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Traveling Around the World With Children

Traveling around the world with children can be a tough challenge if you’re not ready for it. Apart from the hourly bathroom detours and all the sippy cups and Dora the Explorers to pack, there are a ton of other things you need to remember when you’re booking travel for the family.

This article will get you up to speed on all the nuts and bolts of traveling with your kids. If you’re looking for more tips on how family travel in general and how to handle your kids on the plane, check out this list of Family Travel Resources for help.

Child Fares

According to the airlines, a child is anyone aged 11 and under.

  • Any child between the ages of 2 and 11 will require their own seat on the plane.
  • A child under the age of 2 is considered an infant and can get tickets in one of two ways: as an “infant” – the infant sits in the parent’s lap, or as a “child” where the infant has his own seat.

Child fares run between 80-90% of the adult fare including taxes. Please note that not all airlines offer discounted pricing for children.

Infant fares run between 10-30% of the adult fare including taxes. If you’d like your infant to have her own seat for extra space you’d simply buy a child fare for them (see above).

If you’re traveling with children be sure to check with your Travel Planner to see if your airlines give discounts for children. If not, there may be other alternatives  to get a discounted rate for your little one’s fare.

Documentation – dry but important!

Traveling around the world with children may require you to have additional documentation, especially if only one of the parents is traveling. If you’re traveling solo with a child, always bring a copy of the child’s birth certificate (particularly if you have different surnames), as well as a notarized note from the other parent stating specifically that the child is allowed to travel internationally with you.

These two things will save you a universe of hassle. Many countries (including the USA) have recently introduced special rules for children crossing international borders and for issuance of passports.  These rules are intended mainly to prevent kidnapping, illegal trafficking of children and problems with child custody disputes. So, yes, it’s a good thing, but not if you’re the one being shaken down as the suspicious party while your toddler observes, screaming his head off because a stranger has to hold him while mommy gets frisked.

Some of these requirements have changed recently so they may be unfamiliar to you if you’ve traveled with children in the past. Please make sure you know the most recent rules to ensure that you aren’t caught by surprise.

Unless they’re accompanied by both parents, any child under the age of 18 traveling internationally must have:

  • A valid passport and any necessary visas.
  • Notarized permission note from both parents.
Your permission note should read something like this:

“I, Jane Doe, am the mother of John Doe-Roe. A copy of the birth certificate of John Doe-Roe, showing that the parents of John Doe-Roe are Jane Doe and Richard Roe, is attached. I, Jane Doe, authorize John Doe-Roe to obtain a passport and to travel internationally on a trip around the world from dates X to Y accompanied by his father, Richard Roe.”

Details, details, details:

If the child is traveling with a guardian other than a parent, the guardian should have a notarized proof of guardianship. If the parents don’t have the same last name as each other and the child, the child should also have a notarized copy of their birth certificate. If the name of a parent on the birth certificate doesn’t match the name on their current passport (e.g. if it was changed at marriage, divorce, or remarriage), they should also have a notarized copy of proof of the name change, such as a marriage license or court order.

Even if a child plans to travel with both parents, it may be necessary to split up and travel separately in an emergency (for example, if one parent is injured or ill) and it may not be possible or convenient to get the required consent forms notarized quickly in a foreign country.

So we strongly recommend that you carry with you notarized consent forms from both parents, authorizing the child to travel with either parent on any international trip.

The USA doesn’t provide a standard consent form, but the requirements are international, so the version provided by the government of Canada should be suitable for the USA, with only slight changes. It’s available in Microsoft Word and PDF formats, so you can edit it for your child’s citizenship and details:  The Canada child consent letter can be found here.

Proof of consent to get a child passport

Any application for a United States passport for a child under age 14 must now include proof of consent from both parents or guardians, or of sole custody or guardianship.  If both parents aren’t physically present when the passport application is submitted, proof of permission from an absent parent can take the form of a notarized statement of permission.

Note that the required permission for issuance of a United States passport (under age 14) and for international travel regardless of citizenship (under age 18) are different.  We suggest you get both forms signed and notarized at the same time if your child is under age 14. If you have any questions about these requirements, please consult the embassies or consulates of the countries you wish to visit, as well as the countries where your trip will begin and end, for their requirements for both entry and exit.

Without the documents described above, your child may be refused passage on flights and refused permission to leave and/or enter many countries.

It’s very important to have all passports, visas, and entry and exit documents required for international travel.  Airlines and hotels won’t provide refunds if you’re unable to use your tickets, delayed, or inconvenienced due to missing or defective documentation.

If you plan on traveling with your child, it’s highly recommended you register with the Children’s Passport Issuance Alert Program. This immediately alerts the parents of an abducted child if another passport application is initiated anywhere in the world.

For more information on relevant USA government policies and international law, see the sections of the US State Department website on International Parental Child Abduction and the Hague Convention on International Child Abduction, international adoption, and other special issues for international travel with children.

Healthy Travel for Babies

In general, air travel is very safe for infants. The Mayo Clinic has the following advice for traveling infants:

  • Doctors may advise against babies traveling within the first 6 weeks of their life since it is then that they are most vulnerable to bacteria and germs.
  • Cabin pressure may cause benign ear pain in babies. Bring a pacifier!
  • Have a plan for ways to keep your baby occupied during the flight.  Make sure to hold them and walk with them regularly on longer flights.

The Center for Disease Control has thorough information on child health safety as well. Finally, you may want to refer to and for more information on traveling with infants and older kids.

Travel Tips for Pregnant Women,

If you’re expecting and want more advice about traveling during your pregnancy, take a look at this post about Air Travel on Baby Center

» Read: How To Choose a Traveling Companion
» Read: 30 Useful RTW Planning Links and Websites.

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