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What Legal Documents Do Children Need to Travel?

By Brett Snider, Esq. | Last updated on

Children and even infants often need legal documents in order to travel. But what papers or IDs are required?

The answer depends on where you're going, and perhaps even which mode of transportation you choose.

Here's a general overview of what documents are required for children to travel:

International Travel

All children need some form of government-accepted identification in order to travel internationally -- if you intend to return to the United States, that is. The Department of Homeland Security notes that "all children, even infants" need a passport or other Trusted Traveler Program document to enter the United States.

Can infants get passports? Absolutely. Any U.S. citizen under the age of 16 can get a passport valid for five years, as long as their parents take them in person to apply. With your child or infant's passport in hand, you should have no issue taking your child anywhere in the world.

Domestic Travel

By Plane: According to the Transportation Safety Administration (TSA), children under 18 don't need to show ID to travel on a domestic flight, just a boarding pass. In fact, children under the age of 12 will get to skip a few of the more intrusive parts of airport security.

Still, some airlines will reserve the right to see a birth certificate for infants under the age of 2. Many airlines offer parents the right to let infants under 2 years of age sit on their parents' laps (i.e., a "lap child") without purchasing a separate ticket. This birth certificate policy may be a way to keep parents honest.

By Train: Most children seem fascinated by trains, and you may have a wild hair to take them on one. Amtrak does not require children under 18 who are accompanied by their parents to carry ID. However, for unaccompanied children 16 and 17 years old, they will need to show a passport, driver's license, student ID, or other government ID to purchase a ticket.

By Bus: You shouldn't worry about showing ID on your local transit buses, but if you plan to travel long distances by bus, you should check the rules of your carrier. For example, Megabus requires that all children under the age of 17 be accompanied by an adult, and requires a valid passport for any passengers when crossing the U.S.-Canada border. Greyhound, on the other hand, will allow children ages 15 and up to travel alone. Generally, interstate bus travel doesn't require identification for either children or adults.

Be prepared and legally smart when traveling with your kids.

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