I asked a similar question about what nationality a newborn midflight gets, but I'm also now wondering - when they land, what happens? Normally you need a passport and possibly a visa to travel - so how are they usually processed when the plane lands with an extra person?

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    Immigration officials at most any larger airport will actually have a well-defined procedure for this, since an in-flight birth is just a type of medical emergency. These happen quite frequently: some 44,000 times a year, according to the following estimate, although only a small portion of these land in a third country. ibtimes.com/… Aug 21, 2014 at 4:44
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    @jpatokal I'm sure they have a procedure for a medical emergency which likely involves sending someone to the hospital with the patient, but that doesn't solve the problem of the baby not having papers.
    – waiwai933
    Aug 21, 2014 at 4:47
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    All babies are born without papers, it's the parents' responsibility to sort them out. As Greg's excellent answer outlines, emergency travel documents are meant precisely for this sort of thing. Aug 21, 2014 at 5:12
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    @waiwai933: I think more to the point, they'll have a procedure for medical emergencies that cause someone (in this case an infant) to land in a country for which they have no visa (in this case the flight's scheduled destination). A medical emergency could cause a planeload of people, at least one of whom needs immediate hospitalization, to land in whatever country happens to be closest. I think that's sufficient grounds to expect immigration will have a plan for that kind of circumstance even if not specifically a birth. Aug 21, 2014 at 8:39
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    Since airlines often restrict flying at the end of a pregnancy, it cannot be too common. It could be more common (or least used to be more common) for ship travel.
    – Relaxed
    Aug 21, 2014 at 10:12

4 Answers 4


I have direct experience with this; not actually in flight thank goodness, but in transit. My daughter was born prematurely in Shanghai last year during a short layover between Paris and Auckland. My wife and I only had limited 48-hour transit visas for China and our flight was due to depart about 10 hours after she was admitted to hospital at the beginning of labour.

It's a long story, so I'll focus on the visa parts and summarise.

  • I (since my wife was in hospital at this point) got proper Chinese visas in our passports so that we could remain in China legally (this took several visits to the Chinese Exit-Entry Bureau (EEB)).
  • After my daughter was born, we obtained an Emergency Travel Document (ETD) from the New Zealand Consulate in Shanghai.
  • We got a Chinese visa for my daughter to put in her ETD, so that she would be permitted to leave China when she was ready (again, more EEB visits).
  • The ETD allowed us to enter New Zealand (nearly two months later) and admit her to the NICU in Auckland (as, I discovered later, a permanent resident and not a citizen, but that qualified her for fully funded care).
  • We applied for NZ citizenship for her recently so she would now have the same status as if she were born here in NZ.

Since she was born prematurely, she could not fly straight away and had to remain in a heated incubator with continuous medical care. If a full-term baby were born mid-flight or in transit, theoretically they could travel straight away but you would still probably have to modify travel plans just to sort out the paperwork.

  • "as, I discovered later, a permanent resident and not a citizen" If either you or your wife was a New Zealand citizen otherwise than by descent, your child would be automatically a New Zealand citizen at birth.
    – user102008
    Aug 21, 2014 at 5:32
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    @user102008: Yes, that's true, but since she had not been officially documented as such she was not admitted as a citizen at that time. Aug 21, 2014 at 5:52
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    "If a full-term baby were born mid-flight or in transit" ... then people in suits will ask why you chose to fly on or after your due date, and your answers might affect how sympathetically they treat you ;-) Aug 21, 2014 at 8:36
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    (Amazing that you have actual experience of the situation, Greg!!) Here's a sort of vaguely related, err, tip if anyone else is possibly to have a baby on arrival in Shanghai! Be sure to have some CHINESE CURRENCY, ON YOU, BEFORE You board in Europe or whatever. IME you need chinese currency to pay the small costs of visas etc, and, at Shanghai enyway there's no ATMs or change on the wrong side, very frustrating. So, err, this small tip may help anyone also experiencing a surprise birth! :O
    – Fattie
    Aug 21, 2014 at 10:50
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    @Relaxed: If you're curious about the details, see citizenship.govt.nz for the difference between applying for citizenship by grant and claiming citizenship by descent. Aug 21, 2014 at 17:28

It varies according to country. And if the country does not have a rule, there is a United Nations directive that kicks in to prevent the baby from being stateless. In the United Kingdom, your question is explicitly addressed in the British Nationality Act 1981.

