ESTA La Vista, Baby…

Proper travel documentation is something that I thought I knew all about until I didn’t have it.

To make an extremely long and painful story short, I am out almost $4000 (unless our lawyer friend can write a strongly worded letter) for two return tickets from Italy to Canada and back via a transfer in Seattle for 3 hours.


Travel documentation.

I know, I know. I should have known what I needed. I thought I did know what I needed. But what I didn’t account for were the Customs laws in other countries, even those I was only transferring through.

I’m a Canadian citizen, my daughter is dual. I was using her Italian passport as I had intentions to renew her Canadian one while we were visiting.

Our flight was from Pisa to Paris, Paris to Seattle, Seattle to Kelowna. I never once thought about needing a VISA or any other document for entering into the US.

In fact, neither did the clerk who checked us in through to Seattle in Pisa.

Not until we were in Paris, had traversed Passport Control, taken the bus for what seemed FOREVER to transfer terminals, dragged Ada, running, through the terminal to our Gate to see the passengers already lining up, waited in line with a ‘vivacious’ 5 year old who did not want to come and stand right here (!), listened to the advice of the nice older woman in front of us who told me to ‘just let her get it out it’s going to be a long flight’ while Ada was laying on the ground doing a snowman, chased after Ada twice to grab her so we didn’t miss our flight while keeping an eye on my bag as I didn’t want the airport staff to think it had been left ‘unattended’, gotten all of our documents and eTickets ready for presentation, heard a ‘beep’, and then registered the Stewardess saying ‘there is a problem with your tickets’ did I panic.

‘Let me try these one at a time.’

BEEP. My ticket, everything OK.

BEEEEEEEEEEEEP! Ada’s ticket – problem.

‘Do you have a VISA?’


‘Yes, a VISA?’

‘No. I don’t NEED a VISA, I’m Canadian!’

‘Does your daughter have a VISA?’


‘Yes, a VISA, does she have one?’

‘No. We’re not going to the states, we’re going to Kelowna, BC…in Canada (in case her geography was not up to snuff). We don’t need VISAs.’

‘Does she have an ESTA?’

My heart paused. Not stopped, but paused. You know that feeling you get when you’re about to lose an argument, that feeling of ‘dammit! I thought I HAD them!’

‘An ESTA?’

Sadly, I was not unfamiliar with the document. My brother-in-law had needed one a year ago when he went to the states for a few weeks to visit. I had even filled out the forms and paid for it online.

‘Yes, an ESTA.’

‘But we’re not STAYING in the states. We’re landing and waiting for our connecting flight!’

‘Yes I know, and I’m sorry, but your daughter needs to have an ESTA as she is a European citizen.’


‘We have a desk just over there (points) where we have a computer set up just to process ESTAs and if you hurry you can still make it.’

I won’t bore you with all the details, but suffice it to say, we did not make it in time. I did however get the ESTA. Easy enough to do, and is approved as soon as you pay. It will last for two years, but, in all honesty, I plan to either never fly through the states again, or to only use Ada’s Canadian passport when I do.

My point for this post is: even though the airport may screw up and not check all your documentation for your flights, it is still YOUR responsibility to know what you need to have, and to have it. I learned that the hard way.

So, tonight, out of sheer curiosity and a burning passion to tell you how to avoid the $4000 problem that I had, I felt that there HAD to be something out there that could tell you what sorts of documents you would need in a centralized place, I did a quick Google search and came across this.

IATA Travel Center. If you enter in all of your relevant details regarding any upcoming travel plans, dates, nationalities of passengers, passports and their valid dates they will tell you what documents you need to travel safely. At least like this you will be informed.

I did a check on the same situation I had been in – child with an Italian passport, travelling to Canada, via Seattle, and it told me that 1) a minor under 18 shouldn’t be travelling by themselves, and 2) they would need an ESTA.

I cannot stress enough the importance of knowing what you need in these situations. Don’t let my $4000 mistake be yours too.

Also, by the way, if you DO need an ESTA – their site is here. You will need to fill out an application for each member of your party who needs one, and pay $14US per person. They don’t take PayPal or bank transfers, so have your credit card handy.

And on that note, ESTA la vista, baby…. 😉





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