Avoid Problems At the Gate With This Simple Document
Traveling alone with kids is a great way to spend time together and build memories, but it can create a potential problem if your legal right to transport the children is questioned. Whether you're vacationing with your own kids, their inseparable BFFs or nieces and nephews, it's prudent to have some documentation to prove that they're legitimately in your care. A child travel consent form, or consent letter, is a simple document you can prepare for yourself or download to serve that purpose.
When You'll Need One
Ordinarily, you don't need to have any form of documentation to travel domestically with kids, even by air. At most, the carrier might ask to see proof of age, if the air fare is age-dependent.
It's different if you plan to leave the country, however. Child abductions and child trafficking are taken very seriously, so even a quick drive across the border to a Canadian theme park can go sideways in a hurry if you can't prove that you're authorized to take the kids with you. The same holds true for shared custody situations: Even the most amicable split can quickly get ugly if there's a hint of a parent disappearing with the kids. The same logic applies in less urgent ways, as well. Some attractions or activities won't let you bring your kid's best friend along, for example, if you don't have a signed consent form. The old rule that "it's better to have it and not need it, than need it and not have it" certainly applies here.
So What Exactly Is This Consent Form?
Don't over-think the document itself. It should identify you and the child you'll be responsible for, as well as the parent or guardian giving permission for the trip. You'll also need contact information for that parent, so authorities can verify that the document is genuine if the need should arise. It should also specify where you're going and for how long, so "to upstate New York, between the dates of ..." would be appropriate for a single trip. If you'll be traveling with the same kids repeatedly, draw up a letter that's good for the entire year instead of an individual trip. Either way, the parent or guardian should sign and date it.
Putting One Together
The actual document can be just a single-paragraph letter laying out all of that information. If filling in the blanks is more your speed, download sample consent forms from numerous sources, from the State Department to online legal-forms websites. Just fill in the names, dates and other information, and get it signed and dated. Having the signature witnessed or even notarized isn't usually necessary, but you might opt for it anyway. In shared custody situations, it's definitely the smart option. If you're going to travel out of the country, take the time to research that country's entry requirements before your departure date. You might need additional documents, or you might need to include more than the usual amount of information on the consent form.
Go One Step Further
When traveling with kids who aren't yours, whether they're friends of the family or part of your extended family, spend a few extra minutes planning for emergencies. It's usually prudent to have the parent or guardian's permission to authorize any medical care that might be needed while you're away, for example, from broken bones to sudden illnesses. You'll need to know about any allergies—especially to foods and medications—and any existing medical conditions, and how to respond to them if they occur. It's a really good idea to get those in writing, by the way, so that you don't forget any important details under the stress of an emergency. Keeping a few days' extra medications in a separate stash is a pretty good idea, too, in case the checked bag holding the main supply should go astray. You don't have to be completely paranoid about it, but a bit of advance preparation can save headaches later.