Canada is an extremely family-friendly country, so many families with small children cross the U.S. border to vacation there every year. To make it easier, U.S. and Canadian citizens ages 15 or younger do not need a passport to cross the border at land and sea entry points. However, children will need other documentation. Below is a list of everything your child needs to travel to Canada.
Approved Documents for Children Entering Canada
U.S. citizens under the age of 16 only need a birth certificate or other proof of citizenship if they are driving to Canada or arriving there by sea.
Minors flying to Canada require a passport, passport card, or a NEXUS card. Note that anyone who has a NEXUS card or is considering applying for one can apply for NEXUS cards for his or her own children at no cost.
Approved Documents for Children Reentering the U.S.
Children flying back to the U.S. will need a passport to reenter. Those traveling by land or sea, however, only need a birth certificate (either the original, a photocopy, or certified copy) or other proof of citizenship.
Approved Documents for Children Traveling in a Group
U.S. and Canadian citizens under the age of 19 traveling between the U.S. and Canada by land or sea with school, religious, cultural, or athletic groups and under adult supervision will also be allowed to travel with only proof of citizenship, such as a birth certificate.
The group must also carry a letter on company letterhead that names the organization; supervising adults; and each child, along with their address, phone number, birth date, and parent or legal guardian. The supervising adult must also write and sign a statement certifying that each parent or legal guardian has given them consent.
Other Optional Documents
If the child is accompanied by both parents, no other documentation is required.
However, you must carry a notarized letter of consent from the child's parents if you are traveling to Canada with a child who is not legally yours.
Children traveling to the U.S. with only one parent must have a notarized letter of consent from the other parent. Alternatively, a child could enter the U.S. with a letter signed by both parents stating that the accompanying adult has permission.
Divorced parents who share custody of their children should also carry the legal documents for their kids as well as contact information for the other parent. Other helpful documents include birth certificates, baptismal certificates, and immigration papers, if applicable. Border guards are especially diligent in keeping an eye out for unlawful border crossings involving children due to concerns about human trafficking. They may question you about children who come with you to Canada or question a child who travels alone.
Visitors of all other nationalities, of all ages, need a valid passport to enter Canada by land, sea, and air.
How to Get a Rush Passport
If you need a passport to be rushed, there are steps you can take to expedite the passport. Whether it's a life-or-death emergency or not, you can get a passport quickly and you will need to go to a passport office in person rather than mailing in your application documents. It's not necessary to use a passport expediting service, which charges a fee, to rush passport applications unless you're not capable of going to a passport office yourself.
It's important not to wait to get the necessary documents. As security increases, it is helpful to have a passport or passport equivalent, like a NEXUS Card, for your child now. The trend for essential travel documents, even between friendly, neighboring countries like Canada, the U.S., and Mexico, is toward increased security and standardization. A passport—or passport equivalent—is becoming a necessity. Some people have FAST cards or Enhanced Driver's Licenses, but children are not allowed to carry such documents due to their age. However, children can get U.S. Passport Cards, which are another alternative to a traditional passport.
Who to Consult
Consult the U.S. Department of State or Canadian Border Services Agency (CBSA). Cruise ships, train lines, and bus companies will all have up-to-date information on passport requirements as well.