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Crossing Borders with Children - Canada

- passport requirements and other documents needed

By Myka Carroll

--July 1 2008

Since time of writing, certain changes have occured: please see Crossing the Canada/US Border With Children - at About.com's Canada Travel site.

(LifeWire) - For a long time, entering Canada from the United States required only a valid US driver's license and maybe a birth certificate for good measure. The ease of entry made it possible for everyone from weekenders to tour boat companies to slip back and forth with minimal hassle or expense. However, post-9/11 security and an increased effort to tamp down on illegal immigration and child abduction has resulted in the Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative (WHTI). US citizens crossing the Canadian border must now approach the experience as if they are visiting a European country. People traveling with children should do a little advance legwork to make sure they have the required legal documentation to embark on their family vacation. Here's what you need to know about crossing borders into Canada with children.

If You're Traveling to Canada by Air

If you do not already have one, it's time to apply for a passport. Although there are other documents that are accepted by land and sea (see below), a passport is your only choice for acceptable official identification for re-entry into the United States or if you're a US citizen traveling to Canada from a third country. Note that no matter how young your child is, he or she is also required to have a passport. Be sure to apply for your passports well in advance of your trip; application or renewal processing can take four to six weeks, particularly before the summer travel season. More information about applying for passports is available at the US Department of State's website.

US citizens do not need a visa to visit Canada for up to six months. You'll need a temporary resident visa to stay longer.

If You're Traveling to Canada by Land or Sea

The passport rule is slightly more flexible if you're traveling to Canada by land or sea. You can still show government-issued photo identification and a copy of your birth certificate to cross the border, although you may be sternly reminded to bring your passport next time. As of June 1, 2009, you must present a passport, a passport card or a WHTI-compliant document.

The US Passport Card is a slightly less expensive alternative to a passport, but it's restricted to land and sea travelers to Canada, Mexico, and the Caribbean. The State Department website has a very useful FAQ that will help you determine whether the passport card is a better choice for your family's travel needs.

If Only One Parent or Legal Guardian Is Traveling

Although a parent or legal guardian traveling alone with a child to Canada does not need a notarized letter granting the absent parent or guardian's permission for the trip, you might want to take along a signed letter just in case. Legally separated and divorced parents should carry a copy of the document that details the legal custody arrangements. Single parents can also show official documentation to prove there is no other parent (such as a birth certificate that does not list a father).

If You Are Not the Parent or Legal Guardian

Whether you are a grandparent, aunt, cousin, or family friend traveling with a child, you should take a letter signed by the child's parents or guardians that grants you permission and includes the details of the trip (flights or itinerary with dates), along with the address(es) and phone number(s) of the parents.

You might also consider taking a medical treatment authorization letter in case the child needs medical care during your trip.

Your Final Document Checklist for Your Canadian Vacation

  • Passports for adults and children arriving by air
  • Passports, passport cards, or WHTI-compliant documents for adults and children arriving by land or sea
  • Visa, if you are not a US citizen
  • Proof of sole custody, if you are a separated/divorced/single parent
  • A signed letter granting permission to travel, if you are a parent traveling alone with child or a non-parent traveling with child
Additional Tips and Resources
  • You'll make your border crossing faster and easier if you stay within the regulations for what you can bring with you into Canada and what you can take home with you on your return journey.
  • Want to know if you'll have to amuse restless kids in the car? The Canadian Border Services Agency posts border wait times at land crossings on its website.
  • Always check the US   State Department's website for the latest requirements for travel abroad. The website also features helpful Country Information Sheets.

For Updates and Details:

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