A consent letter gives proof that a child travelling with you has the permission of the parent(s) or guardian who is not accompanying them on the trip. While there is no explicit legal requirement to carry a consent letter when travelling within Canada, failure to show a consent letter may result in delays or refusal to enter or leave a country abroad, or to leave or return to Canada.
While there is no official guideline for a consent letter, you can find a sample letter in this article.
Consent Letter for a Minor
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Do any of these situations apply to you?
- You’re going for a short trip – just a few days – across the border with your child. You’ll be back in no time at all. Your spouse will be staying at home due to work commitments.
- Your ex-spouse wants to take your child on a trip to visit his parents in North Dakota.
- You and your spouse are going to travel to the US with your child, but only you and the child will be returning as your spouse will stay behind for a few days to visit their parents.
- Your 16 year old is going to travel to a Plants v. Zombies convention in Las Vegas. Alone.
- Your child will be travelling across the border with a guardian as part of a group.
If any situation similar to ones above applies to you, you or the accompanying guardian need to produce a signed, and hopefully notarized, Consent Letter when crossing the border (or boarding a commercial carrier). This is so your child and whoever is accompanying them, do not experience problems leaving and returning to Canada.
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What is a Consent Letter?
A consent letter gives proof that a child travelling:
- With a single parent,
- With a guardian,
- With a friend of the parents/child,
- With relatives, OR
- With a group
Has the permission of the parent(s) or guardian who is not accompanying them on the trip. While there is no explicit legal requirement to carry a consent letter when traveling within Canada, failure to show a consent letter may result in delays or refusal to enter or leave a country abroad, or to leave or return to Canada.
While there is no official guideline for a consent letter, you can find a sample letter here. Or go here for a link to an interactive tool that will allow you to produce a consent letter – if you have access to a printer.
Who should sign the Consent Letter?
The consent letter should be signed by all parents/guardians who will not be accompanying the child on the cross-border trip, including:
- One or both parents who are married or in a common-law relationship and live with the child;
- One or both parents who are divorced, separated, or not living together;
- Individuals or organizations with guardianship rights over the child and who have responsibility for the care of the child;
- In Quebec, one or both parents with parental authority over the child – which holds whether they are married, divorced, separated, living in a civil or de facto union, unless a court order states otherwise.
The signing of the consent letter can be witnessed by anyone who has reached Age of Majority (18 or 19 years old, depending on the province/territory), but it is recommended that you use a:
- Commissioner of Oaths, OR
- Notary, OR
Using a notary, commissioner or lawyer will help ensure that border officials accept your consent letter quickly and do not delay crossing the border or boarding the plane with further questions. When signing a consent letter abroad you can use a consular official to witness the signature. You can also use anyone who has attained Age of Majority, though this is not recommended abroad. You should be aware, however, that other countries may have different standards for consent letters and may also require further documentation to allow a child to leave or even enter that country. (See below)
If neither parent is accompanying a child, a consent letter signed by both parents, or two separate consent letters, should be used. If two separate consent letters are signed, it is recommended that you use the same lawyer, notary, commissioner to witness the signing.
If more than one child from the same family is travelling without both or one of their parents, it is recommended that they each carry an individual consent letter, in case they will not be returning at the same time. This adds flexibility as well, in case there are changes in the children’s travel plans.
If the child is travelling with a group of adults – none of whom are the parents or guardians – then it is recommended that the consent letter identify one person from the group as the accompanying adult; such as the leader of the group, or a grandparent.
For what ages is a Consent Letter recommended?
In general, and child less than the Age of Majority (18 or 19 years old, depending on the province/territory) should carry a consent letter when travelling with only one parent/guardian or without any parent/guardian.
What about foreign country requirements?
You must familiarize yourself with the requirements of the country you will be visiting, especially if both parents and/or the child are dual citizens and are thus citizens of the country they will be visiting. Contact the embassy or consulate of the country you will be visiting for further details. You may be required to translate the consent letter to that country’s language, as well as obtain special permits allowing the child to travel to and/or from that country. You should consult the Travel Advice & Advisories webpage, as well as the page dealing with travel advice for dual citizens.
Some Useful Tips
- Use the original copy of the consent letter, if at all possible.
- Use a separate consent letter with specific dates for each separate trip. This makes it easier for border officials and avoids delays, even though it is not mandatory.
- You should bring a consent letter for any trip – even a day trip – where you cross an international border.
- If the child is accompanied by a surviving parent, then a copy of the death certificate for the deceased parent should be brought along instead of a consent letter. If the child is travelling alone, then a consent letter along with a copy of the death certificate should be brought.
- A long-form birth certificate that identifies both parents is always helpful. If possible, bring a copy of the long-form birth certificate if the child is travelling alone.
- If the child is a naturalized Canadian citizen, and migrated to Canada with only one parent, it is still recommended to get a consent letter signed by the parent who still resides abroad. A consular official can witness the signing.
Also read our Border Crossing Dos and Don’ts article
Tricky Legal Situations
- If the other parent refuses to sign the consent letter, you can:
- Try to negotiate directly with the other parent and find out the reasons for the refusal;
- Use your province/territory’s mediation services under family justice;
- Consult with a family lawyer;
- Remember: these are merely suggestions. Consult a lawyer if you have any questions.
- If there is a risk that the other parent will not return the child to Canada, you can consult this page on Child Abduction and Custody issues. Again, if in any doubt, consult a lawyer.
- If the other parent has been denied both custody and access rights by a court, you should carry a copy of the court order with you. You do not need a consent letter in this case, seeing as the other parent has neither custody nor access rights. Once again, contact a lawyer if you have questions.
- In general, if a court has assigned custodial rights to a non-biological parent/guardian you should carry a copy of the court order with you at all times when travelling with the child.
- When the other parent has been out of contact for a period of time and cannot be reached to sign a consent letter, you should consult with a lawyer before travelling with the child. If a court order has declared the other parent unreachable, then you should bring a copy of the court order when you travel.
- Here is a Canadian Government consent letter that you can edit for your specific situation.
- Here is a word document of the same letter which you can edit for your specific situation.
Riley Haas has been a leading expert since 2011 on immigration matters, with hundreds of publications online. Published author of three books about political philosophy, the Beatles and the Toronto Maple Leafs, respectively. BA from Bishop’s University, MA from McMaster University. You follow Riley on Substack https://rileyhaas.substack.com.