If you're planning to take a cruise where Cuba is one of the ports of call and then travel to the United States, you'll likely encounter some challenges with current U.S. visa policies. Visiting Cuba will result in you receiving a Cuban stamp in your passport, which will then prevent your entry into the United States via the ESTA system. This means that you must apply for a separate visa for the trip to the US.
The United States has tightened the entry rules for travelers with a Dutch passport if they have previously traveled to Cuba. The famous ESTA (Electronic System for Travel Authorization), an automated system that grants entry to the US for citizens from 39 countries, including the Netherlands and other EU countries, is now revoked if a Cuban stamp is found in the passport. This new rule, which also applies to other European passport holders, came into effect on January 12, 2021.
The ESTA system, developed by US Customs and Border Protection, is the easiest and cheapest way for most European travelers to fulfill US visa requirements. However, the new policy means that travelers who visited Cuba after January 12, 2021 will need to apply for a visa at a US consulate or embassy. This requires a mandatory interview and waiting times for an appointment vary from several weeks to even months, depending on the crowds at the diplomatic post in question.
You should also keep in mind that the screening procedure for the visa is much more thorough than that for an ESTA. That means US authorities may want more background information about you, including travel history, employment and other personal details. This could take additional time and possibly lead to further delays in your travel plans.
State Sponsors of Terrorism
This change in US visa policy is a direct outgrowth of Cuba policy under the presidency of Donald Trump. During his term, Trump made travel between the US and Cuba nearly impossible and imposed several economic sanctions. The addition of Cuba to the American list of 'State Sponsors of Terrorism' is therefore not a coincidence but a deliberate political action.
Cuba's classification as a state sponsor of terrorism has implications beyond U.S.-Cuban relations; it has a knock-on effect on travelers from third countries who have visited Cuba. The ESTA system generally uses an accelerated, less thorough vetting process than the full visa application process. American authorities now see an earlier visit to Cuba as an opportunity to screen incoming travelers more stringently, making these travelers no longer eligible for the relatively quick and easy ESTA process.