Don’t Get Caught Unaware When Traveling With Kids

Posted May 26, 2009 in Your Family & The Law by

I come from a family that likes to travel. But anyone who travels regularly will probably agree that it’s become more of an ordeal in recent years. Security screening leads to the longer lines. Airlines are adding junk fees to boost their revenue. Ever-changing rules cause confusion among both seasoned travelers and the infrequent flier.

If you travel with kids, there’s an additional layer of bureaucracy to deal with. In an effort to reduce the risks of child abduction, children who travel without both parents are subject to extra scrutiny.

When your kids are going on a cruise with their grandparents, your ex is taking them to visit family in Mexico, or your spouse and kids are meeting you in Europe, you’ll need some paperwork to prove to authorities that the children have both parents’ permission to travel.

Most of these rules apply only to international travel, but it doesn’t hurt to take the same precautions when traveling domestically.

The most commonly used document is a consent letter signed by the non-traveling parent(s) that gives permission for the child to travel alone, with one parent, with other relatives or with other adults. The consent letter should include:

  • The child’s name and birth date
  • The name(s) of the adults with whom the child is traveling
  • The specific details of the trip, if the letter is only being used for one trip
  • An expiration date, if the parents only want to give limited permission for the child to travel
  • The full names, address and phone number of the parent(s) who are not traveling
  • The notarized signature of the parent(s) who are giving permission for the child to travel

If you are traveling to a country where English is not the native language, consider carrying a translated, notarized copy of the consent letter.

If children are traveling with just one parent, the parent should travel with:

  • A notarized travel consent letter
  • Copies of the legal custody agreement if the parents are divorced, the death certificate if one parent has died or the birth certificate that shows only one parent’s name
  • If your child has a different last name than you, also carry a copy of the child’s birth certificate to prove you are the parent

If you are not a child’s legal parent or guardian, but are chaperoning a child on a trip, consider taking:

  • A notarized travel consent letter from both parents
  • Copies of the child’s health insurance information and any pertinent medical information
  • A letter authorizing you to seek and approve medical treatment on behalf of the child

Minor children traveling alone across borders should also have a notarized consent letter from their parents authorizing the travel.

Additional Paperwork

The U.S. Transportation Security Administration only requires airline passengers aged 18 and older to supply a picture ID before boarding domestic flights. If your younger child has a state or federally issued ID, carrying it may enable you to pass through security more quickly.

Passports are required for all children and adults, regardless of age, when traveling internationally. When applying for a passport for a child under the age of 16, both parents or legal guardians must sign the application. If both parents are unable to sign the application, the applying parent must show evidence that he or she has sole custody or has the consent of the other parent.

Before taking any international trip with your children, you should also review the U.S. State Department’s list of country-specific travel requirements.

Security or immigration officials may question your child to verify their identity or make sure that travel consent documents are accurate. While some parents might get offended by this, understand that the authorities are trying to prevent child abduction.

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