Traveling With Kids Part 1: Passports

 

Does the thought of traveling with kids give you hives or make you giddy with excitement… for me, it’s a little of both!

There have been many MOMnation posts asking questions about traveling with kids, so we hope to tackle a few of these common questions in the blog!  The first one is asked often: When Do You Need a Passport and Where?  And how do you get one?

Perhaps the best advice I’ve ever heard, from a fellow East Valley Mom, was to not call all trips vacations, even if it is “Spring Break” or “vacation time.” Some trips are just trips…. A lot of packing, travel, effort – worth it, but NOT relaxing.  Some trips are vacations and time to have fun, unwind, relax.  The MOST important thing to enjoy and survive a trip with kiddos is to manage your expectations of what the trip will be.  And…. Plan more vacations and fewer trips!

After over 100 flights with littles, hauling baby gear, breast pumps, strollers, so many security searches, and dealing with sea sickness and kiddo barf in a rental car (longest, smelliest 7 hour drive EVER… ironically – one of the most memorable)!  I can say emphatically, manage expectations and that will make your trip and your kids’ experiences much better.  And, I can’t say this enough, you never EVER have to make “I’m sorry for my toddler” bags for people around you on planes, unless the guy with the tuna sandwich or snapping gum plans to give you one too. Families have a right to travel and fly, and to do it without hassle from other travelers OR mom-guilt.

On to passports: Laws have changed over the years and the enforcement of passport rules can vary by area/checkpoint. But the State Department has clear rules (as do other countries) about what must be presented, and it seems enforcement has gotten more strict at the border since we were kids.  Even if you have heard, my friend said she didn’t have to show her license, even…. last time we went a few years ago, etc. It is always best to recheck both the State Department current guidelines and travel advisories before leaving the country.  It’s also important to note, this advice pertains to short trips, not long stays in countries that may require Visas and other documents.  You should always check the State Department for the specific requirements of the country you are traveling to.

Travel advisories are important as well.  They are advice.  In very few countries does the State Department actually prohibit travel, but you should know before you go.  If there are travel warnings, you must be aware and make a conscious choice to still take the trip.  We recently traveled overseas with a large group, including many kids, to a country that had an active advisory.  We went with a plan to be very observant, clear rules for adults and kids about safety, and stayed in tourist-friendly and “safe” areas.  We also signed up and registered our travel with the State Department so they could alert us in the event of any activity, and I’m glad we did.  The trip went well but I was glad we had the information before we left and to know we would be alerted in the event of a security concern.

Here are the details on land/air/sea travel and what you need for documents:

For Mexico:

If traveling by land you can use a passport card.  This is the size of a driver’s license, but NOT a driver’s license. Few places now accept only a driver’s license to reenter the U.S., and there are no guarantees that even if you did a year ago or years ago, you will be allowed back in the country.  If you plan to visit Mexico by land, get a passport card or passport.

The passport card allows for re-entry ONLY FROM LAND from Mexico, Canada, and sea port re-entry from the Caribbean or Bahamas.

If traveling by air even to Mexico or another country, you will MUST get a passport book.  These are more expensive but far more useful/used for more purposes, and also can be used for a variety of identity verifications in business and life.

Due to increased regulations, there is no guarantee that a driver’s license will allow re-entry into the country, or a birth certificate for a child.  I highly recommend not taking the risk.  Some will disagree with me, but after reading some of the stories from moms who have been stopped at the border, I highly recommend getting passports for ANY travel outside the country.  Due to the increase in child trafficking, border crossings are doing much more screening for this and it is important to be able to prove the relationship with your child (which is what a passport provides).

For air travel INSIDE the country, you do NOT need a passport, you need a state approved and AIR approved ID and I usually take my kids’ birth certificates or passports.  I have NEVER in 100+ flights been asked for this traveling domestically but I like to have it with me just in case.  Arizona licenses are only good through October 1, 2020 (next year!) for air travel.  Then you will need an air-approved ID or passport.  I recommend just getting a passport.

To obtain a passport card or passport, there are multiple requirements.  I recommend filling out the paperwork at home, getting the photos at CVS or Walgreens, and then presenting this packet at a local office (there are many in Phoenix Metro area).  This ensures that your documents are all in order and speeds up the process.  To obtain a passport or passport card for a child, both parents must be present or have a signed affidavit from the second parent – in order to avoid parents taking a child out of the country in a custody battle.  You need a birth certificate to prove citizenship and parent relationship, the other parent or a document giving consent, and passport-approved photos for the child.

If you need a passport quickly, there is a Tucson passport office that has fast-track appointments available and passports within two-weeks or even the same day in the event of a (provable) life-or-death emergency – i.e. a family member with a grave illness, etc.  Information below.

There are many passport expediting agencies that claim to get your passport faster.  I used one of these when I lived in D.C.  It did make the paperwork slightly less overwhelming but I found out I could have done the exact same thing for far less cost, and had it expedited as well, just applying myself.

Expedited service is usually within two weeks (barring a government shutdown), and regular service within four.  However, I requested expedited and received mine in just over a week.  You must send off original documents with the application, so be aware of that and watch for them to come back!  My best advice is plan travel as far as possible ahead and apply early for your passport!

Here is how to determine what passport/passport card you need:

https://travel.state.gov/content/travel/en/passports/apply-renew-passport/card.html

Here is the information on the Tucson location (you do NOT need to go here to expedite service, only if you need the passport for an emergency or trip in less than 2 weeks): https://travel.state.gov/content/travel/en/passports/requirements/where-to-apply/passport-agencies/western.html

Applying for a Passport for Children, rules vary for under 16 and 16/17 year olds:

https://travel.state.gov/content/travel/en/passports/apply-renew-passport/under-16.html

Cost to obtain a passport card is $50-65, about half of the passport fee ($115-$145), rates vary based on renewals/new, adult/child.  Expediting fee is $60 per passport on top of the usual fees:

https://travel.state.gov/content/travel/en/passports/requirements/fees.html

Where to Apply:

https://travel.state.gov/content/travel/en/passports/requirements/where-to-apply.html

Check the State Department for safety advisories:

https://travel.state.gov/content/travel/en/traveladvisories/traveladvisories.html

Travel advice, and registration for traveler advisories:

https://travel.state.gov/content/travel/en/international-travel.html

by: Liz D, Tempe Mom

 

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