The legalities of crossing borders with young children

Sipping on a drink at the Railway Station, Tilburg.

Sipping a drink at the Railway Station, Tilburg.

Let’s talk about being stopped at the border. It happens more often than you think.

How many are familiar with this scenario. You are minutes away from boarding your flight. You’ve gone through security and the boarding call is just but a couple of minutes away. Then there’s an announcement, or rather one of the officials wants to have a word with you. You are pulled aside, or have to go into a separate room. Gulp!

This time it isn’t about your passport, or how different your face looks from the photo in the little powerful book, or the number of stamps therein, or stamps signaling visits to ‘blacklisted’ countries, or even that the expiry date is less than six months, or how much cold, hard cash you have with you and whether it can sustain you through your vacation at the destination country.. this even isn’t you being racially profiled.

This time it’s about the little person accompanying you, the little person who is biologically yours, the little person whom you’ve been with from the time she/he was a tiny blimp in your belly to half your size now..and you are delighted to have the said little person along with you to enjoy a holiday.
The question at the borders surely can’t be that the little person is not directly related to you, because even the officials can see the splitting image. The question is about the little person’s father..has he given permission for you to take the child that you share across borders?

“Does it matter that the father is an absentee-never-been involved dad, or whether he is an anonymous sperm donor or that you are divorced,  ergo he is completely out of the picture?” You quietly think to yourself.


“I repeat. Do you have permission to take your child from country A to country B?”

“Ermm…What? I beg your pardon?”


A ride in the subway, Paris France.

I’ve been stopped twice with my little person, as far as this is concerned. The first time was leaving Amsterdam for Nairobi, Kenya through Cairo, Egypt. I was traveling on a Kenyan passport whilst my daughter was on a dutch travel document issued by the city hall where we live. I was a whisker away from being denied boarding. I had to answer a couple of hard questions in split seconds. Somehow they let me board. Though I share surnames with my child, as a single-never-been-married-mum..officials still needed to see her birth certificate to actually prove I was her mum, apparently sharing last names was not enough.
Whelp! I hadn’t carried it with me.

In Cairo the transit process went smoothly only to land in Nairobi at 3 am for a fresh set of problems.

I was home..why was I being held?

Once again, the absence of her birth certificate on my person meant that I could be a random psycho kidnapper, as well there were questions about her father’s nationality (he’s not Kenyan and our country is largely patriachal). The Kenyan immigration weren’t quite having it, and kicked up a storm about her travel document lacking a visa to enter the Republic of Kenya.

In quick short breaths they labeled my darling daughter ‘illegal’ on Kenyan soil.

By virtue of my citizenship and her being a minor, they couldn’t hold her in a jail cell and as well they couldn’t deny her entry and give me access. Hmm..tricky situation. They asked us to wait.

What was comical was that my daughter, oblivious to the complexities of customs, immigration and legal terms such as persona non grata; leapt around children who had just landed, making friends and playing around for hours. When the ‘bosses with authority’ sauntered in at 7 am, we were granted permission into the country, with a notice in my passport that she was allowed a thirty-day stay.

With ugly divorces and custody issues on the rise, child trafficking, abductions and a myriad of violations against children; expect to be stopped more frequently at border posts if traveling with a minor.

If you’re a single mum/dad, or remarried with different surnames from the ones your kids have, expect a barrage of very difficult questions when you attempt to cross borders with them.

To safeguard children and their rights, many countries have laws around the same which may make it seem inconvenient if you are just traveling with your kid for a break, but it helps stops the real criminals out there who would want to kidnap, traffic or harm innocent children.

To circumvent these issues, it would be advisable when traveling with kids to;

a) Carry notarized birth certificates with you for officials to see that you are indeed related to your child. If you are a guardian carry official adoption certificates or notarized letters from the parents confirming you have permission to cross borders with the child.

b) Read the fine print of the laws of the country you will be traveling to or from, with children whether with one parent or both parents. Some countries like South Africa will require not only visas but for you to submit unabridged birth certificates when traveling with a minor to their country.

c) Some countries require a notarized letter of permission from the other parent if a parent is traveling alone with a child into or outside their countries.

Have you had a difficult time traveling to countries with your child/children? Please share your experiences in the comments section.


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