Traveling with children
A dream destination for many families is a trip to the USA. Whether you are visiting or are being sent to the USA on a long-term basis by your company, the whole family should come with you to the new world.
How does this actually work, especially if children are traveling with you? What should you pay attention to and what visa options are available? Many people ask themselves which visa can be used to enter the USA – B, ESTA, H, L, E, F, J-1 or even J-2?
Good preparation and early planning is an advantage when applying for a visa. In general, find out about the required documents, deadlines and procedures in order to have enough time to prepare and send the application documents.
It is essential to have a valid, biometric, electronically readable passport (also called ePassport) – even for children. Check validity. Once the passport is issued, it is valid for 6 years for children and 10 years for adults over 24 years.
In particular, if you plan to travel to the USA with ESTA under the Visa Waiver Program for a vacation or visit, you will need a regular passport to enter the country visa-free and to register for ESTA. Children’s passports are not allowed and they will no longer be valid from 2024 (see article here). In addition, depending on your nationality and length of stay in the USA, you can also apply for a B visa.
For stays in the USA that your child will undertake alone, such as a student exchange, academic year, internship or au pair stay, etc., an F-1 or J-1 visa is usually required. The application for this is usually challenging, complex and time-consuming. Make sure to give your child under 18 years of age traveling alone a certified declaration of parental consent. This is required when entering the USA.
But even for work-related stays in the USA with family, every family member traveling with you, in addition to the applicant, needs their own entry visa. When posting for several years, US work visas such as the L or E visa are usually applied for. Depending on this, the visa will be issued for the same period of validity for accompanying children up to the age of 21 (American age limit). Typically, the derived visa allows the child to attend a local school, college or university. Older children are usually not allowed to work with this visa or it is subject to strict conditions. Spouses usually receive a work permit with the derived visa for the duration of their valid stay in the USA.
Adult children and those who reach the age of majority during their stay in the USA must apply for their own visa. In some cases, it may otherwise be possible for the child to have to leave the United States because they do not have appropriate or valid immigration status.
When applying for visas, make sure that you have all the necessary documents for each individual family member. Check the necessary requirements of the US embassy or consulate. Especially if you are, for example, a single parent, divorced or separated. Make sure that you can provide the necessary proof of custody, notarized confirmation letters, etc. Please note that personal information such as date of birth, name, etc. is consistent in all documents so that there are no delays or rejections due to discrepancies.
If all documents are available, the application for the visa can be submitted, the visa fees are paid in advance and an appointment can then be booked for an interview at the US consulate. Adults and children aged 14 and over will be invited to a personal appointment if necessary. Children under 14 do not have to audition themselves. Whether you can accompany your child to the appointment or not depends on the security situation and the security staff on site. If you speak politely with your own passport, you may be able to do this. However, don’t assume this. For certain visa categories it is also possible to submit applications by post.
Make appointments early! Waiting times can vary greatly depending on location, season and holiday times and visa type. In some cases there are waiting times of several weeks.
Remember to generally carry copies of all documents for each family member, find out about the applicable safety and health measures and adhere to the requirements accordingly.
Therefore: Start your planning early and have the right documents so that you and your family can have a problem-free trip to the land of unlimited possibilities.