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.

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About the Author
Ned Levi has traveled the world as an engineer and business executive. He is the founder of NSL Associates, a technology consulting company, and is a professional photographer specializing in travel and wildlife photography.
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