Setting out on a global escapade with little adventurers demands meticulous planning. This is especially true when it comes to ensuring their safety on foreign roads. Among the labyrinth of considerations, navigating the nuances of car seats takes center stage for traveling parents. Yet, beyond understanding international regulations, there lurks another hurdle: the diverse vehicle landscape encountered abroad. Installing car seats can pose a puzzling challenge due to differing vehicle designs. This guide aims to unravel this complexity, providing insights and strategies to conquer the hurdles of international travel with travel car seats.
At Safe in the Seat, we’re more than just a team of nationally certified child passenger safety technicians – we’re parents too! We’ve personally experienced the struggles of finding the ideal car seat that fits your child, budget, and lifestyle. Over the years, we’ve assisted thousands of parents like you through our Car Seat Buying Kits, online courses, and personalized consultations.
Possible Obstacles When Traveling Internationally
Obstacle 1: Non-Locking Seat Belts
When traveling outside of the US and Canada, you are very unlikely to find locking seat belts in your rental car or vehicle you’re using. This is fine if you are traveling with a booster seat, but if you have a harnessed seat of any sort, you’ll need to work out how to install the car seat.
- If the vehicle has lower anchors/Isofix and your child is under the lower anchor weight limits for the seat you are using, you can install the car seat with that method.
- If your car seat has a built-in lock-off like Graco TrioGrow or Britax Emblem, you are all set to do a seat belt installation.
- If neither of those solutions works for you, then you’ll need to install the car seat using a locking clip. You can contact the manufacturer of your car seat to get one for free and this is how to use it.
Obstacle 2: Lap-only Seat Belts
If you are using a rear-facing car seat (infant or convertible), you should be able to easily install the car seat with the lap-only belt as it will have some way to tighten. Locking clips cannot be used with this type of seat belt, so do not use one.
Lap-only seat belts are not suitable for children riding in high-back boosters or for adults. Vehicles with this type of seat belt are unlikely to have lower anchors/Isofix or top tethers.
If your child is not rear-facing, ideally you would find a different vehicle.
Obstacle 3: No Lower Anchors/Isofix
If there are no lower anchors/Isofix in the vehicle, then you will need to do a seat belt installation.
Obstacle 4: No Top Tether Anchorage Points
When riding in vehicles without top tether anchorage points, it is recommended to have the child rear-facing if possible. If the child has outgrown the rear-facing limits, but is too young for a booster, using a forward-facing harnessed seat without the top tether is your best option. Keep in mind that some car seats require the top tether to be used when forward-facing, so you may have to install the seat in this way against the manufacturer’s recommendations.
Obstacle 5: No Seat Belts At All
There are some countries where it is difficult to find vehicles that have seat belts at all. If you rent a car or hire a private driver, you will be more likely to find a vehicle with seat belts. If you must rely on taxis, we recommend sending taxis away until you find one that has seat belts for everyone in your group. Riding in a vehicle without a seat belt is never recommended. Physics works the same on vacation as it does at home.
Obstacle 6: Legality of Using a Seat From Abroad
In most places around the world, you are not going to encounter any trouble for using a car seat from your home country while on vacation. The only exception is when traveling to Australia. In Australia, you can be fined for using a foreign seat if you are caught.
Renting Car Seats
In most cases, we do not recommend renting a car seat. In most places, you can expect car seats that only harness to 40 pounds, may be expired, may be missing pieces, and/or will not come with instructions on how to install it.
The only exception to this is if you are traveling in Australia. If you are worried about being fined, but don’t want to buy a car seat, Hire For Baby may be a good option to rent from.
Top Car Seats for International Travel
The Nuna Pipa Urbn is the first seat available to offer rigid lower anchors attached to the infant carrier! This makes it very easy to use in countries where most of the vehicles have lower anchors (aka Isofix). At this time, this seat is only available as part of a travel system. The best of those options for travel is the one that comes with the TRVL stroller. In the event you end up with a vehicle that lacks the lower anchors/Isofix, you can install it with a seat belt and a locking clip. The limits for this seat are lower than most infant seats, 22 pounds and 29″. This seat is FAA-approved for aircraft travel.
2. Clek Liingo
The Clek Liingo is another baseless option that has lower anchors attached to the infant carrier, although they are the flexible kind. This seat is available on its own if you already have a stroller in mind that you want to use. You can find the compatibility list here. If you end up with a vehicle that lacks lower anchors/Isofix, you can install it with a seat belt and a locking clip. This seat has 35 pounds and 32″ limits. This seat has aircraft approval.
