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Can my 15-year-old son travel without me?

Hi all!
I need some guidance: my 15-year-old son wants to take a trip to Europe with his friends, one of whom is already 18. This might sound surprising, but I've known his friends their entire lives, so they aren’t just random kids from the neighborhood. I completely trust my son, but this is his first solo trip without parents, so I’m concerned about the legalities to ensure he doesn’t encounter any issues. What paperwork is required? I’ve heard that a child travel consent form is needed. Does it have to be notarized? I found a template on a legal forms site (https://lawrina.org/templates/consent-form/child-travel/), but I’m unsure about the next steps. Are there specific procedures to clear his flight? Should I inform the airline that he’ll be traveling alone? Any advice or suggestions would be greatly appreciated

Posted by
960 posts

Start with the official web sites? https://europa.eu/youreurope/citizens/travel/entry-exit/travel-documents-minors/index_en.htm#:~:text=may%20need%20an%20extra%20(official,parent(s)%20or%20guardian.

https://www.help.cbp.gov/s/article/Article-449?language=en_US

Still pretty vague. It sounds as if they will need an itinerary that has taken rules into account for different countries.

Have you looked into rules for hotels, BandB, hostels, etc?

Posted by
2516 posts

You'll need to check with the specific airline, each has a different process and age limits. I found this by using the Google: https://www.nerdwallet.com/article/travel/unaccompanied-minor-flight-guide

I'd also suggest contacting the US embassy in the countries he plans to visit to ensure you have the proper documentation for each country they want to visit. It's going to vary and you will want to be 100% certain that is solid for every location. Even if you trust the 18 year old completely, I would want to make sure they know and understand their responsibilities for your child and that they have a plan for handling them. Since he won't have an adult passport and will be with younger looking adults, they may get much more scrutiny than a more traditional looking family or a school travel group.

Posted by
525 posts

This official EU website may give you some guidance: https://europa.eu/youreurope/citizens/travel/entry-exit/travel-documents-minors/index_en.htm#:~:text=In%20addition%20to%20their%20own%20valid%20passport%20or,legal%20guardian%3B%20or%203%20with%20only%20one%20parent

It points out that each country sets its own rules and that those rules can change at any time.

If your child’s school sometimes takes students abroad, you might pick their brain about how they handle the legalities.

You may want to check directly with the airline about their requirements and policies. They generally want to be sure their passengers have the appropriate documents because they don’t want to be responsible for a passenger who is denied entry to a particular country.

Have you thought about medical emergencies? I worked for many years at a summer camp. Local hospitals would treat a child without contacting the parent ONLY if the injury or illness was life-threatening. If not, the child could not be treated until contact was made with the parent. So a child might sit in pain from a broken arm while the hospital tracked down the parents (this was the pre-cell phone era.). You might be able to authorize the 18-year-old to make decisions in lieu of parents….but are you comfortable with that? What if a medical evacuation was needed? Would you be able to get travel insurance for a minor? If not, how would you pay for an evacuation? What if your son has an emergency that would necessitate you going to Europe yourself to be with him? Are you prepared to do that?

I am not saying you shouldn’t allow your son to have this adventure, and in all likelihood, he would be just fine. But I think that there are a lot of questions that need to be considered before saying “yes.”

Posted by
266 posts

When my dad was 15 he drove cross country with his 19 year old brother and brother’s friend, and they took a steamship to Italy to explore Europe. But within about a week my dad and the others separated for some reason, and my dad traveled Europe on his own for several months at 15 before the family back home realized this, got diplomatic help to track him down in England and bring him home. He had had a great time, but that was 1952, a different world, and I think with today’s concerns for minors and (well intentioned) bureaucracy, I just think honestly that 15 is too young to travel like that with older teens, no matter how mature they all are. Younger than 18, it should be with a school or other reputable organization experienced in teen travel, or with parents or mature adults with the right documentation. I traveled to Europe at 16 with a teen tour and it was great, and I was ready for independent travel when in college.

Posted by
512 posts

You may get a lot of responses from others who did the same in by gone days, but I would definitely seek some sort of legal counsel; because it's more than just airline travel consent. What happens if he is injured while there? And lots of other circumstances probably not even thought of. Such as if something happens to him, is the 18 year old held legally responsible for him? Unaccompanied minor in a foreign country not affiliated with any organized travel group/organization probably has all sorts of point to consider.

There's a lot of legalities; documents to sign, etc even when you send your minor with a group/organization overseas; so I'd personally do more than look at a legal form template.

Only you can decide if he's mature enough, but I'd really look into the legal aspects as well to have all of your bases covered.

Posted by
4600 posts

You've gotten good advice and links here, but frankly you're going to need to hire an attorney to handle some paperwork to make this airtight.

Also I'm wondering, isn't an 18 year old still a minor in many places?

Posted by
4474 posts

I doubt the schools would be much help because I'm sure the adults on the trip are much older than 18 and if it's a school-sponsored trip, it probably includes teachers certified by the state. You need to be sure you have a current passport in case you have to fly to Europe yourself to retrieve him-there are so many entities on this trip that might have a problem with this plan.

Posted by
15694 posts

He might face a lot of issues trying to enter different countries.

At that age, the immigration officers might wonder if.....he's being trafficked, if he ran away, how is he going to support himself, who is going to be responsible for him, can he convince them that he is not going to try to work to support himself, where is he going to stay as not all accomodations will rent to someone under 21.

Remember, if these questions are not answered well to the officers, he'll be put on a plane back home.

There is a difference between a 15 year old traveling with a bunch of others, all minors except one who is 18, and a minor traveling with a school group or to meet an adult at his destination.

You really do need to consult someone who understands how to do this and all the pifalls. Someone who knows all the documents needed.

I'm not saying it can't be done, but it's much more difficult than someone over 18 getting on a plane and going.

Posted by
3 posts

For minors traveling without parents, having a child travel consent form is crucial. The form should ideally be notarized to ensure it's legally binding. You can find templates online, but make sure to adapt them to your specific needs and the requirements of the countries he'll be visiting.
When it comes to his flight, it's important to inform the airline in advance that he'll be traveling alone. They may have specific procedures or requirements for unaccompanied minors. Some airlines offer special services for minors, such as escorting them through security and ensuring they board and disembark safely.
Additionally, make sure your son carries a copy of his passport and the consent form with him at all times during the trip. It's also a good idea to give him a list of emergency contacts and instructions on what to do in case of any issues.

Posted by
10355 posts

You need to see a lawyer. Tricky, unexpected glitches pop up.

In the US, my youngest once had an underage teen in his group coming home from a concert. When they stopped at the motel the kids had reserved, the underage one wasn't allowed to stay there. His father had to drive a few hours to show up to sign papers.

Back in the hippie days, we knew a couple where he was her legal guardian, papers signed by her parents, so the 21 year old and 17 year old could travel together and in Europe.

So, tricky, unexpected stuff happens. You need a lawyer.