International Travel with Children: Identification Requirements

Posted on November 21, 2012 11:07am

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 United States.
In this document:

  • Current Identification Requirements for International Travel
    • What about Enhanced ID?
  • 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 here.

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

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:

  1. a notarized written statement or notarized affidavit from the non-applying parent or guardian consenting to the passport;
  2. a birth certificate providing the minor’s name, date and place of birth and the name of the sole parent;
  3. a consular report of birth abroad of a U.S. citizen or a comparable document;
  4. an adoption decree showing only one adopting parent;
  5. a court order granting sole custody to the applying parent or guardian that contains no travel restrictions inconsistent with the issuance of a passport;
  6. a judicial declaration of incompetence of the non-applying parent;
  7. a court order specifically permitting the applying parent’s or guardian’s travel with the child;
  8. a death certificate for the non-applying parent;
  9. 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.

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