5 Documents Every Family Needs For A Trip Abroad

When organizing a family vacation,

there are lots of little details that one must prepare and get ready.

Chefchaouen, Morocco

Chefchaouen, Morocco

Taking one’s first trip overseas can feel overwhelming. There are so many little details to organize and remember, and traveling as a family can add even more worry to the experience. It’s always nice to have a helping hand, or a blog post to read, detailing important information one may not think of. Heck, I’m a traveler expert with over twenty years of overseas experience, and I’m still learning and perfecting my travel game!

I remember going on my first few international trips feeling completely clueless about almost everything, but I never let it stop me from going. I never did much research and learned as I went along; sometimes this worked out great, other times it didn’t work out well. Either way, I acquired loads of lessons during each to my journeys, and for years friends and family have come to me asking for advice about traveling. In fact, they even send their friends to me for vital travel information.

People often ask me what are the most important things to remember when traveling with kids, and honestly, that’s a loaded and complex series of answers. I can say that one important thing to remember is which documents to bring when traveling overseas.

Las Coloradas, Yucatán, México

Las Coloradas, Yucatán, México

here are 5 ESSENTIAL documents to bring when traveling abroad:

1. Passport

Sounds like a no-brainer, but if you are traveling overseas, always carry you and your family members’ passports with. You will not be allowed to board an international flight without presenting it to the ticketing agent at the airport. Also, make sure to have any needed visas in your passport before arriving at the airport, unless your destination allows you to purchase it upon arrival.

What is the difference between a passport and a visa?

A passport is a book issued by the country of one’s citizenship, and it verifies that residency when traveling. Passports are required for entry when traveling abroad and are usually stamped by an immigration officer upon arrival and at departure—thus tracking the comings and goings of those visiting.

A visa, on the other hand, is a document distributed by individual countries giving one permission to stay in the country for a certain period of time. The most common visas issued are tourist ones, and they normally come in the form of a stamp or sticker placed in your passport.

do i need a visa when traveling abroad?

If you hold a passport from the United States, Canada, the UK, EU and/or EEA nations, Japan, South Korea, Australia or New Zealand, you have something that is known in the travel community as “passport power.” Those who hold passports from these nations are most often allowed to bypass the lengthy and expensive process of applying for visas. Not only do these passports give the unfair advantage of allowing its citizens to not need visas to enter many countries, but it also grants the power to get inexpensive visas online for specific countries—or even visas upon arrival at airports. I rarely have to plan my travels around the need for a visa, unlike many of my friends depending on their passports. I have so many options to choose from for visa-free travel, whereas many of my friends from certain parts of Asia, the Middle East, Africa, Eastern Europe, Latin America and the Caribbean have very limited options for this luxury.

It’s quick and easy to find out if your trip will require a visa or not. You can check the official website of the country you’re planning to visit, or U.S. citizens can check on the Department of State’s website. There are also specific sites that provide this information.

Stiges, Spain

Stiges, Spain

2. Immunization records

If you plan to visit a country that requires special immunizations prior to travel, remember to carry the records as they may need to be presented at passport control.

Should i get my children vaccinated before traveling abroad?

Well, that’s not a question that I’m qualified to answer, nor do I want to start a debate in my comments section on the issue. I believe that it’s the job of adults to decide what is best for themselves and for their children. Always consult with a medical professional before making this decision, and also keep in mind any special health restrictions that you or your children may have.

  • Do your research. There are some areas in the world that doctors will suggest that one has certain vaccines prior to travel, and there are others that require one to have them before entry into the country. There are also countries that will not let you past passport control if you have visited certain places and regions without the required vaccinations. For example, a friend of mine recently visited Ivory Coast and needed a yellow fever vaccine. It is recorded in her passport that she received it because she knows there are countries that will not allow her in with an Ivory Coast passport stamp and no record of being vaccinated for a specific strand of the disease.

  • Be sure to see your physician 4-6 weeks before travel as some vaccines require multiple injections that must be administered over a certain period of time.

how can I find out what vaccines a country requires?

Meknes, Morocco

Meknes, Morocco

3. Photocopies of passports

Most experts recommend that you make two photocopies of the information page of your passport: one that you carry with you and one to leave with someone back home. To simplify things, you can scan everyone’s passport and email them to yourself and a trusted person back home.

Why do I need photocopies of my passport?

