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Do children need an ESTA authorisation?

In this detailed article we will explain in a comprehensive manner why you need an ESTA and how to obtain this travel authorisation for your children and respond to other questions relating to such a visit with children, notably the legal requirements that you should respect for a successful visit. This is because there are certain differences between an ESTA application for a child and an adult.

If you wish to travel to the United States for a family visit and therefore take your children with you then you may be wondering if it is necessary to complete an application to obtain a travel authorisation for each of your children as they are minors. To reply directly to this question it is imperative that each person, including children, hold an official travel authorisation either in the form of a classic visa or an ESTA to have the right to visit the USA, whatever their age.

 

Why do children, even those very young, need to have a travel authorisation to visit the USA?

Firstly let us take a few minutes to remember how important it is that children, even when very young, hold a travel authorisation. In fact, certain people believe this procedure is unnecessary as a child is under the parents’ responsibility during such a visit.

However, the ESTA programme is a system that was implemented by the United States, a country well known for being very strict in terms of immigration and it is therefore not surprising that even very young children are required to hold an official authorisation to enjoy a visit.    

It is important to note here that this system concerns everyone who wishes to visit the United States, whatever their age. This means that even a baby or toddler needs their own individual travel authorisation. It is not possible to simply add a child on the parent’s authorisation; each child needs their own authorisation even though, as we will explain later, it is possible to simplify the procedure by completing a group application online.

The fact that an ESTA is required for children under the age of 18 is actually entirely logical as a visa is also obligatory for this type of visitor if the applicant does not fulfil the conditions to obtain this electronic travel authorisation.

 

What conditions must a child fulfil to benefit from an ESTA travel authorisation?

Let us now examine the conditions that must be fulfilled for a child to benefit from an ESTA travel authorisation for the United States. Firstly it should be noted that children travelling to the USA do not have to be accompanied by one or both their parents and can in fact travel with other adults under certain conditions that we will examine later. In all cases however a parent or legal guardian must complete an ESTA application online for the child, or a visa application in the situation whereby an ESTA is not possible. In all cases, as with adults, children must fulfil certain conditions to be able to benefit from this visa waiver programme. Here therefore are the conditions that must be respected for a child to be eligible for an ESTA: 

Firstly, the ESTA programme is only applicable for a limited stay in the United States. In fact, the planned visit should under no circumstances exceed 90 days, or around 3 months, in length.

Of course, the reason for the visit should also be only for touristic purposes for children. A child that wishes to study in the United States should apply for a specific visa, not an ESTA.

A child should also hold an electronic or biometric passport that is valid for the application and for at least 6 months after the visit. It should be stipulated here that children whose names are simply stated on their parent’s passport cannot benefit from an ESTA authorisation as this system requires a single and individual passport issued to each visitor. In fact, the ESTA authorisation is actually linked electronically to the passport number. This means that it is not possible to link several ESTA authorisations to a single passport. We will examine other solutions open to you in this situation later on.    

A child that travels with you and requires an ESTA authorisation should also have a flight or ship ticket in their own name or their name should be stated in full on their parent’s ticket, even for a baby or infant.

Finally, as with the adults, the child must be a citizen of one of the member countries of this ESTA programme. There is a list in fact of the 28 countries that belong to this programme and whose permanent citizens are therefore eligible to complete this type of application. 

 It will also be necessary to respond to some questions relating to the history, health and prior travels of your child, these responses will be examined by the American authorities before taking their decision as to whether or not to grant this travel authorisation.

 

What is the amount payable and how long does it take for a child’s ESTA application?

Another frequent question asked by parents concerning the ESTA application procedure for their children relates to the amount payable for this document. Many believe that the price will be less for a child than for an adult. However, in reality it is not.  In fact, whatever the age of the applicant, the amount payable for an ESTA application remains the same. This travel authorisation programme does not offer any reduced or discount prices if you travel with children or as part of a group. But why is this? This is simply due to the fact that the verification and processing of an application takes the same time and work for an adult applicant as for a child. It is therefore logical that the cost is the same.

What is the current situation regarding the processing time for an ESTA application for a child? Here again, and quite logically, the time taken for a response to be given to an ESTA application for a child is exactly the same as that for an application for an adult. Generally speaking, you will therefore receive a response by email within 72 hours maximum following the successful submission of your online application form. The response will be given in the form of an email sent to the address given by the parent who has completed the application and there is nothing further to do once the ESTA application has been approved.  

Finally, and as for an adult, the validity period of an ESTA authorisation is two years from the date it has been granted. It is therefore possible for the child to complete several visits to the United States during this period on the condition that the number of their passport has not changed and no major information stated on the original application form has been modified.

 

Who must complete an ESTA application for a child who is a minor?

As you undoubtedly already know, an ESTA authorisation application requires the completion of a simple online form. No official documents or documentary proof will be required for this application procedure, this application is therefore considered a sworn statement or affidavit. As a child is not considered as responsible regarding legal matters they are also not entitled to complete this documentary procedure alone. This is why it is generally for the parents to complete this procedure. Of course, any other person may fulfil this role if they are the legal guardian of the child. However, all the information and details entered (name, address, passport number…) must be those of the child concerned.   

