Important documents for traveling with children

AskEd & AnswerEd
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Editor's Note: This story was originally published on July 30, 2007. To see the most recent SmarterTravel articles on related topics, please click on any of the following links: airfare, AskEd & AnswerEd, Ed Perkins, government regulation, passport.

Lots of adults travel with children—and often someone else's as well as their own. With the current focus on security, quite a few travelers are concerned about what they need in the way of documentation for these children. As one reader asked: "I have two children ages 16 and 13 years. Do I need a birth certificate for both or can the 16-year-old bring her DMV ID? Also, we will have a 13-year-old friend traveling with us without either of her parents. What does she need?"

The basic answer depends on two factors: where you're traveling and how cautious you want to be. Here's what I've been able to find out about the situation so far.

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Domestic travel

The general rule for domestic travel seems to be that children under age 18 flying with their parents don't need special ID. But you should probably consider some individual ID, anyhow.

  • My take is that any child old enough to have a DMV ID should get one and use it to fly.

  • And although a challenge is unlikely, I suggest that you carry a copy of a birth certificate for any child not old enough for a DMV ID, just in case.

  • Similarly, although you may never face a challenge, a single, separated, or divorced parent traveling with a child should probably have a consent form from the current or former spouse.
  • Domestic travel with unrelated kids

    If you're traveling with a child unrelated to you—your son's or daughters' friend, for example—the same general rules apply. However, you might want to go a step further, just in case, and carry a "consent form" from any unrelated child's parent or legal guardian. You can download a form online.

    Even when you just throw the kids in the SUV and head away for a weekend, you might want to get one of those consent forms for any unrelated child. A few years back, my wife and I invited one of our teenage grandson's friends to come along on a weekend trip. At our destination, we saw what looked like an exciting river trip for the kids and tried to enroll them, but the trip's operator refused to take the friend because we didn't have a consent form from his parents. This sort of problem may not crop up often, but when it does, it's nice to be prepared.

    International travel

    Any child of any age traveling out of the country—related or not—needs a passport, with the interim exceptions through September 30, 2007, for land or sea travel to/from Bermuda, Canada, the Caribbean, and Mexico. Temporarily, due to the rush of passport applications, the U.S. is accepting proof of application for a passport in lieu of the real thing. Of course, you also have to comply with document requirements in your destination country or countries.

    For any international travel with children, I strongly recommend, where applicable, consent forms from a current or former spouse, or parents of unrelated children. Beyond border crossings, you would also need some of these documents in the event you had to find medical treatment for a child. International authorities are especially sensitive these days to spousal abductions and other hassles involving child custody, and although your chances of encountering a problem are slim, when you do run into one, it can be huge. An ounce of prevention...

 
 
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