Today we will be sharing some family travel tips about what documentation is needed, such as a travel consent letter, for international travel with a minor. Specifically when the minor is traveling with only one parent (or a grandparent/uncle/aunt/friend etc.). As usual, we always learn things the hard way, and this is no exception. We’ve got a story:) Let me tell you what we have learned. Hopefully, I can spare you some of the frustration that can sometimes accompany traveling with kids. I’m telling you what, traveling is not for wimps:) Keep on reading…
The Documents and The Travel Consent Letter
The U.S. Customs and Border Protection Recommendation
“U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) strongly recommends that unless the child is accompanied by both parents, the adult have a note from the child’s other parent (or, in the case of a child traveling with grandparents, uncles or aunts, sisters or brothers, friends, or in groups, a note signed by both parents) stating “I acknowledge that my wife/husband/etc. is traveling out of the country with my son/daughter/group. He/She/They has/have my permission.” – U.S. Customs and Border Control
quoted from site on Jan. 12, 2018
In our experience, there is no hard and fast rule as to when and where you will be asked to produce these documents. There have been times when we have walked right through customs and border control abroad and nobody asks for any of the documentation. Then there are times that we have been given the third degree and we have to pull out ALL of the documentation and go over everything with the border agent. In short, it is always better to err on the side of over-preparedness because you don’t know who will stop you. You can potentially be stopped both entering and exiting a country.
It honestly depends on who your border agent is.
The Documents and Travel Consent Letter we Always Carry
Whenever traveling with my minor (under 18) child/ren and without my husband, I always carry the following documents:
- An original birth certificate (cannot be a copy) for each minor child.
- Copies of passports for both parents and the child/ren
- A notarized travel consent letter signed by my husband stating that he knows and gives permission for me to travel with my minor child/ren internationally.
*We have made sure to discuss what should be included in a travel consent letter below and you have the option to download a free travel consent letter template.
The One Time I Almost Wasn’t Able to Leave Zambia
Like I said, I have come and gone numerous times in and out of the U.S. and many other countries alone with my minor children. Beyond a passport and a required visa here and there, I had never been asked for the other “required” documents. UNTIL our last international trip to South Africa and Zambia.
When my 16-year-old son and I were leaving South Africa to fly to Zambia, we were asked for the additional documents. We were a bit surprised because we have carried these bad boys all over the world and had never been asked for them. We made a scene right then and there, fumbling and digging out the documents from the recesses of our carry-on bag and in addition to the obviously required passport, presented my son’s original birth certificate AND the notarized travel consent letter signed by my husband. The agent carefully looked over each document, looked at us, studied the documents again and finally gave us clearance to proceed. Off we went! Whew, I was sure glad I had those with me and ready to go.
All was great and we arrived in Zambia, had an incredible time and upon departure were at the airport flying back to South Africa and then home to the United States. At check-in, the agent asked us for the travel documents again. I produced the passports, the visa (required in Zambia), the original birth certificate for my minor son and again the notarized travel consent letter signed by my husband. After looking at them carefully, the agent asked for- are you ready for this- a copy of the father’s passport. I was stunned! I did not have that. What??
I told the agent that I did not have that, nor was I aware that I needed it. He told me it was required documentation in order for my son to leave the country. I was not aware that in addition to the birth certificate and the travel consent form that I must ALSO have a copy of my husband’s passport.
Um – No I Am Not Trying to Kidnap My Own Child
A conversation ensued (more like an interrogation) and the agent had to call for instructions on what to do. After lots of grief- sitting and waiting (good thing we were early to the airport), lots of questions about my intentions (no, I am not trying to kidnap my own son – what??) and where I was flying, my final destination, what were we doing in their country etc., I was finally cleared and proceeded through security to board the flight. I was red-faced, flustered, frustrated and confused. How did I not know that?
It turned out alright, but I learned an important lesson that day. When traveling alone with a minor child, in addition to a valid passport, a country-specific visa, an original birth certificate and a travel consent letter, I will ALWAYS carry a copy of EVERYONE’s current passport – just in case. I may never be asked for it again (I have also learned that it depends on the agent that you happen to get) but if I do, I will be prepared! I will never make that mistake again.
What A Typical Travel Consent Letter Should Include
This is an example of what I include in my letters. I hope it is helpful for you!
“I acknowledge that my wife/husband/etc. Is traveling out of the country with my son/daughter. He/She/They have my permission to do so.”
I also add the specific dates of travel and the countries we will be traveling to.
Again, it must be signed by the parent/s not traveling and legally notarized. This applies even in divorce. Even where one parent has sole custody- in which case the paperwork should be a notarized copy of the court order. In the case of adoption, a notarized copy of the adoption certificate. Similarly, if the second parent is deceased, a notarized copy of the death certificate is required.
We also need to note that WE are not giving legal advice, just sharing what we include in our consent letters. If you have any questions, it is always best to reach out to a lawyer or consult travel.state.gov.
Download Your Free Travel Consent Letter Template
Click here to access your free downloadable travel consent letter form. (When clicked, the word document will automatically download to your device. Check your downloads if you are struggling to see it. :))
For Further Info
For further information on traveling with a minor and travel consent letters see this article by the U.S. Customs and Border Patrol
For up-to-date, country-specific information please visit travel.state.gov
Sometimes it pays to be over-prepared and this is one of those instances. Do your homework and know exactly what you need when you travel. It will save you so much headache and stress! Speaking of a headache and stress, if you are getting ready to plan a trip with children check out our recent post on 7 Ways to Prepare Kids for an Upcoming Trip!
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