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On the U.S. Customs and Border Patrol web site, there is the following notification:

Traveling with Children

When U.S. citizen children under the age of 16 arrive by land or sea from Canada or Mexico they may present an original or copy of their birth certificate, a Consular Report of Birth Abroad, or a Naturalization Certificate.

Unless the child is accompanied by both parents, the child must have a notarized letter from the other parent or signed by both parents stating, "I acknowledge that my son/daughter is traveling outside the country with [the name of the adult] with my permission."

Groups of Children: U.S. citizen children under the age of 19 arriving by land or sea from Canada or Mexico and traveling with a school group, religious group, social or cultural organization or sports team, may present an original or copy of their birth certificate, a Consular Report of Birth Abroad, or a Naturalization Certificate. The group should have a letter on organizational letterhead with:

The name of the group and supervising adult(s). The names of the children on the trip and their primary address, phone number, date and place of birth, and name of at least one parent or legal guardian for each child. A written and signed statement of the supervising adult certifying that he or she has parental or legal guardian consent for each child.

This requirement seems only to apply to U.S. children coming into the U.S. from Canada or Mexico, but not any other country, and only by land or sea, not air. Is that right? It's kind of ambiguous because it is not clear whether the Canada/Mexico qualification only applies to the first paragraph or to all the paragraphs.

In other words, let's say I am flying from the U.K. into the United States, do I need to have both parent's notarized permission to bring a U.S. child with me?

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    The Canadian government recommends such letters regardless of the mode of travel or the destination country. Preparing one is easy enough and a notary is not very expensive for added "just in case". That said, no one I know who has carried such a letter has ever had to show it. I think because land travel can be more spontaneous, you're more likely to be asked for it, but it's a good thing to have anyway. Jun 30 at 16:40

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As far as I'm aware, the US does not officially require a letter of consent for most minor children travelling with one adult.

The reason for the Mexican/Canadian exception is that minors travelling from those countries are able to enter the US without a passport. Most countries require a minor applying for a passport to have the consent of both parents before applying (or suitable documentation as to why both parents can't consent, such as custody documentation), which is why the additional requirement exists for minors travelling without a passport.

However, even where such a letter is not officially required, it is still a VERY good idea to carry one. Entering a foreign country is always a privilege and not a right, which means that foreign immigration always has the ability to submit a traveler to additional scrutiny and even to deny them entry to a country for any reason that they see fit.

Taking a child across an international border without the consent of both parents can be deemed trafficking and/or kidnapping, so it is something that border officials do look out for. Being able to show documentation that confirms that the other parent has given consent will significantly reduce the potential for such issues when crossing any international border.

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  • Are there any statistics on how often such denials of entry happen?
    – JonathanReez
    Jun 30 at 19:03
  • It is not how often but whether it happens to you. Even if it is only one per year and you happen to be the one you are not going to be happy about it.
    – Willeke
    Jun 30 at 19:40
  • I would guess denial would be very rare, at least for legitimate cases. The real question would be how many people are delayed, and for how long, whilst immigration attempts to confirm the story being given is correct. (Although I obviously don't know the answer to that either!)
    – Doc
    Jun 30 at 19:46
  • @Willeke not really? There's a break-even point of odds where it no longer makes sense to bother. If you lose 48 hours due to a denial of entry but also lose 3 hours on taking a trip to the notary, you need odds of above 1:20 for the notary to make sense.
    – JonathanReez
    Jun 30 at 19:55
  • If such a questioning (or denial of entry) cost you a flight you have booked and paid for, or a hotel or holiday booking, the balance changes again. I think it is worth to have that letter even if the chances of needing it are small.
    – Willeke
    Jun 30 at 20:01

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