What you need to know about international travel before you go
You’re ready for an adventure! It’s just you and the kids, and you want to show them a different culture while creating memories that will last a lifetime. Plus, navigating a foreign country together is a great bonding and learning experience.
But before you go, there’s lots to do. And, as a single parent, there are some additional steps you need to take before you can leave or enter a country. This checklist will make sure you get everything done before your trip. From your first step on the ground in a new country to your jet-lagged return, you’ll be glad you planned ahead.
Get everyone’s passports in advance
A passport is essential for travel abroad—even to Canada or Mexico—and some countries require that your passport be valid for six months or longer after your trip concludes. Check the country’s rules and your passport well in advance. A new passport takes only four to six weeks to arrive, but give yourself extra time in case there’s a problem.
You may be able to renew your passport by mail, but you must apply for one in person by visiting a passport office. Some locations may require an appointment, so check before you go. At the passport office, you are required to bring the following:
- A completed passport application with everything but the signature filled out (This must be signed in front of a passport official.)
- Evidence of U.S. citizenship
- Your government-issued identification and a photocopy
- One photo/passport that meets passport requirements
- Your children—you must have them with you in order to apply for their passports
- Your children’s birth certificates
Important: As a single parent, you cannot get your children’s passports alone unless you are the only parent listed on the birth certificate, your partner is deceased, or you are the sole custodial parent. If your partner is deceased, you must bring the death certificate with you to the passport office. Similarly, if you are the sole custodial parent, you must bring a certified court order stating your custodial status. If you are coparenting, depending on your relationship with your ex and the circumstances, there are three things you can do to obtain your children’s passports:
- Meet your ex at the appointment so you can both sign the form.
- Bring a notarized Statement of Consent from your ex stating you can apply for the children’s passports.
- Bring a Statement of Special Circumstances if your ex is unavailable to appear or write a statement.
Now that your passports are out of the way, you need to do several things for your health and that of your children before traveling out of the country.
Do you need shots? Depending on your destination, you may need special immunizations in order to enter the country you’ll be visiting. Check with your doctor to see what you may need, or go to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s website for a list.
Will your health insurance cover your trip? Call your health insurance company to see if it will provide coverage while you are traveling abroad. If not, ask your travel agent (if you are using one) or visit AAA’s website to find companies that will provide temporary coverage.
Research local doctors. Reach out to the local embassy of the country you plan to visit to get recommendations for local English-speaking doctors in case of an emergency. You can find a list of the U.S. embassies online.
Entering another country
This is also important: Entering another country and returning to the United States may also require a letter from your children’s other parent. Some countries may require that you present a notarized letter of consent from your ex in order to pass through Customs. Check with the local embassy of the country you plan to visit to find out if you’ll need a letter to enter. Coming home, the U.S. Customs and Border Protection strongly recommends you have a letter. If you are asked at U.S. Customs and cannot provide a letter, you may be detained until the agents assess the situation to their satisfaction. As with the passports, the exceptions to a letter from your ex include a certified court decision stating you are the sole custodial parent, a birth certificate with only your name on it, or the death certificate of your spouse.
General travel tips
Before you book a hotel, check online for coupons or deals, especially if you travel during off-peak times. Also, don’t forget to pack some comforts from home to have on hand when everyone needs some downtime. There’s nothing wrong with your children relaxing with their tablet or portable gaming device while you read a book on your Kindle. Just remember that different countries have different electrical outlets, so you’ll need a conversion kit to charge your electronics. Look online to find out which outlets are used in your destination country before you purchase a kit.
If possible, fly in the evening. Flying at night means a mostly quiet flight for you, since everyone will hopefully sleep on the plane. Additionally, you will arrive with some energy to explore the new country on your first day.
When packing for any inflight activities or snacks, don’t forget to pack extra clothing for everyone, including yourself. Remember, if a kid spills something or gets sick, you may be in the line of fire; and, if your flight is very long, you may want to freshen up and change clothes once you arrive at your destination.
While planning, keep it simple and flexible the first two days, to account for any jet lag. Although jet lag is usually worse on the way home, you will have some when you arrive in a new time zone. As soon as you arrive, transfer to the local schedule and do your best to go to bed as close to the normal bedtime as possible. But if everyone is tired and cranky, head to bed early. There’s no reason to torture yourself. Plus you’ll be well rested for the next day’s adventures.
Don’t overdo it. Remember, when traveling as a Solo Mom with children, stress and exhaustion may get you down. When planning your vacation days, keep it simple, but have a list of extra ideas for days when everyone wants to do more. Discuss the trip in advance and get everyone’s input, allowing each person to pick something he or she would like to do. And if your kids constantly ask “What’s next?” providing them with a general schedule may help. Share enough information to keep them from asking while still maintaining some surprises.
Most important, have fun and take lots of pictures!
For inspiration, read about one Solo Mom’s spontaneous and wonderful trip to Costa Rica with her son: “Me, My Son, and Costa Rica.”
ESME’s Gia Miller is a Solo Mom to a nine-year-old girl and a seven-year-old boy. She writes about health and wellness, parenting, divorce, food and general lifestyle. Her work has been featured in online publications including The Washington Post, Healthline, Paste, Headspace and more.
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