Expat Magazine

How to Travel Alone With Your Children

By Expatdoctormom1 @ExpatDoctorMom


In continuation of travel requirements presented in my last post, I thought I would share yet another “Seinfeld, No Soup For You” moment while traveling.  

We had made good time, just over 4 hours to the Canadian border (from Cleveland, Ohio).  The excitement in the car was high. I was taking the kids to Niagara Falls to see my son’s best friend who was visiting from Denmark.  His best friend who he had been separated from for a year.  A friend he had known for 1/2 his young life.

At the border, the Canadian Immigration officer asked:  “Is there any reason that THESE (these said as if the children were not mine) children are traveling without their father?”  The question stopped me in my tracks.  Think quickly my mind said.  I know what I wanted to reply:  “Complete insanity, officer. Complete insanity.” But, I couldn’t find humor at that exact moment.  My heart sank.  What if they didn’t let us across the border from the U.S?  Then what?  I would have two very disappointed 8-year-old boys.

I gave the officer the information:  my spouse could not afford to take 6 weeks off and it was unfair to have the kids in the sweltering heat of the desert the whole summer.  He started to question my last name in my passport but found where my passport was amended to match the children’s last name and seemed satisfied. He gave a nod and then we were through.  What I didn’t know then was he had every right to deny me entrance into Canada with my own children.

As an expat and having traveled frequently alone with my children for almost 7 years, it never occurred to me that I might be questioned while traveling with them. It certainly had never happened while flying. I recall when we first became expats going to the trouble of carrying a notarized letter signed by my husband stating he was aware that I was traveling alone with our child.  But the document’s whereabouts elude me as the memory of it does.

What are the requirements to travel alone with your child alone?

With the increase in international abductions and since the Hague Abduction Convention of 1980, most countries require a notarized letter from the unaccompanying spouse giving permission for your child to travel with you alone.
Specifically from Canadian Government’s website:

If a minor child is traveling with one parent only:

The child should have a copy of his/her birth certificate as well as a letter of authorization, preferably in English or French, signed by the parent who is not traveling with him. The letter of authorization should give the address and telephone number of the non-accompanying parent. A photocopy of the passport or national identity card of the non-accompanying parent, with the bearer’s signature, should be attached.

While Canada does not require that the letter be notarized, many countries such as Mexico do require that the letter be notarized.  Check the US department of state for country specific information.  And if you are uncertain about the format of such a letter, you can download a parental consent form for free.  The US Customs and Border Patrol offers this advice on authorization letters and Canada’s Foreign Affairs and National Trade website also has a free parental consent form.

Lastly, if your child’s last name is different to yours, you may need additional certified documentation such as a marriage certificate to prove your relationship with your child.

So while flying alone with your children usually doesn’t raise questions, crossing borders by car certainly does.  It never hurts to be over prepared or otherwise be caught with your pants down.

 Anyone else ever have trouble crossing borders or flying with your children alone?

Photo credit: me!  I loved going on the Maid of the Mist (the boat in the photo) when I was a kid. I hope my kids did too!

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