Required Documentation to Take a Child across the U.S. Canadian Border
Customs Officers are always on watch for child abduction, and may ask detailed questions about the kids who are traveling with you. In general, if you plan to leave the country with your children, you should get them a passport. Although other forms of documentation may be accepted, the border officials will need to be satisfied with the documentation before allowing you to proceed.
Children under age 16 may enter the U.S. or Canada using one of the following:
- U.S. or Canadian passport
- Original or copy of birth certificate
- Naturalization certificate
- Canadian citizenship card
- Consular report of birth abroad
Important Special Considerations when Traveling with Children
- When traveling in a group of vehicles, parents or guardians should travel in the same vehicle as their children when arriving at the border.
- Kids old enough to speak for themselves may be encouraged to do so by the customs officer. Let them know that and be prepared to let them answer the officer’s questions.
Children Traveling without Both Parents
It is strongly recommended that, if only one parent is crossing the border with a child under age 18, they have a Consent Letter from the other parent granting permission to take the child out of the country. It is even more important if the child is traveling with a friend or relative without either parent present.
When you roll up to the inspection station, border officials will be making a judgement call as to whether something is wrong. If only one parent is present, they may ask a question about the child and, if everything seems OK, they may simply wave you through without any further questions. If they have any concerns, they will then begin examining the situation to determine their course of action. A Consent Letter is useful because it puts all the information they need in one spot, shows you took the extra time to get the necessary approvals, and provides signatures that can be validated by phone calls to the parents.
- There is no legal requirement that you have a Consent Letter. There is no specific format required for a letter. There is no requirement that a letter be notarized. However, border officials for both countries have complete and absolute discretion to allow, or deny, entry to anyone wanting to enter their country. With or without a letter, they need to be comfortable that everything is above board or they will start digging to determine if a child abduction is in process.
- You can use a fax copy of the letter, but an original is always better. This is only going to matter if the officers are concerned about the situation and feel the need to examine it closer.
- We have a “fill-in-the-blanks” Consent Letter that can be used, but there is no problem with you making up your own version of the letter.
- Divorced parents who share custody of their kids should carry copies of the legal custody documents plus a letter of authorization from the other parent.
- If you are a legal guardian transporting the child, a copy of the court order granting guardianship should be brought along.
- If only one parent’s name appears on the birth certificate, and the child is traveling with the other parent, a certified copy of the child’s birth certificate should be be carried.
- If one parent has died, it wouldn’t hurt to have a certified copy of the death certificate.
Crossing the Border with Groups of Children
U.S. and Canadian citizen children under age 19, traveling with a school group, religious group, social or cultural organization, or sports team, may present a passport, original or copy of his or her birth certificate, a Consular Report of Birth Abroad, a Naturalization Certificate, or a Canadian Citizenship Card.
Most importantly, the group should be prepared to present a letter, on organizational letterhead, with the following information:
- The name of the group and supervising adult
- A list of the children on the trip, and the primary address, phone number, date of birth, place of birth, and name of at least one parent or legal guardian for each child
- A written and signed statement of the supervising adult certifying that he or she has obtained parental or legal guardian consent for each participating child. You could use our general child consent letter to get the parental permission, but it might be easier for the parents to understand and sign if you tailored it to reflect the event and included only the relevant information. There is no mandatory letter format. Although not required, you may want to bring along copies of all the parental consent letters.
Before leaving on your trip, it would certainly be safest to make a call to the specific border crossing you will be using to give them a heads up and confirm that you have the proper documentation. We list the contact information for each U.S. Canada border crossing on individual pages.