It is nonetheless still important to tick the box noting that it is an ESTA application for a child to access the correct form as the questions that are asked are slightly different to those for an adult application form.  By choosing a reputable ESTA service provider you will benefit from an application form in your native language as well as online assistance should this prove necessary.

 

How to complete a group ESTA application for a family?

As we have just noted, it is crucial that you complete an individual ESTA application for each visitor planning to visit the United States, including children. This can make the procedure long and awkward particularly if you are travelling with several children. Happily since 2012 it has been possible to complete group ESTA applications. But what exactly is an ESTA group application?   

In truth, this enables you to complete ESTA applications for your whole family or other visitors that will accompany you to the USA that maybe you do not even have family relationships with but this is only in the situation whereby you have all the information required to complete the application form for each person. You will then need to follow this procedure:  

Firstly, you should complete a group application for which a group identification number will be allocated. The person responsible for this group application will be the contact person in charge of managing all the applications of the individual group members. Of course, it will therefore also be for them to answer all the questions for each visitor on the application forms, including those for children.

There are numerous advantages to completing a group application if you are travelling with your children, friends or family members. Firstly, it will enable you to save time as although you still need to complete an application form for each group member individually you can complete a single combined payment for all group members using your credit or debit card. It also means that you will receive a response to all the applications at the same time thereby ensuring a rapid processing of the applications. It should be noted here that completing an ESTA group application does not delay the time required for processing the applications, the maximum time for receiving a response to the ESTA applications remains 72 hours.   

Another important point that should be noted here relates to the acceptance or refusal of ESTA group applications. In fact, although the ESTA applications are for a group each form is examined independently and individually. This means that it is still possible that an ESTA is refused for one or several of the group members while others may receive an approval. We should however point out that ESTA refusals for minors are highly unusual, even more so when part of a group application.

 

Which situations may require a visa application for a child wishing to travel to the USA?

Although the ESTA programme is clearly an ideal and rapid solution to travel to the USA with a child, it is not guaranteed that a child may benefit from this programme. In fact, as previously mentioned, it is essential that anyone applying for this travel authorisation fulfils certain conditions. In certain cases a visa application may prove necessary which can either be completed online or through an American embassy or consulate. Let us examine the different situations that may require a visa application for a child: 

  • Firstly, if the name of your child is entered on your passport then it will not be possible for them to obtain an ESTA. Here however you have the possibility of either applying for a passport in their name or applying for a traditional visa.
  • The situation is clearly the same if your child’s passport does not correspond with the requirements of the ESTA system. It should be remembered here that the passport must be either biometric or electronic for this. However this is the case for the vast majority of passports currently used.
  • The nationality of your child can also possibly create a problem for using the ESTA system in certain cases. This is particularly true if your child is a citizen of a country that is not a member of this programme or possesses dual nationality with one of the countries that is excluded from this programme such as Iran, Iraq, Sudan or Syria since 2015.
  • As previously noted, the reason for a visit to the United States is also important as your child can only visit the USA with an ESTA for certain purposes such as tourism or a visit to friends or family. An older child that wishes to study in the United States, even for a short period of time, in an American educational facility for example must apply for a specific visa to do so.
  • Finally, children that wish to stay in the USA for longer than a 90 day period should also obtain a visa to do so and cannot use an ESTA for this visit.

It should also be noted that if the ESTA application for your child is refused for another reason you still have the possibility of applying for a classic visa. It is also possible that this authorisation application was refused due to a simple mistake made when completing the form. In this case you should be aware that that you have the possibility of completing a new application after a 10 day wait following the refusal notification.

 

Are other official documents required to travel with a child to the United States?

We have examined in this article how even a very young child needs to hold an ESTA authorisation or visa to visit the United States. But is it also necessary to hold other official documents to travel with a child to this country? In fact, this actually depends on your situation.      

If a child travels with both their parents no other document will be required for the visit. However in the case whereby the child travels with only one of their parents it would be prudent to carry certain supplementary documents. The law endeavours to protect children from being abducted by one of their parents due to a separation or divorce and therefore increases control procedures outside the European Union. We therefore recommend that you travel with all pertinent documents including a letter signed by the other parent giving their authorisation for the child to travel abroad as well as a copy of the absent parent’s identification document. In the case to the contrary it is possible that border agents at the airport may refuse to allow them to board the flight to the USA.    

Let us now look at the situation of a child travelling without either of their legal parents. In this case it is now no longer required to have a signed travel authorisation even though it is still strongly recommended. This is notably the case if your child travels with other members of the family or with their school in the case of a class visit.  

Apart from these two situations, it is not necessary to provide other official documentation or proof to enable your child to travel to the United States. Therefore you only need to ensure that your child has a valid passport in their name with an ESTA authorisation or a visa depending on their individual situation.