There are specific requirements for international travel. If you plan to
travel overseas soon with children, be aware that they may need special
documents to enter the countries they will visit and to return to the
In this document:
Current Identification Requirements for International Travel
- Current Reentry to U.S. Regulations
- Regulations for Obtaining a Passport
- Obtaining a Passport for a Child By One Parent
- Practical Considerations for Traveling Abroad with Children
Current Identification Requirements for International Travel
1. What identification documents are required for U.S. citizens attempting
to depart the U.S. or reenter after traveling to a foreign nation?
Following the September 11, 2001 terror attacks, Congress found that existing
relaxed procedures for reentry into the United States from countries in
the Western Hemisphere were a vulnerability exploited by terrorists and
others, and required DHS to implement stronger requirements for international
travel. Intelligence Reform and Terrorism Prevention Act of 2004, Pub.
L. No. 108-458, 118 Stat. 3638, Secs. 7209(a) and (b) (2004) (hereafter, IRTPA).
The Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative (hereafter “WHTI”)
is the Department of Homeland Security’s response to Congress’
2004 mandate that all U.S. citizens be required to have a passport to
reenter the U.S. from anywhere. The WHTI requires a passport for reentry
to the U.S. at all air, sea, and land entry points. Since 2009 when the
WHTI went into full effect,
every U.S. citizen, including infants, must have a U.S. passport to reenter
the United States when returning from any foreign nation, including Canada,
Mexico, Central and South America.
2. Can an enhanced driver’s license be used instead of a passport?
Maybe. Whether or not you will be able to obtain an enhanced driver’s
license depends upon which state you live in. Currently, the only states
issuing WHTI compliant enhanced driver’s licenses are Washington,
Vermont, New York, and Michigan. An enhanced driver’s license can
be used to prove citizenship at sea and land border crossings for reentry
into the United States. Enhanced driver’s licenses cannot be used
to reenter the United States when traveling internationally by air.
To obtain an enhanced driver’s license, you must be able to prove
citizenship to the issuing governmental agency by birth certificate, passport,
or other document. Additionally, you must provide documents proving residency
within the state of issuance.
Enhanced driver’s licenses will not be issued to persons under the
age of 16. However, a person of any age may qualify for an enhanced ID
card. If you wish to obtain an enhanced ID card for your minor child,
be prepared to provide proof of your relationship to the child as a parent
or legal guardian. If you and your child have different last names, additional
documentation of your relationship may be required.
For more information about enhanced driver’s licenses in Washington,
see the Washington Department of Licensing website
3. How difficult is it for a U.S. citizen to obtain a passport? Are there
any special documentation requirements for children?
Obtaining a passport is not difficult for U.S. citizens, although there
are fees and a waiting period.
The following State Department website provides detailed information on
how to obtain a passport for a child:
The following link will provide the nearest location to apply for a passport:
4. What is the best way to handle traveling with children as a result of
new WHTI regulations?
The easiest way to travel internationally with children is for each child
to travel with both parents and for all persons to possess a valid U.S.
passport. If a child is traveling with only one parent, they must bring
a notarized letter from the other parent granting permission to travel,
or other appropriate documentation.
All persons may leave the U.S. generally unfettered, but a child attempting
to enter a foreign nation with one or no parent will be subject to that
nation’s own regulations. For example, before entry is allowed,
Canada and Mexico each require that a child present a notarized letter
of permission from one or both parents, or other evidence that the accompanying
parent or guardian has sole custodial rights. The U.S. State Department
website lists each country’s requirements at
Current Reentry to U.S. Regulations
In general, it is unlawful for any U.S. citizen (hereafter “citizen”)
to leave or reenter the U.S. without a valid U.S. passport. 8 U.S.C.A.
1185(a); 22 C.F.R. 53.1. However, the Supreme Court has recognized a constitutional
right to travel internationally. See, e.g., Zemel v. Rusk, 85 S.Ct 1271,
381 U.S. 1, 14 L.Ed.2d 179 (recognizing a right to travel internationally,
but not without regulation). Thus, exceptions to the general passport
rule have been adopted to promote ease of travel and commerce. The most
common exceptions are set out in 22 C.F.R. 53.2.
Regulations for Obtaining a Passport
A U.S. passport is a travel document given under the authority of the Secretary
of State attesting to the identity and nationality of its bearer. 22 C.F.R.
