Travelling to foreign countries with children can be a lot of fun for parents, grandparents, uncles, aunts, and other relatives. But be warned: get proper documentation and travel authorization from the lawful parents or guardians of these children or your vacation may be ruined.
And we’re not talking only about travel to distant or exotic locations. Border agents in virtually all countries, including those across North and South America, Europe, Asia, and Africa, are firmly cracking down on unauthorized cross-border travel involving minors—even if those minors are part of your family and share your surname. It’s all part of a worldwide effort to curb child abductions, estranged-parent kidnappings, and other illegal forms of exploitation. The last time my wife and I travelled to a foreign country with our grandchildren, who have our last name, a border agent asked if we had authorization from the children’s parents for them to enter the country. We did. We sailed through. No problem. I hate to think what could have happened had we not been prepared; we would have needed to contact the parents for emergency, faxed documentation—at 10:30 at night, after a three-and-a-half-hour flight, with a tired five-year-old on our hands.
So, if you’re travelling with children, what do you need?
First of all, the basics. I assume you have a passport. Anyone who anticipates foreign travel (or just a short hop to an adjacent country) and does not have a passport in this day and age needs to get real. There is no excuse. That’s just sheer negligence.
Next, do the kids have passports? If not, why not? It’s their right, and it’s up to you and/or their parents to fulfill that responsibility. They’ll have to get them sooner or later. It’s not as difficult as you may think. My grandkids have had passports since they were four and two.
Then you need verifiable, notarized letters from their parents and/or their legal guardians that you have the authority to take them out of the country, where you are going, how long you will be staying, and who will responsible for the children. If the parents are separated or divorced, have the authorization signed by the custodial parent, and if possible get the signature of the non-custodial parent as well. This may be a little tricky if they’re not talking to each other, but make the point that it’s the kids’ welfare and convenience that you’re talking about, not theirs.
In case you are a non-custodial parent wanting to take your child out of the country, you will definitely need to have your ex—if he or she is the legal custodial parent—sign the authorization. This is critical. We have seen some very messy situations of parental “kidnapping” or abduction recently and border agents don’t want to get caught in the middle. If this is your situation, expect to be challenged if you don’t have the right paperwork.
Unfortunately, there are no standardized international forms that I have been able to locate, but I have put together a composite version from several sources that exceeds any requirements I have seen on government websites. Feel free to use it. The format and information contained in it should be applicable for travel to any country. I must caution, however, that this is not an official document and Travel Insurance File will not be held responsible if you have a problem with its use.
It’s self-explanatory and quite simple. Just make sure you get the parents’ or guardians’ signatures notarized. Border agents the world over like to see documents stamped. Click here for a printable version.