Family holiday in the USA: Did you get an ESTA for your kids?
Few countries in the world have maintained such a steady position as a top children’s holiday destination as the USA. For many countries around the world, it is in fact the number one most visited country for families with children. We could go on and on about what makes it so special for kids; the busy cities with more highlights than you can count, the various theme parks, the giant zoos, waterparks, natural parks, you name it! But that would be putting the cart before the horse. To get to the USA, you need to have not just your own paperwork in order, but also that of your child(ren). And one of these documents is the ESTA.
A quick reminder: what is ESTA?
Despite it having been around for over a decade, the name ESTA sometimes still rings unfamiliar. Everyone knows what a visa is, since it used to be the most commonly used way to travel to the USA. The ESTA is aiming to take that place, however. In short, the ESTA is a digital confirmation that a traveller is allowed to enter the USA. It is not a paper document which you can print and carry around with you. Once an ESTA is approved, the confirmation is forwarded to the United States immigration service. They will upload it into their databases, as will the airlines. Once you arrive at the airport, all you need to do is show your passport, and you will be allowed to board the plane.
How do I get one?
This is fairly simple. You just fill in the online application form and make the payment. Afterwards, the confirmation is sent you via e-mail. There is no need to visit the embassy or do anything else during this period. Once the ESTA is approved, you are ready to travel to the USA.
Very important: children also need an ESTA!
There are certain countries in the world where children travelling with their parents do not need a visa. Kenia, for example, does not have a visa requirement for children under the age of 15. Unfortunately, the USA is not one of those countries. When they say “everyone needs to apply for a visa or ESTA”, they do mean everyone. This includes children and even babies. Furthermore, not only do they need their own ESTA, they also need to have their own passports. The reason for this is that the ESTA operates based on an electronic link with your passport. When filling in the application form, you are asked to provide your passport number. This is without a doubt the most important field in the entire form. The approved ESTA will be linked to this specific passport number. This means that if you filled it in wrong, the ESTA might well be approved, but once you reach the airport, your number will not show up in the database. You will likely be sent straight back home.
For families with children, the form can be extended by clicking the button “add a traveller” at the bottom. This will open up a new row of input fields. Here, you can fill in the details of your children, including their own passport numbers. Same as with yourself, make absolutely sure that the number you fill in is correct. The US immigration service is notoriously strict. Your child will not be allowed on the plane if you make a mistake, even if your own details are correct. Double-check it and even triple-check it if necessary.
The ESTA was implemented as a way to make travelling to the USA easier for countries the USA has close ties with. In general, because the procedure is so straightforward, ESTAs are almost never rejected.