Sometimes we hear stories where passengers who accompany a child are questioned when the relationship between the child and the passenger is not immediately clear. The questions seem intrusive and appear to be unreasonable, and in some cases an IO may insist upon seeing supporting documents that establish the relationship between the passenger and the child.

As an example from a personal standpoint, my wife retains her maiden name on her UK passport, but she may travel with my son who uses my family name. This is a situation where the relationship is not immediately clear. What can they expect when they travel to a UK (or EEA) destination? Should they bring my son's birth certificate as a supporting document?

This question has established that the term 'birth certificate' is absent from any relevant legislation. And yet the question describes an incident where an IO wanted to inspect a birth certificate. Was the IO acting unlawfully? Could a different document be substituted and accomplish the same purpose?

Also the referenced question is about UK citizens arriving in the UK. If the traveller and child are Canadian does it make any difference?

Question: Is there a legal foundation for the IO's behaviour? If so, what is it and what should passengers be aware of?

NOTE: the referenced question asked a highly specific question about whether or not an individual is required to present a birth certificate in certain occasions. This question seeks to know if the IO's line of enquiry is lawful and if so, how arriving passengers can best prepare themselves. What if you don't have a birth certificate to hand?

My personal circumstances are best met by answers directly relevant to travellers arriving in the UK. But authoritative information on EEA members are also highly relevant.

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    @Karlson, all questions involving borders are ultimately law questions. If it needs to be migrated, that's fine. What should affected travellers do?
    – Gayot Fow
    Aug 31, 2015 at 19:28
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    Possibly relevant are the 1980 Hague Convention on Child Abduction and the 1996 Hague Convention on the Protection of Children. The UK is party to both. They deal with procedures for the return of children who have been taken across international borders by non-custodial parents.... Aug 31, 2015 at 20:15
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    @NateEldredge, it's an upvotable answer if even peripheral knowledge of Hague can help travellers avoid disruption and reduce delay at borders. Suggest answering...
    – Gayot Fow
    Aug 31, 2015 at 20:18
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    You should provide your wife with notarized permission to travel with the children. Given the serious problem of transnational child abduction (in the context of divorce and custody disputes), I am neither surprised nor chagrined by border guards asking this sort of question. Sep 1, 2015 at 0:16
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    @AndrewLazarus Most "formal" contracts just have one or two witnesses, no special qualifications required, generally anyone is fine as long as they're not a family member, and even then sometimes that's fine!
    – Gagravarr
    Sep 1, 2015 at 17:32

1 Answer 1


I can't tie my suggestion for a notarized letter in with UK law, but it is recommended (not required) by the USA.

Because of increasing instances of child abduction in custody cases, and a growing number of children who are the victims of trafficking or pornography, an immigration officer, airline, or travel company may ask you to provide some form of letter of consent if your child is traveling internationally with only one parent or with another adult, such as a grandparent, aunt, uncle, etc.
Canada has a similar recommendation.

This was recommended to me once on return to the USA with two teenaged sons who certainly could have advised the officer about something amiss. (I also had a print-out my wife's itinerary on a different airline for frequent flyer reasons.)

I would expect the UK to be even more stringent because according to my very quick glance just now, it is still possible for just one parent to obtain a passport for a child, while in the USA it requires a joint appearance by the parents except if a court order provides otherwise (or death certificate of other parent and other special cases). It is also possible for one parent to blacklist an existing American passport so that it should not be capable of use. I know someone who lost his son to his spouse (a non-US citizen) by a matter of hours before this was implemented.

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    +1, if a child appears to be at risk or exhibits uncomfortable behaviour, IO's will become aggressive to get to the bottom of it. They take a course specifically for that type of thing.
    – Gayot Fow
    Sep 1, 2015 at 1:07

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