The Britax Emblem is one of our favorite convertible car seats for international travel. It has a seat belt lock-off for both rear and forward-facing modes. Alternatively, you can install the seat with lower anchors/Isofix until the child weighs 50 pounds. The seat itself weighs 18 pounds. The rear-facing limits are 40 pounds and 49″ and the forward-facing limits are 65 pounds and 49″. This seat has aircraft approval. This seat can be found in a flame-retardant-free fabric, SafeWash, if that’s of interest to you.
The Graco Triogrow is our other favorite for international travel as it, too features a seat belt lock-off for the rear and forward-facing modes. This seat also weighs 18 pounds. It can be installed with lower anchors/Isofix until the child is 45 pounds. However, this seat features basic lower anchors, which can be more challenging to remove from a vehicle. The rear-facing limits of the Graco Triogrow are 40 pounds and 49″ and the forward-facing limits are 65 pounds and 49″. This seat has a high-back booster mode that will last about a year longer than the harness mode. This seat has aircraft approval. You can find a full review of the Graco Triogrow here.
Nachfolger Hy5 World is a European seat, but the manufacturer will ship it almost anywhere in the world. This is a rear-facing-only seat with a 40-pound limit. It does have aircraft approval. It has a seat belt lock-off and can be installed with a lap-and-shoulder belt using that lock-off. Alternatively, you can install it with a lap-only seat belt and bypass the lock-off. This seat has an optional top tether as well, which is an added safety feature if you are able to utilize it. The Nachfolger Hy5 World is an inflatable car seat. You can deflate it to carry it around and stash it in an overhead bin when necessary. When inflated, it feels very solid. It weighs 16.5 pounds.
TinySeats Two is a folding seat that is available in Europe. You will have to be in Europe in order to acquire one as they will not ship outside of Europe at this time. This seat has a rear-facing mode with 50 pounds and 49″ limits and a high back booster mode with 53″ limits. The seat can only be installed with Isofix/lower anchors. If you are planning on traveling to countries where it may be hard to find vehicles with those available, this would not be a good choice for you. This seat weighs 22 pounds and does not have aircraft approval.
7. WAYB Pico
The WAYB Pico only weighs 8 pounds and is foldable. It even comes with a carrying bag to make travel easier. The limits of the seat are 50 pounds and 45″, so it won’t be a long-lasting option for higher percentile kids and it shouldn’t be used until a child is at least 2 years old. This seat can be installed with the lower anchors/Isofix for the entire limits of the seat. But you will need a locking clip if you need to do a seat belt installation. This seat has aircraft approval. We have a full review of the WAYB Pico here.
The Ride Safer Travel Vest is a great option when traveling internationally with kids who are older than 4. It weighs around 1.5 pounds and comes with a small bag to carry it in. There are 4 different sizes, so it can fit kids of many ages. It will work as is in any vehicle that has a lap and shoulder belt. If you are worried about the vehicles at your destination having lap-only seat belts, you can buy an accessory for this vest called the Energy Absorbing Tether Loop Accessory. This loop is attached to the vehicle to create a top tether anchorage point and with this in use, you can use the vest in vehicles with lap-only seat belts. The vest works like a booster, in that it alters the seat belt to fit a child’s body. This vest is not approved for use on aircraft.
Installation and Usage Tips
Ensuring the proper installation of a car seat in a foreign vehicle begins with familiarity. Always carry your car seat manual for reference or bookmark the digital version on your phone. Check for compatibility with the vehicle’s seat belts, and we recommend packing a locking clip unless your car seat has a built-in lock-off.
If you think there’s a possibility that you will have to install the car seat with a locking clip, practice at home a few times first so that your first time isn’t when you land at the airport after a long journey. If you have chosen a new car seat to take on your trip, practice installing it and using it before you leave. Ensuring your readiness to install your car seat in various ways depending on the vehicle, will significantly minimize stress and anxiety when traveling with kids internationally.
As you embark on your international adventures with your little ones, navigating the complexities of car seat installation in foreign lands may seem daunting. However, armed with the knowledge and preparedness outlined here, you’re well-equipped to conquer these challenges. Prioritizing familiarity with your car seat, practicing installations, and staying adaptable to different vehicle configurations will be your greatest allies. Remember, safety knows no borders, and by staying informed and proactive, you ensure your child’s well-being during every journey. Embrace the excitement of exploration, knowing that your thorough preparation lays the foundation for safe, memorable travels with your cherished little passengers.
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