two kids standing in a field with hands on hips
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When Do You Need a Child Travel Consent Form?

Years ago, while we were guardians of her niece, my wife and I found that traveling with two kids is easier than traveling with one. Whether cousins or just friends, two kids keep each other engaged and let adults have a little more vacation on their vacation. That’s why we often invited one of our niece’s friends to accompany us on trips. But traveling with someone else’s child should include  a series of extra pre-travel steps to make it wholly clear to authorities that you have permission from the child’s parents. This is when a letter of permission to travel or a child travel consent form is vital. The reason authorities may request it is important: A permission letter for a child to travel with a friend is a simple way for authorities to make sure you aren’t illegally trying to avoid some custody order, parentage or guardianship issue, or worse. 

Who Should Have a Child Travel Consent Form?

If you’re flying or traveling outside the U.S., your airline or destination country might ask for some identification to prove a child has permission to travel with you. The need for ID can crop up even on a domestic road trip: even if a government official doesn’t ask to see it, you might still need it for a local attraction or excursion requiring a consent form. 

It’s a good idea to have some kind of letter of permission to travel in a variety of cases. If your family is hosting a child’s friend on vacation it’s always good, especially if it involves plane travel or international travel, to make sure you get a permission letter for a child to travel with a friend. But it’s also a good idea to have some kind of documentation even if you’re in a situation in which your child is traveling with one parent internationally, if a child is traveling with grandparents internationally, or with another family member, or if a child is traveling with one divorced parent. 

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How Do You Get a Travel Consent Form?

The need for child consent forms feels vague right up until the moment an authority asks to see it. There’s no definitive version of the form, but that doesn’t mean they’re not important to have.  Since there aren’t any official child travel consent forms, you’ll have to make up your own.

A letter of permission to travel doesn’t have to be long. It simply needs to state that the child’s parents or guardians acknowledge and give consent for their child to travel with a specific individual. It should include not just the child’s name but their birthplace and birthdate, home address and phone number, and, in the case of international travel, their passport number. Also include the names and contact information for the non-traveling parent(s). Outline who the child has permission to travel with (name and passport information), the dates of the travel window (to clearly show that consent is temporary), and the destinations that will be visited. 

If you’re not up for creating one, you can find and print out child travel consent form PDFs online. Just be sure the one you choose matches your situation. The site eForms has a free customizable template that’s simple to complete, and has a travel consent form that’s specific to a child traveling with one parent. 

Some countries require that child travel consent forms be notarized, so it’s a good idea to take the extra step and sign the minor travel permission letter in front of a notary. It’s a few extra dollars, but, for international travel in particular, it can be important. 

Is a Child Travel Consent Form Really Required?

While you might not ever have to produce any such paperwork, many countries (including the U.S.) require you to have a child travel consent form on hand if asked while traveling with someone else’s child, or even your own child if all parents or guardians are not present. The U.S. Customs and Border Control states clearly: “Unless the child is accompanied by both parents, the child must have a notarized letter from the other parent or signed by both parents stating, ‘I acknowledge that my son/daughter is traveling outside the country with [the name of the adult] with my permission.’” A letter of travel permission may feel like an added chore in a long list of trip preparations, but you don’t want to risk not having it when you need it.

Kids bringing along friends on vacation keeps kids happy and engaged, and gives grown-ups the chance to relax, since they won’t be their child’s only playmate on vacation. Making sure to travel with a consent form can ensure a smoother journey, and adds peace-of-mind for all parties. 

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Ed Perkins
Ed Perkins is a longtime consumer advocate and reporter. He spent 25 years in travel research and consulting and was founding editor of Consumer Reports Travel Letter. He is the author of "Online Travel" (2000) and "Business Travel: When It's Your Money" (2004). He was also the co-author of the annual "Best Travel Deals" series from Consumers Union. Perkins' travel expertise has led to frequent television appearances, including ABC's "Good Morning America,” "The CBS Evening News," CNN, and numerous local TV and radio stations.