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ESTA Travel: UK to US trip tips for children under 18

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What is the protocol for travelling to the US with a child under 18?

Visiting the United States can be a wonderful experience for children. The US has an abundance of fantastic attractions, interesting places to explore, and while the language is the same, the cultural and subtle differences between the United States and the United Kingdom can be exciting and eye opening. Before embarking on this adventure, there are a few additional protocols to consider for a traveler under the age of 18 to avoid issues or travel delays.

Does a UK minor need a visa or ESTA to enter the US?

The UK children’s passport with a validity of five years is eligible for the visa waiver program. For a child under 18 visiting the US for 90 days or less, the ESTA is most likely the appropriate travel document. This travel document is required for all travelers regardless of age, and each individual must have a valid electronic passport. However, if the stay in the United States is longer than 90 days, or if the travel purpose is to work or attend school, then a visa is required. Additionally, if planning to travel from the US to an adjacent country or to a Caribbean island, and then reenter the US, and the total trip time greater than 90 days, then a visa will be needed.

How to complete the ESTA application for a child under 18

Fortunately, the online visa waiver travel authorization application can be submitted and paid for by a third party, so a parent may complete the application on their child’s behalf. The ESTA application should be filled out with the child’s information—and not the parent’s, although the parent’s email address and phone number may be used. Under the employment section, student may be entered as the job title.

Can a minor travel to the US without a parent or legal guardian?

It is permitted for children under the age of 18 to travel to the US without their parent or legal guardian. A trip with grandparents or other family members, travelling with a school group, a sports team, or religious/cultural group are all acceptable. However, it is recommended that supplementary paperwork is carried by the child and accompanying adult for the duration of the trip. Although not required for entry to the US, carrying supportive documents can prevent trip delays and misunderstandings with US Customs and Border Patrol (CBP). Additionally, if the trip includes transit to another country like Canada, notarized supplementary documentation may be required.  he recommended supportive travel documents include:

  • Written consent to travel from the parents or guardian
  • Medical consent form granting the accompanying adult permission to approve medical care
  • List of medicine the child takes including dosages, dietary conditions, and the physician contact information
  • Details of the travel plans including flight information, travel dates, and travel accommodation details

Can a child travel from the UK to the US unaccompanied?

By preparing ahead of time, it is possible for a child to travel unaccompanied from the United Kingdom to the United States. It is important to research the airline before purchasing a ticket, as they all have slightly different rules regarding unaccompanied minors. Some airlines prohibit a solo child from making a connecting flight, so the flight must be non-stop. Additionally, most airlines prohibit children flying alone overnight, or from taking the last flight of the day. Booking a flight for an unaccompanied minor usually must be made via telephone and requires additional fees. Unaccompanied minor services are available on most flights. This includes an airline escort to the boarding gate and upon arrival to the designated adult picking the child up, as well as early boarding, and sometimes a tour of the aircraft. Children over the age of 15 generally have the option to use this service, as it is not mandatory for them.

Writing a letter of permission for my child to travel

A letter of consent should be carried by the child for the duration of travel if the child is travelling with one parent, a non-parent or legal guardian, or unaccompanied. As added security, you may prefer to have the consent letter notarized. The letter of permission should include:

  • Child’s name, date of birth, home address, and passport number 
  • Accompanying adult’s name, date of birth, home address, and passport number
  • Travel dates, travel destination, and flight details
  • Contact numbers for parents or legal guardians
  • The full name and signature of each parent or guardian not travelling with the child
  • Contact information for each parent or guardian not travelling with the child

Tips for airport travel for a minor child

Plan for a great travel experience by helping your child feel more comfortable and prepared. Follow these tips for a successful trip:

  • Have a folder for your child to carry that includes all important documents
  • Arrive at the airport early
  • Point out uniformed airport and airline employees and advise your child to go to only them for assistance
  • Include snacks and lunch, and if travelling alone, pack money for the child to buy juice or water or for any emergency expenses
  • Charge all electronic devices beforehand
  • Pack headphones, and entertainment like books and games
  • Remind your child to stay seated after the plane lands until a uniformed escort meets them

With some advance planning, minor children travelling across the pond can have a successful and pleasant flight. To learn more about ESTA visa waiver, visit our complete ESTA guide. for comprehensive information about Britons visiting the United Stated under the VWP.

Travelling to the United States? Do you have your pre-planning checklist in order? Visit our ESTA Guide for more information about obtaining your travel permit. We'd love to hear from you. Send us your comments or questions for travel assistance.