Taking your first international trip with your kids in tow can add quite a bit of stress. With a bit of advanced planning and preparation, your trip can go smoothly.
1. Do you need a passport?
Passports are now required for all passengers traveling internationally by air, no matter what their age. Although there are still quite a few forums out there asserting that you can (with a lot of time and effort) get through customs without a passport for your kids while traveling to Canada or Mexico, you can be certain that your airline won't let your child board without a passport in hand. For general travel, begin the application for travel at least 6 months before your vacation date; although rush services are available, you'll pay a hefty price tag for the service. Note that all children under the age of 16 must apply for passports in person with both parents present at time of application.
2. Are any other legal documents required?
If you are traveling solo with young kids, you will want to get a notarized letter from the child's other birth parent giving permission for you to take them into another country. This is necessary in addition to a valid passport as family relationships can change so quickly. Not having this proper documentation can significantly delay your entrance through customs if not halting your entry completely. Check the state department website on traveling to your particular country to see if any other documentation is needed.
3. What should I expect to happen after we land our plane?
Kids familiar with domestic air travel might frown at the added wait time to go through customs after arrival in a foreign country. Depending on your time of arrival, the line to get through customs can be quite long and tedious. Pack extra snacks for your kids to enjoy during this time; depending on the airport, you might or might not have received your baggage by this point. Many airports have a family line for those traveling with young kids; if you don't see it, be sure to ask. Recently, while traveling to Vancouver, we waited about 15 minutes in the regular line before being whisked off into the (much) shorter family customs line.
4. What will the customs officer ask my kids?
This varies from country to country, but they will definitely scan your passports and match each one of you by name. Typically, they will ask your older children where they are going, when they are coming home, and who they are traveling with. Prep your extra shy children in advance. Depending on the country, they might also ask you about items you might have in your suitcase, including produce, alcohol, and even live animals.
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Photo credit: Grant Wickes