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You already need to worry about getting everyone where they need to be on time and making sure no one forgot anything. The last thing you need is an airline, train, bus, or cruise ship company blindsiding you with a rule you didn't even know existed until you were checking in.
That's why we're going to let you know about the documents you need to gather before traveling with your children.
Proof of relationship with the child
For that reason, you should always have a document on you that proves your relationship with your child when traveling. This is particularly important if you and your child don't share the same last name and you want to avoid the complications that can come along with that when passing through security or crossing borders.
There are a variety of documents you can use, such as:
- Adoption documents
- Marriage certificate
- Court order
- Certificates of name change
- The child’s birth certificates
Children over 15 years old might be able to use a school-issued ID or library card. However, a government-issued ID or birth certificate is your safest bet.
Child Travel Consent
A Child Travel Consent essentially proves to the transportation providers and Custom Officers that both parents or legal guardians give the child authorization to travel by providing their signatures.
A Child Travel Consent needs to contain:
- The child’s basic information (e.g., name, gender, birthday, and place of birth)
- Both parents’ contact information
- The traveling arrangements
- The destination
If you have sole custody of your child, you may not need to have the other parent sign the document, but you should travel with a copy of your court custody documentation with you. In addition, if the child has a deceased parent, some airlines or countries might require the Child Travel Consent to include a copy of the deceased parent’s birth certificate.
It is highly recommended to have your Child Travel Consent notarized. U.S. Customs and Border Protection recommends that any child under the age of 16 traveling without both legal guardians should have a notarized Child Travel Consent signed by both legal guardians. Having your Child Travel Consent notarized decreases the chance of travel authorities questioning its validity.
Furthermore, the country you travel to and the airline you use will have varying signing requirements. Some countries, such as the United Kingdom, will not allow one parent and a child to cross the UK border until they provide proof of their relationship to each other.
You can check your destination's entry and exiting requirements at The Bureau of Consular Affairs website. In addition, you can contact the U.S. Embassy in your child’s destination country to determine what documentation your child will require.
If you need a passport for urgent travel or an emergency, you might qualify to receive the passport sooner than the typical four to six weeks.
However, there are different requirements for applying for a passport depending on your child’s age.
Children under 16
You’ll need to show proof of your child’s citizenship when applying for the passport. You can do this by supplying a/an:
- Certificate of Citizenship
- Consular Report of Birth Abroad
- Expired passport
- U.S. birth certificate
If you're unsure where you can apply in person, the Bureau of Consular Affairs has a Passport Acceptance Facility Search page. If one parent cannot attend when applying for the passport, they can use Form DS-3053 to give their consent.
A passport book costs $135 for children under 16 years old and is valid for five years.
Minors aged 16 and 17
As the parent, you don't need to be present when your child applies for a passport. However, you need to provide proof that you consent to it. If you aren't present when they apply, you can provide evidence of your consent through a signed note accompanied by a copy of your I.D. or by paying for the passport via a cheque or bank order with your name on it.
If your child doesn't have a passport book or card, you must apply for a passport card in person using Form DS-11. If you already have a passport book or card, you may apply for or renew your passport card by mail using Form DS-82.
Similar to passport books, passport cards are valid for five years for children under 16 and for 10 years for minors age 16 or 17. A passport card costs $50 for children under 16 and $65 for minors aged 16 and 17.
Flying with children under two years old
If you're flying with a baby less than two weeks old, you might need a note from your doctor saying the baby is healthy enough to fly. It's a good idea to call the airline ahead of time to confirm whether this is necessary.
Similarly, some airlines, such as United Airlines, require a doctor’s note if you’re an expecting mother over 36 weeks pregnant.
Quick Tips for Parents Traveling with Children
- Always check with your travel agent, airline company, or government official during the planning stage of your trip to find out if there are any specific documents you require
- Arrive at the airport three hours early when traveling internationally to allow for adequate time to check-in
- Make sure your child always has your personal information on them, as well as copies of their Child Travel Consent forms, travel itinerary, and passport at all times
- More valuable documents like passports should stay with a parent or guardian
- Read over all documents ahead of time to ensure information is complete and accurate
- You should keep all your documents in a safe, accessible place where they won’t be easily damaged or stolen