If you are planning on taking your child on holiday abroad, depending on your destination, you may have to fulfil some surprising requirements to avoid tears at the airport.
A recent article in The Telegraph, penned by a mother who had intended to take her 14-year-old daughter on holiday to South Africa, serves as a cautionary tale. The writer, Nikki Teidemen, recounted that although the trip did not require a visa, the airline desk turned the family away due to missing paperwork. They rightly informed her that in order to bring her daughter to South Africa, she needed to obtain an affidavit from every other party who holds parental responsibility—in this case her daughter’s father. She was also required to present her daughter’s birth certificate, or a certified copy of it, as proof of her parentage. Unfortunately, the mother was unable to obtain these in time for her flight and was forced to rearrange the holiday, incurring significant expenses along the way.
As Ms Teidemen is married to the father and the family all share a surname, she was confused as to why all this was necessary. While it certainly holds true that these two facts can lessen the bureaucratic burden when it comes to travelling abroad with children—more on that later—parents are nevertheless required by law to obtain consent from every other party with parental responsibility.
The only exception to this is in cases where parents have a child arrangement order which states that their child must live with them. These parents are free to take their children abroad for up to 28 days without getting parental consent. For everyone else, though, even short trips abroad necessitate permission from all parties with parental responsibility.
The exact documentation needed to prove that consent has been obtained will depend on the jurisdiction you are travelling to. For many countries, a letter from the other parent expressing consent will suffice. But since 2015 The South African Department of Home Affairs has required travellers under the age of 18 to provide a parental consent affidavit before being granted entry. Other jurisdictions have their own unique requirements. Canada, for instance, requires minors travelling with just one parent to provide a photocopy of the absent parent’s passport or national identity card alongside their signed letter of authorisation.
If your child needs a visa to travel to your destination, similar evidence may be required to obtain this. Though most countries define the age of majority at 18, this can of course vary, so it’s worth checking whether your child will be considered a minor in your destination.
Other circumstances can also inform what documents are needed to take your child abroad. For example, Gov.uk advises that bringing a divorce or marriage certificate may be helpful for single parents whose surname is different to their child’s.
If you are separated from your child’s other parent and attempt to take them abroad without obtaining the necessary permission, your risk of not only being turned away by border control but inadvertently becoming enmeshed in a child abduction case may be higher. Even if you have told the other parent that you are going away with the child, they should be provided with details on the holiday destination and duration, plus contact details well in advance of your departure to ensure that any objections can be raised in plenty of time
All is not necessarily lost if the other parent does not consent to the holiday. If an agreement cannot be reached, you can then apply to court for permission for leave to remove. If permission is granted, you must of course bring evidence of this to the border when taking your child abroad.
Though the extent of the paperwork necessary to take minors abroad can be a little exasperating, it’s important to remember that these checks are in place to protect children. For those with parental responsibility who are not joining their child on holiday, these requirements can bring invaluable peace of mind.