If you want to travel to the United States for a family trip and therefore want to take your children with you, you may be wondering whether it is necessary to apply for and obtain a residence permit for them as they are minors. To answer this question directly, it is indeed essential that your children receive official authorisation in the form of either a classic visa or an ESTA authorisation in order to be able to travel to the USA, regardless of their age.
Why do children, even minors, need a residence permit to travel to the USA?
First of all, let's take a moment to remind ourselves how important it is for a child, even a minor, to have a residence permit. Indeed, some people find this unnecessary as the child is under the responsibility of his or her parents during the trip.
However, the ESTA scheme is a scheme that has been put in place by the United States, a country known for its very strict immigration rules, and it is therefore not surprising that even very young children are required to have official permission to travel there.
It is important to note here that this applies to all travellers visiting the USA, regardless of age. This means that even a baby or infant must have its own authorization. It is not a question of simply registering your child on your own authorization, but rather of making an individual application for each child, even if, as we will see below, it is possible to simplify the process by making a group application online.
The fact that the ESTA system is required for kids is also quite logical, since a visa is also compulsory for this type of traveller if they do not meet the conditions for obtaining this electronic authorisation.
What conditions must a child meet in order to receive ESTA authorisation?
Let's take a look at the conditions that a minor child must fulfil in order to be able to benefit from an ESTA travel authorisation for the United States. First of all, it should be noted that children travelling to the USA do not have to be accompanied by one or more parents and may travel with other adults under certain conditions which we will see below. In all cases, a legal parent must apply for an ESTA online or apply for a visa if ESTA is not available. As with adults, kids must meet certain conditions in order to benefit from this visa exemption. Here are the conditions that your child must meet to obtain an ESTA:
- First of all, the ESTA system will only work for a limited period of time in the United States. In fact, the planned stay must not exceed 90 days, i.e. approximately three months.
- The same applies to the purpose of the trip, which must be for tourism only as far as children are concerned. Thus, a child wishing to study in that country will need a specific visa and not an ESTA.
- The child must also be in possession of a valid electronic or biometric passport valid for at least 6 months after the date of travel. It should be noted that children whose names are simply registered on one of their parents' passports will not be able to benefit from ESTA authorisation as this procedure requires a unique and individual passport number. The ESTA authorisation is electronically linked to the passport number. This means that it is impossible to link several ESTAs to one passport. We will see below how to proceed if this is your case.
- A child travelling with you and applying for ESTA authorisation must also have a plane or boat ticket in his or her own name, or his or her name on the parents' ticket, even for a baby.
- Finally, as for adults, the child must be a national of one of the ESTA member countries. There is a list of countries whose permanent residents can make this type of application.
You will also be asked to answer a few questions about your child's background, health and previous travels, the answers to which may be considered by the US authorities before they make their decision on whether to grant permission to stay.
What are the fees and time limits for an ESTA for a child or kid?
Another common question asked by some parents who need to apply for an ESTA for their child is how much they will have to pay for this process. You might think that the fee would be lower for a kid than for an adult. But in reality, this is not the case! In fact, whatever the age of the applicant, the price to be paid to validate an ESTA application will be the same. The system does not provide for a reduced rate or group rate if you are travelling with children. Why is that? Simply because the work involved in checking and processing the application is exactly the same as for an adult. So it makes sense that the cost is also the same.
What about the time it takes to process an ESTA application for a child? Once again, the time required to obtain a response to an ESTA application for a child is exactly the same as for an application made by an adult. Generally speaking, you will receive a reply by email within a maximum of 72 hours of validating the online application form. The reply is given by email to the address indicated by the parent who made the request and nothing else needs to be done once the ESTA has been granted.
Finally, as is the case for an adult, an ESTA authorisation is valid for two years from the date it is validated. It is therefore possible for the child to make several trips to the United States during this period, provided that his/her passport number has not changed and that no important information has been noted on the initial questionnaire.
Who should apply for an ESTA for a minor child?
As you may already know, an ESTA application is a simple online form. No official documents or supporting documents are required for this application procedure. This means that it is a sort of declaration on honour. However, a minor is not legally entitled to fill in this official application on his or her own. This is why it is usually the parents who take care of this procedure. Of course, a legal guardian or another adult person in contact with the child can make the application on the child's behalf. But be careful! The name to be indicated on the application as well as the other information (address, passport number, etc.) must be that of the child concerned.
