Various factors determine whether you’ll need a passport to cruise. While many assume this is a yes or no question, it depends on the itinerary.
Keep in mind these guidelines apply to U.S. citizens. For citizens of other countries or those with other immigration statuses living in the United States, a passport is generally required for any cruise, and you’ll want to check with your travel agent or cruise line to confirm if any visas are necessary for your itinerary.
But what is a passport? A passport is a document issued by a government that identifies the bearer as a citizen of that country. It is required for international travel, as it serves as proof of citizenship and identity. Without a passport, you cannot enter or leave most countries.
In this article:
- Cruises That Require a Passport
- Sailings that Do Not Require a Passport to Cruise
- How To Cruise Without a Passport
- Where Can I Cruise Without a Passport?
- Passport Card vs. Passport Book
- Why do I need a passport to cruise?
- The difference between a passport and a visa
- Final Thoughts
Cruises That Require a Passport
Although not every itinerary leaving from North America requires a passport to cruise, several cruises do require you to have a valid U.S. passport to sail. Below we cover the most common ones that do not require a passport.
Repositioning or One-way Cruises within the United States
Open-ended or one-way sailings can be voyages that begin and end in different U.S. ports, and voyages that depart from a U.S. port but end in a foreign port or vice versa. This includes transatlantic, transpacific, and repositioning cruises to and from the United States.
For example, a one-way Panama Canal cruise from San Diego to Fort Lauderdale requires a valid U.S Passport. A one-way fall cruise from New York City to Quebec requires a passport because you start in the U.S. and end in another country.
A Passport is Required to Cruise To and From Foreign Ports
Passports are also needed for cruises that embark and debark in foreign ports, including Canada. This means you’ll need a passport regardless of whether you plan to fly or drive in or out of the country. The cruise line will require you to enter your passport information during check-in, and then the airline will verify your passport to board the flight.
For example, a transatlantic cruise from Barcelona to New York City requires a valid U.S. Passport because you’ll have to fly to Europe to board the ship. And then, once back in New York, U.S. customs and border protection will require a passport to get back into the United States.
Sailings that Do Not Require a Passport to Cruise
A closed-loop cruise is a sailing that starts and ends in the same homeport. Most sailings from North America, except repositioning cruises or Panama Canal crossings, are closed-loop.
Thanks to the Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative (WHTI), you don’t need a passport to cruise if you are a U.S. citizen.
For example, a seven-night Western Caribbean cruise from Miami will not require a passport because you are beginning and ending the cruise from the same U.S. port.
Even though your cruise will visit a foreign port (because it’s required to), passports likely won’t be required to go ashore if the voyage meets the closed-loop requirements. Most cruise ports require you to carry a photo ID to verify the name on the ship card matches.
Even if your cruise is closed-loop, meaning it starts and ends at the same U.S. port, bring your passport. In an emergency, the ship may need to dock at a foreign port, requiring clearance through immigration.
How To Cruise Without a Passport
Just because you are taking a closed-loop cruise doesn’t mean you can walk on board with just your driver’s license.
For those who decide to cruise without a passport on a closed-loop sailing, they are still required to bring the following type of documentation — an official state ID, and an original copy of your birth certificate — to be able to sail. This will satisfy the proof of citizenship requirement.
Most people’s official state I.D. would be their driver’s license, state ID card, or learner’s permit.
For the birth certificate, it’s important to stress that it must be an original or certified copy of the birth certificate, which has the raised seal branded into it. If you arrive at the terminal with a photocopy, you will not be permitted to sail.
A baptismal certificate or birth record issued by the hospital is not an acceptable document. It must be a birth certificate issued from the Office of Vital Statistics.
(Note: You can get a duplicate copy of your birth certificate from the office by ordering online or going in person. It is on file in the city you were born.)
Some Ports May Still Require a Passport to Cruise
There are rare instances where a port of call may require cruise passengers to have their passport to go ashore or take an excursion, even if the cruise itself doesn’t require it.
The daily planner will tell you if a passport in port is required and an announcement from the cruise director during arrival.
If you get to the gangway and realize you forgot the passport back in your room, security will ask you to go get it. Remember, cruise lines do not make the rules — they must follow local regulations at every port they visit.
As of 2023, visitors to the Caribbean islands of Martinique and Guadeloupe must possess a valid passport. Those on a closed-loop cruise without a passport must remain on board. The French government mandates that all visitors, even those on brief visits, have a valid passport.
Does Puerto Rico Require a Passport?
Because both are U.S. territories, The Department of State does not require a passport to travel to and from Puerto Rico or the U.S. Virgin Islands.
This changes if you are taking a one-way cruise from San Juan back to the United States. This falls under the one-way voyage category, where a passport to cruise is required.
An example of this would be if you were taking a one-way cruise from San Juan, Puerto Rico to Port Canaveral, Florida. A passport will be required to board the ship.
Where Can I Cruise Without a Passport?
Below are some regions that many closed-loop cruises sail from within the United States and do not require a passport.
