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12 tips on how to travel internationally with a baby

April 13, 2022
16 min read
Young Italian woman walking with her baby
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Traveling with an infant is already an adventure -- and traveling abroad with one is an even bigger feat to tackle.

Knowing the rules, researching and prepping ahead of time and packing the right things can make (or break) your first international trip with a baby. If you're in the know, you can take advantage of all the options afforded to traveling families, from bassinets on the plane and security shortcuts to special infant fares and other perks.

Covering everything from booking and documents to travel insurance and even jet lag, this guide provides everything you need to prepare for an international trip with your baby.

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Get your baby's passport

Before you get too far into planning a trip abroad, you'll need to get your baby's first passport.

While you're at it, make sure everyone else in the family has a valid passport, too. Remember, U.S. passports for children under 16 expire after five years, not 10 years like adult passports. Also, make sure everyone's passport isn't nearing expiration. Many countries require three or six months of validity to enter, which effectively means that child passports are really only valid for 4 1/2 years, which go quickly.

Once your baby gets their passport, it's valid for five years. (Photo by goodmoments/Getty Images)

When getting a passport for your baby, here are the main steps to follow:

  1. Get their birth certificate.
  2. Find out where to apply.
  3. Make an appointment. You'll need to go in person and bring your baby with you.
  4. Take their passport photo. It can be difficult to get a photo of your baby. Rules for photos state that the child/baby should be looking directly at the camera with a natural smile or neutral look. If you can manage to get the baby's eyes to stay open, that's typically enough for their first passport photo. The background should be white and the size 2 by 2 inches with no filters. Within that size, your baby/child's head needs to be 1 to 1 3/8 inches (25 to 35 mm) from the bottom of the chin to the top of the head. If you're struggling to get everything just right, the ItsEasy App can help you crop and size your photo to the correct dimensions.
  5. Gather the paperwork. Fill out Form DS-11 and take your baby's birth certificate plus photocopies of each document. Bring a couple of photos, a valid ID for each parent, a photocopy of parental IDs and the fee (you can pay by check). Fees are currently $100 for the passport and $35 for processing.
  6. Attend the appointment in person with both parents present. If only one parent can go, fill out and bring parental consent form DS-3053 plus a copy.

Get your baby Global Entry

If you already have Global Entry, you won't be able to use the service as a family if your little ones don't have it. So, get a start on your baby's application. Or, if this is something your whole family wants to do, apply simultaneously, making expiration dates and renewals easier to complete for everyone at the same time.

Do note that with TSA PreCheck, kids 12 and under won't need to have their own number to accompany parents through these special security lanes -- but that's not true for Global Entry, which you use to return to the U.S.

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Check with your doctor

Check with your pediatrician to see when your baby can start flying.

To give you an idea, TPG talked to Dr. Jenny Yu, medical director at Healthline, to find out when it's typically safe for babies to travel. “While babies typically develop their immune system around 1 month, most pediatricians would recommend waiting until 3 to 6 months for travel,” she said. For premature babies, it might be a little longer.

Also, with international travel, it's important to factor in any additional vaccines they might need, especially if you're traveling to emerging countries. Start by checking with the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for recommendations on which vaccines both adults and babies should get, then talk with your pediatrician to see what is best for your family, baby and travel situation.

Other important questions to ask your doctor should be if your baby can wear sunblock or mosquito repellent and how to keep your baby and your whole family safe from tropical or waterborne diseases, COVID-19 and any other possible infections, which can depend highly on your destination.

Pick the right destination

(Photo by Mayte Torres/Getty Images)

Whether it's a far-flung visit to Asia, a trip to visit family in Europe, a Caribbean escape or an African safari, you can travel anywhere with a baby as long as you and your family feel comfortable doing so. Choose a destination that makes you feel joy, not anxiety or stress at the thought of getting there and enjoying it with your baby.

Consider things like the activities you want to do, and if the destination is a place that feels welcoming for families. Also think about logistics, like the language barrier, climate and local transportation, when deciding if that particular destination is right for your family.

