Taking a child across the US-Canada border is no simple thing. A rise in cases of child abduction has caused border officials in both countries to be a great deal more cautious when children are not traveling with both parents. Because of this, border officials may ask you several detailed questions regarding the minor crossing the border with you.
It is highly recommended that you get your children a passport, the only reliable and universally accepted travel identification document, should you wish to travel abroad. It will not only help smoothen your entry into another country but also allow you to easily get back into yours. Also, if possible, the child should be accompanied by both parents when crossing the border.
If your child is already able to speak for himself or herself, he or she may be encouraged by the border officials to answer their questions. It is best if you let them know beforehand in order to prepare them for this possibility.
If you are traveling in a group, it is best if you, the parent or legal guardian, are in the same vehicle as your child when you arrive at the border.
Required documents for children under age 16
US and Canadian citizens under 16 entering the US by land or sea may present his or her birth certificate (original or copy) or a Canadian Citizenship Card. Children ages 16 to 18 will be required to present a passport unless traveling with an organized group such as a religious group, school group, social organization, or sports team.
If they are traveling to the US by air, the children are required to have a valid passport or NEXUS card (only from designated Canadian airports).
If the child is a newborn and the parent has not yet received his or her Vital Records Department birth certificate, a hospital-issued birth certificate will be accepted for entry into the US by land or water. However, to travel to the US by air, the infant will be required to have a passport.
In Canada, individuals younger than 18 years old are considered minors or children. To enter Canada via land or water, they will be required to present proof of citizenship such as a birth certificate or a passport.
Border Crossing Without Parents/With Legal Guardian
A minor child traveling without both parents, either alone or in the company relatives/friends, will be required to present the following: his passport, a copy of his birth certificate, and a letter of authorization signed by both parents or the legal guardian. The letter should include their address and phone number as well as the name, address, and phone number of the adult who will be responsible for him while he is visiting the country.
If only one parent has signed the authorization letter, the child will be required to present relevant and official paperwork explaining why only one parent is legally responsible for him such as legal custody documents, a death certificate, or a birth certificate that names only one parent. A legal guardian traveling with a minor is required to provide documentation that proves guardianship.
Traveling with only one parent (required documentation)
Minors traveling with only one parent are required to present a passport and a copy of his birth certificate. The parent, on the other hand, will be required to present an authorization letter signed by the other parent. The content of the letter is discussed in more detail below.
If the parents are divorced and share custody of the minor, the parent crossing the border with the child should have copies of the custody papers along with a letter of consent from the other parent.
If the parents are divorced and one parent has sole custody, the parent who has custody is the only one who can sign a letter of authorization. The parent traveling with the minor should also carry a copy of the custody document.
A letter of authorization or consent from the absent parent should state that he or she acknowledges that the child is being taken out of the country by the individual or individuals named in the letter. For example: “I acknowledge that my spouse is traveling out of the country with my son/daughter. He/she has my permission to do so.” The letter should also include his or her address and contact number. While there is currently no form that you should follow when writing the consent letter, it is best to be thorough. Make sure that the 5 W’s are all answered – who, what, where, when, and why. It is strongly recommended that the letter is notarized.
To enter Canada, a copy of that parent’s passport or national identity card should accompany the consent letter. View a sample of a consent letter provided by Foreign Affairs, Trade and Development Canada here.
Border Crossing with a Group
US and Canadian citizens younger than 19 who are traveling as part of an organizational group and entering the US or Canada by land or sea may present his or her birth certificate (original or a copy), a Canadian Citizenship Card, a Naturalization Certificate, or a Consular Report of Birth Abroad at the port. Also, the group will be required to present detailed information regarding the group and its members on a document with an organizational letterhead. The information will include the name of the supervising adult, the names of the children in the group, their primary home addresses, telephone numbers, dates of birth, places of birth, and the name of a parent or legal guardian for each minor. The supervising adult will also be required to provide a written and signed statement stating that the parents or legal guardian of each child in the group have given their consent. Canada requires that a copy of the parents’ or legal guardian’s signed passport or national identity card is attached to the letter.