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I get a lot of questions about cruising. They run the gamut from “What should I pack?” to “How much should I tip?” But the question I get that surprises me the most is none other than “Do I need a passport to cruise?” My standard answer is why would you leave the country without a passport? OK…OK…. The answer to this question, like many others, is that it depends. Note: this post applies to U.S. citizens. Always verify documentation requirements with your travel provider prior to sailing.
You Can Board Some Cruises Without a Passport
Thanks to the Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative (WHTI), you can board “closed loop” cruises (a cruise beginning and ending at the same U.S. port) with a government-issued ID like a driver’s license and proof of citizenship such as a certified birth certificate. That’s right, you can leave the country on a cruise ship, visit multiple other countries, and return to the same port you boarded at with your driver’s license and a birth certificate. Good examples of closed loop cruises are your typical “weekend boozer” to the Bahamas from Miami, and any typical 7-night cruise to the Caribbean roundtrip from Miami.
A cruise that would not qualify – one that originates in San Diego, transits the Panama Canal, and arrives in Miami. While you are departing and arriving from a U.S. port, they are not the same port. Another example, any cruise originating outside the U.S. or one that starts in the U.S., but ends in Canada.
You can Cruise Without a Passport But Should You?
I, along with every major cruise line I’m aware of, recommend that you obtain a passport to cruise. Sure, you may not need a passport to set sail, but what if you are in Mexico and you discover that you must return home by air due to a family emergency? While I don’t doubt you will eventually be able to fly home without a passport, you will at least face bureaucratic obstacles in attempting to return directly home by air from a cruise port outside the U.S. Frankly, having a passport just makes things easier when you’re traveling internationally, even if you technically do not need one when sailing on a closed loop cruise. I can’t imagine leaving the country without one because at times we hear stories of dozens of passengers being denied boarding.
Tips for Cruising with Your Passport
In most ports of call, you will not need to present your passport, so keep it safely stored in your stateroom. There are some itineraries where the ship will collect your passport at embarkation to facilitate immigration formalities at certain ports of call. I experienced this on a Celebrity Mediterranean cruise years ago. Our passports were returned to us a day or 2 before the cruise ended. You should make a copy of your passport, perhaps more than one copy.
It’s not a bad idea to carry a copy with you when you leave the ship, but in 52 cruises, I’ve never had occasion to use it for anything other than occupying space in my pocket. However, having a copy available somewhere could be useful in obtaining a replacement if you run into the misfortune of losing your passport. Of course, since it’s 2023, snapping a photo of the picture page with your phone is an option as well.
It is critical to always verify the documentation requirements for your itinerary with your cruise line. Cruise lines generally require your passport to be valid for at least 6 months beyond the completion of your cruise. Do NOT show up for embarkation with a passport that expires in 2 months!!!!
In summary, you should always cruise with a passport, even if you aren’t required to on closed loop itineraries from U.S. ports of call. You are leaving the country and while the risks may be small, things can go awry and you could suddenly find yourself trying to fly home from an unplanned port of call. A passport will make life easier for you. Don’t leave home without it!!! – MJ
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