2021.

Within the last few years, tourist travel from the U.S. to Cuba was prohibited, regardless of the travel route or even the nationality, as long as there were no special reasons for travel.


An addition to the Cuba notice was made in July 2023, stating that categories of people who have been in Cuba on or after January 12, 2021, are affected by the ESTA ban and can only enter the U.S. with a visa.

For more updates on the issue, click here.

An official announcement from the U.S. Department of State or U.S. immigration authorities is still pending.

Background of the terrorism allegations

Since Fidel Castro came to power in 1959, U.S.-Cuba relations have survived not only a nuclear crisis and a long U.S. economic embargo, but also ongoing political hostilities.

The issue of Cuba as a state sponsor of terrorism first arose as early as the 1980s, when then-U.S. President Ronald Reagan classified Cuba as a state sponsor of terrorism because he accused the Castro government, with its national liberation movements, of supporting militant communist groups in African and Latin American countries.

It took more than 50 years for diplomatic relations between Cuba and the United States to be strengthened and many restrictions lifted under President Barack Obama. In 2015, the U.S. State Department officially removed Cuba from its list of state sponsors of terrorism. For the first time since the 1960s, both countries opened their respective embassies and connecting passenger air travel resumed.

Handshake Cuba USA

However, during his term (2016 - 2020), U.S. President Trump once again ensured a ban on travel to Cuba and charged with renewed allegations of sponsoring terrorism. On January 12, 2021, the Trump administration officially placed Cuba back on the SST list, which otherwise includes only three other countries: Iran, North Korea, and Syria.

Current U.S. President Joe Biden, who has adopted a similar political strategy on many issues as Obama did when he was in office, eased some of Trump's restrictions in the spring of 2022, including flight restrictions, a family reunification program, and improved visa processing.

Possibilities for affected travelers

To be on the safe side when entering the U.S. and to avoid being turned away at the border, travelers who have a Cuba stamp in their passport or have traveled to Cuba once should apply.

Individuals who have been in Cuba on or after January 12, 2021, must apply for a B visa to enter the United States. They are no longer eligible to participate in the Visa Waiver Program (VWP, ESTA). The same applies to dual nationals of a VWP country and Cuba.
With a B visa, however, you have not only gained a longer period of stay totaling 180 days per entry, but you can also use the visa for up to 10 years on average (depending on nationality).

Unfortunately, there are still sometimes long waiting times of several weeks for free interview appointments at the responsible U.S. consulates for the application of a B visa. Former travelers to Cuba or dual nationals must therefore allow sufficient lead time for their visa application when planning to travel to the USA.

Updated on 31.10.2022

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  • Guten Tag,
    eine Sperre für ESTA gibt es aktuelle für Reisende, die sich nach dem 12. Januar 2021 in Kuba aufgehalten haben. Lesen Sie hier die Details:
    Ihr US Visa Service Team