How to Cross the Canadian-U.S. Border With Children

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Traveling with children is an undertaking in itself—from packing all the necessary kid-friendly gear to getting to the airport on time for a smooth (hopefully quiet) flight. Crossing an international border requires a little extra planning.

If you're planning a vacation to Canada and plan on driving or taking a cruise across the U.S. border, there are some important documents required before you bring the kids in tow, and a few tips to make the process smoother.

Crossing the US-Canada Border
TripSavvy / Wenjia Tang 

Before You Leave

Long before you get in the car or book transportation tickets, find out what the passport requirements for children are, especially if you're a single parent. While the best method is to get a passport for your kids, U.S. and Canadian citizens ages 16 or younger with parental consent are allowed to cross the borders at land and sea entry points with certified copies of their birth certificates rather than passports. 

The Canada Border Services Agency suggests identification such as an original birth certificate, baptismal certificate, passport, or immigration document. You can also apply for a NEXUS Card for your children at no cost. 

If none of these are available, get a letter stating that you are the children's parent or guardian from your doctor or lawyer, or from the hospital where the children were born. Because of an increase in child trafficking, the border personnel are very vigilant and may question your family and carefully examine these documents.

To avoid a lengthy process when crossing the border, it is worthwhile to get a government issued passport for your child.

Customs Process for Children

Have the necessary ID for your children ready to present to a customs officer. Children old enough to speak for themselves may be encouraged to do so by the customs officer, so be prepared to let older children answer the officer's questions.

Prepare your kids for what kind of questions to expect before they meet with the customs officer—standard questions are simple, such as their full name or where in Canada they are going.

If you are traveling by car, all adults or guardians should be in the same vehicle as their children when they get to the border. This makes the process easier and quicker for everyone.

One Parent or Guardian Traveling With Kids

Divorced parents who share custody of their children should carry copies of the legal custody documents. Even if you are not divorced from the child's other parent, bring the other parent's written permission to take the child over the border.

Include contact information so border guard can call the other parent if necessary. If a child is traveling with a school group, charity, or another excursion where a parent or guardian is not present, the adult in charge should have written permission from the parents to supervise the children. The document should include the name and contact information for the parent or guardian.

Canadian Border Services Agency

Check out the Canadian Border Services Agency (CBSA or U.S. Department of State website if you have any additional questions. The Canadian Government page has a comprehensive explanation of the necessary documents for children crossing the border.

Note: If you are traveling by cruise ship, train, or bus, the companies should all provide information on necessary travel documents before you leave on your trip. If you are traveling by air, a passport is required. Otherwise, you may research other passport equivalents if getting a passport is not an option for whatever reason.

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