Child sitting on top of luggage on a luggage cart at the airport with their parent.

3 Documents Every Parent Needs When Traveling With Children

Last Updated: April 19, 2024

Written by 

Reviewed by 


Fact checked by 

Key Takeaways:

  • Always have a document with you that proves your relationship with your child when traveling.
  • Your child needs a Child Travel Consent when they're traveling without all their parents or legal guardians.
  • No matter their age, everyone requires a passport to travel outside the United States.

Let's be honest, as great as taking trips and creating new memories with your family is, being the parent responsible for getting everyone safely to the destination can be a hectic task. It's especially true when the kids outnumber you at an airport.
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.
Complete our 2024 Prenup Survey for a chance to win!
Take our 2024 Prenuptial Agreement Survey for a chance to win one of three $50 Amazon gift cards!

Proof of relationship with the child

Documents in a folder
Keeping your children safe is everyone’s top priority when traveling. That’s why you shouldn’t take it personally when the airliner asks you to prove that you are your child’s parent or guardian before allowing you to fly away with them.
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
Bringing the child's identification (ID) with you is also a good idea. Even though the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) doesn't require children under 18 years old to provide ID for domestic flights, some individual airlines do. It's best to take a ‘better safe than sorry’ approach.
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 form
Your child will need a Child Travel Consent any time they're traveling without all their parents or legal guardians present. If your child is traveling alone, with only one parent, or with a non-legal guardian, they will require a Child Travel Consent signed by both parents or legal guardians. A Child Travel Consent is sometimes called a letter of permission to travel.
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 the child is traveling with a passport internationally, the Child Travel Consent should also include their passport information and birth certificate number.
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.


Illustration of passport
No matter their age, everyone requires a passport to travel outside the United States. It's your child's primary form of identification while out of the country and provides official proof of U.S. citizenship.
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

For children under 16 years old, applying for a passport requires two parents or guardians to apply in person using Form DS-11. You'll need to provide your child's Social Security Number (SSN) or a formal statement declaring they don't have an SSN.
You’ll need to show proof of your child’s citizenship when applying for the passport. You can do this by supplying a/an:
The document needs to be an original or certified physical copy. Digital copies aren't acceptable.
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

Minors aged 16 or 17 need to apply for a passport in person using Form DS-11 or renew their current passport with Form DS-82. A passport book for a minor aged 16 or 17 costs $165 and will be valid for ten years.
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.

Passport Card

A passport card is different from the passport book used for air travel. A passport card allows you or your child to enter the U.S. at land border crossings and sea ports of entry from Canada, Mexico, the Caribbean, and Bermuda. As an adult, you can also use it as an ID when flying within the U.S.
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

Because children under two years old can fly within the U.S. for free, an airline company might require you to show proof of your child's age when you're checking in. A birth certificate or other state-issued ID is acceptable for traveling within the United States.
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 ChildrenĀ 

Here are some tips when travling 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
Planning ahead can take away a lot of stress when traveling for a parent. By ensuring you have the proper documents, you'll spend less time worrying and more time enjoying your vacation with your kids.