The challenges of traveling overseas with child car seats
Many parents choose to bring their little one’s car seat when traveling so it can be used on the plane and again by car. If your destination is within the United States or Canada, installing your child’s seat properly should be similar to how you install it in your own vehicle at home. But when traveling outside of North America, all bets are off.
The challenging reality
Cars in other countries may not be equipped with features specifically designed for the installation of American-market child seats, namely the lower anchors or automatic locking retractors. The lower anchors are part of the LATCH system in the United States. (They are called different things in other countries–ISOFIX in Europe and the Lower Universal Anchorage System in Canada.) These convenient anchors have been required in the U.S. and Canada since 2002, and standard in Europe since 2007.
In the absence of lower anchors, a child seat can typically be installed with the safety belt, as long as the safety belt or the child seat is equipped with a locking feature. The most common type of belt-locking mechanism is activated by slowly pulling all of the safety belt webbing out of the retractor. Once the safety belt is fully extended, the retractor locks and as the belt is fed back into the spool, it remains tight. However, if you are traveling internationally outside of North America or Europe, or if the car you are in is an older model, you can’t be sure that vehicles will be equipped with these child seat friendly installation aids. Fortunately, some child seats include their own locking feature or “lock-off.”
My family recently traveled to South Korea, and on our arrival, I found that many cabs did not have lower anchors or lockable safety belts. I was installing my son’s infant seat with the carrier only, and there was no lock off available, so I would sometimes have to hail multiple cabs until one came along that had a lap belt in the rear center position that I could use to securely install the seat.
This is not a unique situation, as proven by a friend who recently moved to India when she reached out to me regarding the installation of her daughter’s child seat. She is finding that many of the cars in India that she is traveling in also are not equipped with LATCH or belts that can lock, and the particular child seat that she has does not have built in lock-offs.
How to travel safely overseas
If you’re traveling with a small child, make sure you bring your car seat owner’s manual with you. It is possible, likely even, that you will need some guidance installing the seat in an unfamiliar vehicle, and you just might need to install it in a different way than you’re accustomed to doing back home.
If the vehicle you are riding in does not have LATCH or either the vehicle or seat lacks a locking feature, the seat may be able to be installed using a locking clip. Many child restraints in the United States used to be sold with locking clips included, though that is becoming less common as the cars on the road in this country without LATCH or lockable belts are rare, and many car seats have built in lock-offs. My friend in India was able to get a locking clip and directions for installing her seat with the locking clip free by calling the manufacturer of her child seat. They are also sold at some baby gear retailers for a few dollars each. It might be wise to get one in advance and bring it with you so you are prepared. Locking clips have somewhat of a bad reputation in the child passenger safety community as they can be very difficult to use, but in the absence of LATCH or locking safety belts, they can literally be a lifesaver.
It is worth mentioning that certification standards for child seats are different in the U.S., Canada, and Europe; if you choose to bring your car seat with you overseas, it might not meet that country’s specific standards. But it is often not practical or feasible to obtain a child seat from your destination country. And, in some countries, child seats are simply not widely sold or used, so bringing your own is really your only option.
—Michelle Tsai Podlaha
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