If your passport —or a travel companion’s passport— is ever lost or stolen while abroad, having access to a copy of it will greatly speed up the process of obtaining a new one.

what should i do if my passport is lost or stolen while traveling abroad? (for u.s. citizens)

  • Report your lost or stolen passport to the U.S. embassy or consulate right away. Search the U.S. Department of State’s website to find the nearest U.S. embassy or consulate.

  • If stolen, file a police report. This police report will help to make a claim for passport replacement fees with your travel insurance.

  • Take a new passport photo.

  • Present proof of citizenship.

  • Have identification.

  • Be prepared to pay normal passport fees.

You should receive a temporary passport within 24 hours, and it is good for a year after its issuance. However, be sure to turn it in right away when arriving home to obtain your normal ten-year passport—at no additional cost. If you do not exchange the temporary passport within a year, you will have to reapply and pay all the fees associated with receiving a new passport.

Piran, Slovenia

Piran, Slovenia

4. Notarized permission from another parent if traveling alone with children

I’ve traveled all over the world with my children without their dad coming along, and I have only been asked twice for signed permission to travel alone with them. The first time it happened was in México City, and the passport agent asked if I had the notarized letter. I told him that I did not, he smiled and let me go through without any problems.

On a recent trip to Austria, I was asked for proof to travel alone with the kids and Austria was very strict about this issue. Other countries in Europe have never asked to see any proof that they were my children, and we’ve traveled all over the continent.

I don’t even have the same last name as they do on my passport, yet I have only been asked about a signed form twice in eleven years of traveling with them. It’s quite scary to think about how easy international kidnapping actually is because many countries do not ask for any type of official documentation, indicating that a child can travel alone with an adult. Anyone could claim to be a child's parent and cross borders without even being questioned on the issue, or one parent could easily abduct a child by taking them overseas.

There are some countries, such as South Africa, that are very strict about international kidnapping and won’t allow one to board a plane without official documents stating that a parent can travel alone with a child.

Again, most countries won’t ask for the consent form upon arrival, but it’s always good to have it with you just in case.

Where can i find a consent form to travel alone with a minor?

There are varying documents on the internet one can retrieve, or you can print up this copy. Take the printed consent form to your nearest notary to sign and stamp with his or her official seal.

Both legal parents, carrying an updated government-issued ID, should be present at the notary’s office to sign the letter of consent. You should also bring birth certificates for each child traveling as proof of relationship—and that’s it!

Easy peasy.

Travel with proof of relationship

As mentioned, my passport has a different last name than that of my children, so I also like to have cell phone photos or scanned copies of their birth certificates.

For separated or divorced parents, having copies of guardianship or sole custody orders could be helpful to have handy if any issues were to come up.

Stiges, Spain

Stiges, Spain

5. Bring doctor's notes when traveling with prescribed medications.

Traveling internationally with most over-the-counter medicines, like aspirin, isn’t normally a problem. The area of concern is when traveling with many physician-prescribed medications, and proper documentation is most often needed.

It’s important to note there are medicines that may be illegal in one country but perfectly fine in another; if you have any concerns about any medications you may be traveling with, be sure to call the embassy or consulate of the country that you plan to visit. You can also check the government’s official website; some countries have very strict anti-narcotics laws and you may not be able to enter a country with your pain killers. There are even some inhalers that are legal in the U.S. but are illegal in Japan—be sure to read up on this. Also, it would be wise to do the proper research if you or your child have prescriptions for medical marijuana.

how do i know which medicines are okay to carry when traveling abroad?

tips for traveling abroad with medicine:

  • Make sure you pack enough medicine for your entire trip.

  • Carry medication in your carry-on or personal item in case checked luggage is lost.

  • Keep any prescriptions in their original bottle, with names and medical info clearly labeled.

  • If traveling with any controlled substances, be sure to bring a letter from the prescribing doctor on official letterhead translated into the language of the visiting country. This would include medical marijuana, some pain killers and even EpiPens.

Milan, Italy

Milan, Italy

Other documents to remember when traveling abroad:

  • Driver’s license and proof of an international driving permit if required. For U.S. citizens, an international driving permit can be easily obtained from AAA.

  • Copy of your travel insurance information.

  • Copy of travel itineraries.

  • Any reservation information.

  • Any boarding passes/tickets.

Red Pyramid, Cairo, Egypt

Red Pyramid, Cairo, Egypt

Okay, now that you know what documents to bring on your family trip overseas, sit back, relax and enjoy your adventure!

are you planning any trips overseas?


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