There is something special about embarking on an international trip with your kids. However, along with the joy of exposing them to new cultures and people, traveling abroad with children in tow can be quite a bit stressful. If you and your family are seasoned domestic travelers, then you’re already equipped to handle most of the ups and downs of international travel…except when it comes to the hassle of having to navigate the complexities of the customs process with children. It’s a unique experience that can vary from country to country, but a bit of advanced planning and preparation can make almost any customs check with children a breeze.

Make Sure Your Kids Have Valid Passports

Passports are required for all passengers traveling internationally by air, no matter what their age. Although you may have read online somewhere that you can get through customs without a passport for your kids if traveling to Canada or Mexico. But we can assure you that no airline will let your child board without a passport. Not only that, but most airlines will require that all international passengers have passports that don’t expire until at least 6 months after they fly. Yes, even for kids. And it doesn’t matter if the expiration date is only a week shy of the 6-month cut-off or you have a ticket to fly back before the passport expires.

So it’s important to make sure that you and your kids have valid passports for when you takeoff. The general rule is that you should submit the application at least 6 months before you leave, but you should send it as soon as possible. There are rush services are available, but you’ll have to pay a hefty price tag for them. Also, all children under the age of 16 must apply for passports in person with both parents present at the time of application.

Find Out If You Need Any Legal Documents

Having certain legal documents with you can be just as important as having valid passports. These can include copies of birth certificates or certificates of birth abroad. If you are traveling solo with your kids, you may need a notarized letter from the child’s other parent giving permission for you to take the child into another country. Not having this proper documentation can significantly delay your entrance through customs, if not halt your entry completely. Be sure to look up the particular country or countries you’re traveling to on the State Department’s website to see if any other documentation is needed.

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Prepare & Practice With Your Kids

Kids will generally do better throughout the entire travel experience if you prep them with what to expect. Be sure to explain that after arriving at the destination, you will need to wait in line to get through customs. Depending on the age of the children, you can go into deeper details about what this process entails and why they will need to be patient. You should look up the procedures for families going through customs wherever you’re taking cheap international flights to, so you can explain if you’ll be going through together as a group or if only one parent can stay with the children and letting them know who it will be. You can even involve older kids by showing them what a customs form will look like and letting them help you fill it out when you are on the plane. It is also recommended to alert your children about some of the questions you may be asked by the customs agent. Your children will do much better if you manage their expectations so that they don’t think they can get off the plane and head right to the hotel.

Take a Break as Soon as You Get Off the Plane

Customs lines are notorious for being long and slow-moving. Although some airports now have separate lines for families traveling with young kids, you won’t know if that option is available until you get there. And the last thing that you want to risk is subjecting your child to is another long wait without a break after just getting off an international flight. That’s why it is a good idea to take on a bathroom and snack break as soon as you get off the plane. Letting your kids stretch their legs, use the restroom, and fuel up will ensure that they are in a much better frame of mind heading into the customs inspection. You do not want to get halfway through a line only to have a child need an urgent bathroom break.

Designate One Adult to Handle Paperwork & One to Handle the Kids

If you are traveling with another adult, this customs process will inevitably be much easier — even if you’re traveling with just one kid. You can assign one adult to handle all of the paperwork duties and keep track of the passports, while another adult is charged with keeping any and all children occupied. Keep in mind that customs paperwork includes a large number of details requiring that the adult filling this out is focused. If you don’t have another adult in your travel party but more than one kid, try empowering the oldest child to keep any younger ones entertained in line so you can handle the paperwork.

Know some other tricks or trips for smoothly going through international customs with kids? Share them in the comments below! 

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