ESTA Travel Blogs

01 Nov

Recommendations for successful travel to the US with children

Protocols for travel to the US with minor children

Understanding documents and protocols for minors under age 18

Visiting the United States can be a wonderful opportunity and a fantastic life experience for a child. To facilitate a successful travel adventure for a person under 18, additional planning is recommended to prevent any mix-ups while traveling, and to help the child feel safe and comfortable. US Customs and Border Patrol is mandated to investigate any uncertainties about a child entering the United for the prevention of child abductions and trafficking. Although notarized paperwork is not currently mandatory for a minor traveling to the US, to avoid any misunderstandings and to prevent travel delays, it is recommended that certain additional paperwork be carried. This paperwork may be required if the child will be transiting from the US to other countries, such as Canada.

Does a child need an ESTA or a visa to enter the US?

An ESTA or a visa is required for all travelers, regardless of age. For trips of 90 days or less, a child under age 18 with a valid electronic passport may visit the US through the visa waiver program. This online application must be filled out with the child’s information. For example, on the application the child’s parents should be listed, and under employment student may be entered if applicable. The parent’s email address and phone number may be entered on the application. Fortunately, the online ESTA form may be completed by a third party such as the parent. Examples of acceptable travel purposes under the visa waiver program include:

  • Tourism
  • Participation in a music, sport, or religious event, as long as money is not being received
  • Medical care 
  • Visiting relatives


If the stay in the US will be longer than 90 days, or the travel purpose includes study for credit or paid work, then a visa is required. For more information about acceptable travel purposes under the visa waiver program or to review when a visa may be required, please explore out comprehensive ESTA guide

Tips for a single parent entering the US with their child

It is common for a parent to travel to the US solo with their child. For this circumstance, it is recommended that the parent carries a notarized letter from the non-traveling parent, confirming acknowledgement of the trip. If there is not a second parent, then the relevant paperwork, for example a court decision, birth, or death certificate should be carried while traveling.

Can a child visit the US without a parent?

There are many acceptable reasons for a minor under the age of 18 to travel to the US without a parent. The trip might be for participation in a school, religious, or cultural group event, or to take a vacation with a different family member, like a grandparent. Whenever a child is travelling without both parents, U.S. Customs and Border Patrol recommends a notarized letter, written with the following format:
“I acknowledge that my wife/husband/etc. is traveling out of the country with my son/daughter/group. He/She/They has/have my/our permission to do so.” This letter should be signed by any parent not traveling with the child and include the parent’s contact information.

Additional travel documents a minor should carry if traveling without parents

In addition to carrying a parental consent letter, a child under the age of 18 traveling without parents, and the accompanying adult should both carry the following information:

  • A medical consent form granting the traveling adult to approve medical care
  • A list of all medications the child takes, including dosages
  • A list of any known allergies or dietary restrictions
  • The contact details of the child’s physician
  • Details of all travel information including flight numbers, travel accommodations, and dates of travel

Travel tip: For ease and organisation, keep this information in a folder that can be easily accessed if needed during travel.

Can a minor child travel alone to the United States?

Unaccompanied minors are permitted to travel to the US. Every airline has their own specific rules and regulations, so it is important to check with the airline carrier well in advance of travel regarding their requirements. Most airlines require an additional fee for an unaccompanied minor, the child must be at least 5 years old, and the flight reservation can only be booked by calling the airline directly. It is generally not allowed for the child to check in online, to take an overnight flight, or to be on the last flight of the day. An unaccompanied minor service is mandatory for all children under 15. This service may include early boarding, and an airport escort from the ticket counter, to the gate, to any connecting flights, and finally to the designated adult picking the child up. Consider the following recommendations to help ensure a safe trip for a child traveling solo:

  • Arrive at least 2 hours in advance of travel to check in
  • Put the answers to the customs declaration form on paper for the child to carry so it is easier to complete the form upon arrival to the US
  • Help the child identify airline and security employees if assistance is needed
  • Provide the child with money for food and drinks while at the airport
  • Remind the child to stay seated after the plane lands until the airline escort arrives

Recommendations for a smooth flight for children

With a little advanced planning, an international flight for a child under 18 can be a pleasant experience. Follow these tips for a successful trip:

  • Charge all electronic devices before travel
  • Provide headphones, books, games, and activities
  • Pack a lunch and snacks
  • Utilize early boarding
  • Bring gum to help with popping ears

Common question: Is the ESTA visa wiaver availabe during the US travel restricitons?

Yes, you may submit your ESTA application now. The visa waiver is valid for a period of two years, or whenever your passport expires; whchever come first. And, ESTA allows for visa-free travel with a flexible 90-day limit for each trip.