You may have heard the story on the news recently about several parents and their children who, instead of boarding their flights at the airport, had to turn back and pay a visit to the Service Canada offices. The reason? The parents had inadvertently signed the passports of their children – not realizing that this is, in fact, an illegal act.
Travelling with a child is already more complex than embarking on an adult getaway – and not just because we have to make sure, at all times, that Sophie the Giraffe hasn’t been left behind somewhere.
Here’s what you need to know about your children’s passports.
Last year, Stephanie Sauvageau and her family had to kiss their Cuban holidays in the sun goodbye--as well as the prospect of getting a refund--because one parent had signed their daughter’s passport, rendering it invalid. As a result, they couldn’t board their flight.
“A customs officer once told me that a baby could smear the signature box without invalidating their passport – as long as they had done it themselves,” said Myke Larouche-Lévesque, travel agent for Jaimonvoyage.com. “I found this surprising.”
Michele Grenier Collin, a travel agent, indicated in a private group that she recently had to help a client who was at Montreal-Trudeau airport very early in the morning with two children. She, too, had been denied boarding due to children’s passports that had been incorrectly signed.
“The employee kept them waiting until finally they were told that only the parents could leave, but not the children,” she said, “because the passports had been inadvertently signed by the mother. She had done it automatically, without thinking.”
She would, in all likelihood, have been able to fly with her family after speaking with the supervisor, but she won’t take the chance again – if she was lucky twice in this scenario, another agent joked, he would have recommended that she buy a lottery ticket.
What does the law say?
The government’s view on the issue is clear.
“Children under the age of 16 can sign their own passports, but if they do not, leave the signature block on page 3 blank. If you sign it on behalf of the child the passport will be invalid.”
Therefore, only the person holding the passport has the right to sign it. The document remains valid if the child affixes their signature – no matter how messy it is.
Good to know: a child’s passport does not expire on the day of their 18th birthday – it remains valid until the expiry date indicated. They may apply for an adult passport between six months and one year before that date.
If a customs officer insists…
While Canadian border officers are usually strict about the application of the procedure, some foreign countries operate differently. Some families were ‘forced’ to sign their child’s passport; however, the Government of Canada strongly discourages this process and encourages travellers to print a copy of Passport Canada’s official regulations.
For more information on children's passport regulations, click here.