Written by: Frédérique Vachon
Many families plan to leave the country for their family vacation. Maybe you can hear the sandy beaches of the East coast of the United States calling you? Sunscreen, hats, beach umbrella, buckets and shovels… got everything? That’s good, but before you can dig your toes in the sand, remember that you have to go through U.S. customs. Here are a few tips to make sure you’ve really thought everything through!
These should be your top priority. You should know that all family members now need their own passport to travel with you. This means that children can no longer travel without theirs, even if they are only a few days old; gone are the days when kids were included in their parents’ passport!
If you already have them, good! Now double check their expiration date. Depending on the option chosen, adult passports can be valid for up to 10 years, but children under 17 years of age can only keep theirs for a maximum of 5 years, so don’t forget to renew their travel documents as needed! Speaking of expiration date, check the validity requirements of the country you are visiting. In some cases, authorities might require that your passport be valid for a few months after your expected return date. For example, Canadians traveling to France must have a passport that will be valid for at least 3 months after they leave France.1
Finally, here’s something very few people know: parents should NEVER sign their child’s passport. In fact, the signature block should simply be left blank if the child is too young to sign it. If the parent or legal guardian signs it, the passport becomes invalid and must be replaced, and the child could be refused entry into the country.
This letter is recommended when anyone under the age of majority in their province of residence is travelling abroad alone, with only one parent/guardian, with their school, or with grandpa and grandma, for example. While it isn’t a legal requirement to have this letter, customs officers may still request it, so thinking ahead will certainly make traveling easier. Of course, no family is the same; in cases where parents have entered into a separation agreement or any other arrangement, some specific requirements may apply. Click here to view a sample consent letter and learn more about what information it should include.
Children falling, catching an ear infection, having an allergic reaction: whether you are abroad or at home, there are so many reasons to go to the doctor… but they’re much more expensive when you’re away, especially if you’re traveling to the United States! Before you leave, make sure that all your family members are protected: don’t take for granted that your spouse and children are covered by the insurance that comes with your credit card or your group insurance from work. While they might be, better safe than sorry, so I recommend making the necessary verifications. Once you have, look up what number you should call in case of emergency, and keep it within reach along with your policy number, whether in your wallet or on your phone, for example. If your children are old enough, give it to them as well to make sure you can act quickly if anything happens.
During the summer, wait times at the U.S. border can be quite long, especially if your kids start kicking the back of your seat with impatience. Did you know that you can view the estimated wait times at all border crossings? Whether you are crossing from Canada to the U.S. or from the U.S. to Canada, these are updated at least once an hour. You can also download the application for your phone here.
Of course, there are a bunch of other things to check before you leave: do you need a visa or vaccines? Are you pregnant or plan to get pregnant soon? If so, you might want to avoid destinations where the Zika virus is a concern, like Mexico. In any case, we suggest that you visit https://travel.gc.ca/travelling/advisories to view the government of Canada’s recommendations and advisories specific to your destination.
Safe travels start with prepared travelers! Enjoy your trip!
Frédérique Vachon, Travel Counsellor
1. Information valid as at July 16, 2018. Make the necessary verifications before each trip.