In general, children are granted the same freedom as adults to move about the United States. Most states do not set a minimum age for children to travel without their parents, and written permission is rarely needed. Some circumstances, including state law to child custody agreements, place additional restriction on the child and his parent or guardian. Always check with your state and the state your child will visit well in advance of your trip for the most up-to-date information.
If you are divorced, raising foster kids or have temporary guardianship of a child that is not your own, the nature of your legal agreement will dictate whether or not you need written permission from the child’s other parent or parents to travel. For example, many divorce decrees include a vacation agreement that specifies when and where each parent may vacation with the child. When possible, err on the side of caution, suggests attorney Daniel Jensen. Have the other parent or legal guardian sign a written document that gives you permission to travel with the child on the specified dates to the specified location.
Traveling With Friends or Relatives
Written permission is not required for children to travel across state lines without a parent or guardian. However, the friend or relative is not authorized to make decisions about the child’s medical care or other emergencies that might arise. Protect everyone involved by completing a written notice of consent for the accompanying adult to authorize medical treatment. Include a copy of the child’s medical insurance card. You can download a sample letter at the AAA website or create your own.
No federal law prohibits children from traveling alone. However, each public transportation provider is free to set its own restrictions. In general, airlines require children to be at least 5 years old to travel alone, and children ages 5 to approximately 11 must travel as unaccompanied minors. An unaccompanied minor is typically charged an additional fee and must be escorted to and from terminal gates by a designated adult with photo identification. Other restrictions might also apply, so check with your airline well in advance of your child’s trip. On Greyhound, children must be at least 8 years old to travel alone, and are considered unaccompanied minors through age 14. Amtrak considers those ages 13 through 15 to be unaccompanied minors.
The state of Illinois has a particularly strict curfew law for minors under age 17. Although being in a vehicle engaged in interstate travel is a specific defense to a curfew charge, Greyhound has chosen not to become involved. The company does not issue tickets to unaccompanied passengers under age 17 for any travel that includes the state of Illinois.