Travels With a Child

Security, abductions have focused more attention on identity papers for minors

By: M.J. Smith

One of your clients, a single parent, wants to take his 9-year-old daughter on a Mexican cruise this summer. He tells you that the child doesn’t have a passport and asks what he should do.

Several agents have posted similar questions on Web chat sites recently. It’s not that the rules were changed they weren’t but heightened concerns have made proper identification a bigger issue than ever before.

Agents know that the passport application process is detailed on the U.S. State Department’s Web site. But does your client really have to spend the time and money $70 or more to get a passport for his daughter?

The answer is “no.” But, of course, it’s not quite that simple.

The daughter must have proof of identity, usually an original or a certified copy of her birth certificate or adoption papers. Photocopies are not acceptable. (The federal site,, has additional information.)

The father should bring official proof of custody, if applicable, and a notarized letter signed by the child’s mother or legal guardian consenting to the trip.

It’s this consent letter that has been confusing agents, particularly as some governments now ask a parent traveling alone with a child to have such a letter regardless of marital status or custody.

According to a spokeswoman for the state department’s Consular Affairs office, there is no standard wording for a consent letter. “Whatever the situation is, would require different language,” explained Kelly Shannon.

But some specific information should be included: the destination, the dates of travel and authorization for emergency medical care.

Shannon noted that foreign governments have different regulations about what documentation must be shown at entry and exit points. Mexico, for example, tells parents to carry proof that the children are theirs, particularly if the surnames of the parents and the children are not the same.

The country’s consular advisory memo also advises that entry regulations require Spanish translations of all legal documents, including notarized consent decrees and court agreements.

The site says that the policy isn’t always followed and English-language documents are almost always sufficient but at least now you know.