Visa requirements for a trip to the USA with children

A trip to the United States is a long-held dream for many families. The vibrant cities, breathtaking natural wonders and abundance of family activities make the USA a desirable destination for parents and their children. But before the suitcase can be packed and the tickets booked, there is one important hurdle to clear: the visa requirements for a trip to the USA with children.
From the required documents, to hints on visas, to practical tips, we will provide you with all the information you need to make your travel preparations easier and get your American adventure off to a smooth start.


What visa options are available for families?

When it comes to visa options for a trip to the USA with children, there are several options available to families. Of course, it always depends on the reason you are traveling to the US, is it a family tourist trip or are you moving to the US for business for a few years? How old are the children?

In most cases of US visa applications, the children's visa runs through the parents, as a so-called derivative visa. This is the case for all US work visas, but also for students (F-1) or J-1 (trainee) visas.

I.e., if a parent receives, for example, an L-1 work visa, children can receive an L-2 visa upon application until they reach the age of 21. The same applies to H visas (H-4 for children) or O visas (O-3 for children). As a rule, these visas for accompanying children are issued for the same term as the parent's visa. However, there may be differences, such as with the E-visa(E-1/E-2), due to differing nationalities.
Note: Please note that there are different rules for adopted and foster children.

If the children reach the U.S. age of majority, you must either change non-immigrant status, i.e., apply for a different/deduced visa, or leave the country.

Typically, these (derivative) visas can be used to attend a public/private educational institution in the US. Employment is only rarely possible for older children on these visas (e.g. J-2 visa) and under strict conditions.

Provided that you want to enter the country for tourism, your child, depending on citizenship and length of stay, either needs a B-2 tourist visa or can even enter the USA under the visa-free entry(Visa Waiver Program/ESTA). No type of derivative visa exists here.

Or, if you are planning a separate school stay in the U.S. for your child, then a separate F-1 or J-1 visa may apply.

It is important to note that the exact requirements and procedures for each visa are different. Early planning is critical to selecting the right visa option for your family and completing the application process in a timely manner.

Application tips and tricks

Applying for a "child" visa for a trip to the U.S. can be a challenging task that requires thorough preparation. Here are some tips and tricks that can help make the process of applying for visas for your children go smoothly:

Early planning
Start planning early for your children's visa application. Find out what documentation, deadlines, and procedures are required so that you have enough time to prepare and send the application materials.

Complete Documentation
Make sure you prepare all required documents completely and correctly. This includes passports, birth certificates, photographs, forms, and other supporting documentation. Check the requirements on the official U.S. Embassy or Consulate website to make sure you don't miss anything. Proof of custody or notarized letters of verification from the other parent (e.g., divorced or separated) may also need to be provided.

Consistent Information
Make sure all information you provide on the application forms is consistent. It is imperative that names, dates of birth, and other personal information be consistent on all documents. Inconsistencies could result in delays or rejections.

Prepare for Interview
Just as with adults, children 14 years of age and older are officially required to have an interview at the U.S. consulate if a U.S. visa is needed. In most cases, the applicant parents are at the consulate with their children, so there are only isolated queries with the children. However, a joint, personal visit is not mandatory, so there may also be constellations in which the child attends an independent appointment. However, there is no guarantee that you will be allowed to accompany your child to the consulate, as officially only the applicants themselves are allowed to enter the consulate for security reasons. On the day of the appointment, politely ask the security staff at the entrance and have your own passport ready.

Prepare your child for the interview by explaining why they want to travel to the U.S. and what they plan to do there. Practice possible questions to help them answer confidently and clearly. Most interviews at the U.S. consulate are conducted in English, but many of the officers speak German (albeit limited) or the local language of the consular location.

A consular appointment can take several hours, but the interview itself usually takes only a few minutes. Make appointments early: Make an appointment with the U.S. Embassy or Consulate as early as possible to submit the application. Waiting times can vary greatly depending on location and can still be several weeks in some cases. However, for certain visa categories, postal submission is currently possible - even for children over 14 years of age.

Careful preparation and early planning are key to ensuring that your children get the visas they need and that your trip goes off without a hitch.

Children's passport vs. passport

When it comes to international travel with children, a valid passport is an essential document. For many destinations, a child's passport is accepted, but it is important to check this before you leave.

A child pass port is a travel document issued specifically for children under the age of 12. It is similar to a regular passport but has a shorter validity period and, most importantly, is not biometric, such as regular passports.

A regular passport can, of course, be issued to children and usually has a validity period of six years for people under the age of 24. A regular passport contains more pages than a child's passport and has space for additional entry stamps. More importantly, it is biometric or electronically readable (ePassport).

IMPORTANT: If you wish to travel to the USA with your children under the Visa Waiver Program (VWP/ESTA), they must have a regular passport. Children's passports are not accepted for ESTA. The same applies to temporary passports.

If you find out shortly before departure that your child only has a children's passport, you must either apply for a U.S. visa (B-2) (which is hardly possible on short notice) or alternatively apply for a regular passport. It is possible to apply for a (regular) express passport, which is issued within a few days - not to be confused with a temporary passport.

Therefore, if a regular passport is always mandatory for entry under the Visa Waiver Program (ESTA), other types of passports can also be used in the course of a visa application, such as:

  • Child passport
  • Temporary passport
  • Regular passport

All issued US visas are biometric / electronically readable and therefore replace this "deficiency" of e.g. a temporary passport or children's passport.

Travel planning tips

Planning a USA trip with children can be an exciting, yet challenging task. From choosing destinations to organizing accommodations and activities, there are many aspects to consider to ensure the trip is stress-free for the entire family.

When traveling with your child, it is advisable to carry a copy of the child's passport and visa, as well as other important documents such as a copy of the birth certificate. This will make it easier to prove the child's identity and age, if necessary. Or, for example, formalities if a travel document is lost.

Also keep in mind that you may need proof of custody arrangements or consent forms from the other parent at the border. For children under 18 traveling alone, a notarized parental consent form is generally required upon entry into the U.S.

Learn about applicable safety and health measures in the U.S. and comply with the appropriate regulations. Remember to purchase travel insurance that covers medical care and other unforeseen events. Your German health insurance may offer a foreign plan for this purpose or, in some cases, travel protection may be available through some credit card providers.

Planning well in advance will allow you to enjoy the trip and create unforgettable memories with your children.

Updated on 14.8.2023

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