Taking a child abroad with a different surname

  • 15 Jan, 2020
  • Franki Napolitano

What you need to know about travelling when you and your child don't share a surname

The half term breaks are some of the most anticipated of the year, but did you know you could end up in hot water when travelling with a child with a different surname to you if you don’t carry the correct documentation?

It’s not uncommon in this day and age for parents to not be married or in fact be raising their child independently, but this will usually mean that the child will share a surname with one parent and not the other. The same goes for grandparents, too.

This year, statistics revealed that around 600,000 parents and grandparents have faced questioning and even refusal to travel at border control due to mismatched surnames. Something that causes confusion, pain and seemingly unnecessary grief.

Why is having a different surname to my child such an issue?

These guidelines have been put in place as the governments way of cracking down on child abduction cases, as taking a child out of the country without permission is seen as such. They argue that a child’s safety is of paramount importance, and we can’t fault them for that.

Who does this affect?

Single parents, Grandparents and parents who don’t share a surname themselves, or anyone else with parental responsibility for the child.

Just a note: If you are the child’s legal mother, you automatically have parental responsibility, but you must obtain approval from anyone else with parental responsibility for the child, which could include grandparents, before travelling abroad.

600,000 parents have had problems when travelling with a child with a different surname

“I can’t contact my child’s father for permission. What do I do?”

If you are unable to obtain permission from him, granted he has parental responsibility*, you’ll need to obtain permission from the court instead.

*Does the father have parental responsibility? He does if he is still married to the mother. If he is not named on the birth certificate, he has no responsibility but even if he is, it doesn’t mean he automatically gets parental responsibility. It can get pretty confusing, but this article from Child Law Advice is very helpful and may answer the more specific questions.

The law has changed so that unmarried fathers who registered or re-registered their name on their child’s birth certificate after 1st December 2003 will have Parental Responsibility for their child.


if an unmarried father has a child after 1st December 2003 and he is registered on the birth certificate, he WILL have Parental Responsibility.
if a child’s birth was registered before 1st December 2003 and the father was not named on the birth certificate, the birth can be re-registered to include the father’s name – the father WILL then have Parental Responsibility.**
if a child’s birth was registered before 1st December 2003 and includes the name of the unmarried father, the father WILL NOT have Parental Responsibility (unless obtained by other means). – Child Advice Law

What can we do as parents with different surnames to our children?

There are a few options available to make travelling easier.

Single Parents / Travelling without your partner

1. Carry a copy of your child’s birth or adoption certificate which clearly states both of your names and relation to your child. If the absent parent isn’t on the birth certificate, you will not need to obtain their permission.

2. If you are a separated couple, you will need an authorisation letter from the partner not travelling. You can create your own here or a quick Google search will bring a few up! Ensure this document is signed by a solicitor; there will usually be a small charge for this.

Along with this, you will need a copy of the Child Arrangement Order, if there is one in place, from the courts that specify you have permission to take the child abroad.

3. If a couple have divorced and the mother has reverted to her maiden name, having a copy of her name deed would also be useful.

4. Should your partner have passed away, a copy of their death certificate may be necessary.

Travelling with a child with a different surname to you? Know what documents you need to bring!


You will need to also fill out and carry a letter of authorisation from the parent/s with parental responsibility. Create your own one and again, make sure it is notary signed!

Couples travelling where child shares only one surname

To avoid any questioning, it’s best to ensure the child goes through security with the parent with which they share a surname.

Understandably this may be difficult (and unfair) if you have more than one child, so keeping a copy of the birth certificates just in case is always advised to allow both parents to share the task. Grandparents can also get caught out when travelling with a child with a different surname to them

Is this the same in all countries?

This information is intended to help those traveling in and out of the UK. Each country have their own guidelines so be sure to check out what age the country you’re travelling to considers a child by contacting the relevant embassy.

About Franki Napolitano

Working in the travel industry has really opened my eyes to the attitudes, issues and obstacles people can face just trying to go on holiday. Whether it's due to their health, family situations or budgets, travel should be accessible for all. I cover everything from travelling with a disability to how to save money while you travel, hoping to make the holiday process easier for all.

5 responses to “Taking a child abroad with a different surname”

  1. so what about children and parents where the father is absent and unobtainable but the child has the fathers name and he is on the birth certificate , in fact how is it possible to obtain a passport with only one parent in the picture

    • Good point Charlotte, and I’ll add an addition section in with this info.

      Firstly, the passport question. If one parent is unavailable, you’ll need to complete the “Statement of Special Circumstances,” on your child’s passport application, you’ll find it at the bottom of the Statement of Consent. This will allow you to explain why it is not possible for the other parent to give consent.

      To answer the original question, as the mother, you have automatic parental responsibility as stated above. If you are unable to contact the father, following the gov.uk guidelines as linked to in the article should help. If the father isn’t in the picture, therefore not excising his parental responsibility, you might find this very useful article from Child Law Advice helpful – as it will depend on the date of which the father signed the birth certificate.

      I hope it makes sense!

  2. dad signed birth certificate in 2010 , thanks for the response x desperate to take little one of country but with different last names and no contact at all with father (have no form of contact at all have no idea where he is ) been super scared about even starting process .Thanks for the info

    • No problem Charlotte, I can fully appreciate you’re apprehensive about it! Given your circumstances and feelings towards it, I’d suggest contacting Child Law Advice or maybe even CAB in your area to see if they can advise specifically in your case. Good Luck and I hope you and your little one get to enjoy a holiday soon!

  3. Hi, if I would like to send my mother In law to travel with my kids ( We are sharing the same surname) do we need legal papers that we Leave the kids to travel with her? We are from Romania and we would like to send our kids in holiday to our country with their grandmother.
    Please kindly advise.
    Thank you

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