As safety and security are paramount for international travelers of all ages, having the proper travel documents for every member of the family will make your exit from and entry into the United States a lot easier. The United States and nearby nations have recently allied to create the Western Hemispheric Travel Initiative; an organization that seeks to facilitate travel between countries for U. S. citizens.
A valid U.S. passport is required for all citizens including newborns and infants traveling to international destinations by air. That rule holds for travel to Canada, Mexico and the Caribbean. Minors must appear in person to apply for a passport and the parents or guardian must supply proof of citizenship in the form of a birth certificate or previous passport, proof of their relationship to the minor and consent to the minor’s application for the passport. More details about these requirements are available on the U.S. Department of State website.
A passport card is a citizenship I.D. that is less expensive and more convenient than a passport book, but can only be used at land border crossings and sea ports-of-entry in Mexico, Canada, the Caribbean and Bermuda. It cannot be used when traveling by air. Minors applying for passport cards must fulfill the same requirements as those applying for passport books. Further information can be found on the U.S. Department of State and the U.S. Customs and Border Protection websites.
In an effort to crack down on child abduction and trafficking, the U.S. Department of State and Office of Homeland Security urge minors traveling with one parent, alone or with a tour group to carry a notarized letter of consent from both parents authorizing their travel. A family with passports for each member traveling to Mexico can find themselves stuck at the airport because the mother has a different last name than the father and there is no birth certificate to prove she is indeed the children’s parent. Always err on the side of caution and gather more documentation than you might actually need, because international law varies from country to country.
Gathering all the documents needed for a trip is time consuming and expensive. The only thing more exasperating and worrisome than standing in line at a government service center is losing those passports in a Paris taxi or over the side of a cruise ship. Just as you back up the important files on your computer, back up your important travel documents by making multiple copies of passports, passport cards and any other vital documents. Leave the copies with family members at home or with another member of your travel group. Never carry the copies along with the actual documents. In the event of a mishap, the copies will help expedite replacement of the originals.
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