Adults traveling outside the U.S. with children under 18, other than their own, must have a Permission or travel consent letter from both of the minors’ guardians. The travel consent letter also covers a child traveling internationally with only one birth parent, one guardian, grandparents or other adults. This written and notarized Permission to Travel Letter from both birth parents, same sex couples, or legal guardians is required to enter many countries, even on a cruise ship’s shore excursions.
“In light of the Supreme Court’s ruling on same sex marriage,” comments a State Department official, “the two parent consent requirement for passport issuance, that all legal parents/guardians of a child, as determined by state law, must consent to passport issuance, remains the same. The validity of consent to travel letters meant for foreign countries or airlines is outside the scope of the State Department.” Learn more in this video:
Travel Documents and Travel Consent Letters Help Protect our Kids
This requirement for an affidavit for children traveling outside their home country was not invented by the Department of State; in fact, it’s due to the enhanced awareness of children’s rights raised by the 1980 Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction. The Dept of State explains, “The Convention is a valuable civil law mechanism for parents seeking the return of children who have been wrongfully removed from or retained outside their country of habitual residence by another parent or family member. Parents seeking access to children residing in treaty partner countries may also invoke the Convention. The Convention is critically important because it establishes a legal framework between partner countries to resolve parental abduction cases. The Department of State’s Office of Children’s Issues serves as the Central Authority for the United States under the Convention.”
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As of May 2017, this treaty created to deter international child abductions is in force between the United States and 76 other countries and territories, including Canada and Mexico.
Nevertheless, international child abduction stories are in the news all the time. To stop these tragic crimes, and prevent the transport of runaways or children involved in child-custody disputes, American carriers have been told to require special documents such as Permission to Travel Letters from adults departing the U.S. with minors. Note that since June 1, 2015, the country of South Africa requires much more stringent paperwork for minors traveling by air, sea or land into and through the country. A full list of Requirements for Minors Travelling Internationally to South Africa can be viewed here.
Additionally, rising health care costs and legal issues have forced many medical providers to deny medical care to minors without proper Medical Authorization forms. Increasingly, written permission or affidavits from guardians who carry the minor’s insurance coverage as well as proof of that medical insurance coverage are required at emergency care facilities.
Learn more about travel consent letters and how to understand them.
The same regulations apply to minors under 18 who are leaving the United States with school groups, teen tours, or just friends on a vacation. Sports teams and academic study programs require a similar Minor Consent to Travel form.
Read on for tips on how to make this paperwork less of a burden, or just fill in the form to to obtain sample documents you can print out and fill in.
Get Blank Permission to Travel, Minors & Medical Authorization Forms
Please complete the following form, then check your email inbox or spam filter. You will be asked to confirm your email address, then will be sent a second email with links to download a Permission to Travel and Medical Treatment Authorization Letter you can fill out and use. Keep blank copies to use on future trips.
Canada Requirements for Minor Consent Letters
The Canadian Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade reminds visitors that, “Foreign officials and transportation companies are vigilant concerning documentation for children crossing international borders. Make sure you carry the proper identification for yourself and any children traveling with you, including any documents that might be required by the authorities of the country you intend to visit, and by Canadian authorities on your return to Canada with the child.”
Canada regulations request that adults entering the country with minors also carry a photocopy of the signature page of the passport belonging to the guardian who signed the permission to travel letter.
Although minors under 16 may enter Canada from the U.S. by land or sea with only a photocopy of their U.S. birth certificate, the U.S. Customs & Border Protection (CBP) notes that children under age 18 must carry notarized travel permission letters if they are traveling without their parents.
Getting a U. S. Passport or Foreign Passport for a Minor
To enforce the Hague Convention provisions, the U.S. Department of State requires that every citizen, no matter the age, traveling outside the US by air carry her own passport and appear in person to apply for one. The very strictly enforced guidelines to get a passports for a minor require the presence of both parents, with photo ID and proof of parentage, or one parent’s appearance with a notarized statement of consent from the second parent or legal guardian.
Exceptions are made if there’s documented evidence that a minor has only one guardian; for example, divorce papers, death certificate, adoption papers or a lawyer’s letter would indicate that the presence of one legal guardian is sufficient. This is a complex issue, explained in more detail in FTF’s Passport Guide or on the U.S. Passport Office.
If child custody issues are a concern for you, the Children’s Passport Issuance Alert Program provides notification to parents of passport applications made on behalf of minor children, and denial of passport issuance if appropriate court orders are on file with the CPIAP. The Office of Children’s Issues will provide more information.
Citizens of other countries must check with their own country’s embassy, as passport issuance laws have become more strict all over the world. For more information on this topic, and tips for parents with children of dual nationality or different counties of citizenship, Michelle Higgins’ January 2010 story in the New York Times Practical Traveler column should be of help.
If you’re planning a foreign vacation, start this process early. United States’ security and border regulations change frequently and the increased number of passport applications means a processing backlog at the National Passport Center.
Visas & Travel Documents for Minors
In an era of heightened global security, many foreign countries are revising their visa procedures as well. Laura Tischler, a spokesman for the Bureau of Consular Affairs at the U.S. Department of State advises families: “Contact the embassy of your destination country or study the Consular Information Sheets provided at https://travel.state.gov to find out what that country’s requirements will be in terms of documentation, in order to bring a child into the country.”
