Applying for an ESTA with a non-regular passport
Applying for an ESTA requires a normal, biometric passport issued by a country which is part of the Visa Waiver Program (for example the United Kingdom or Ireland). Since 1 April 2016, the passport for the ESTA application must contain a digital chip in addition to a machine-readable area. Most normal European passports have this digital chip and can therefore be used for an ESTA application. However, this does not apply to many special passports, such as the German Kinderreisepass or a refugee travel document.
Chip recognisable by e-symbol
A biometric passport with an electronic chip can be recognised by the e-symbol: a rectangle with a circle cut out. This symbol is printed on the cover and sometimes also on the plastic information page in the passport. The symbol indicates that the passport is equipped with an invisible digital chip (which contains the traveller's biometric data). The chip contains personal data that are also contained in the passport, such as the name, date of birth, national registry number, document number, issue date, expiry date and usually also two fingerprints and a colour passport photo. The chip has been part of the passport for a few years now to better combat identity fraud.
Temporary or emergency passport
Travellers who need a new passport shortly before their departure, for example because their old passport is no longer valid or because they have lost it, can apply for an emergency passport or a provisional passport at a passport office. However, this is not a solution for a trip to the USA, as with a few exceptions - described below - the emergency passport is not accepted for applying for an ESTA.
British emergency passports never have an electronic chip and therefore cannot be used to apply for an ESTA. The same applies to the Belgian provisional passport (passeport provisoire), the French passeport en urgence, the Spanish pasaporte provisional, the Italian passaporto, the German vorläufiger reisepass, the Austrian notpass and the Swiss provisorischer reisepass; these do not allow you to apply for an ESTA, but only for a US visa. In order to travel to the USA quickly, it is advisable to use the fast or express passport application procedure, which local authorities often offer.
In demonstrable emergencies - such as the death of a family member or a medical emergency - the American authorities may make an exception and accept the emergency passport without a chip. Contact the American embassy or consulate for this.
Travel document for refugees
It is not possible to apply for an ESTA for the USA with a travel document for refugees. If you nevertheless apply for an ESTA using a refugee travel document, the ESTA application will be rejected without a right to a refund of the fee. Do you have a valid residence permit, but not the nationality of one of the countries participating in the Visa Waiver Programme? In that case, you can often apply for a US visa instead of an ESTA. You can do this by filling out the DS-160 form online and making an appointment for an interview at the US embassy.
Several countries, such as the UK and Germany, have special passports for minors. This passport is cheaper than a regular passport, but generally has a shorter validity period. British child passports have an electronic chip just like regular passports and can therefore be used to apply for an ESTA.
The German Kinderreisepass, on the other hand, does not have an electronic chip and therefore does not meet the requirements for the ESTA. Children who only have a Kinderreisepass can travel to the USA with a visa, but the application process for a visa is much more complicated and takes longer than that of an ESTA. Therefore, for children with German citizenship travelling to the USA, it is recommended first applying for a regular passport and then an ESTA, not a visa.
Diplomatic, service or official passports
Although diplomatic and service passports have a machine-readable zone and a digital chip, an ESTA cannot be applied for with these passports. Diplomats, government officials and employees of international organisations (such as NATO, the IMF, the World Bank, the European Commission and the European Council, but also, for example, some development aid organisations) who travel to the USA on official business and perform work on behalf of their government or international organisation require a visa. Even if these persons are not travelling to the United States in a functional capacity - for example, for a holiday or stopover in the United States - the ESTA cannot be applied for with this passport. Diplomats and government officials can submit an ESTA application when travelling on holiday or on transit in the USA using their normal personal passports.