If you are travelling with a child and are not their parent, it may be wise to bring a letter of consent Credit: AP
Here is what you need to know when going on holiday abroad with children who have a different surname from you.
If you are travelling to another country with a child and are not that child’s parent, or if you and the child have different surnames, you may need to bring extra documents with you to establish your relationship.
Why does this happen?
To protect against child abduction.
How can I prepare?
Border control staff may ask a few questions to establish your relationship. Carrying evidence of your relationship with the child, or documents explaining the reason for travelling, isn’t compulsory (see below for exceptions) but can speed up the process.
According to the Home Office, such evidence might include a copy of a birth or adoption certificate showing your relationship with the child; divorce or marriage certificates if you are the parent but have a different surname; or a letter from one or both of the child’s parents, with contact details, giving consent for the child to travel with you (even if, for example, you are a grandparent and have the same surname).
Full details of regulations that apply at the UK border are on the UK Border Agency website, ukba.homeoffice.gov.uk and the Home Office website (Get permission to take a child abroad).
It also is wise to speak to the airline you are flying with to seek advice.
Letters of authority or consent
If you are travelling with children and are not their parent, it may be wise to bring a letter of consent from the child’s parents.
This is a letter from the child’s parents stating that the child has permission to travel abroad with the person accompanying them. These are useful if grandparents are taking grandchildren abroad, or for divorced parents where one is taking the child abroad alone. While they are not required, they can simplify interviews at border control.
Be aware that carrying a consent letter may not guarantee that the child will be allowed to travel abroad; every country has its own requirements for children travelling without their parent(s). Make sure to check the specific requirements of the country to which you are travelling (Full list of foreign embassies in the UK).
Here is a Home Office template for a letter of consent. Don’t forget to sign the letter, and get it witnessed by a solicitor.
Another reason to carry such a letter is in the event that a child requires medical attention abroad and you are not the child’s parent, or have a different surname from the child.
This is the case particularly in the US. While the US Customs & Border Protection (CBP) website says that the US does not require a notarised letter of consent from parents authorising you to take the children to America, “the CBP strongly recommends that unless the child is accompanied by both parents, the adult have a note from the child’s other parent (or, in the case of a child travelling with grandparents, uncles or aunts, sisters or brothers, or friends, a note signed by both parents) stating: ‘I acknowledge that my wife/husband/etc. is travelling out of the country with my son/daughter. He/She/They has my permission to do so’.” (Read more advice on this issue here).
Special requirements of specific countries
South Africa has various requirements for parents travelling there with minors, including the fact that children travelling into the country with both biological parents must travel with:
Valid passport of travelling parent and child
Visa, if required
Birth certificate listing both parents (note: these must be the original documents, or certified copies of the originals).
A child travelling with just one of the parents listed on his or her birth certificate must also present:
1 Parental consent affidavit not older than 4 months
2 Letter of special circumstances issued by Director-General of Home Affairs in the event that a parent or parents are incapacitated or deceased and no legal guardian has been appointed as yet.
For full details of requirements for travel to South Africa, please see here. Note that Botswana has now adopted the same rules. See here for full requirements for Botswana.
The USA requires children under the age of 18 travelling to or from the USA to carry a notarised consent letter from their parents or legal guardians. (Canada requires the same consent documents as the US for children under the age of 19.)
If a child or teenager is travelling with only one parent or guardian, a notarised consent letter from the parent/guardian who is not travelling with them is required.
If a parent/legal guardian has sole custody, then proof of sole custody must be presented.
Children and teenagers who cannot produce proper consent letters may be refused boarding. For further information, see travel.state.gov for the United States and travel.gc.ca for Canada.
Note: it’s your job to establish the latest requirements.
While many airlines remind travellers to certain destinations of the specific requirements, not all do. It is the passenger’s responsibility to find out about current entry and exit requirements and to carry the appropriate documents with them.
What if I cannot reach the parents?
If you cannot reach the other person with parental responsibility for the child, you will need to apply to a court for permission (read more from the Home Office about that here).
Further resources for travelling abroad with children
Home Office: taking a child abroad
Home Office: getting a passport for your child