Kids travel with grandparents or with only one parent — it happens all the time. Kids also travel with family friends, aunts, uncles or even on their own. But in all these cases, there are documents they and their adult companions should carry, especially when traveling outside their home country.
Traveling with your own children: Whenever you travel outside your home country you should carry photocopies of the face page of your and family members’ passports. Each person should carry a copy of the itinerary with contact information and cell phone numbers. This should be in hard-copy form, not just on a cell phone. Plastic ID cases on cords are made especially for this.
One parent traveling with child: If you travel with your child without the other parent, you should carry a parental consent document from the other, or proof of sole custody status. While this is usually not necessary for domestic travel, it is important when leaving the country. (I was once almost denied boarding on a flight to Mexico with my teenager; luckily, her father was available by phone.)
Traveling with relatives or children of friends: If you’re traveling with a child who is not your own, you should carry a parental consent document from both parents, and if you travel internationally, the form should specify international travel. If one parent has sole custody, you should have proof of that, as well. You should also carry a medical consent form giving you permission to seek and authorize medical care and treatment in case of emergency. You should also have details of any allergies, conditions or medical history that a doctor should know before treating a child.
A child traveling alone: If your child is under 18 and traveling alone, he or she should carry some form of authorization from a parent that indicates permission to travel. Younger children will be traveling under the special care of the airline, which requires full documentation, but older children traveling alone should carry at least some indication they are traveling with parental permission.
What travel documents should include: The basic information on permission forms should include the child’s full name, date of birth, passport number (for international travel), address, parents’ names and full contact information, your full name and address, and the type of permission granted. If travel is international, this should be clearly stated. These documents should be signed by both parents (or have a sole custody document attached) and notarized. You can download free blank forms for all these situations.
Why is all this necessary? Airlines and border officials have become especially conscious of child abduction. Immigration or law enforcement officers may detain a child if they suspect kidnapping (even by one parent in a custody dispute.) While it is unlikely anyone will ask to see documents, it does happen, especially when crossing into Canada or Mexico. And in case of accident or illness, your child may need medical attention when you are not available to authorize it. U.S. Customs and Border Protection suggests the travel consent document be notarized, but if there is not time, even a handwritten statement authorizing travel and medical treatment, signed by both parents, is better than nothing.
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