For the purposes of this Act a person born outside the United Kingdom aboard a ship or aircraft—

  • (a) shall be deemed to have been born in the United Kingdom if—

    • (i) at the time of the birth his father or mother was a British citizen; or

    • (ii) he would, but for this subsection, have been born stateless,

    and (in either case) at the time of the birth the ship or aircraft was registered in the United Kingdom or was an unregistered ship or aircraft of the government of the United Kingdom; but

  • (b) subject to paragraph (a), is to be regarded as born outside the United Kingdom, whoever was the owner of the ship or aircraft at that time, and irrespective of whether or where it was then registered.

Basically, the baby has a claim to British citizenship if either parent is British OR the baby would be left stateless.

The question of whether the child's claim is British Otherwise Than By Descent or British By Descent. The citizenship class of British Otherwise Than By Descent is the preferred class (i.e., Native Brit), but the laws governing this aspect are profoundly complex. If a person is British By Descent, they cannot pass their citizenship to their children unless the child is born physically on this island (or NI). https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/262401/chapter20.pdf

For completeness' sake: if a baby is born inside the UK (or on a British aircraft that lands in the UK) and neither parent is British, the baby gets their citizenship from one of the parents. The baby's visa status is called tolerated. Tolerated status holds until the baby leaves the UK, and then they must have a proper visa before returning. If the baby remains in the UK for 10 years without leaving, they acquire British Citizenship via the British Nationality Act 1981,

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    great reference
    – Fattie
    Aug 21, 2014 at 10:51
  • Oh, yeah. Birth at sea between countries was probably common, and I'd suspect most countries have laws from that time which would still apply to airlines. In that case, most countries would have laws for this. Aug 21, 2014 at 16:40
  • @MooingDuck most countries with a coast and harbor at least. Aug 22, 2014 at 7:50
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    Most countries, including the largest and most populous ones, do have a coast: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Landlocked_country#mediaviewer/…
    – armb
    Aug 22, 2014 at 10:05

In Canada they automatically become a Canadian Citizen :(

It's named jus soli (Latin), or right of soil, as opposed to jus sanguinis, or right of blood. The citizenship policy is unique, among developed nations, to Canada and (at one point, not sure if it still is) the USA.

It was put in place in the 1947 Citizenship Act when people would come and would leave behind their countries of origin. Our government has been fighting to change the laws for a few years after a 'scam' came to light in 2011, in which Chinese women where coached to avoid detection of their pregnancy at the border, lie low until they gave birth to an automatically Canadian child. Then they can take advantage of Canada’s health care and education, and when the child turns 18 he sponsors the parents to migrate to Canada.

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    Jus soli is not unique to Canada; it is widespread among the countries of the Americas including the USA (the 14th amendment), and a handful of other countries around the world. The "scam" to which you refer is often called birth tourism. Aug 21, 2014 at 21:33
  • This answer seems more related to the linked question about nationality.
    – Ben Voigt
    Aug 22, 2014 at 1:03

Depending on things you can claim the citizenship of the airline, as there is some law (was told during my training but now long since forgotten) that until you exit the aircraft, you are under the protectorate of the country of the plane's registration. E.g., if the plane was USA registered, and you are born midair between Oz and NZ, then you are under the protection of the USA. Never thought to ask which citizenship though. But the same happens on a boat at sea.

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    The problem with that statement is not all countries allow for citizenship by birth on soil.
    – monksy
    Aug 21, 2014 at 23:08

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