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Unaccompanied Minors | Rules, Fees, Policies, and Tips for International Travel

two minors traveling through an airport with luggage and passports

Traveling with kids can be an adventure. However, there may be a time where your child needs to travel without you. Whenever a child under the age of 18 is traveling alone, there are certain rules and procedures you need to follow. When an unaccompanied minor travels internationally, there are even more things to consider.

As a parent of young children and someone who traveled solo internationally as a child, myself, I can attest: planning is everything. Getting the details right can make the difference between a positive experience for your child and a nightmare.

This guide provides the most important details for supporting a child traveling abroad without an adult chaperone.

The Rules and Regulations for Unaccompanied Minor Travel Abroad

Knowing the governmental, airline, and airport policies is the first step to a successful trip abroad. This is especially true for a child traveling without a parent or guardian.

Your Child Needs a Passport

It all starts with a passport. Any American citizen traveling outside of the United States needs a valid U.S. Passport. It doesn't matter what the traveler's age is.

Getting a passport for a minor is not that different from getting a new passport for an adult. That said, if the person who needsa passport is under the age of 16, there are some additional steps that need to be followed. Most of these have to do with establishing parental and/or guardianship rights.

For more on this topic, our Passports for Minors FAQ covers some of the most common questions we have received on the topic over the past two decades.

Your Child Needs Additional Travel Documentation

In addition to a passport, having a notarized minor travel consent form is essential. This official document will ensure the airline and customs officials have access to critical information about your unaccompanied child.

It establishes:

  • the legal identity of the child
  • the legal parent(s) and/or guardian(s) of the child
  • contact information for the child's parent(s) and/or guardian(s)
  • where the child will be staying while abroad
  • contact information for the child and caregivers while abroad

In the event of any confusion or travel itinerary mishap, this document could prove to be the key to keeping your child safe. It gives airline personnel and customs officials the information they need to get the child to whom and to where he or she is supposed to be.

Age Restrictions for Minors Traveling Unaccompanied

teenage girl traveling alone

The U.S. Department of Transportation has some general guidelines for unaccompanied minors flying on planes. Airlines are free to interpret them as they wish, but most follow them pretty closely.

Some of the key guidelines include:

  • Children younger than 5 years old cannot travel alone.
  • Children age 5 through 7 can travel alone, but only on non-stop and through flights. This may not be permitted by all airlines.
  • Children age 8 through 11 can travel alone on any flight where there is a flight attendant. In some cases, minors in this age group may be restricted from certain flights that involve connections.

Again, these policies may be stricter depending upon individual airline policies. Some airlines ban this outright. Others extend this age limit to 14 years of age.

Children age 12 through 17 may be subject to the same or fewer restrictions as the 8 to 11 age group. For domestic flights, most airlines will only provide unaccompanied minor accommodations for this age group upon request. However, international travelers under the age of 18 are usually required to pay an unaccompanied minor fee.

Some carriers will not permit minors of any age to fly abroad unaccompanied.

Follow the links below for the current unaccompanied minor policies for some of the most popular international airlines:

Medical Considerations for Unaccompanied Minor Travelers

As a rule, most governments and companies (including airlines) have strict policies about medication. If your child requires medication, be sure to do your due diligence about what documentation and storage rules apply for all the locations your child will be traveling through. Do the same for any of the transportation and accommodation services they will be using to do so.

You should also be sure your child has the proper amount of medication for their trip. Both access to pharmacies and the usefulness of a prescription from an American doctor may vary outside of the country.

You should also consider if your child is able to administer their own medication. It should not be assumed that a flight attendant, customs official, or other adult will be willing or able to do so for your child. If this is an issue, consider reaching out to your child's doctor for advice or potential alternatives.

Airline Accommodations for a Child Traveling Alone

unaccompanied young child travelere pushing airplane call button

As mentioned, for airlines that allow minors to fly solo internationally, there is almost always an unaccompanied minor fee. These can range from $50 to over $200 depending on the airline.

In exchange for this fee, airlines provide some extra assistance for their young travelers:

  • Preferential seating - Many airlines will only seat unaccompanied children in specific seats. These are usually locations that are within easy access of flight attendants, restrooms, and boarding entrances and exits.
  • Extra supervision - Flight attendants are assigned to keep eyes and ears on unaccompanied minors. While they are not full-on chaperones, these airline employees strive to make the experience safe and comfortable for kids flying alone.
  • An escort on and off the plane - In most cases, airlines will assign an employee to receive an unaccompanied child from their caregiver at the boarding gate. An employee will also help the child gather their belongings and get from their plane to their waiting adult.
  • Transfer assistance - For airlines that allow unaccompanied minors on multi-leg flights, there are usually employees tasked with helping children get to their connecting flights.
  • Complementary comfort services - Some airlines include food, drinks, and/or entertainment packages specifically for unaccompanied minor flyers.
  • A parental gate pass - With airport security being what it is, many airports and airlines require parents to get a special gate pass to allow them to escort a child to their flights. Some airlines flat out require this as part of the ticketing process for unaccompanied minors.

Additional Tips for Parents of Unaccompanied Minor Travelers

teenage boy traveling alone with suitcases

There are extra steps you can take to make your child's international trip comfortable and safe.

  • Contact the relevant embassies. Identify any country your child might be navigating on their own as part of their travel (including transfers). Be sure to contact the U.S. embassies in these locations prior to your child's trip and get up-to-date information on their policies and recommendations for unaccompanied minor travelers.

    You may also be able to register your child's travel itinerary with an embassy for some extra peace of mind in case of a potential emergency.

  • Invest in a GPS tracker. In today's world, you can never be too safe. If your child is outside of your care consider having them carrying a GPS tracker so that you always know where they are. Apple AirTags and the JioBit are two popular, reliable, and affordable choices that work internationally.
  • Pack with your child in mind. If your child is traveling alone, they are likely going to be responsible for their own belongings for some or all of their journey. As such, pick luggage that is a manageable size and easily mobile. Be sure that crucial documents, entertainment devices, snacks, and any other travel essentials are both secure and accessible during a flight or layover.
Life happens. Whether it's a family emergency, a vacation, visiting a relative, or a shared-custody situation, sometimes children need to fly alone. As a parent, proper planning and preparation can make the process safe and enjoyable for your child.

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About the Author: For over 20 years, the U.S. Passport Service Guide team has helped hundreds of thousands of travelers with their travel document questions and shared advice about how to make traveling abroad simpler, safer, and more enjoyable.

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