My aim from this blog is to create an absolute guide for people travelling from the US to India with a toddler or an infant. This is from all the knowledge I have accumulated from the processes and procedures and also the travel I have recently had with my 15 month old daughter to India.
I had minimum travel with Avi in the first year after her birth. We majorly dealt with a lot road trips to familiarize and be okay with the new normal of travelling with an infant. To be honest. it may not seem easy but it is totally do-able. It is hard, it is freaking harder to travel with a baby Vs travelling all by yourself. If you keep your expectations lower, then definitely you will have a win-win situation. Go with the flow and keep it calm for yourself; of course that would easy on your baby too.
- SSN (Social Security Number) & BIRTH CERTIFICATE : Soon after the baby is born, the first step is to apply for the SSN. Once the SSN is applied, you can apply for the birth certificate from the Department of Vital Records within two or three weeks. Usually you will receive the birth certificate of the baby within a week or two. For more details on how to apply a birth certificate online, click here.
- PASSPORT – Babies need passport for travelling abroad. Soon after you receive your infant’s birth certificate, your next step is to apply for your kids passport. You have to go to the US Passport and International travel website to start filling out the application. Click here. For applying for a US passport, you need to find a near by United States Postal office which accepts passport application. The process isn’t complete unless you submit all the valid documents like child’s birth certificate, photographs (oh yea! that’s a challenge but Costco did a great job for me. Taking a 2 week old baby isn’t that easy), application for, parents passport etc. Both parents are to be present at this appointment while submitting the application form.
- OVERSEAS CITIZENSHIP OF INDIA CARD (OCI) / ENTRY VISA – Since India does not allow dual citizenship, the second step after the passport arrives is to apply either for Overseas Citizenship of India card or an entry visa. OCI and entry (e-visa) are granted by the Government of India. Processing time for OCI is approximately 3 months and it is valid for almost 5 years which is a pretty good option. You do not have to worry about the visa for few years. You may also apply for OCI from India and pay the applicable fee in Indian currency. Both OCI and entry visa can be processed through Cox and Kings Global Services website. The drawback of entry visa is that you can not extend it from the US and each time you have to apply for a new one. Whereas if you are already in India while the entry visa expires, you can get it extended from there through www.frro.com. They have centers across India. I was pretty happy with the customer service of FRRO and I got my e-visa within a week after submission of the application.
- Advantage of getting an OCI : All the kids born in the US are by default issued an American birth certificate which makes them an American citizen. In case, the parents decides to return to India, OCI would be very helpful as it entitle your child to rights that all other Indians enjoy.
Also, keep in mind that all these steps can take a decent amount of time. The utmost can be even 3-4 months and hence, plan ahead if you have some travel coming up.
- VACCINATION FOR THE BABY – Before you travel, make sure you visit your kid’s pediatrician and get all the vaccinations that are needed for him/her. Also tell the duration of your stay and this will help in making any alterations to the vaccines. Pediatrician would suggest it if it is needed. Also, do not forget to ask for the vaccination records.
The next section is all the list of items you should be aware of before you actually step on the aircraft with your baby for the first time on an international travel. Travelling to India with a new born or a toddler isn’t a cake walk. It is a long haul. Travel can be physically super tiring and can cause a lot of fatigue. But reaching your home country with your little one will ease out all the stress and bring a million dollar smile on your face. I don’t want to be carried away now,lets get back to business right?
- When did I take Avi on the aircraft?
We did not take Avi on a flight until her first birthday, but we took some road trips before flying. The first flight for Avi was a domestic flight to New York City for her birthday. And her first international flight was when she was 15 month old -The long 16 hours one !
2. Which are the best baby friendly airline having services to India?
I traveled in Emirates and my experience was super bad. I got minimum help from the air hostesses. The more help I got was from my co-passenger. The food wasn’t great and they had no baby food stocked up. Whereas while returning, we had booked the Singapore airlines which was excellent. The bassinet I booked was spacious enough for my little one to sleep in, the food was baby friendly and they were on top of their services. I would recommend Singapore airlines for traveling with a baby.
3. How to choose the right flight for your kid?
Do it right for the baby’s night time.
Choosing the timing of the flight is very important too. We chose the long flight to be during the night so that for the major half of the trip, she would be sleeping. It worked really well for us. The time she was awake was for about 4 hours where I could manage her well. The another advantage for this timing is that the biological clock is already set for the kid when he/she arrives the destination. I just had to carry minimum food too.
Also, choose a flight with at least 2-3 hours of layover. Changing gates can be tough with an infant. Also, it will be great to have some time to sit back and relax before you catch the next flight. There will be time for you to freshen up, clean your kid, change diapers, feed and some running around in the transit area would be good too for the kid.
4. How to book your seat while traveling with an infant?
In my suggestion, an aisle seat would be a good option or in worst case even a middle seat would work. Never opt for the window seat. The advantage of an aisle seat is that you can get up and walk anytime you want and with a baby you never know how many lavatory runs you will have to make (obviously for diaper changing and stuffs). Also, if you are booking a bassinet seat, then you will be given the front row seats which will be roomy. My daughter was refusing to sleep in the bassinet in the onward journey and hence, I used all the space in the bassinet for keeping her bag, food, books and toys. The airlines allow bassinets for kids of age upto 2. In most airlines there are baby bassinets that can be fastened to the bulkhead. However it is a good practice to call in advance and put in a request. Also, most bassinet seats are pre-booked which means you will receive one in the front row. You just have to select the aisle or middle one. For more info on checking the seat arrangement and number details, click here.
