A quick nosey at discussions on the Mumsnet holiday forum shows that being stopped at passport control and asked to prove your child's identity is far from uncommon.
Why does this happen?
Child protection. The idea is to safe-guard against child abduction and smuggling. Controls are getting tighter, and checks more frequent.
What can I do?
Don't panic. Making enquiries before you travel and bringing extra documents might seem a faff, but will ensure smooth passage.
Before you leave you should:
- Check with your airline – they deal with this daily and will have their own specific requirements.
- Check with your embassy – what applies for British children does not apply for other nationalities, regardless of whether they are travelling into/from the UK.
- Check with the relevant embassy for the requirements of country/countries you'll be travelling to/through.
- Ensure you have relevant documents: passports (yes, double check), birth certificates and marriage certificates. If you're travelling under your maiden name with children of a different surname, a marriage certificate alongside your passport will 'prove' who you are.
- Should your parenting arrangement have special terms regarding international travel, then double check with a solicitor to ensure you have the relevant supporting documents.
- Pack a consent letter (see below).
Travel consent letters: what do I need?
Travel consent letters demonstrate that the child or children in question have permission to travel abroad from parents or guardians who aren't accompanying them. They're especially useful in situations in which the parents are divorced or separated, and one parent wishes to take the child on holiday. They can also be used by grandparents and other relatives.
Consent letters aren't a legal requirement in the UK, but can simplify travel for UK nationals, as they may be requested by immigration authorities when entering or leaving a foreign country or when re-entering the UK.
The letter needs to be signed by whomever is NOT travelling. Getting the letter notarised is recommended, as it's more likely to be accepted as a legal document. You can do this at a local solicitor's for a small charge.
Remember, carrying a consent letter does not guarantee that children will be allowed to enter or leave a country; every country has its own entry and exit requirements. Double-check with the relevant embassies for specifics.
Example consent letter
The letter should give as much detail as possible, including:
- contact details for the person giving consent
- the child's passport details and/or any other documentation you are providing
- information about the trip they are going on – date of travel and planned destination
The letter should be signed, dated and witnessed.
You can download an example consent letter here, which can be modified to meet your specific needs.
What if I can't reach the father of my children?
If you both share parental responsibility for your children, then you should have his permission before you travel overseas. He will also need yours should the roles be reversed.
You'll need to apply to a court for permission to take a child abroad if you don't have permission from the other people with parental responsibility. A solicitor will be able to help you with this process.
Sadly the father/mother of my child passed away and my child has a different surname from me. What should I do?
Double check with the airline and relevant embassies, but bringing the death certificate with you along with birth certificates and marriage certificates should be enough.
What about foster/adoptive parents?
Take a copy of a court order stating that the accompanying person is the child's lawful custodian or guardian. If the child is in temporary care, take a consent letter signed by the appropriate child welfare agency representative. Again, as ever, double check with the airline and relevant embassies.