Can I make an ESTA application if I’ve been to Cuba?

Can I make an ESTA application if I’ve been to Cuba?

There’s a lot of confusion regarding ESTA applications if the person has been to Cuba. Recently, the US government changed the rules once more.

The USA is a popular destination for Brits travelling abroad, whether it be for holidays or business trips. Recently, the country announced changes with regard to ESTA eligibility for people who have been to Cuba. Can you still apply for an ESTA if you’ve been to Cuba?

ESTA eligibility
Under normal circumstances, travellers with UK nationality or the nationality of any country in the EU are eligible to submit an ESTA application. Many people believe that being eligible for one automatically means you will actually receive one as well, but the final decision on approval is always made by the US Customs and Border Protection agency. While most applications are approved in a matter of hours, depending on your personal circumstances (criminal record, country of birth, dual nationality, etc.), an application may end up being denied. Should an ESTA be approved, it functions almost exactly like a tourist visa, allowing you to travel to the USA within a period of two years. Since an ESTA allows you to stay in the USA for up to 90 days per visit, most people use it for holidays

The major benefit of an ESTA is that it’s much cheaper than a tourist visa and does not require a visit to the embassy. ESTA applications are completed online and approval is sent by e-mail.

What’s the deal with Cuba?
The relationship between the USA and Cuba has been strained for a long time. The USA employs strict trade embargos against Cuba and is extra strict when processing visa applications from Cuban nationals. Unsurprisingly, Cuban nationals are not eligible for ESTA applications. Former US president Trump added Cuba to the USA’s list of states that sponsor terrorism. This list also includes Iran, North Korea and Syria. People who have been to any of these countries after 10 March 2011 are unable to submit an online ESTA application. They must instead apply for a visa at the embassy. By adding Cuba to this list, thousands of Brits suddenly found themselves ineligible for an ESTA.

ESTA still valid after travel to Cuba
Recently, the US Customs and Border Protection agency revealed that they have eased the ESTA requirements with regard to Cuba specifically. Rather than blocking applications from people who have been to Cuba since 10 March 2011, now only visits after January 2021 disqualify a person from acquiring an ESTA. This means that any trips to Cuba made before this date (January 2021) have no bearing on your ESTA application. Easing the ban allows a large group of people to still travel to the USA via the cheaper ESTA option.

Other ESTA requirements to keep in mind
With all the focus on Cuba, it can be easy to forget that an ESTA application comes with a strict list of other requirements you have to meet. For example, you cannot have committed a crime that led to serious injury to another person, or have ever broken any law regarding usage or distribution of drugs. Additionally, ESTA applications can only be submitted with passports that have a digital chip, and the passport must remain valid for the entire stay in the USA. Finally, an ESTA can only be used for holidays or business trips. It can’t be used to work or study in the USA, as you require specific work or study visas for that.

Should an ESTA application be denied, it’s not recommended submitting a new one, as that one will likely be denied as well. It can be difficult to find out the exact reason for the rejection, as US Customs never gives the reason due to national security. The only alternative to still travel to the USA is getting an embassy visa, which generally costs around £160 and requires multiple visits to the embassy.