51.1. A U.S. passport can only be issued to a U.S. citizen. 22 C.F.R.
51.2. Getting a passport for a U.S. citizen is fairly straightforward.
Persons over eighteen years old who have previously been issued a passport
in their own name within the past fifteen years, can apply by mailing
a completed passport application, two photographs, the previous passport,
and the established fee to the nearest U.S. passport agency. 22 C.F.R.
51.21. Persons applying for a passport for the first time and children
who had their most recent passport issued before their sixteenth birthday
must apply in person at a U.S. passport agency. Detailed instructions
and downloadable application forms are available at http://travel.state.gov/passport/renew/renew_833.html.
Persons applying for a passport in person, in addition to photos, fees,
and completed application forms, will also need sufficient documentation
of their U.S. citizenship and identity. A certified copy of the applicant’s
birth certificate is the best document of citizenship; however, exceptions
are also possible. 22 C.F.R. 51.43.
Obtaining a Passport for a Child By One Parent
For passport purposes, a minor is defined as an unmarried person under
the age of eighteen years. 22 C.F.R. 51.27(a). A minor aged 14 to 17 must
apply for a passport on his or her own behalf and is subject to the same
general procedures as adults above. 22 C.F.R. 51.27(b). For a minor under
age 14, both parents or legal guardians must apply for the minor’s
passport on his or her behalf and show documentation of parentage, indicating
the child’s name, date and place of birth, and the names of both
parents. Id. at (b)(2)(ii). However, one parent only may apply for a passport
on behalf of a minor by presenting one or more of the following documents:
- a notarized written statement or notarized affidavit from the non-applying
parent or guardian consenting to the passport;
- a birth certificate providing the minor’s name, date and place of
birth and the name of the sole parent;
- a consular report of birth abroad of a U.S. citizen or a comparable document;
- an adoption decree showing only one adopting parent;
- a court order granting sole custody to the applying parent or guardian
that contains no travel restrictions inconsistent with the issuance of
- a judicial declaration of incompetence of the non-applying parent;
- a court order specifically permitting the applying parent’s or guardian’s
travel with the child;
- a death certificate for the non-applying parent;
- a copy of a commitment order or comparable document for an incarcerated parent.
22 C.F.R. 51.27(b)(2)(v)(A-H).
Additionally, if a parent submits a custody decree for these purposes,
a passport agency will consider the judicial limitations on the minor’s
ability to travel, if applicable, before granting a passport. Finally,
either parent may obtain information regarding a minor’s passport
application unless the inquiring parent’s parental rights have been
terminated. 22 C.F.R. 51.27(d)(2). A passport will not be granted to a
minor under 18 when there is a custody dispute and the non-applying parent
has submitted to the State Department a court order showing sole custody
to the objecting parent, joint custody, or a requirement of both parent’s
permission for travel by the minor. 22 C.F.R. 51.27(d). These measures
were put in place to protect children from abduction by estranged parents
in custody disputes. Parents involved in custody disputes may inquire
with the State Department as to whether an application for passport has
been submitted for a child. Parents may also give notice to the State
Department that they have legal custodial rights and wish to prevent a
passport being issued to their child.
Practical Considerations for Traveling Abroad with Children
In addition to obtaining a passport, travelers abroad should seek information
on the identification requirements for entry for all foreign nations they
will visit, including special requirements for children. Each nation sets
its own requirements for international travel, and information on the
requirements for each nation can be found on the State Department website,
given above. For the most accurate information, travelers should contact
the foreign consulate of each nation they plan to visit. There are a wide
variety of requirements including in some cases, visas, immunization records,
proof of funds, and proof of return ticket.
An important concern for those traveling with children without both parents
is each nation’s requirement for documentation of parental consent.
For example, Canada and Mexico both require documentation that children
are traveling with the permission of both parents or that the traveling
parent has sole custodial rights. Again, the requirements for each nation
vary and can be found on the State Department website. Many, but not all,
nations have adopted the Hague Convention on The Civil Aspects of International
Child Abduction, an international agreement to prevent child abduction
and to cooperate with other nations for the safe return of abducted children.
The United States has joined this agreement, and the legal implications
can be found at 42 U.S.C.A. 11601 and following.