San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

What’s Needed to Travel With My Resident Child?

My husband, 3-year-old daughter and I are soon to become Costa Rican residents. Hooray! As pleased as we are about our new status, I am concerned that I do not entirely understand what this residence status means for my daughter. I have read that special paperwork is required for her to leave the country with her parent(s). I’ve also heard that isn’t the case unless the child is born in Costa Rica, so I am confused. Could you please explain what the laws are for resident minors wanting to travel outside the country?

Naomi Geer

Ojochal, Puntarenas

First, congratulations on your residency. We’ll echo your “Hooray!”

The laws are explicit governing the circumstances you describe, but, in most situations, not difficult to follow.

Costa Rican law differs little from that of many countries, Heidi Bonilla, spokeswoman for Costa Rica’s Immigration authority, told us. In an effort to thwart international child abduction, authorities expect evidence that any child under 18 entering or leaving the country legally belongs to the adult(s) accompanying them and has authorization to travel.

Citizens and legal residents must go through the step of obtaining permission from Immigration for their children to leave Costa Rica, Bonilla said. Both parents and child(ren) must appear at Immigration to request a permiso de salir del país para un menor de edad (permission for a minor child to leave the country). Bonilla suggested taking care of this step once your residency becomes final. (You can call Immigration at 299-8100.) An office at Immigration specifically deals with these permits, which take the form of a stamp in your child’s passport (but save any paper documentation that comes with the permit, too).

You spell out the conditions. It can be a temporary, one-time permission, or it can be permanent, at least for the duration of your child’s passport. You can specify at that time whether you grant permission for your child to travel with both parents, one parent or even alone – or any combination thereof – and it becomes a blanket authorization. It’s your choice. For any circumstances that deviate from the conditions you’ve allowed – say your daughter might leave Costa Rica with a grandparent, but without you – you must obtain a permit specific to that situation in person in advance at Immigration.

Each time you travel, you must present yourselves at the Immigration window in the check-in area of the airport or at land borders to prove to officials that the circumstances of your child’s travel match those specified in the permit. Do this before getting in the check-in line, as airlinecounter personnel also check that travel documents are in order.

We have run stories over the years about families caught in limbo by their misunderstanding of the law, in particular about single parents wishing to travel with their children, but having no official permission from the other parent. Divorce or separation complicate these matters, but do not negate the requirement, leaving parent and child stranded.

The issue is less clear for tourists who come to Costa Rica on vacation. Bonilla said these laws do not apply, but officials do scrutinize last names of traveling families carefully during passport control. Airline personnel here, or those checking you in in another country to fly back to Costa Rica, look closely too. If something doesn’t match, questions may be asked. An official copy of the child’s birth certificate can alleviate those doubts.

Even for a tourist, we recommend erring on the side of over-caution, especially if anything in your situation varies from that stereotypical 1950s definition of what a “family” looks like. Adoptions, divorces, remarriages, blended families, stepchildren, stepparents, same-sex parents, different ethnicities among family members, as well as different surnames among family members could raise questions about who has legal authority to travel with a minor. Carry documents to answer those questions, just in case.

And even if your family looks like the Cleavers from that iconic 1950s U.S. television show “Leave It to Beaver,” documentation is a good idea. Ward, June, Wally and the Beaver could get questioned too.


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