Traveling as a family has its own set of stresses -- the last thing you need is to be detained in U.S. customs as well. While being interviewed and filling out the proper forms can seem stressful, the better prepped you are, the smoother the process. By knowing what to bring and how to keep your kids calm through long lines, you can sail through U.S. customs so a bad experience doesn't taint your family vacation.
Check the rules for the specific country you're traveling to and from. Some countries have different rules, like traveling from Canada versus traveling from a European country. The U.S. Customs and Border Protection offers instructions for traveling to and from specific countries -- always read up before you travel.
Gather the documentation you'll need for your trip. If arriving via land or sea from a contiguous country, a child younger than the age of 16 only needs a birth certificate. When flying, however, a passport is necessary for all children. Streamline customs by creating a folder for all of your documentation. When asked, you can hand over all of the necessary passports or birth certificates at once to limit fumbling and wasting time.
Bring a permission letter if you'll be traveling without one of your child's parents. U.S. Customs and Border Protection requires a notarized and dated letter that gives you permission to bring your child out of the country when traveling without one parent.
Fill out CPB Form-6059B on the plane, if possible. While you won't need a form when traveling by car, most airline flight attendants hand out this form near the end of the flight, which is necessary when entering the country via airplane. By filling out the form on the plane, you'll save time and frustration once you land, since you can proceed straight to U.S. customs with your child. Fill out one CPB Form-6059B for your family, rather than filling out one for each traveling member.
Explain the U.S. customs process to an older child. Avoid frightening your child about the process -- there's nothing to be scared of. Instead, explain that you'll be standing in a line and that an officer will ask some questions. A customs officer might ask your child questions, so it's important that he knows to answer truthfully and to not be shy or scared.
Bring a stroller for younger children who might have trouble standing in long lines. You have no guarantee as to how long you'll be waiting in customs. Provide your child with somewhere to sit and something to keep him occupied -- a book or a tablet computer, for example -- to get through the long waiting times.
Hand the customs officer your documentation and ensure that your child's face is fully visible. Answer the officer's questions in a truthful and straightforward way. Once you've been approved, the officer will stamp your CPB Form-6059B and authorize your entry. If entering via car, you won't need to fill out a form, but you'll still need to hand in documentation and answer questions about your stay. The officer may ask to look in the back of the car to see your child's face. Once approved, you can proceed across the border and into the country.
Gather your luggage from the baggage claim area, making sure that your child stays close to you at all times. Give your stamped CPB Form-6059B to the last checkpoint officer, who will then authorize you to leave the airport.
Items you will need
- Travel documents
- Birth certificates
- CBP forms
- U.S. Customs and Border Protection: Document Requirements for Land and Sea Travel
- U.S. Customs and Border Protection: CBP Traveler Entry Forms
- U.S. Customs and Border Protection: Children - Child Traveling with One Parent or Someone who is not a Parent or Legal Guardian or a Group
- Kaboose: Your Stress-Free Family Travel Guide Clearing Customs
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