Travel Documents Needed for Grandchildren

documents needed for travel with grandchildren
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Traveling with grandchildren provides a wonderful bonding opportunity for grandparents. Planning ahead for any documents you will need will help everything to go smoothly.

While you can pick up some items at your destination that you forgot to pack, it isn't easy to get or replace a passport or another vital document. Know what you need before you go.

Letter of Permission

Although most grandparents will never have to show it, carrying a letter of permission is advisable. Templates for such letters are available online, and you can create your own letter of permission using instructions. You want to format your letter in a way that it:

  • Gives consent from the parent(s) to allow their child(ren) to travel with their grandparents
  • Includes all children's full names and ages
  • Indicates the travel period from departure to the date of return including a few days before and after in case of any travel changes
  • Includes the name of the notary and the date notarized
  • Lists the general travel destination(s)
  • Provides contact information for the parent, including the full address and any major phone numbers
  • Provides the name of the grandparent(s)
  • Provides the name of the parent(s).
  • Shows the signature of the parent(s) and the date

You may need to include more details in your letter if you're traveling out of the country. If a grandchild's parents are divorced, documents should ideally be signed by both parents. Sometimes children are transported across borders during custody disputes, so both signature help alleviate any potential issues.

While it's legal for grandparents to transport their grandchildren without a letter of permission, it's a safeguard against any potential emergencies or law enforcement issues.

Getting the letter of permission notarized by a licensed official adds an extra layer of security to your document. There are many businesses that will perform this quick signature process with you, including banks, law offices, CPAs, and mail services like UPS.

  • Copies of insurance cards advisable

  • Letter of permission from parents advisable

  • No ID required for air, rail, land travel

  • Certified copies of birth certificates for travel to border countries by land or sea

  • Passports required for air travel and disembarking ship in some ports

  • Vaccinations required for some countries

  • Visas required for some countries

Domestic Travel

Thankfully, grandchildren won't need any ID for domestic road trips with grandparents. In addition, airlines and trains don't usually require any form of ID for children under 18 for domestic travel.

Still, it's never a bad idea to bring some ID anyway. Photocopies of the grandkids' birth certificates should work fine regardless of circumstance, so keep those in a safe spot. In addition, you should bring:

  • Insurance cards: copies of the grandchildren's insurance cards as well as prescription cards, dental cards, and secondary insurance cards if applicable.
  • Letter of permission: a notarized letter from the parent(s) giving permission for medical care.

Bordering Countries

If you're traveling to Mexico, Canada, Bermuda, or other areas of the Caribbean, most grandchildren 15 and under can travel using certified copies of their birth certificates instead of a passport. However, this provision applies only to travel by land or sea and does not apply to travel by air.

Children must have passports for air travel.

When taking a cruise which returns to the port of departure, Americans will not need passports to re-enter the United States.They may, however, need passports to disembark the ship in foreign ports. Passengers should check with their cruise lines or, to be safe, carry passports regardless.

In general, some travel authorities suggest that you obtain a limited power of attorney if traveling abroad with grandchildren. This adds an extra measure of protection if something goes wrong.

International Travel

The Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative (WHTI) is a United States legal framework that requires travelers to present a valid passport, or another approved secure document when traveling to the U.S. from places within the Western Hemisphere.

Even small children and infants need a passport for air travel overseas. Children cannot be added to a parent's passport. If a child doesn't have a passport, both parents should appear in person to apply for one. When that's not possible, other paperwork will be required.

Grandparents who want to take their grandchildren abroad should be reminded that the passport process can take a while. So it should be managed far in advance.

Some countries also require a visa for entry, and vaccinations may be required in some cases. Before booking a trip, check the U.S. Department of State's website for country-specific information. You'll also want to revisit this a few days before your trip for any last-minute issues.

4 Sources
Verywell Family uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. U.S. Customs and Border Protection. Children - child traveling with one parent or someone who is not a parent or legal guardian or a group.

  2. U.S. Customs and Border Protection. Before your trip.

  3. U.S. Customs and Border Protection. Western hemisphere travel initiative.

  4.  U.S. Department of State. Smart traveler enrollment program.

By Susan Adcox
Susan Adcox is a writer covering grandparenting and author of Stories From My Grandparent: An Heirloom Journal for Your Grandchild.