Remember that many cruise lines offer open-ended or one-way voyages in these areas, so be mindful when selecting an itinerary if you don’t plan to get a passport.
Regions You Won’t Need A Passport to Cruise
- Caribbean (except getting off the ship in Martinique or Guadeloupe)
- Alaska (except cruises that travel to or from Vancouver)
- Mexican Riviera
- Partial-transit Panama Canal
- Canada/New England
- Bermuda (this varies, check with your cruise line)
- San Juan, Puerto Rico or the U.S. Virgin Islands
If you’re taking an Alaska cruise that starts or ends in Vancouver, BC, you will need a passport to enter or leave Vancouver.
Guests without passports and wanting to go on an Alaska cruise should choose to sail roundtrip from Seattle or San Francisco.
Passport Card vs. Passport Book
You can purchase a passport card ($35) when applying for a passport. It’s important to know that you can only use the passport card to reenter the United States at cruise ports of entry from Mexico, Canada, Bermuda, and the Caribbean. The passport card will not work if you take an international cruise or flight.
While the passport cards are cheaper, if you miss the cruise ship departure in a foreign port, you’ll still need a passport book to fly back to the United States.
We compare the differences between these two: Passport Card vs Passport Book
Why do I need a passport to cruise?
You need a passport to cruise if the cruise ship embarks from or disembarks in a foreign country, even if the cruise itself is entirely within U.S. waters.
You must present your passport to immigration officials when you enter and exit the foreign country. A passport is a valuable form of identification that can also be used in an emergency.
Passengers may need a passport for some cruises within the same country due to maritime laws or cruise line policies.
The fiscal year 2022 saw 11,711,945 U.S. passports issued, of which 1,741,527 were passport cards.
Ask a seasoned cruiser, and many will tell you that a passport is absolutely necessary and that no one should travel without one, no matter the cruise. We agree with that sentiment, and these are the reasons why.
In Case of Emergency
Even though a passport isn’t required for most sailings offered by cruise lines, unexpected accidents or emergencies occur while traveling. So it’s better to err on caution and get a passport regardless.
Many scenarios can play out — usually things beyond anyone’s control. What if someone you’re traveling with gets injured in port and must stay in a local hospital? What if you have to unexpectedly fly home from a port of call due to an emergency?
As mentioned, a passport book will be required to return to the United States.
Most emergencies are covered if you purchase a comprehensive travel insurance policy; some even cover the loss or theft of a passport.
(Note: Read the explanation of benefits on your travel insurance policy very carefully.)
If the cruise ends abruptly because of a mechanical issue and you do not have a passport, the cruise line will work with the consulate or embassy to ensure you make it back into the United States without issue.
Getting Back To The Ship
Even something as simple as not getting back to the ship on time and getting left behind could be an issue without having a passport. Whatever the case, you’ll have to jump through many more hoops if you’re not traveling with a passport.
Being left in port will involve visiting the U.S. Embassy and acquiring a passport. On top of that, some embassies are located hours away from the cruise port.
This is why many veteran cruisers and travel agents advise first-timers to travel with a passport, even if they aren’t technically required to.
Another advantage of cruising with a passport is a quicker debarkation experience. In most U.S. ports, having a passport to present at customs and immigration may cut your debark time in half.
However, this is rapidly changing as facial recognition comes into play at many U.S. cruise ports.
The difference between a passport and a visa
The difference between a passport and a visa should not be confused.
- A passport proves who you are and that you are a permanent resident
- A visa is an endorsement saying you’re allowed to enter, stay, or leave the country you’re visiting
You will want to ensure you have your passport before your cruise; processing times can take two to four months.. That time can be cut in half if you pay the extra $60 expediting fee.
For example, I took a cruise from Vietnam in 2019. To fly internationally from New York City, I had a passport to board the international flight. I was also required to have a visa to enter Vietnam.
REAL ID Act of 2005 (Enhanced Driver’s License)
Lastly, due to the REAL ID Act of 2005, many travelers will find that their driver’s license may no longer comply with federal travel regulations and soon won’t be acceptable forms of ID for domestic air travel. If you plan to fly to your cruise embarkation port, this could be a problem.
TSA says that by May 2025, every air traveler 18 and older will need a REAL ID-compliant driver’s license, state-issued enhanced driver’s license, or another acceptable form of ID to fly within the United States. These licenses have a star in the upper right-hand corner.
While it’s yet to be seen how this will be resolved and how the cruise lines will address the issue, it can all be avoided by simply getting a passport.
Before going on a cruise, it’s recommended to have a passport. However, the requirements may vary depending on the itinerary and your nationality. Always check with the cruise line and countries you will visit to understand the exact documentation requirements before your trip.
Yes, the cost of a passport does add to the overall expense of the trip, especially if you have a family of four, but passports are valid for ten years.
The cruise line will inform you of these requirements during the booking process, and some will handle the visa process.
However, you are required to obtain your own passport.
- U.S. passport fee chart (Updated January 2023)
- US passport application process
- Current US passport processing times
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