Traveling abroad with your car seat
It’s that time of year again. Time to forget the stress of work. Time for relaxation. And most importantly, time for long-lasting family memories. If you’re jetting off to see family or friends in far-flung places this holiday season, there are plenty of things to organize in advance. For instance, how you’re going to travel around when you get there!
We know that planning holiday logistics can be pretty challenging – especially when you’ve got a young family to consider. And if you add in the stress of renting a car in an unfamiliar country, you know you’re going to have to knuckle down and do some research regarding regulations, routes, and what you’re going to do about your traveling abroad with your car seat. (Can you even?)
Whether you are renting a car, borrowing a car from local family or friends or just want to be prepared for a taxi or Uber ride in the country you are visiting, we’ve gathered some of the essential information for traveling abroad with your children’s car seats. We’ll talk about if all seats will fit all cars, when you may want to rent, regulations for child car restraints in foreign countries and whether you’re allowed to bring your own car seat with you.
Do all car seats fit all types of cars?
No. Just like all car seats won’t fit all US cars, car seats and cars vary worldwide. Some fit together better than others. Generally speaking US car seats will fit in various countries’ cars as well as they fit in various US cars.
In Europe they are trying to make choosing a car seat for your car more simple by creating a standard called R129 aka i-Size. This meant to help parents make sure a car seat and car are compatible. But I digress.
There can be a number of compatibility issues from size of the car seat and the size of the back to seat to the buckle stalk of the seat belt being too high for your particular car seat and causing belt buckle crunch. Unfortunately this isn’t something you can always tell in advance just by knowing what kind of car you’ll be riding in. And sometimes simply trying another seating position in the car will solve the problem.
Many car seats in the US are quite large. If at all possible try to find out what type of car you will be riding in and determine if your car seat will fit properly. Or plan on buying a smaller seat for travel purposes and leave your larger seat at home ready for your return. A RideSafer travel vest is a safe, convenient option for children 3 and up.
Installing a car seat in foreign cars
The LATCH system is often referred to as ISOFIX (International Organisation for Standardisation FIX) in other countries or UAS (Universal Anchorage System) in Canada. Most foreign countries have ISOFIX in newer cars in some seating position and functions the same as US lower anchors (the LA of LATCH) using metal metal anchor points built into the car to attach the car seat in place. But foreign cars may not necessarily have the top tether for forward facing car seats (the T in LATCH; CH stands for children — Lower Anchors and Tether for Children).
LATCH/ISOFIX comes as standard in most popular family cars, but there are times when using the system is not feasible. For instance,
- there are still a number of cars on the road without the system
- if the car seat you have will only fit in the center rear seat
- or the child’s weight exceeds the 40 pound limit for ISOFIX (this is child’s weight only)
You can install your car seat with a seat belt rather than the LATCH/ISOFIX system.
When installing a car seat with a seat belt in the US, we often tell you to lock the seat belt. That’s not necessarily the case when traveling abroad with your car seat.
The car at your international destination may not have locking seat belts. If your car seat has built-in lockoffs, as more and more do, you should be fine with a normal seat belt installation. If you have a car seat without a built-in lockoff, it’s time to brush up on — or learn how to — installing the car seat with a locking clip before you leave home.
Many car seats are no longer shipping with a locking clip. If you do not have one, call the car seat manufacturer and ask for them send you one or borrow one. (Locking clips are not a car seat-specific part.)
Should I rent a car seat abroad instead of taking my own?
Renting a car on a family vacation is a very personal and flexible way to see another country. It also comes with responsibility. You need to make sure that you can keep your kids as safe as possible in the backseat.
Renting a car seat at your destination could be an option (even if you aren’t renting a car), though not one we typically recommend. However it would ensure, hopefully, you were using a proper car seat for that country.
There are both pros and cons to taking your own car seat abroad on holiday:
- You’re already a master of installing the car seat (right? you’ve visited a car seat technician and learned how to properly install your car seat?)
- Most airlines will allow you to take a car seat for free (almost certainly on trans-Atlantic flights).
- You know the quality, safety rating of your car seat.
- They are heavy and bulky to transport.
- There is no certainty that it will fit your particular rental car or taxi.
- The car rental company may not allow you to drive off their lot using your US certified seat. (We’ve only heard of this happening once but…)
The best advice we can give you is to get in touch with the car rental company you are intending to use to ask them a couple of questions. First, ask whether your car seat is eligible in the country you’ve chosen to travel to. If the answer is yes, you can then ask them for the make and model of the car they are planning to rent out to you so you can do some homework on the vehicle.
If you’re struggling to find a vehicle that suits your car seat, it’s not the end of the world. You’ve always got the option of hiring a car seat at your destination.
When going down this route, it’s important to ask the rental company if they can send you a picture of the make and model of the car. Then you can do a little background check for the best car seat to hire. You can also ask whether the seat will be pre-fitted or whether you’ll have to do it yourself!
Am I allowed to bring my own car seat with me?
The majority of airlines from the US will allow you to check-in one car seat per child, free of charge. It will not count towards your baggage allowance either.
If you wish to use your car seat on the plane, you must purchase a ticket for your child. You should also confirm the car seat complies with airline regulations or it will be put in the luggage hold.
(Outside of the US, airlines do not have to abide by FAA regulations. Airlines may not allow you to use the seat on the plane. They may even sometimes not allow you to buy a ticket for a newborn. If you hope to travel from country to country, check the airlines for regulations first.)
Is it even legal to travel abroad with your US car seat?
Technically, it is often illegal to use your US certified car seat in other countries. (see a list of international car seat laws for popular family holiday destinations) Though it does depend on the country. For instance New Zealand law actually states tourists can use a US certified seat. Whereas, Australia law specifies only seats that are approved by Australia or New Zealand, even for short term visitors. And then some countries don’t have and/or don’t enforce any car seat laws.
It’s unlikely local law enforcement would issue any kind of citation for a US certified car seat being used. In all of our years as car seat technicians, we’ve never had a parent tell us they were ticketed for traveling abroad with their car seat. (It would be bad for tourism if all families had to spend an extra several hundred dollars on car seats to travel to their country.) Many travel and car seat forums have story after story about parents having no problem traveling internationally with their car seat.
If you are moving internationally of course that’s a different story. Check the country’s laws. Ask other expats about their experiences. If you are in the armed forces look into military laws and regulations that surround where you will be assigned.
Many countries exempt taxis from car seat regulations like many states. But as we recommend here, it’s still safer to ride with a car seat as taxis can crash too.
It’s safer to travel with a car seat you are familiar with and can use correctly. So we urge you not to let concerns about the law stop you and your family from experiencing the wonder and adventure of traveling abroad.
Have you gone traveling abroad with your car seat? Tell us about your experience.
By Emily Hanson who writes about everything and anything automotive — from car buying advice to car maintenance — with additions and editing by Amie Durocher, Creative Director at Safe Ride 4 Kids and certified CPS Tech since 2004.
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