Traveling internationally with a child? Read this first


Traveling with kids isn’t always easy.

Traveling with kids internationally? Don’t even get me started.

One of the challenges for parents, guardians and chaperones of minors — boys and girls under the age of 18 — is documentation. Children, even newborns, need government-accepted identification, proof of citizenship, and often, documentation that the child has permission to travel internationally with an accompanying adult. (Don’t believe me? Read yesterday’s story by Jessica Monsell about one family’s adoption nightmare.)

This documentation has become necessary because of the increase in child abductions, including custodial abduction and illegal trafficking of children for child pornography and prostitution.

Obtaining the necessary documentation can be time-consuming and expensive. It must precisely meet your destination country’s requirements.

The laws governing entry and exit vary widely from nation to nation. If you’re a U.S. citizen, consult the State Department’s Country Specific information for the documentation requirements for your destination. Here’s a sample of just three countries’ requirements:

“If you plan to travel to Canada with a minor who is not your own child or for whom you do not have full legal custody, CBSA may require you to present a notarized affidavit of consent from the minor’s parents”

South Africa
“Where BOTH parents are traveling with a child, parents must produce an unabridged birth certificate of the child reflecting the particulars of the parents of the child.
In the case of ONE parent traveling with a child, he or she must carry an unabridged birth certificate and … consent in the form of an affidavit (issued no earlier than 3 months prior to travel dates) from the other parent registered as a parent on the birth certificate of the child authorizing him or her …”

A consent to travel document is required and can be filled out online, but the form is strictly in Spanish. You can have a consent document created “independently-produced,” but if it is, it must be in Spanish or if in English, it must be accompanied by a Spanish translation.

The best universally accepted proof of both identity and citizenship is a passport, even though it’s not required for all international travel. It’s the only accepted document proving identity and citizenship for all countries while using any mode of travel. It’s the only one I recommend.

Applying for a child’s passport can be very different than applying for an adult’s passport. In the U.S., for example, minors under the age of 16 can’t apply for a first time passport or renewal for themselves. Normally, both parents or all legal guardians of a child must appear in person to apply for the child’s passport or its renewal. If that’s not possible, then other documentation must be provided. The applicants for the child’s passport must provide documentation to prove their parenthood or guardianship and provide a government-approved photo identification of themselves.

Please note, some countries require passports to be valid six months or longer beyond the dates of your trip, so check your destination’s entry requirements. Don’t forget to ensure your child’s passport is valid, as in many countries it has a shorter term of validity than an adult’s.

While it’s rarely needed, and generally not required when both parents are traveling with their children, it’s a good idea to carry a certified copy of your children’s birth certificates or adoption papers. They have the parental names listed on them. That proves the parents’ authority to have their children travel with them internationally. I know one couple who needed their child’s birth certificate upon arrival in London. They were never told why.

If a child is traveling with guardians or one parent, or if the child, for example, is in a school group with a chaperone, then extra documentation is essential, even if the destination country doesn’t explicitly require it. For required documents, follow the law precisely.

In this case, the adult traveling with the child will need the written consent of the child’s parents or legal guardians. To be certain it’s accepted, even if not required, have the consent document witnessed and notarized. Attach a copy of the child’s birth certificate, adoption papers or guardianship documents to the consent document. It’s there to prove that the people giving consent actually have the legal authority to do so. In addition, the adult traveling with the child should have a color copy of the identification pages of their passport to accompany the other documents for the government to retain.

Often, government officials retain your child’s travel documents, other than their passport and yours. To be prepared, make a copy of each of the documents you need for each country you’re visiting. Each consent document copy must be hand-signed, witnessed and notarized.

You can’t have too much documentation, and you can’t go wrong with having the consent document notarized. Be prepared for even the most fastidious government officials. It can eliminate problems which could stop your trip before it starts.

  • Algebralovr

    When traveling with a youth organization that was more than just a couple of hours from home, I used to require all of the young people to have not only the consent to travel and get emergency medical treatment, but also a state or federal photo ID. Our state issued non-drivers ID cards for $15 at the time, that were good for 5-7 years. We also made sure that all adults traveling were listed as authorized to request emergency medical treatment, plus contact numbers for the parents and an additional family member.

    Also remember that when the parents of a minor are leaving the child with someone else while they travel, the parents should leave temporary guardianship documents that are notarized giving permission for medical care to be received. This was needed many years ago when we took a cruise and left our children with their grandmother. Our daughter was 5 days shy of her 18th birthday and fell on the ice. When Mom took her to the ER to be checked out (she had hit her head and blacked out), Mom was specifically asked, “Where are this young person’s parents?” Mom was able to produce the document I had left, they made a copy for their records, and she received treatment. They would have likely treated anyway, but that made it easy.

  • Hanope

    When my daughters traveled from the US to France with their French grandparents (same last name), we gave them a notarized authorization letter, along with their US passports. No one ever asked for the letter or anything except the passports. When they returned from France with their French aunt (again, same last name), it was a good thing that the grandparents had thought to send the authorization letter back with the aunt because she was asked for it, to get the children back into the US with their US passports. I thought that was weird.

  • Jeff W.

    To clarify, in the US, a child under 16 cannot renew a passport. The process is the same as if the child is applying for the first time.

  • DZN1

    From personal experience (last month traveling from Asia) traveling with an infant, having Global Entry is great for international travel and if your child is traveling with you, they ALSO need Global Entry otherwise you cannot use the kiosk. I signed up my 17-month old son for Global Entry and was informed that because his fingerprints weren’t on file, he’d receive an “X” on the kiosk printout and needed to go to the line for clearance with CBP. PLEASE FILL OUT an I-94 document even though you normally don’t have to with Global Entry as this will speed up the process significantly.

  • Lifetime Expat

    My wife had a nigtmare experience with United/Lufthansa….

    She (With maiden name) and my son(3 at the time) were flying to Thailand from Denver via Los Angeles and Tokyo. I was with them at check in, so no problem with any documentation, and a note was made on their PRN to ensure easy transitions throughout the trip..

    HOWEVER, their flight was delayed, and they were re-routed onto Lufthansa via Frankfurt. No problem, until they got to Frankfurt and the Germans didn’t want to board them due to different last names. This was a true nightmare scenario–there is no airside hotel in Frankfurt, my wife requires a visa to enter the Schengen zone, and she had a VERY tired 3 year old, and I was on my way to Prague (I flew out 1 hour before them, but with a several hour layover)…….Luckily, after about 20 minutes of discussions at the gate, my wife remembered she had a copy of our marriage certificate showing names–problem solved!

    So when travelling internationally, please remember that you may need documentation BEYOND what is required in your origin and destination countries, especially if you fall victim to the airline re-routing game!