Do You Need a Passport to Cruise?

When flying from country to country, you never hear anybody ask about whether they need a passport or not. It’s simply a given that you’ll need it with you.

cruise ship passport
A U.S. passport is required for international cruises. (Photo via Doug Parker/Cruise Radio)

However, once you change a simple flight with a cruise trip, suddenly, a new question pops up: Do you need a passport to cruise?

The answer to this question isn’t a straight one, but I’ll try my best to give you all the necessary information.

However, before I go on, you must remember that the following guidelines apply only to U.S. citizens.

If you’re from another country or have a different citizenship, you might find most of what I mention below irrelevant or incorrect for you.

If that’s the case, you should check with your travel agent or cruise line to confirm if any visas are necessary for your trip.

Now, shall we answer the main question?

Cruises That Require a Passport

Charlotte CBP Global Entry offers expedited processing for travelers with a Passport to Cruise

Although not every itinerary leaving from North America requires a passport to cruise, several cruises do require you to have a valid US passport to sail. 

Below, I’ll cover what cruises require passports and which don’t:

1. Repositioning or One-way Cruises within the United States

Open-ended sailings can be voyages that begin and end in different US ports and voyages that depart from a US port but end in a foreign port or vice versa.

This includes transatlantic, transpacific, and repositioning cruises to and from the United States.

MORE: 7 Reasons To Take a Transatlantic Cruise

For example, a one-way Panama Canal cruise from San Diego to Fort Lauderdale requires a valid US Passport. 

A one-way fall cruise from New York City to Quebec requires a passport because you start in the US and end in another country.

2. Cruises To and From Foreign Ports

A person is holding a passport, ready to embark on a cruise

Passports are also needed for cruises that embark and disembark 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 US Passport because you’ll have to fly to Europe to board the ship. 

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

Nassau cruise port activities

Closed-loop Cruises

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’re a US citizen.

For example, a seven-night Western Caribbean cruise from Miami won’t require a passport because you’re beginning and ending the cruise from the same US 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. 

However, even if your cruise is closed-loop, starts and ends at the same US 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

norwegian sun cruise ship
Norwegian Sun (Photo courtesy of Norwegian Cruise Line)

Just because you’re taking a closed-loop cruise doesn’t mean you can walk on board with just your driver’s license!

Those who decide to cruise without a passport on a closed-loop sailing are still required to bring the following type of documentation: 

  1. An official state ID.
  2. An original copy of your birth certificate—to be able to sail.

Most people’s official state ID 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. 

You won’t be permitted to sail if you arrive at the terminal with a photocopy. 

A baptismal certificate or birth record issued by the hospital isn’t 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’s on file in the city where you were born.)

Some Ports May Still Require a Passport to Cruise

A person holding a passport in front of an airplane

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 your passport in your room, security will ask you to get it. 

Remember, cruise lines do not make the rules—they must follow local regulations at every port they visit. 

As of 2024, 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?

calle fortaleza san juan puerto rico
Calle Fortaleza (Photo by prayitnophotography/Flickr)

Because both are US territories, The Department of State doesn’t require a passport to travel to and from Puerto Rico or the US Virgin Islands.

This changes if you take a one-way cruise from San Juan 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?

norwegian sky carnival conquest anthem of the seas norwegian getaway nassau bahamas multiple ships drone
Cruise ships in Nassau, Bahamas. (Photo via Doug Parker/Cruise Radio)

Below are some regions where many closed-loop cruises sail from within the United States and don’t 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)
  • Hawaii
  • San Juan, Puerto Rico, or the US Virgin Islands

If you’re taking an Alaska cruise that starts or ends in Vancouver, BC, you’ll need a passport to enter or leave Vancouver.

Guests without passports who want to go on an Alaska cruise should choose to sail roundtrip from Seattle or San Francisco.

Passport Card vs. Passport Book

A passport on a desk

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 won’t 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 Cards vs Passport Book.

Why do I need a passport to cruise?

immigration area for passport checking

You need a passport to cruise if the ship embarks from or disembarks in a foreign country, even if the cruise itself is entirely within US waters.

You must present your passport to immigration officials when you enter and exit the foreign country.

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 US 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. 

I agree with that sentiment, and these are the reasons why:

U.S. Citizens with and without passport

1. 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, and they’re 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 don’t 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.

2. Getting Back To The Ship

Carnival Sunrise embarkation
Carnival Sunrise Embarkation

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 US Embassy and acquiring a passport. On top of that, some embassies are located hours away from the cruise port.

READ MORE: What Happens When A Ship Leaves You In 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. 

3. Quicker Disembarkation

Carnival Horizon Return Trip Report
Carnival Horizon

Another advantage of cruising with a passport is a quicker debarkation experience. In most US 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 US cruise ports.

The difference between a passport and a visa

The differences between a passport and a visa aren’t that tricky. Here’s what you should know:

  • 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’ll 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 an acceptable form 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.

Frequently Asked Questions

Do You Need a Passport for a Carnival Cruise?

According to the Carnival Cruise website, it’s highly recommended that you bring a valid passport for at least another six months.

Do You Need a Passport for a Cruise to Mexico?

The answer here isn’t clear-cut. Most agencies would advise you to carry a valid passport when taking a cruise to Mexico. However, for US citizens on a closed cruise, you can travel to Mexico with just any proof of citizenship other than a passport. 

This can be an official copy of your birth certificate or a government-issued photo ID. So long as the ship’s final destination isn’t Mexico, you should be fine with any official document other than a passport.

Do You Need a Passport to Go to the Bahamas?

Yes, you definitely need a valid passport when entering the Bahamas. This is a strict rule that applies to anyone entering the country, no matter their nationality.

Things might be different for close-looped cruises, but if you’re entering the country, a passport is a must.

Final Thoughts

Hopefully, you’re no longer wondering if you need a passport to cruise. Before going on a cruise, it’s recommended to have a passport. 

The requirements may vary depending on the itinerary and your nationality but it’s generally in your best interest to always have it on you.

Always check with the cruise line and countries you’ll 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.

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