As the summer travel season fast approaches, the Automobile Club of Southern California is reminding all vacationers to plan ahead by obtaining needed trip documents, including those for child travelers.
“Travel has always represented an opportunity to connect with family and friends, and nowadays we see many grandparents taking their grandchildren on vacation, or a family bringing along a child’s friend on a trip, or children traveling solo to visit relatives,” said Filomena Andre, the Auto Club’s vice president for travel services. “In these circumstances and even with a traditional family vacation, it’s important to plan well ahead and get all needed documentation for all family members, or you could be denied access to a plane flight, cruise or tour.”
AAA Travel offers these tips for traveling with children and all members of the family:
Get them a passport or other needed ID. All U.S. citizens including infants and children must have a valid passport to travel internationally by air. A passport card can be used for automobile and cruise ship travel to Canada and Mexico from the United States. Both parents must provide consent authorizing passport issuance for a minor under age 16. AAA Travel experts recommend that citizens of all ages use a passport for all international travel, including auto and cruise travel to Canada and Mexico, in the event an emergency requires reentry to the United States by air.
Current passport holders should examine the passport expiration date, and if the document is due to expire within six months of travel, renew it prior to travel. While adult passports are valid for ten years, passports for children under age 16 are valid for five years. Parents should carefully examine all passport and child travel documentation requirements at travel.state.gov, or seek the assistance of a knowledgeable travel agent.
Passport photos, passport renewal forms and International Driving Permits (a translation of a valid U.S. driver’s license that is required in many foreign countries in order to drive) are available at any Auto Club branch.
Even if a passport is not required for a traveler, another form of identification might be needed such as a certified birth certificate, which could require you to obtain a document that will take several weeks to arrive.
Check with a travel agent or the travel provider to make sure your children have the ID they need for their trip.
Review cruising requirements for children. Cruise lines generally require at least one legal adult (age 21 or higher) to occupy every stateroom to eliminate children cruising alone. This person also needs to be a legal parent or guardian. Cruise lines also require a notarized letter of authorization to travel if a child is sailing with only one parent, other non-custodial adults, or has a different last name than the responsible legal adult. For more information visit the applicable cruise line website or a knowledgeable travel agent.
Get authorized to travel internationally with a child. When visiting a foreign country – including Mexico and Canada – as a lone adult with a minor child under age 18, additional travel documentation is required.
To help prevent cases of parental abduction and international child trafficking, many countries now require proof of the lone adult’s relationship to the child and the legal right to travel in and out of the country with that child. In addition to the child’s valid United States passport, and entry visa where required, a letter of permission from the absent parent(s) signed before a notary public is needed.
The letter should include a statement of authorization for the child to travel, details of the trip and legal names and contact information for the child and accompanying adult. Single parents, grandparents, stepparents, guardians and any adult with a last name different from the child needs to be prepared with the additional documentation to present at border crossings, airport immigration check points and cruise line check-in desks. A travel agent can assist in securing the appropriate documents.
Know the rules for children flying solo. Most airlines offer fee-based “unaccompanied minor” programs that facilitate air travel for children without an accompanying adult. These programs provide an affordable travel option to link geographically separated family members. Unaccompanied minor programs, policies and procedures vary by airline. Most require that an authorized adult escort the child to the departure gate and an authorized adult take custody of the minor child at the arrival gate. In flight, unaccompanied minors are under the care of the cabin crew.
If planning an itinerary for a child traveling solo by air, be sure to carefully check the specific requirements for each airline you are considering. Check age requirements, fees and all details which can vary greatly. For example some airlines require travel must be on a nonstop flight, while others might allow one or more stops if a plane change does not occur. Specific details of each airline’s program can be found on the airline website.
Get child medical care authorization - When a child is traveling without a parent, receiving emergency medical care could be complicated or refused by the medical facility, unless the emergency is deemed life-threatening.
The adult accompanying the child should carry a medical proxy, an original notarized letter from the non-traveling parent(s) granting permission to authorize emergency medical care for the child. (Letter notarizations are available at all Auto Club branches.) The letter should include the permission statement, child’s health insurance information, social security number and full legal names of the child and accompanying adults. If the child remains at home while a parent travels, this important medical authorization documentation should be supplied to the child’s caregiver.