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The Single Parent’s Guide to International Travel With Kids

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“And have you any proof that you are the children’s mother?” Words to strike fear into the heart of any mother. I received the question on our arrival in London and it sends a cold chill over me as I look at the very serious passport control agent. I have traveled overseas before with my children as a single parent and never been questioned. Yet I don’t share a last name with my children, and while I can see myself in my children, the fact remains that they’re a beautiful mix of Asian, Hispanic and Caucasian ancestry, and I clearly am not. I wanted to point out the freckles that my children clearly inherited from me, although not in the same abundance. My son has threads of red in his dark brown hair, obviously from his mostly Irish mother, and my daughter’s hair is the same exact texture as mine, although with gorgeous golden highlights as opposed to her mother’s red. While the question offended me at the time, I realize it’s for the protection of children and families, and I should have been better prepared. Here’s what you need in addition to that all important passport as a single parent planning international travel with your kids.

Copy of Birth Certificate

Traveling with a copy of each child’s birth certificate is simple enough to do. It clearly will show the names of the birth parents of the child, which can then be verified with the passport. A neighbor of ours was also stopped at customs in El Salvador. Her son has light hair and blue-gray eyes, as opposed to his parents dark hair and brown eyes. The passport agent did not believe he was their son, and would not let him leave with them. Although it was resolved and he was able to come home, it took quite some time to convince the officials of that.

Letter from Other Parent

According to the US Customs and Border Protection (CBP), children under 18 traveling with only one parent are not required to have written permission from the other parent, but it is strongly encouraged since the CBP can ask for proof that the other parent is aware of the international travel. If you don’t have this proof, you might be detained until the CBP is comfortable with the situation. The proof should just be a simple letter from the non-traveling parent that they’re aware of the trip and they approve; the letter should be notarized. If the other parent is deceased or no longer in the picture, then bring a copy of documentation to that effect (death certificate, court decision, etc.). In addition, just because the United States doesn’t require such documentation doesn’t mean other countries don’t, and it can be difficult to ascertain the regulations of other countries. This is all a bit of a pain, but ultimately is to protect children and preparation will keep you sane during your trip.

Prepare your Children

I certainly don’t mean you should put words in your child’s mouth, but I think it’s wise to prepare your kids for the type of questions they can expect from the authorities at the airport. When we left for London, the security agent who checked our IDs turned to my daughter and asked who she was traveling with. She said, “Andrea L.” The agent laughed and tried again, but never quite got the answer he should have from my daughter, which was that I was her mother. I think my son’s exasperation and elbowing convinced him that we were mother and children. I’ve found that children are often surprised and initially speechless when questioned by someone in authority, so it’s wise to let them know that even as children, they can expect to be asked who they’re traveling with and if their other parent knows where they’re going.

I think my children’s surprised laughter at the passport agent’s question or perhaps my stunned and panicked expression softened her. She allowed us to pass with no trouble, but I did ask her what I should bring for future international travel with my kids. (She recommended the birth certificates.) Next time, we’ll be better prepared.

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Andrea is a single mom in Arlington, Virginia with a 15-year-old son and a 13-year-old daughter. Her children took their first trips when they were just four…

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