Today, cruising is very popular among families with children. As a result, ships offer a variety of entertainment and dining options. In addition, families love the ability to visit different places without packing and moving to another hotel each night.

If you’re planning a cruise with children, make sure you’re prepared for passing through immigration with a child.

Children must be old enough to cruise

Most importantly, children under 6 months of age are not allowed on cruises.

Similarly, a child must be at least 12 months of age for a trans-oceanic cruise.

In an emergency, you’ll need the child’s passport and notarized letter of permission to secure treatment if the child has an accident or illness and needs treatment.

For this reason, keep both documents on your person while in transit or getting off in a port. 

US Passport

Yes, kids need a passport

While closed-loop cruises leave and return from the same US port, it’s important that your child have a passport anyway.

The cruise lines say they will admit a child with a birth certificate, but that may not be sufficient.

If the child requires medical treatment outside the country, and can’t return on the scheduled cruise to get home, a birth certificate is not satisfactory documentation to pass through US immigration.

How to request a child’s passport

Passports are valid for 10 years. Minor passports (under age 16) must be applied for in person and cannot be mailed in.

You will need:

  • Application form completed
  • Original citizenship documents for child
  • Photocopies of citizenship documents for child
  • Show parental relationship
  • Parent/guardian ID
  • Photocopy of parent/guardian ID
  • Show parental consent
  • Provide photo of child
  • Pay application fee

More info from US State Department.

Kids Club on Royal Caribbean Oasis of the Seas (c) 2018 Alyce Meserve

Both parents must be present

The US State department’s website states: “Both parents/guardians must authorize the issuance of the child’s passport. The best way to do this is for both parents/guardians to go with the child in person to apply for the passport.”

Due to occurrences of child kidnapping and human trafficking, US law requires both parents to be present when applying for a child’s passport.

When custodial parents are not together, and share custody, both must be present.

However, should one parent have full and sole custody of the child, then only the full custody parent must to be present for the application. Bring court documents detailing custody agreement.

When to bring a notarized letter

First, adults bringing children on a cruise must bring notarized letters in these conditions:

  • One shared-custody parent is not cruising for any reason
  • Separated/divorced parent with shared custody of the child (also bring copy of custody agreement just in case)
  • Grandparent/aunt/uncle/etc traveling with a child who is not in their legal guardian must have notarized permission from both parents.

Second, if you’re the sole custody parent, and the other parent waived their rights, bring copies of legal documentation to support this.

Third, if one parent is deceased, bring a copy of the death certificate.

Therefore, a notarized letter should include:

  • Child’s name & date of birth
  • Both parents’ names
  • Details of cruise – cruise line, ship name, dates, cruising destinations, port of departure/return
  • Relationship of child to the accompanying adult

Finally, it’s also wise to include permission for the cruising adult to make healthcare decisions during that period of time without consent of one or both parents.

From the Customs & Border Protection website:

When U.S. citizen children under the age of 16 arrive by land or sea from Canada or Mexico they may present an original or copy of their birth certificate, a Consular Report of Birth Abroad, or a Naturalization Certificate.

Unless the child is accompanied by both parents, the child must have a notarized letter from the other parent or signed by both parents stating, “I acknowledge that my son/daughter is traveling outside the country with [the name of the adult] with my permission.”

Arcade on Royal Caribbean Oasis of the Seas (c) 2018 Alyce Meserve

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