However, make sure you tick the box for a minor ESTA application to access the correct form as the questions asked here are slightly different to those for an adult.
How to apply for a group ESTA for the family?
As we have just seen, it is imperative to apply for an individual ESTA for each traveller to the United States and therefore also for children. This can make the process long and tedious if you are travelling with several children. Fortunately, since 2012 it has been possible to make a group ESTA application. But what does this group application consist of?
In fact, this allows you to register an ESTA application for your whole family or even for other travellers who will accompany you to the USA and who are not related to you, in one go, provided of course that you have the necessary information to fill in the form for each person. To do this, simply follow this procedure:
First, you need to create an application group. A group ID will then be assigned to this group. The person responsible for this group request will then have the status of group contact and will be in charge of managing all the requests of the different members of this group. Of course, it will be necessary here to answer all the questions asked in this questionnaire for each traveller and therefore for your children.
There are several advantages to applying as a group if you are travelling with your children or with family and friends. Firstly, it will save you valuable time because although you will have to fill in each form individually, you will only have to make one credit card payment for all travellers. It also allows you to have your applications answered at the same time and therefore faster processing of all applications. It should be noted here that making a group ESTA application does not increase the processing time and the time taken to obtain a response, which remains at a maximum of 72 hours.
Another important point to emphasise here concerns the acceptance or refusal of group applications. Indeed, although the ESTA application is grouped here, each form is examined individually. This means that it is quite possible for one or more family members to be refused an ESTA without affecting the other members. It should be noted, however, that refusals concerning children are extremely rare, especially when the application is made as a group.
When to apply for a visa for a child wishing to travel to the USA?
Although the ESTA system is, on the face of it, an ideal and rapid solution for travelling to the USA with a kid, there is no guarantee that the minor will be able to benefit from it. Indeed, as we have seen above, it is first necessary to meet various conditions in order to benefit from this system. In some cases, an application for a visa may be necessary, either online or at a US embassy or consulate in the UK. Let's look at the different cases concerned by this visa application for kids:
- First of all, if your child's name is on your own passport, it will not be possible to obtain an ESTA. You have the option of having a passport issued in your child's name or applying for a regular visa.
- The same applies if your child's passport does not meet the standards accepted by ESTA. Remember that this passport must be a biometric or electronic passport for it to work. However, it should be noted that this is the case for the vast majority of current passports.
- Your child's nationality can also pose a problem with the ESTA system in certain cases. This is particularly the case if your child is a national of a country that is not a member of the system or if he or she has dual nationality with one of the countries excluded from this system, including Iran, Iraq, Sudan or Syria, since 2015.
- As mentioned above, the purpose of the stay in the United States is also important, as a child can only go there with an ESTA for certain reasons, such as a tourist stay or a visit to a relative. A teenager who wishes to study, even for a short period of time, in an American school, will have to apply for a visa specifically for this purpose.
- Finally, children who wish to stay in the USA for more than 90 consecutive days must also obtain a visa to do so and will not be able to use their ESTA.
It should also be noted that if your child's ESTA is refused for any other reason, you still have the option of applying for a visa. It is also possible that this authorisation was refused due to an error on your part when filling in the form. In this case, you should be aware that you can make a new application within a minimum of 10 days of being notified of the refusal.
Do I need any other documents to travel with a child to the USA?
We have seen together in this article that a child, even a minor, is required to have an ESTA authorisation or a visa to travel to the United States. But is it also necessary to have other official documents to travel with a child to this country? In reality, it depends on your situation.
If the child is travelling with both parents, no further documents will be required for the trip. However, if the child is travelling with only one parent, it is advisable to provide some additional documentation. Indeed, the law tries to protect children against abduction by one of the two parents during a separation or divorce by reinforcing the control procedures during travel outside the European Union. We therefore advise you to travel with your family record book as well as an authorisation to leave the country signed by the other legal parent and a copy of his/her identity card. If you don't, you may be refused permission to travel to the USA by airport officials.
Let's take the case of a child travelling without either of his or her legal parents. In this case, it is no longer compulsory to have a signed exit permit, but it is still strongly recommended that you provide one to your child. This is particularly the case if your child is travelling with other family members or with his/her school in the case of a class trip.
Apart from these two cases, it is not necessary to provide any other official documents or proof of identity to enable your child to travel to the United States. You should therefore only bring a valid passport in your child's name and an ESTA authorisation or visa if applicable.