What happens if you want to take a parent-child vacation without the other parent. You know, just a girls’ (or boys’) getaway weekend to the Caribbean? You and your child are so excited about the sun, sand, beaches, and dolphin excursions. You’re all packed and ready to go. Your partner drops you off at the airport, kisses you and your child goodbye, wishes you a “bon voyage,” and drives away.
You approach security, and the U.S. Customs Border and Protection agent asks for you and your child’s passports. The agent asks a few easy questions and then says, “Do you have a letter evidencing your right to take this child outside of the United States?”
You freeze and say, “We have her passport.”
The agent looks at you, “What about her other parent or legal guardian? Do you have a letter from that person saying you can go to the Bahamas?”
You pause again and say, “Well, no, but he just dropped us off, so he knows where we’re going.”
The agent sighs, and he gestures to another agent on the side of the room. They escort you to a small conference room and start asking you questions. You anxiously look at your watch and realize you’re going to miss your flight.
How could this have gone differently?
A simple, notarized letter from your partner who dropped you off at the airport only a few hours earlier would have enabled you to sail through the security process.
Children under 18 traveling internationally with one parent
U.S. Customs and Border Protection doesn’t like when a minor leaves the country and is only accompanied by one parent (or any other non-parent, such as grandparent, aunts or uncles, siblings, friends, or group). They strongly recommend getting a letter indicating that both parents are giving permission for the person to take the minor out of the country.
Contents of the consent letter
Customs and Border Protection does not have a handy form that one parent can complete that would indicate parental consent to allow a child to leave the country with the other parent. However, they do recommend that any letter you create contains the following elements:
- Contact information for the absent parent(s)
CBP also highly recommends but does not require that the parental consent letter be notarized. The letter should be in English, and it should not be older than one year.
Children traveling internationally with a group
U.S. citizen children under the age of 19 who leave the country with a school, religious, social or cultural organization and are returning through Mexico or Canada will need to present their original birth certificate, a Consular Report of Birth Abroad, or a Naturalization Certificate.
The group should have a letter on organizational letterhead, the contents of which should state:
- The names of the children on the trip, along with their primary address, phone number, date, and place of birth, and name of one – preferably both – parents or legal guardians for each child
- The name of the group and the supervising adults
- A written and signed and preferably notarized statement from the supervising adult certifying that he or she has parental or legal guardian consent for each child
- The letter should be dated within the past year
Children under 18 traveling internationally without their parents
CBP says that minors “may” go to another country without a parent or guardian, but that they “may” require a notarized written consent letter from both parents.
Besides leaving the United States, there is also the question of whether the foreign country will allow a child to enter without a parent or guardian figure.
CBP recommends contacting the embassy to address any admissibility requirements. A list of embassies and their entry requirements can be found on the U.S. Department of State’s website, or by calling that embassy on the phone.
What happens if you don’t have these documents?
CBP may not ask to see this documentation, but then again, they might. It’s easier to be prepared for the question than it is to acquire the documentation after you’ve been detained by CBP. If the parent or guardian traveling with the child cannot prove that they have the parental consent or authority of the other parent, CBP may detain the traveling parent until parental authority can be obtained from the non-traveling parent.
What happens if you’re a single parent?
If you’re traveling internationally with your child and you’re a single parent, CBP may stop you and request that you show documents authorizing you leaving the country with the child. You may need to show proof that you are a single parent. Documentary proof would be a court order evidencing sole custody, a death certificate of the deceased parent, other court orders, or a birth certificate showing only your name and no secondary parent’s name.