As one of our editors and her son discovered while checking in for an American Airlines flight to Cancun, Mexican law requires that if only one parent or non-custodial adult(s) is accompanying a minor under 18 from Mexico, he/she must carry a notarized Permission to Travel Letter (also known as a Parental Consent Letter) from the child’s other parent(s) or guardian(s) granting permission to leave Mexico with the child, including the dates of travel, the accompanying adult’s name, contact information, and a notarized signature.
According to the U.S. Embassy in Mexico City, although the regulations are very specific, immigration officers often ask for a Consent Letter in much broader circumstances. They recommend “all minors traveling without both parents carry a notarized consent letter at all times in the event airline or Mexican immigration officials request one”.
All the airlines follow this protocol. The US Airways website confirms that they enforce this during the check-in process with the posted rule: “If adult passengers do not have the proper documents, as defined by the U.S. Department of State guidelines, boarding is denied in order to comply with international regulations and the foreign immigration process.”
In another incident concerning a press trip to Brazil, FTF’s staff learned that some countries require a notarized original copy of the Permission to Travel Letter before even accepting a visa application for minors. Many countries also require that the authorization notes are in the national language of the country and notarized and authenticated by the nation’s embassy or consulate. For information on the requirements for travel to a specific country by an American citizen, visit US Department of State and navigate to the International Travel Information page. When in doubt about the information, it’s best to call the Visa Section of the embassy or consulate of your intended destination.
What Permission To Travel or Consent to Travel Letters Do
A consular officer at the U.S. Office of Children’s Issues verified that many countries require a Permission to Travel letter with parents’ notarized signatures, plus identification for the child (certified birth certificate or passport), and that both are essential.
Consular Information Sheets issued by the U. S. Department of State (which does not make these regulations) often carry this warning: “In an effort to prevent international child abduction, many governments have initiated procedures at entry/exit points. These often include requiring documentary evidence of relationship and permission for the child’s travel from the parent(s) or legal guardian if not present. Having such documentation on hand, even if not required, may facilitate entry/departure.”
A CBP spokesperson recommends that all travelers read the helpful online resource “Know Before You Go.”
Childrens Travel Permission Letters Required for Cruises Too
Such concerns apply not only to air and land travel, but to cruise travel as well. Carnival, for example, requires the notarized Permission to Travel Letter for any children debarking in Mexico, if only on a half-day shore excursion, so it’s smart to check ahead with your cruise company. Mexican Consular Officer Hebe Cue advises, “In case of weather or other cruise delay, it’s better if adults have the notarized permission letter. In any case, it is required for American minors entering Mexico by air, no matter how long their stay.” At Royal Caribbean, an agent interviewed about Canada-bound cruises suggested single parents or other adults traveling with a minor carry notarized documentation, “to be on the safe side.”
An officer at the Canadian Tourism Commission agreed: “Canadian customs officers, who are the primary line of inspection for visitors, may require a notarized statement from both parents when they find a child under 18 traveling alone or with other adults. All carriers, including air, sea and land, can be fined for bringing people into Canada without the proper documentation.”
Obtaining a Free Permission to Travel Letter Form
We recommend you download FTF’s sample “Permission To Travel” letter, so you can print it out, fill it in, have it notarized, and carry it with you on all future international travels. We are often asked if notarizing the document is necessary, especially by Canadian families, who pay much higher notary fees than those in the U.S. According to the Canada Consular Affairs Office, “It is strongly recommended that children traveling alone or with one parent carry a travel consent letter for every trip abroad. It is advisable to have the consent letter certified, stamped, or sealed by an official with the authority to administer an oath or solemn declaration so that the validity of the letter will not be questioned.”
Tip: Notarize several copies of the Permission to Travel Letter at the same time if you are applying for foreign visas. Carry two copies with you on your vacation in case a border official at either end asks to keep a copy. (It has happened to FTF families.)
Regardless of where you travel outside the United States, when you are crossing a border by land, sea or air you will need to have proper identification documents for each traveler in addition to the above letters. Please see the Department of Homeland Security Site if you are unsure about the type of ID documents you and your family need.
Travel Prepared to Avoid Confusion
Thorough documentation is especially important in situations such as travelers or guardians with different last names than each other or the minor. FTF also recommends that birth parents who have different surnames than their child carry a photocopy of the child’s birth certificate while traveling, providing legal evidence of “guardianship” in case of trouble.
Same sex couples, and adoptive, divorced or widowed parents should carry certified custody or death certificates, adoption papers, or other proof of sole custody, as well as photo identification for themselves and the child.
Although travel agents and, occasionally, the fine print on a brochure, are supposed to notify families that airlines, cruise lines and bus tours may require proper documentation — or deny boarding — the paperwork can, and often does, slip between the cracks.
We find that travel insurance — trip-protection and health coverage that many travel experts find essential (and many many vacationers are reluctant to purchase) — is important, too.
For more information, contact your attorney or a professional travel agent. The staff at the FTF office (+1 212/595-6074), while not attorneys, are happy to help answer any questions.
On vacation, travel prepared. It’s better to be safe than sorry.</p?
And most importantly, safe there and safe home!
This story was accurate when it was published. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question, and stay up to date with current events to ensure a safe and successful trip.