Minor children (under 18 years old) traveling within the United States with only one parent or without either parent have few requirements. Special requirements for parental permission, such as child travel consent forms, primarily affect children traveling abroad and those crossing international borders. The stricter requirements protect children from international child abduction and international custody dispute situations. Requirements vary by destination country, so check with the specific nation's consular office to verify that your child is carrying the correct documentation for travel.
Passports are necessary for minors traveling abroad via air travel, whether they are traveling with their parents, alone or with another adult. Travel to Canada and Mexico doesn't require a child’s passport if it's by land or sea. The child must apply for a passport in person regardless of age. A parent or legal guardian must accompany the child to the passport office and sign Form DS-11 in front of the passport agent. If both legal parents can't accompany the child to the passport office, the second parent must submit a notarized Statement of Consent: Form DS-3053.
Parental Consent Forms
Parental consent forms, also known as child travel consent letters, aren't required for all international destinations or for travel within the U.S., but the U.S. Department of State recommends that a child carries one if he is not traveling with his parents or if he is traveling with only one parent. Extended family members traveling with your child, such as grandparents, will need this form. There is no official consent form, so you must type your own. Include the child's name, travel companion name, where they are traveling, a statement of your permission, your name and your contact information. Some countries may require notarization of the letter. A notary public validates the identities and signatures of the people who wrote up the document–having a notarized letter proves authenticity of the form.
If your child has any known medical conditions and needs to have medication with them during their travels, it’s also important to provide a Child Medical Consent, which allows a chaperone the authority to make medical decisions in case of any emergencies.
Note: Written consent like a travel consent form is always a good “just in case” item to provide your minor child before their travels without you; think of it as a simple permission letter that tells U.S. customs and border protection that your unaccompanied minor is safe to go ahead without you. You may be able to find some useful templates for these letters online.
Birth Certificate and Identification
It is a good idea to bring the child's birth certificate on all trips to show an accurate date of birth, place of birth and full name, regardless of whether the child is traveling with her parents, another adult or a group. Copies of adoption certificates or legal guardianship papers are also necessary for border agents to verify that the child is not a victim of kidnapping or a custody battle. Official photo I.D. isn't necessary for children under age 16. Those ages 16 and 17, however, should carry photo identification. A passport suffices, but a government-issued identification card is sufficient for most travel to Canada and Mexico.
Children traveling with a group, such as for a school trip, organization or church trip, have special requirements for parental permission. The group leader is in charge of gathering and carrying the necessary paperwork. The group leader must carry a letter of consent detailing the purpose of travel, the group leader's name, the children's names and home contact information and a signed statement that the group leader has parental permission to travel with the children. The children still must carry their required identification, travel documents and a copy of their birth certificates.