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TRAVEL Q&A

Travel Q&A: Youths Traveling Without Parents in Mexico Need Extra Paperwork

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By K.C. Summers
Special to The Washington Post
Sunday, January 25, 2009

Q. My wife and I are planning to visit Cancun, Mexico, in February and are taking our niece and her best friend, both 17. I am getting a lot of different info about what documentation we need. They both have U.S. passports. Do we also need notarized statements?

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Lew Strader, Annapolis

A. Mexico is a great destination for families, but if children are traveling without one or both parents, there's an extra entry hurdle.

To help prevent international child abductions, the country requires that all children younger than 18 who are traveling without a parent carry notarized statements giving permission for the trip.

According to the Mexican Embassy's Web site, the statement, which can be in English, should include the names of the parents, the child and anyone traveling with the child, plus the notarized signatures of the parents or guardians.

The document should include travel dates, destinations, flight information and a brief description of the trip. The letter must be an original, not a photocopy or scanned copy. In addition, the child should bring proof of the parent-child relationship, such as a birth certificate.

If you're flying, the girls will need their passports, too, and so will you and your wife. But if you're traveling by land or sea, adults need only proof of citizenship, such as a birth certificate, and government-issued photo identification. Minors can get by with just a birth certificate. The Mexican government, by the way, recommends that everyone bring a passport, saying it just makes things easier all around. In any case, all this will change in June, when U.S. citizens will need a passport or passport card for travel to Mexico by air, land and sea (exceptions for school groups and the like).

For more information, contact the Mexican Embassy (202-728-1600, http://portal.sre.gob.mx/was_eng) or the U.S. State Department (http://www.travel.state.gov).

My husband and I will be in Copenhagen for two days in July before taking a cruise of the Baltic. Where would I find information on my Danish heritage, as well as other points of interest?

Annette Via, Middletown, Md.

Assuming you can speak and read Danish, you're in luck: Copenhagen's Danish State Archives (Rigsdagsgarden 9, 011-45-33-92-33-10, http://www.sa.dk/content/us), which collects and stores genealogy records, is free to the public. The staff will assist with advice and guidance and can help you interpret difficult words or passages in the documents.

But to gain a little perspective, not to mention English-language help, you should start your search here in the United States, at Iowa's Danish Immigrant Museum (800-759-9192, http://www.danishmuseum.org).

It's home to artifacts and memorabilia that tell the Danish immigrants' story. Even better, its Family History & Genealogy Center (877-764-7008) provides research and translation services. The fee is $20 an hour for museum members, $30 for others, plus a $5 postage and handling fee. Fill in an online form and the staff and volunteers will scour emigration and immigration records, Danish maps and publications, census records, church and cemetery transcripts and the like. The center warns that you must have some idea of your original Danish family name before beginning your search since, like other U.S. immigrants, many Danes Americanized their names upon arrival.

Even if you're not searching for your ancestors, these Web sites are full of fascinating tidbits, such as how to decipher old-time handwriting styles and spelling. Also interesting -- to a non-Dane, at least -- is the reminder that the Caribbean islands of St. Thomas, St. John and St. Croix -- today's U.S. Virgin Islands -- were a Danish colony for a good 200 years. The colony was sold to the United States in 1917. So there's another place you can nose around, although many of the islands' records are now stored in the Danish State Archives.

For information on Copenhagen and its attractions: Visit Denmark, http://www.visitdenmark.com.

Your Turn

Many readers wrote in with tips on exchanging foreign currency (Travel Q&A, Dec. 28), several saying we should have stressed the importance of comparing exchange rates. Rates are typically competitive issuer to issuer, responds Kelli B. Grant of SmartMoney.com, but it's always a good idea to ask about both rates and fees before you choose which credit card to go with.

Other readers pointed out that it's possible to avoid ATM fees entirely by finding out whom your U.S. bank partners with and using those banks abroad. And David Guskin of Potomac recommended avoiding Bank of America's delivery fee by buying euros from the American Express Exchange Office or one of the downtown exchange banks: "Their fee is typically determined by the amount exchanged."

Send queries by e-mail (travelqa@washpost.com) or U.S. mail (Travel Q&A, Washington Post Travel Section, 1150 15th St. NW, Washington, D.C. 20071). Please include your name and town.


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