A dream vacation to the vibrant Caribbean paradise of Cuba could complicate your future plans to visit the United States. This guide will help you navigate through the complexities of US travel restrictions pertaining to Cuba.
This guide is written for citizens of countries other than the United States. If you’re American, you don’t need this guide. If you aren’t American, read on.
Traveling to the USA after Cuba
Historical Context Behind US-Cuba Relations
The intricate tale of US-Cuba relations dates back to 1959, when Fidel Castro assumed power, aligning Cuba with the Soviet Union and antagonizing the US. The Cold War era saw the US impose a trade embargo on Cuba, which continues to this day.
Under President Obama, the strained relations eased, allowing US tourists to visit the Caribbean island. However, the policy shift under President Trump saw the ban on Cuba tourism reinstated.
The re-listing of Cuba as a State Sponsor of Terrorism occurred 8 days before the 2021 US election as Trump tried to gain extra votes in Florida. And the reasons given were related to Cuba’s role as ‘guarantor’ in peace talks between Colombia and its armed groups.
Cuba was the official host of peace talks between the Colombian Government and FARC, which lead to the demobilisation of FARC and the end of one of Latin America’s longest conflicts. Following the success of these talks, Colombia is currently trying to recreate its success by having Cuba once again act as guarantor for talks between the Government and the ELN.
Now, President Biden hasn’t officially removed Cuba from the list of State Sponsors of Terrorism, yet certain travel restrictions have eased for American citizens. With the USA now allowing American Airlines greater access to Cuba. The Biden administrations rationale for allowing American’s greater access to Cuba, is that American’s are the ‘greatest ambassadors of American values.’
Current US Policy On Travel To Cuba
As an Australian or British citizen, or a citizen of a European Union member state, you might wonder how US policies could impact your travel plans, especially if you intend to visit the US after a trip to Cuba. The US has included Cuba on its list of State Sponsors of Terrorism, which could complicate your travel plans.
Visiting a country on this list means you can’t use the Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA) to enter the USA. And you are ineligible for the Visa Waiver Program (VWP) with the US.
This rule applies even if you’re only transiting through the US. Instead, you’ll need to apply for a more expensive tourist visa at a US embassy outside of Cuba. The tourist visa currently costs about $160 and often requires an interview.
The rule has technically been in effect since Cuba’s listing on 12 January 2021. Yet the Department of Homeland Security was not asking about travel to Cuba. It is only as of 6 July 2023 that the ESTA form has been updated to specifically ask about travel to Cuba.
Visiting The US After Traveling To Cuba
If you’ve visited Cuba on or after 12 January 2021, you’ll need to apply for a US visa, even if you’ve previously been approved for an ESTA. However, if your visit to Cuba was before this date, you may still be eligible for an ESTA.
Visiting a country listed as a State Sponsor of Terrorism brings into play the provisions of the Terrorist Travel Prevention Act 2015.
It means you can’t use the Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA) to enter the US. And you are ineligible for the Visa Waiver Program (VWP) with the USA, while Cuba is on the list of State Sponsors of Terrorism.
Do Note: The ban on traveling to the USA with an ESTA under a Visa Waiver Program will remain in effect while Cuba is on the list. If Cuba is listed for the next 50 years, then for the next 50 years you will be ineligible for an ESTA.
Impact On Dual Nationals
If you hold dual nationality with a Visa Waiver Program (VWP) country and Cuba, you’re also ineligible for travel under the VWP using an ESTA. In this case, you must apply for a visa to travel to the US.
Other Countries On The State Sponsors Of Terrorism List
Apart from Cuba, three other countries — North Korea, Iran and Syria — are on the State Sponsors of Terrorism list. If you’ve visited any of these countries, you’ll need to apply for a US visa.
I’ve visited Iran and Cuba. And both were, in my opinion, still worth visiting even if it means I’m ineligible for an automatic visa with the USA. The world is a big place. And it’s incredibly easy to select airlines that don’t transit the USA when traveling abroad.
Canada, Colombia, Mexico, Peru and Spain all have cheap, direct, daily flights to Cuba. Avoid American Airlines and you don’t need to worry about transiting in the USA. Meaning you won’t need to apply for a visa or pay the USA $160.
Applying For A US Visa
While being ineligible for an ESTA might seem like a hassle, it doesn’t entirely bar you from traveling to the US. You can apply for a visa at any US embassy or consulate.
Do Note: Though the US has reopened its embassy in Havana Cuba, it has yet to hire all the necessary staff to process visas. As I found out when I tried to get a transit visa in Havana in February, it will be a number of years before the USA starts processing visas in Cuba.
While the politics between the US and Cuba might seem overwhelming, with the right information, you can navigate your way through these travel restrictions.
Always remember to research and understand the travel policies of your destination and transit countries to avoid any potential complications. And don’t book a trip or travel to Cuba without first having travel insurance.
Please note: Always consult with a travel advisor or the official embassy website before making any travel decisions.
Where Can I Get More Information About Cuba?
I’ve made my Complete Guide To Traveling Cuba available on this website. And I recommend you read it before traveling to Cuba. It will help you navigate Cuba and Cuban society.
My Complete Guide To Cuba will save you a lot of time and a significant amount of money on your trip to Cuba. Cuba is not the sort of destination where you can just arrive unprepared.
Read the most Complete Guide To Traveling Cuba here.