Book tickets

Depending on how old your baby is, you have some options when flying abroad with them. Here are a few to consider:

  • Lap infant: If your baby is under 2 years old, they don't need their own seat. They can instead sit on the lap of a ticketed adult. For international travel, some airlines charge 10% to 30% of the adult ticket price or just the taxes and fees for a lap infant, and some airlines don't charge anything at all. This table shows the costs by airline to buy your baby a lap ticket. Make sure to check on luggage policies when traveling with a lap infant. Most airlines allow for a stroller and car seat checked free of charge. You may also be able to check or carry on additional baggage, too, but more on that later.
  • Bassinet for lap infant: Many airlines have bassinet options, especially aboard larger aircraft that fly internationally. See if you can select this option while booking or call the airline for more information on securing a bassinet. Bassinets are usually free, but given to those who request them first. Ask for one right after booking to ensure you'll be assigned a seat with one when available. In most cases, bassinet weight limits max out at 20 to 24 pounds, so they're best for smaller babies and newborns.
  • Extra seat with car seat or restraint for babies 2 years and up: If your baby is older than 2 years, you must pay for their seat. Many airlines have discounted tickets for children. If the child weighs more than 44 pounds, they won't need any additional restraint system within their own seat. If they weigh less than 44 pounds, see the information on a certified child restraint or car seat below.
  • Additional seat with car seat or restraint for babies under 2: If your baby is less than 2 years old, you can still book them their own seat. In fact, the Federal Aviation Administration suggests that children under 44 pounds wear an FAA-approved harness (such as the CARES harness) or certified child restraint to help keep them safe during turbulence, takeoff and landing. Make sure to check your car seat to see if there is an FAA-approved sticker on it.

It's worth noting that car seat, bassinet and harness options and policies vary wildly by airline and class of service. For more information on these policies by airline, read this article on 23 airline car seat and bassinet policies around the world.

Note that when booking seats for your family on an international flight, there are areas where kids and babies are not allowed to sit, like exit rows. Malaysia Airlines doesn't allow babies in its first-class cabins on A380 and 747 aircraft. Some international airlines such as AirAsia, Scoot and IndiGo also have kid-free and quiet zones where families with babies and children under a certain age (usually 10 or 12) aren't allowed to sit.

Additionally, if your baby is closer to 2 years old, you might want to compare the price of a lap ticket to the price of getting them their own seat. Sometimes, the price difference may not be that much, and it could make the flight more comfortable for the entire family.

Organize documents, including visas and COVID-19 forms

Passports aren't the only documents you'll need for international travel these days. Check to see if you and your baby need a visa to enter whatever country you're visiting. If you're traveling without your partner, look into completing a Child Consent Form.

Have proof of vaccines, complete any health forms and entry forms and take those COVID-19 tests if required to enter the country. Be clear on if your baby or children need to wear masks during the flight and plan accordingly. While babies 2 and up need to wear masks on board U.S. airlines, international airlines have different rules. For example, Iberia only requires children 6 and up to wear masks. Presently, British Airways has made masking up for all passengers a "personal choice" when not required by international law. We expect these rules to continue to rapidly evolve.

It's worth checking what documents you need for the trip when booking and again before traveling to ensure that you have everything you need as rules and regulations frequently change, especially in this era of pandemic travel.

Understand luggage rules

Check luggage requirements before packing and flying. (Photo by freemixer/Getty Images)

Different airlines have varying rules for how much luggage you can take when traveling abroad, especially when traveling with lap infants or children/babies occupying their own seats. Most airlines allow you to check a stroller and/or car seat. Many also offer additional checked luggage, as well as a carry-on bag or item for the baby.

For example, British Airways allows both lap infants and children ages 2 and up to have a carry-on item and a checked bag in most cases, giving parents a little flexibility when bringing along all those key items babies need. Cathay Pacific allows lap infants two additional bags at 10 kilograms each when flying between most destinations.

If you aren't clear on the luggage rules, call the airline before traveling to confirm so you won't get stuck with any surprises or have to pay additional fees.

Know the rules for breast milk and formula

Thanks to the Friendly Airports for Mothers Improvement Act, all large- and medium-size airports in the U.S. now provide lockable, non-bathroom places to pump or nurse babies in every terminal and at least one men's and one women's restroom with changing tables in each terminal. This may not be the case abroad, so if you're concerned, research your destination airport to see what options are provided when it comes to these services.

You shouldn't have any issues flying with breast milk or formula on your outbound trip from the U.S., as regular Transportation Security Administration liquid regulations don't apply to these special liquids. According to the TSA, "reasonable quantities" of these liquids are allowed, but you must take them out during screening for the security officer to test.

You can look up rules to see what's allowed when returning from your destination. For example, the United Kingdom allows breast milk past security in containers up to 2,000 milliliters. You can also take formula, milk and bottled water for the baby, but the baby must be present. In the European Union, you can take breast milk and formula through security and when flying as long as your baby is traveling with you.

