“My mother is coming to visit me here in the U.S. at the end of the month.  She is 82 years old and in good health. I am an American citizen.  My mother was told that she needs to have a form before she travels which I believe is an ESTA government document.  Can I apply for this for her? She’s not very computer savvy and is nervous about not having the right forms for when she leaves. Is this something that all travelers must have, or is there an age exemption as she is quite elderly at this stage?”

Any temporary traveler to the U.S. who wishes to use the Visa Waiver Program for visa-free travel – Ireland is one of the eligible countries – must obtain ESTA (Electronic System for Travel Authorization) prior to departure.  

This is the case regardless of the traveler’s age.  Even minors and children traveling to the U.S. with a parent must obtain a separate ESTA.

Basically, ESTA is an automated system which determines the eligibility of visitors to travel to the U.S. using a visa waiver.  It’s also a way for Homeland Security to detect law enforcement or security risks.

Only those entering with a visa waiver have to apply for ESTA; visa holders, permanent residents and U.S. citizens do not.

The process is easy, and yes, you can apply for your mother’s ESTA without problem. Just visit https://esta.cbp.dhs.gov/.  

The fee is $14, and the questions are straightforward – biographical and passport details, flight information, and a number of yes/no questions which ask if the traveler has a communicable disease, has been arrested, or has been involved in espionage or terrorist activities. 

The questions also ask if the traveler intends to seek work while in the U.S. (a definite disqualification if the person responds yes), and if a prior attempt to enter the U.S. on a visa has been denied.

ESTA approval often arrives within minutes.  The approval is good for two years, and the holder is allowed to make multiple trips to the U.S. during the validity period without needing a new ESTA each time.

It’s a good idea for those needing an ESTA to apply as soon as travel plans are confirmed.  Of course, emergency and last minute travel cases often arise, and the website can accommodate such requests.  

For those who don’t have definite U.S. travel plans, but will likely make a journey in the future, it’s fine to apply for ESTA approval and have it on stand-by. Again, it’s good for two years and it’s one less thing to have to worry about if it’s already been approved.

Those who do not have an approved ESTA will have a hugely difficult if not impossible time trying to enter the U.S. with a visa waiver.  ESTA approvals are also sent to airlines if the traveler has provided such information. If the ESTA was applied for and approved without having a travel plan, the traveler should have a print out of the application number.

If an ESTA request has been denied, the traveler must apply for a visa at a U.S. consular post.