Planning a Foreign Holiday for the Family this Summer? 

July, 2021 - Shoosmiths LLP

The school holidays are almost here and many of us are thinking about travelling abroad. If your surname is different from your dependent children, then the ever-changing COVID-19 travel restrictions aren’t the only concern to consider when making your holiday plans.

The rise of ‘blended’ families and couples choosing not to marry means it is not unusual for a parent to have a different surname to their dependent children. According to the latest published Office for National Statistics (ONS) Families & Household Survey data*, in 2020 there were 19.4 million families in the UK: 12.9 million married or civil partner couple families with 3.3 million cohabiting couple families and 2.9 million lone parent families.

Dependent children

A dependent child is defined in law as any person aged 0 to 15 in a household (whether or not in a family) or a person aged 16 to 18 in full-time education and living in a family with his or her parent(s) or grandparent(s).

The ONS data shows that, between 2009 and 2019, the number of married or civil partner couples with dependent children increased by 4.8%, whereas the number of cohabiting couple families with dependent children increased by more than a quarter. That being so, there has been a continual increase in the number of families where dependent children have different surnames to at least one of their parents.

Travelling abroad as a family with dependent children

With the school summer break looming, many families are cautiously planning holidays abroad now that the COVID-19 travel restrictions are about to be relaxed. In just a couple of weeks, the UK’s airports and seaports will soon be filled with families of every kind, but many people are unaware of the problems adults and children having different surnames can cause when travelling abroad as a family.

Security staff are under increasing pressure to check the safety and identity of children travelling into and out of the UK. Parents will be stopped at security checks and asked questions to establish their relationship with their children. Depending on how those questions are answered, some families may be turned away and holiday plans ruined.

The right documents for parents

Irrespective of the nature of their relationship, it is wise for parents to make the process as straightforward as possible by making sure they have the right documents to hand.

Much depends on your particular circumstances but Home Office guidance advises that, when going abroad with children, you should carry evidence that confirms the nature of your relationship. This can include a copy of a birth or adoption certificate which illustrates your relationship with the children and/or divorce or marriage certificates if you are the parent but have a different surname.

The right documents for grandparents or divorced parents

Grandparents or divorced parents travelling alone with their children would be best advised to obtain a signed letter from the children’s parent(s) authorising the children to travel with the adult(s). The letter should state that the children are permitted to travel abroad with you and should include the parent(s) contact details. It is also advisable to attach a copy of their passport to the letter.

At the moment, foreign travel is stressful in itself with having to navigate the red, amber and green list rules. To help minimise the risk of an even more stressful encounter at the security desk, best practice no matter what your family circumstances would be to simply contact the airline or travel company beforehand to explain your situation and ask what they require from you.


*ONS families & Household survey data 2020
Families and households in the UK - Office for National Statistics (


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