My question is, do I need to bring their birth certificates?
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I was told by my travel agent that all we need are passports for the kids. To get a passport, you would have submitted birth certificates anyway.The Passport proves they are citizens, but it does not show who their parents are. The BC would show that and would verify to authorities that the notarized letter is from a parent. I would bring the BC. While it may not be needed, almost everyone has a certified copy handy (or should) and it doesn't take up much room. Better safe than sorry.
Thanks everyone for the input.That's a hole in the process. We have friends where the mom took the kids out of the country. The dad provided permission for both of them to travel, even though the older child is not legally related to him. In this case the older child also had his biological father's last name. This was to a Latin American country, so probably somewhat high risk for abductions, and the mother wasn't even asked for the letter. The State Department clearly says "The U.S. has no exit controls"... and they mean it.
Mia = great point about the birth certificate identifying who the father is. My notarized letter doesn't hold much weight if they cannot tell he is the father.