5. How to book for assistance and help during the transits and layover?
I had booked for a wheel chair assistance when I was booking my tickets with the airlines. The airlines puts a note on their booking page and provide you with the assistance at all the airports. The wheel assistance was super helpful. Yes, it is not just for people who are handicapped but it is also for those who cant walk long distance with an infant and baggage.I could keep Avi in my lap and did not have to worry about running to different gates for catching the next flights. The assistance team would even help you at the emigration line and baggage carousel. Imagine taking out the 50 lb baggage from the carousel with an infant in hand? That isn’t a pretty scene. Hence, do not forget to book for an assistance or helper well in advance. Also, inside the aircraft the flight attendants would be happy to help you in case you need any help. Do not leave a cranky or fussy kid with them and leave only if the kid is in a happy mood. It is always better to leave the kid with the flight attendants that with a stranger.
6. How to plan at airport, security check and boarding points ?
As soon as we entered the airport, I wore my Infantino baby carrier and carried Avi in that. She was being front faced which made her less fussy. My husband went in to the airline counter to check in, baggage drop off and collect the boarding passes. It is also best to do an online check in if you do not have any help. Also, check at the airline counter for an up-gradation to a vacant seat if there are any. You can always ask for help from the ground staff if you do not find any special queue for families with kids.
The security check points are very tricky. I can not guarantee anything here, Some folks allow you to walk through the security points wearing your baby or keeping them in the stroller. Some of them would ask you to take the baby out too. Also, pack all the baby food together in a large transparent zip lock by category. This will help you in taking out only the zip lock and no need to search everything in the bag. In case you are carrying water or milk for the baby, there are chances that they would ask you questions and ask for even testing or sampling. Just let them do what they want to , you will get your food back after they are done sampling or testing. I experienced that too. I took tetra packs of milk for Avi and they did their job and gave me back all the packs. The only drawback was that I had to pour them in the baby feeding bottles which were pre-sterilized as there is a limit of only 100 ml. For more details, go to www.tsa.gov
The boarding gates are very family and kid friendly. The airlines have the policy of giving priority boarding to those traveling with kids and infants. Also, you can carry the stroller all the way upto the gate and drop off. The ground staff would tag it which means it needs to be taken along with the regular baggage under the aircraft. So stress of carrying the baby in your arms is lessened.
7. What are the items to be packed for the baby in the airlines?
Toys are very very needed. Have some toys which your kid is already familiar with and some surprise ones which you can give when he/she is cranky or fussy. The erase board worked like magic to me. I got most of the items from the Dollar store.
Cushion is also needed to give your little one a very happy nap. Oh they are going to take a lot of them. Blankets if needed. Jackets so that the kid won’t feel cold. A cap to cover the head.
Books to read while they are active and want to do something.
Snacks like cheese biscuits, string cheese, raisins, dates, idlis, boiled bananas, bread sandwiches, yogurt, cheerios etc. For infants on formula, please do carry milk powder which the baby likes. Puree pouches etc. Carry at least 5 sterilized bottles because you don’t want to go each time to the kitchen to clean the bottle with your infant. Pacifiers are helpful if the baby is fussy while the descent and take off due to the air pressure in the ear. If the kid is not familiar with pacifier, please do carry something like a juice or bottle of milk which you can offer while the descent and take off.
A first aid kit (fever medicine, bandaid, antiseptic lotion, thermometer), diaper and 5-6 pair of change of clothes are necessary too.
Oh!! most importantly try to carry the tablet or some favorite rhymes which your kid will enjoy during the flight. I had the Dave and Ava rhymes on my phone which was a live savior whenever she was fussy or even bored.
8. What did I carry in my backpack/diaper bag?
Diapers obviously, napkins, wipes, wallets, snacks, pacifier, passport pouch, printed itinerary, tickets and boarding pass, change of clothe for baby, towels, changing mat,phone, charger,water bottles, milk bottle, garbage cover.
9. How are the immigration process in India?
Once you reach the destination, your next step is to go to the immigration line. The US citizens needs to show the OCI/ e-visa at the counter. Everyone gets an entry stamp on their passports and boom! you are in!
Now handling jet lag is the next main challenge. Avi used to wake up super early and then sleep back again. So the longer your stay in India is, the better you will be able to manage jet lag and get over with. The “WIDE” morning awake windows will get over in few days for some kids and for some others it might take even weeks. Do not fight it, go with the flow. The tip that I can offer is that never allow your kid to fall asleep in the evening. Try to keep them awake in the 6-7 pm window. Engage them for this one hour and they will be fine. Expect them to be a bit cranky during the first few days and they should be okay after that.
Mistakes I committed during my flight journey:
- Carried too many diapers which wasn’t necessary. Once you land in India, you can buy them there.
- Carried my laptop which added extra weight.
- Let her down from the baby carrier once the security check was over. This was a mistake, she just kept running and it was tough manage. I should have let her free after reaching the boarding gate.
Alrighty, I am assuming that I have covered pretty much everything. This is going to be a fantastic journey. Be a little preparedish and you will be fine. No one can ever be fully prepared right? I hope that this guide makes your upcoming trip with your little one a lot less stressful and way more fun. Also, remember what worked for me may not work everyone but this blog can be used as a reference. I am pretty sure that some of you readers might have one or two tips hidden in their sleeves. I would love to hear them in the comment section.
Wish you a happy and safe journey!