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My friend (a French citizen) visited Cuba in 2015, and wants to visit the US on an ESTA.

I know Cuba was designated a state sponsor of terrorism in 2021, and travelling to such a country makes one ineligible for an ESTA. Some sources imply that only travel to Cuba after the designation date is relevant (e.g. the US embassy in France). Others are unclear, e.g. the ESTA FAQ states:

If a traveler is found to have visited a country designated as State Sponsor of Terrorism, the traveler is no longer eligible to participate in the Visa Waiver Program and must apply for a visa to enter the United States.

with no date restriction.

Does having visited Cuba before 2021 make one ineligible for an ESTA?

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2 Answers 2

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There was a period of several months in 2022-23 when the US State Department and other US agencies were giving inconsistent or unclear answers to this question. There were reports of people who had travelled to Cuba during the period 2011-2021 being turned away from their flights to the US (although they were not systematically barred).

The State Department clarified their position in February 2023, and this is now explicit on the ESTA website. Questions on visits to Cuba were added to the ESTA application form in July 2023.

Travel to Cuba only makes you ineligible for an ESTA if you were in Cuba on or after 12 January 2021. You are also ineligible for an ESTA if you are a Cuban dual national. Travel to Cuba in 2015 should not be a problem.

Sources: this article by British travel export Simon Calder, this article and the ESTA website linked above.

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Visiting Cuba in 2015 does NOT make your friend ineligible to enter the USA under the Visa Waiver Program/ESTA.

This restriction only applies to people that have entered Cuba since it was classified by the US government as a "State Sponsor of Terrorism", which occurred on January 12, 2021. Anyone visiting Cuba before that date is able to use ESTA/VWP to enter the US.

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    I imagine that this is correct, but without an unambiguous government source, or at least a way of establishing that the US embassy is to be trusted over the ESTA FAQ, it doesn't provide much beyond what's already in the question. (And in fact the US embassy is part of the State Department, which does not administer the VWP nor ESTA, whereas the ESTA FAQ is produced by the Department of Homeland Security, which does.)
    – phoog
    Jan 3, 2023 at 21:20

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