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Immigration, airline, or custom issues for minor traveling alone to HK

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We are thinking of sending our 15 year old son to visit some friends in HK for couple of weeks. We are US passport holders living in the US. Are there any considerations related to a minor traveling alone that we should be aware of?

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    1. To the best of my knowledge, Hong Kong does not have any age restrictions on tourists, and will allow any US citizen with a valid passport to enter the country visa-free for 90 days. See http://www.immd.gov.hk/ehtml/hkvisas_4.htm for information. Your friends may want to confirm this with a call to the Immigration Department.

    2. You may need some papers to get him out of the US as far as the departing airline in the US is concerned. Contact your airline. Also ask if they have any rules for the inbound flight. At the least, it may be worth while to have a notarized statement signed by both of you that he has permission to travel on his own. I would probably include notarized copies of your own passports as part of this.

    3. On the return, when he is going through US Immigration to get back into the US, I wonder if they will want to see any papers with regard to his travelling alone. You might check the travel.state.gov website to see if there is anything on this. (The notarized statement above may come in handy there too.) As he is on his own, rather than just with one parent, he ironically is probably OK without any papers authorizing him to travel on his own (it’s when he is with one parent that there is a potential custody battle kidnapping issue…)

    4. Most airlines have programs where they will provide assistance to minor travelling, esp if they have to make connections, you might want to check with the airline.

    4. Notwithstanding the above, try to get him on a non-stop flight. Just easier. Not sure where you live. If he has to connect, let me know what airports you are considering. I live in Hong Kong and have transited through many US airports over the years and have my views on which are preferable. (I actually think Canada may be preferred over all, so if you can route to/from a US airport to Canada then to/from Hong Kong, that may be the best if you can’t get a non-stop. Vancouver is the way to go, IMO. Toronto is pretty good, but requires a terminal change which can be a pain.)

    5. I definitely think it is worth while to arrange to have ground staff at Hong Kong airport meet your son’s plane and take him to through Immigration, baggage claim, Customs and out to your friends in the Arrivals Hall. See http://www.hongkongairport.com/eng/passenger/arrival/t1/airport-services-facilities/ancillary-passenger-services/unaccompanied-minors-service.html. Your airline may also arrange for this. While the cut-off age appears to be 14, they may do this for a 15 year old. For a small charge, they offer this service for adults, so you can always pay for it see http://www.hongkongairport.com/eng/passenger/arrival/t1/airport-services-facilities/ancillary-passenger-services/meet-and-assist-service.html

    Unless your son has been through an international airport and the immigration process a few times, I think it would be quite helpful for him to have assistance with this. Depending on the gate at which he lands, he may need to take an underground train to the main arrivals area, then he will need to find Immigration, wait in line, deal with the landing card and passport formalities, find his baggage carousel, walk through Customs and get out into the main arrivals hall. This can be confusing enough for an adult who is used to international airports, let alone a 15-year old who may not be (and who will be jet lagged).

    For information on the airport generally, see http://www.hongkongairport.com/eng/index.html. You can get an idea of gate numbers by looking at the flight information page. Gates 33 and above require the underground train to reach the Immigration/Baggage Claim and Arrival Hall areas.

    You can also arrange for him to have asssitance when leaving Hong Kong on the return flight.

    Connecting airports may also offer this service. Your arrival airport at home may also offer this service. If he will go through Immigration and US Customs in your home airport, and if he has not gone through US Immigration and Customs at a US airport before, it may be helpful to have assistance for him with this.

    If your friends can contact the Immigration Department, it may be possible for them to arrange to get passes to go out to your son’s gate themselves. I have not done this, so don’t know how difficult it is to arrange.

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