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My cousin wants to send her 16 year old daughter to visit my family for 3 weeks this summer. This will require her to fly from her home in Russia to my home in the USA alone. She speaks some English.

I am a US citizen and I have arranged visas for a number of my family members to visit in the past, so I am familiar with the general visa process. I am having a hard time finding specific information on the requirements and potential complications for an unaccompanied minor. I found this article from US Customs and Border Patrol, but it is very vague and links to the Department of State website, where I could find no further information.

I'm interested in any requirements or complications that might arise from her being an unaccompanied minor: how this will affect the visa process, any requirements that the airlines impose, and any other potential hazards or complications. I am especially interested in official written guidelines, but I would also appreciate advice from anyone who has done this.

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Airlines usually have no problems with passengers above 15 years old. –  MeNoTalk May 8 at 1:41
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Speaking some English probably won't be enough if she gets questioned by the TSA (unless they have a Russian translator around) –  Chipperyman May 8 at 18:16
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TSA is post-immigration and customs, and English is not a requirement to pass through immigration CBP will do their best, and even ask fellow passengers to translate if there is no CBP translator available. –  imoatama May 12 at 3:40
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Also check out this kickass Google Answer on how to help OP's non english-speaking Russian mother in law fly to the USA. answers.google.com/answers/threadview/id/413777.html –  imoatama May 12 at 3:43

1 Answer 1

up vote 13 down vote accepted

She will need to apply for a non-immigrant visa just like an adult Russian would, using the DS-160 form, which is done here.

She will be required to go to an interview and have her fingers scanned as part of the application process. Below 14 years children travelling with a parent (who has their own visa) or a school group, would be able to skip these steps.

Regarding the actual flying-there part, 16 years (actually 12 and over) is considered 'adult' by the airlines for the purposes of solo travel. The unaccompanied minor programs are really designed for kids up to about 11 - they basically nanny the kid the whole way until hand-over. You CAN register 12-17 year olds as unaccompanied minors if you think such treatment is warranted. In this case, at 16, I can't think of anything worse.

There are some anecdotal reports of 12-17 year olds getting hassled for travelling alone by either airline staff or immigration, mainly due to incompetence and not knowing the rules. You should definitely make sure she has a parental consent letter allowing the solo travel, signed by both parents. This will not only smooth over these bumps should they occur, but may be required by Russian emigration laws (see Robert's link in comments).

Good luck!

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It must be also added that certain steps must be taken on the Russian side. An unaccompanied minor will need to have a notarized express of consent from one of his/her parents or guardians to leave the country. –  Andrey Chernyakhovskiy May 8 at 9:22
    
Thanks for the heads up on that! I wasn't familiar with the russian side of things. –  imoatama May 8 at 9:44
    
@imoatama An unaccompanied minor on an international trip certainly should have a letter of consent even if it's not formally required. –  Loren Pechtel May 8 at 17:23
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@Robert, base.garant.ru/10135803/3 - Law on exit and entry, article 20. –  Andrey Chernyakhovskiy May 8 at 22:20
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@Robert The policies vary by airline, but AFAIK all airlines consider 12+ to be 'adult' for the purposes of flying alone. Alos, AA/US is pretty standard, but you will see some variance (eg aeroflot won't even offer 'unaccompanied minor' service for 17 year olds) –  imoatama May 12 at 1:31

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