The 2 travel safety tips that will spare you from headaches

From someone that worked on a Consulate and has seen it all.

July 20, 2023

Travel safety depends on one thing mostly: preparation. But to know what to prepare for, you gotta know what can go wrong. So here are the two biggest problems I saw happening on the Consulate I worked for, and how to avoid them. The number 1 problem happened when kids were blocked from boarding the planes for lack of full documentation; number 2, when passports were lost during trips.

Photo by Gustavo Fring on Pexels

Traveling with children

Travelling with children can be stressful in more ways than one may imagine. For those that worry about how a small kid might behave in an airplane, rest assured: if you guys made it to the airplane, you are already the lucky ones. Crying is not, by far, the worst. Other then the plane crashing, which is very unlike, the worst would be to be blocked from boarding for lack of proper documentation to travel with a child. And this happens a lot.

When travelling abroad with a minor, check the requirements of both the country of destination and the country of departure. Some countries don’t request anything, but others do and are rigorous. Usually, the police will be in charge of this checking, and they are suited to tell you what is needed; you can also check with the airlines what their requirements are, as some companies require even more than countries.

Travelling with children in Europe

Most of the problems I have seen happen when the minor is travelling without one or both of the parents. In Europe (well, at least in Estonia and in Spain) there is such a thing as an authorization for minors to travel without one or both of the parents, but it is not requested at the airport; it is generally a precaution for the person that is travelling with the minor in case the parents of such kid declare to the police that their kid is missing. So, if the person that is accompanying the minor has such an authorization, clearly this person is not kidnapping the kid and the accusation is false.

It is a preventive measure recommended, for instance, in cases that the parents are divorced and on bad terms and the kid is travelling abroad with one of them. Travelling with the proper authorization could prevent false accusations and posterior (huge) problems with the police.

Note that such authorization is made by the authority that corresponds to the nationality of the kid. This way, the parents of a German kid living in Spain would need to contact the German Consulate that serves the area of Spain were they live, while the parents of a Spanish kid in Spain would contact the police directly to make the travel authorization.

Travelling with children in Brazil

I know the situation well from my years working in the Brazilian Consulate (and for that reason, the examples and references I have are mostly from Brazil; my apologies). There, the travel authorization is mandatory and it is in place to avoid traffic of minors. A Brazilian minor is only allowed to leave Brazil with both of the parents or with an authorization emitted by them (or by the parent that stays behind, if the other parent is travelling with the kid) either in a police station in Brazil or in the Brazilian Consulates abroad, where the parent(s) live. And this is taken very seriously.

Every day there are parents crying in the Brazilian Consulates, desperate to have their kids back home but, like with missing passports, this authorization can only be issued after the documentation – proof of parenthood and acquiescence of both parents – has been provided. You can imagine how this situation can escalate when the parents are divorced and don’t keep contact, or don’t get along.

I have seen cases where children that have one Brazilian parent but have not been registered as Brazilians, and therefore are not Brazilians, have also been blocked from leaving Brazil. This is how rigorous this is taken there – if one is a potential Brazilian it is enough for them to request the documents. Nothing is required from foreigner kids to leave Brazil, though.

Lacking the consular travel authorization is way more common than losing a passport and often more emotional. I have to add, there is nothing the consulate can do without the proper documentation, because even if the attendee believes the parents, the attendee can’t proceed without the papers. Moreover, imagine the responsibility there!

Kiddo was blocked from travelling

Many a kid has had their flight back home postponed by the lack of proper authorization – my Kiddo included. Except that he had the proper consular authorization, but we didn’t know that Brazil decided to start requesting a second authorization, made by a judge in Brazil, for travelers under 8 years old. Kiddo got an extra week in Brazil with his grandparents, going to court, waiting for an audience and then for a verdict; they all lost their tickets to Spain and had to buy new ones. It was tremendously stressful for the whole family.

Other situations

Other countries may have similar regulations in place, mainly intended to avoid kidnapping or traffic of kids, as well as parental exclusion – when one of the parents decides to exclude the other of the life of a kid, in this situation by running out of the country. Parental exclusion by travel is considered a kidnapping just as any other, as this is not the way to obtain sole custody, of course.

Surprisingly, I know a case when the opposite happened: the father authorized the mother to travel with their kid and a few days after their departure, went back to the Consulate intending to cancel the authorization, so that the kid (and therefore the mother) could never leave Brazil. He thought he could use a shortcut to a divorce and child-free life. Can you believe that??? Rest assured it was denied. And I hope the mother was informed in written by the Consulate, as this could lead to a beautiful divorce settlement, I’m sure.

Back on track

I see I digress. Getting back to our topic, I mean to tell that if you are separated from the other parent or if you are still together but decide to come to Spain separately (which may be handy to get things prepared before the arrival of the family), make sure to have in place the proper authorization for your kids to travel safely. Check with the police or consulate and with the airline what documents will be needed to leave the country with a minor without the presence of both parents. And if the kids start crying in the plane, remember how lucky you are and give them something tasty to chew on.

Passport precautions

Taking passport precautions may sound like an overreaction but take this good piece of advice: before travelling, be it to Spain or anywhere else, check in the page of the consulate of your own country in the place where you are going to what are the requirements to issue a passport, and make sure you take all the required documentation with you.

Travel safety
Photo by Gustavo Fring on Pexels

I’ve worked in both a Consulate and in an Embassy for several years and I can tell that few things are more exacerbating than losing a passport in a trip (the only one that comes to mind is when a kid is blocked from leaving the country). You see, the consulate cannot issue a new passport until the person provides the required documentation – proof of nationality and ID, mainly –  which may take days to arrange, with some of it being sent by mail from their country of origin.

Sometimes, the traveler who lost the passport lives alone or has nobody home, and then has to ask a friend to arrange a locksmith to open the door and enter the house, find their documents, then send it by mail to the country where the traveler is, fearing tremendously that the mail may get lost. A movie could be made, but it would be a sad one.

Even in the best cases this situation takes many days to resolve and is topped by the time the Consulate takes to issue the new passport; therefore, the traveler often misses the return ticket and god knows what else – business meetings? A job? A birth in the family? The visa expires?

If you are form the UK, you can get an emergency passport without much documentation , but it will set you back 100 pounds, as of this writting. Check the page on how to apply for it on the British Consulate that covers Malaga. And here is the equivalent for US travelers – they ask to present a copy of the lost passport or another ID document, if possible.

Finally, make sure the documentation to issue a new passport is not in the same bag as your passport and do the same for each family member. Also, while on the trip, keep the documentation at the hotel and carry the passport with you. And it can be as simple as bringing your national ID or driver’s license with you.

Now that I’ve scared you enough, make sure to check the requirements to travel with kids and what documentation would be needed to make a new passport – and bring those documents on your flight. I hope you don’t need them at all, but if you do, having prepared prevents a major headache and saves so much time.

Next: Visa for EU family members (or my big, big mistake)

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *