Sharing the joy of travel with children is one of life’s great pleasures and can inspire a young person to embark on a lifelong journey of discovery. However, there are a number of considerations to bear in mind before taking children overseas, not least of which is what travel documents may be required in addition to a valid passport.
Human Trafficking: One of the Biggest Worries
Human trafficking is one of the world’s most heinous crimes, and it’s estimated that as many as 21 million people are being held against their will at any given time for forced labour, sexual slavery or other purposes. Of that number, it’s believed that between a quarter and a third are children.
In an effort to crack down on human trafficking in minors—and also in child abduction by a parent, guardian or other relative—many countries have implemented strict rules that can affect any child travelling with or without both parents or legal guardians.
Write a Consent Letter
Although not necessarily legally required, the Canadian government highly recommends that all Canadian minors travelling abroad alone—with only one parent or guardian, or with friends, relatives or as part of a group—always carry a letter of consent to avoid problems entering other countries or even returning to Canada.
A consent letter should declare that the child has the permission of all absent parents or legal guardians to travel abroad. The letter should be signed by all relevant individuals, be witnessed and be certified by an official.
An example of a consent letter can be found on the Government of Canada’s website.
It is advisable to have a consent letter signed by a non-accompanying parent even when the child is travelling with a parent who has been granted full or sole custody. If one parent is deceased, the government recommends the travelling parent carry a copy of the deceased parent’s death certificate.
Even When Travelling with Both Parents, They Might Need More than a Passport
Some countries—most notably South Africa—require that in addition to their passport, all children under the age of 18 carry with them their unabridged (long-form) birth certificate in English, or translated into English, regardless of whether they’re travelling with both parents. All documents must be originals or legally certified copies.
If the child is travelling with only one parent, not only is the passport and long-form birth certificate required, but the parent must also have a sworn affidavit (issued no earlier than three months prior to travel dates) from the other parent registered on the birth certificate authorizing them to enter into or depart from South Africa with the child.
Botswana has similar requirements, and both countries may also require additional documentation for adoptive parents or widows and widowers.
What if They Have Dual Citizenship?
Many countries consider citizenship hereditary, even if the child was born outside the country. This also applies to Canadian children carrying Canadian passports.
In Algeria, any child of any nationality whose father is or was Algerian automatically acquires Algerian citizenship at birth. A child travelling alone or with a third person other than one of their parents or legal guardians must produce authorization from the father to leave Algeria.
Unaccompanied minors who hold dual Ecuadorian/Canadian citizenship and are travelling with both passports are required to have a letter of consent from both parents authorizing the travel and detailing the destination and duration of the trip. The letter must be notarized at an Ecuadorian embassy or consulate. If only travelling on a Canadian passport and travelling as tourists, the letter is not required.
Check if You Need a Travel Permit
Any minor travelling to Bolivia with one parent or with a third party must obtain a travel permit from the Bolivian Ombudsman Department of Protection of Children (Defensoría de la Niñez y Adolescencia). In order to obtain this permit, the parent or guardian will be required to present the minor’s original long-form birth certificate, any custody court documents, and written authorization from any parent not travelling (along with copies of each document).
If the minor is travelling with a relative or a third party, the guardian must also produce proof of the parents’ identification, in addition to the required documentation. If a parent is deceased, Bolivia requires a notarized copy of the death certificate in lieu of the written authorization.
What if They Have a Foreign Passport?
The child of a Canadian born overseas is often automatically regarded as a citizen of that country. When the time comes to leave that country and return to Canada, some countries, including Peru, will not allow the child to leave that country on a Canadian passport. Instead, for their first departure, the child must have the passport of the country of their birth. (And bear in mind that, as of 2017, Canada now requires all Canadian citizens to enter Canada only on a Canadian passport. Failure to have a Canadian passport will result in the Canadian traveller being denied entry.)
Always Check Before You Travel
Requirements can change, and it’s highly recommended that anyone travelling with a child always check with the embassy or consulate of their destination prior to leaving Canada. The countries I’ve mentioned in this article are provided as examples only, and may not necessarily be the only countries with the requirements described. In addition, the definition of a minor varies from country to country and can range anywhere from 18 to 21 years of age.
Travelling without the correct documentation can mean being denied boarding by an airline in Canada at best, or, at worst, being prevented from leaving the destination country at the end of your trip.