Cruise in Comfort With All the Necessary Documents
Ready to set sail? Double check your bags to see if you've packed your nonslip shoes, your motion sickness meds (just in case) and plenty of sunscreen. But what about your passport? If you're cruising exclusively within United States territory, you probably don't need it. If you're visiting other countries, however, you probably do. And although you may not technically need to show a passport for your upcoming cruise, the safest bet is to bring it anyway.
What Cruise Destinations Require a Passport?
Generally speaking, cruising follows the same ID requirements as flying. Americans who cruise to any destinations that aren't U.S. states or U.S. territories must show their valid passports. There's one exception, though, for something called a closed-loop cruise—but even then, if you visit a foreign country, you should bring your passport if you can. (More on that in a minute.)
You'll also need a passport if any part of your trip requires flying to another country as part of your itinerary. If you're flying from New York City to Juneau for an Alaskan cruise with a layover in Toronto, for instance, you'll have to bring your passport. Driving through Canada to get to Alaska also necessitates packing your passport, or at least a passport card. (In fact, many Alaskan cruises make stops in Canadian ports, so you will probably need a passport for that trip even if you fly directly to Alaska from another U.S. state.)
What Destinations Don't Require a Passport?
One thing that gets confusing for travelers is that a few of the most popular cruise destinations—Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands—are U.S. territories. American citizens and lawful permanent residents do not need passports to travel between the U.S. and these territories. And if your cruise is scheduled to only visit American port cities, you can also travel without a passport.
What Are Closed-Loop Cruises?
In a closed-loop cruise, you depart from and return to the same U.S. port. On a closed-loop cruise, U.S. Customs and Border Patrol requires Americans to only show proof of identity and proof of citizenship. Your passport accomplishes this, but the combination of a driver's license and a copy of your birth certificate will also suffice.
However, this requirement only affects your ability to be allowed to get on and off the ship at the main port city. If you want to disembark at a foreign port (a crucial part of the cruise experience), you'll still have to adhere to that country's passport requirements.
Basically, on a closed-loop cruise, you can board the ship without a passport, but you probably can't get off it again until the trip is over. It's best to bring your passport.
Do My Kids Need Passports?
If your cruise itinerary requires you to have a passport, your kids have to have them too, no matter how young they are.
Ideally, your passport will be valid for at least six months beyond the dates of your trip. Check the entry requirements for any countries you'll be visiting—some insist that visitors have six months' validity left on their passports.
Can I Use My Passport Card?
Maybe. The U.S. passport card was designed for people who live close to (and frequently travel across) the Canadian or Mexican borders so they don't have to carry their passport books all the time. The card also can be used in place of the passport book for American citizens who are traveling by boat to the Caribbean and Bermuda. So if you're driving through Canada to take an Alaskan cruise, or sailing from Florida to Bermuda and back again, you can show a passport card in place of a passport book, if you have one.
However, the passport card isn't valid ID for flying to any country, even Canada or Mexico. If your trip requires a flight to a foreign country, every member of your group must have a valid passport book.
So... Should I Bring My Passport?
Even if you think you won't need it, it's a good idea to bring your valid passport if you have one. In the rare event that you get evacuated off the ship and into a foreign country, or if you lose your other ID during the trip, having a passport is useful.
You should also check with the staff at your cruise company. They're experts at navigating ID requirements, and they can provide guidance that's specific to your exact itinerary.