Your airline may also provide clarity on these types of rules. Cathay Pacific, for example, states that breastfeeding is allowed during all phases of the flight, using an electric pump is allowed once electric devices can be switched on and travelers can even bring along suitably packed dry ice to refrigerate expressed milk, assuming it's declared during check-in.

According to some airlines, if you're taking a large breast pump along, this may count as a medical device and not be part of your carry-on allowance, but these regulations often aren't very clear. Contact your airline for more information and print out the rules in case you have any issues during security screening or boarding.

If you're traveling from a very obscure destination within an emerging country and you can't find answers about bringing breast milk, it may be best to have a Plan B in place, such as bringing along enough formula in powder form to last you for the flight or planning to pump or breastfeed in flight.

Should you want to ship your breast milk abroad, options are available for you depending on your destination, such as Maven Milk and Milk Stork.

Book accommodations

When booking accommodations in your destination abroad, take things into account like baby necessities, baby-friendly items, the option to do laundry and the availability to heat, cool and store milk and formula. Choosing a vacation rental instead of a hotel may be the right idea if you need more space, a kitchen and laundry facilities.

If your baby is eating solid foods, make sure there are restaurants or supermarkets nearby where you can get exactly what you need. Doing a little pre-trip research can help you feel confident and comfortable when traveling with your baby regardless of which hotel or home rental you choose to stay in.

Pack strategically

Packing with a baby can seem precarious, but it doesn't have to be. Just make sure you have enough of everything you need to get through the flight, plus a bit extra in case of delays or cancellations. For an exact list of everything you need to pack, see this article on how to pack -- and prepare -- for travel with a baby.

For extra-long flights, try to have everything to help your baby comfortably nap on hand, like a lovey, blanket, pacifier and more. Have changes of clothes on hand for the whole family in case of a messy situation, and enough layers for a plane that may be hot or chilly. A baby carrier can be key, too.

When packing for a trip abroad, the most important items to remember are everyone's passport, visa and key documents, plus anything essential that you know you can't get in another country. Babies live all over the world, so you can easily get items like diapers, wipes, formula and more anywhere. However, you may not find the exact brand you want, or if you're going somewhere rural or far-flung, like on a safari in Africa, you may want to bring enough for your entire trip.

For example, Enfamil, a popular baby formula brand, is found all over Europe and even in the Caribbean and Latin America. However, it may not be available in Africa or Asia, so do your homework.

If you're traveling with items that need to plug in to charge, like a breast pump, baby monitor or nightlight, bring converters if necessary. You can always rent baby items abroad, too, rather than lugging everything along with you. It's possible to preorder diapers and wipes in many destinations, as well.

Strongly consider travel insurance

Things happen. While getting the flu abroad may not be a big deal for an adult, a sick baby can be scary and stressful, especially if you're in a foreign country. Having travel insurance that covers accidents and emergencies -- and COVID-19, too -- can set your mind at ease and save the day if something happens.

Before travel, note where the nearest hospital or health care facilities are, as well as any international hospitals where staff may be more likely to speak English. Know exactly how to use your insurance, like what numbers to call or what to do if a situation arises. Check if any of your credit cards have travel insurance that may cover you and your family if things go awry.

Plan for jet lag

Jet lag is never fun, but there are ways to lessen its effects. (Photo by Jose Luis Pelaez Inc/Getty Images)

Jet lag stinks. Jet lag with a baby might be even worse. There are things you can do to make jet lag a little less stressful, though, especially when traveling abroad to very different time zones.

First, give yourselves a few days to adjust, planning big events later in the trip. Limit your baby's naps when possible. If your baby takes a five-hour nap, they definitely won't be sleeping through the night.

Shift mealtimes, naptimes and bedtimes to the new time zone as quickly as possible, getting daylight during the day and darkness at night, so internal clocks begin to adjust for the whole family. If the time zone difference is small, you may want to keep your baby on the original time zone to minimize disruption, especially for a shorter trip.

For more tips on combating jet lag with a baby in tow, read this guide on surviving jet lag with your baby.

Bottom line

Planning and taking an international trip with a baby can be simple and create memories for a lifetime if you prepare just right. With a little bit of extra research, you'll be armed with everything you need to know, do and bring to make your trip abroad smooth and hassle-free.

Featured image by Getty Images
Editorial disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airline or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.