Crossing the border with kids

Make the border crossing experience a little easier.

At the best of times, crossing the border can be stressful. You can try to anticipate everything the customs officer might ask, but there still may be a low level of anxiety vibrating through your bones.

Did you know there are important factors to consider when crossing the border with children? In an effort to calm your nerves a bit, here are some tips to help make leaving the country with kids a little easier:

  • Bring their passports: This seems obvious, but it can be easy to forget if you’re just popping over to the U.S. for a day of shopping. While a passport is the ideal form of identification,* when crossing the U.S.-Canadian border, they’ll also accept a birth certificate, naturalization certificate, Canadian citizenship card or consular report of birth abroad.**
  • Are the kids travelling with one parent?: Customs officers are always on the lookout for signs of possible abduction, so you’ll need a letter of consent from the other parent.* A letter is not a legal requirement, and doesn’t have to follow any particular format, but it can make things a lot easier. If you and your child have different last names, the consent letter can be especially important. If the other parent has passed away it’s helpful to have the death certificate.
  • Are they travelling with someone else?: If your kids are travelling without you, for example with extended family or a friend’s family, a consent letter from both parents is especially important.
  • Check with the embassy: If you’re travelling to an unfamiliar country, you can ask their embassy about entry requirements for children.
  • Travel in the car with them: If you’re crossing the border in a group of cars with family or friends, make sure you’re in the same car as your kids.
  • Prepare them: Explain the border crossing process to your kids. Tell them that the officer may ask them questions about who they are, where they were born and where they’re going, and invite them to answer those questions.

Ultimately, just be open and honest with customs officers – and encourage your kids to do so as well. With these tips in mind, hopefully crossing any border with your young ones will be that much easier.


* Government of Canada, “Children and travel,” May 4, 2017.
**, “Travelling with children,” 2017.
† National Post, “’Why does one name take precedence over the other?’ Parents push back against kids taking dad’s last name,” August 29, 2016.