Tips for travelling abroad when your children have a different surname

Travelling with children is stressful enough without having the additional headache of having different surnames. In this article, we delve into the potential issues travelling abroad with different surnames can throw up, and the steps to make the trip as smooth as possible.

Women are most likely to have a different surname to their children, perhaps they are divorced from their child’s father and have remarried or reverted to their maiden name. Maybe they never married their child’s father or chose not to take their husband’s surname. Whatever the reason, if you have a different surname to your children, you are likely to face checks when taking them out of the country.

What checks can I expect if I take my child abroad?

Ports, airports, and international railway stations undertake checks to prevent children from being abducted and to protect against child trafficking. However, they can cause a huge amount of stress, upset, and, sometimes, missed flights. This can be avoided if you make sure before leaving home that you have the correct paperwork with you. Specific documents may be requested at the border and parents may find they are questioned to ensure they are the parent of the child or have the necessary permission to take the child on holiday.

Foremost, permission must be obtained from all parents who hold parental responsibility (unless there is a court order in place). If a parent takes a child abroad without obtaining the consent of the other parent, or family court, they will be deemed to have committed the criminal offence of child abduction.

What documents do I need to take to prove I am my child’s parent when going abroad?

Documentation you may need to prove your relationship to the child includes:

  • Your child’s birth certificate – this provides the name of your child, their date and place of birth, and will match with the details on their passport. It will also set out the parent’s full names at the time of their birth. If your name has changed since your child was born, you will need to take more documents with you.
  • Proof of your change of name – this may mean travelling with your marriage certificate or change of name deed. You could also think about carrying an expired passport showing the name you held at the time of your child’s birth if it was the same as theirs. This can be helpful, as not only does it show your previous name, it also provides photographic proof, and allows the border official to match the birth certificate and marriage certificate, and the current and expired passports.
  • Court orders relating to the child – if there is a child arrangements order in place, the specified parent can take the child abroad for up to 28 days without obtaining the consent of the other parent. If you have a court order granting permission to take the child out of the country, then you should take this with you.
  • Signed letter – a letter from the non-travelling parent which confirms they have consented to the trip. It should contain the agreed holiday dates and destination.

The country you are visiting may have its own rules, so it is important to check whether there are any specific requirements before you travel.


How can I prepare my children for the border checks?

When travelling abroad with a child with a different surname, depending on their age, you should warn them they are likely to be asked questions by border officials, and should answer honestly and clearly. They may be asked who their parents are, the identities of others travelling with them, any siblings, where they have been on holiday and how old they are. Immigration officials usually make it very clear to the child that they need to answer for themselves without help from any of the adults travelling alongside.


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