Do You Need a Passport to Go on a Cruise?

Cruises are a fantastic way to travel and see the world. Most itineraries are jam-packed with adventures, activities, amenities and relaxation. But with many cruises including stops in a foreign country, the first question on everyone’s mind is: Do I need a passport to cruise?

The short answer? It depends on your itinerary. There are two types of cruises: closed-loop and open-loop (also known as open-jaw). While U.S. ships are not unheard of, most cruise ships sail under a foreign flag. Since U.S. maritime law states that non-U.S. flagged ships must make at least one stop at a foreign port, both closed-loop and open-loop cruises typically include stops in foreign cruise ports. Despite these international stops, only open-loop sailing requires a passport for all travelers.

For U.S. citizens, closed-loop sailing typically doesn’t require anything more than personal identification, like a state-issued driver’s license, and a birth certificate proving citizenship. Before you tuck your passport back into its usual storage spot, check out our cruise tips in this article and confirm your trip’s identification requirements with your cruise line. Some closed-loop trips may still require a passport.

What is a closed-loop cruise?

A closed-loop cruise is an itinerary that begins and ends in the same U.S. port.

For U.S. citizens traveling to Bermuda, Canada, the Caribbean islands and Mexico, closed-loop cruises are an exception to typical U.S. Customs and Border Protection passport requirements. This is because of regulations provided by the Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative: a plan by the departments of State and Homeland Security that determines which documents are acceptable for proving identity and citizenship when entering the United States.

There are several destinations you can cruise to without a passport on a closed-loop sailing. Alaska, the Bahamas, Mexico, Bermuda, Hawaii, the Caribbean, Canada and New England are all closed-loop cruise destinations that may not require a passport for entry. When looking at cruises to these locations, though, be mindful of the home ports. The Bahamas, Mexico, Bermuda, the Caribbean and Canada are all foreign ports, which means they only qualify for the passport exception if they are a stop along your cruise itinerary. If the cruise originates in any of these countries, it is likely you will need your passport.

Since Alaska, Hawaii and New England are all U.S. destinations, any closed-loop routes departing from these locations would not require a passport. However, keep in mind that it can be hard to find closed-loop cruises originating in Hawaii or Alaska. To find closed-loop itineraries for a Hawaiian or Alaskan cruise, try searching for sailings departing from major cities on the West Coast cities, like Seattle or Los Angeles. By contrast, quite a few closed-loop cruises leave from New England ports, but they are often marketed as Canadian cruises.

How do I know if my cruise is closed-loop?

The simplest way to determine if you will be traveling on a closed-loop cruise is to look at your departure and arrival ports.

A cruise is only considered closed-loop if it begins and ends in the same port, so if this is reflected in your itinerary, you are most likely taking a closed-loop cruise. When checking these details, pay attention to both the port and country. If you plan to leave your U.S. passport behind, your cruise must also begin and end in the United States. However, a common mistake travelers make is to assume that all cruises that begin and end in the U.S. are considered closed-loop.

A cruise like Carnival Cruise Line‘s 16-day Panama Canal from Seattle itinerary is not considered closed-loop even though it begins and ends in the U.S. and only includes countries typically covered by the WHTI passport regulations. This is because the cruise departs from Seattle and completes its journey in New Orleans. Since these are not the same port, the cruise is considered an open-loop cruise.

For a closed-loop cruise, you’ll have to look for an itinerary like Royal Caribbean International‘s seven-night Western Caribbean & Perfect Day cruise aboard its Freedom of the Seas ship. This cruise stops in several other countries – the Bahamas, Jamaica, Haiti and Grand Cayman – but the itinerary is considered closed-loop because it starts and ends in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. To ensure you are booking a closed-loop cruise, look for itineraries that list the same port for their start and end destinations or for cruises listed as round-trip from a U.S. port.

All that said, the best way to be certain of the ID requirements for your cruise and any foreign countries included in your itinerary is to double-check with your cruise line, travel agent or any destination countries.

Which countries still require a passport for closed-loop cruises?

If you plan to travel without your passport, keep in mind that the documents listed in this article are only those required to reenter the United States. Some cruise itineraries include foreign ports that may require a passport for disembarkation. This is most commonly an issue for travelers on a closed-loop Caribbean cruise. Barbados, Guadeloupe, Haiti, Martinique, St. Barts, and Trinidad and Tobago all require U.S. citizens to present a valid passport to disembark and enter the country, despite WHTI regulations not requiring a passport for these destinations. Labadee, Royal Caribbean’s private island, is an exception and does not require a passport despite being part of Haiti.

If your itinerary includes a country requiring a U.S. passport book, your cruise line should require you to have your passport at check-in, even if you are traveling on a closed-loop cruise. Check with your cruise line prior to departure to ensure you won’t need a passport for any of the destinations included in your cruise. This is especially important following the pandemic, as many countries still have stricter travel regulations in place.

It is also important to note that your passport must not expire within six months of your arrival in a foreign country or else it won’t be considered valid for international travel.

What forms of ID should I bring if I don’t need a passport for my cruise?

The WHTI requires all travelers – U.S. citizens and foreign nationals alike – to present documents that show identity and citizenship when entering the United States. A U.S. passport book can show both, but if you’re not bringing it along on your cruise, you may need more than one document.

U.S. citizens 16 and older

If you’re a U.S. citizen age 16 or older on a closed-loop cruise without your passport, you will need a government-issued photo ID like a driver’s license that has your photo, name and date of birth. In addition to a driver’s license, you must also present a document that proves your U.S. citizenship.

As an alternative to your passport book, here are some acceptable documents providing proof of U.S. citizenship:

  • Passport card
  • State-issued enhanced driver’s license (EDL)
  • Government-issued birth certificate
  • Trusted Traveler Program card (NEXUS, SENTRI or FAST)
  • American Indian Card (Form I-872) or Enhanced Tribal ID Card

The Trusted Traveler Programs are risk-based programs to facilitate the entry of travelers who have been vetted and preapproved. Most of these programs will provide you with a machine-readable card that allows you to pass through border checkpoints quickly. Keep in mind, some of these IDs are only available to travelers 16 and older.

U.S. citizens younger than 16

U.S. citizens younger than 16 are only required to present proof of citizenship, such as one of the following documents:

  • Original, notarized or certified copy of their government-issued birth certificate
  • Consular Report of Birth Abroad issued by U.S. Department of State
  • Certificate of Naturalization issued by U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services

Non-U.S. citizens

If you are a lawful permanent resident (or LPR) of the United States, you are required to present a permanent resident card or other valid evidence of permanent residence status.

Non-U.S. citizens, with the exception of Canadians and Mexicans, are not subject to WHTI’s passport exceptions, so a valid passport will need to be provided. Canadian citizens can present a valid passport, Enhanced Driver’s License or Trusted Traveler Program card. Mexican citizens must present a passport with a visa or a Border Crossing Card.

Documents that will not be accepted

While most common forms of identification are accepted, there are a few exceptions. U.S. military identification cards and U.S. Merchant Mariner documents are valid forms of identification under WHTI, but only when traveling on official orders or in conjunction with official maritime business, so it is unlikely they will be accepted when traveling on a cruise.

Here are some other documents that will not be accepted as proof of citizenship:

  • Voter registration cards
  • Social Security cards
  • Baptismal papers
  • Hospital certificates of birth (for anyone older than a newborn)

It is important to note that many of the WHTI-compliant forms of identification, such as a passport card or EDL, are only accepted at land and sea border crossings. Unforeseen circumstances, such as a medical air evacuation, may cause you to return to the U.S. by air travel. In this case, these documents won’t be accepted when you try to reenter at the border crossing.

To avoid extra delays in your return to the U.S. following unforeseen travel complications, the Department of State recommends that everyone taking a cruise from the United States carry a valid passport book in case of emergency.

Why Trust U.S. News Travel

Erin Vasta has traveled extensively to international destinations, gaining a deep knowledge of travel regulations in the process. Her expertise in this area has saved her family and friends from unnecessary travel delays and ensured stress-free trips through border security in nearly 15 countries. To write this article, Vasta used her international travel experience and research skills.

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