Do Kids Need a Passport to Go on a Cruise?

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Taking your children on their first cruise can be an incredible opportunity to share a memorable adventure together. While planning a cruise trip with the entire family is exciting, traveling with children always adds an extra layer of consideration when preparing for your trip, especially regarding travel documentation like passports.

Whether you are traveling with your own children or embarking on a cruise with nieces, nephews, grandchildren, or other young travelers, understanding passport requirements for yourself and these minors will help you enjoy a smooth and stress-free cruise experience. 

We want to help you have the best cruise experience possible, so we have created this simple guide. We will explore the specifics of passport requirements for taking kids on cruises and dive into more complex scenarios involving guardianship and traveling with children with surnames different from your own.

Do Kids Need a Passport to Go on a Cruise?

Just as they are for adults, passport requirements for children on cruises will depend mainly upon the type of cruise you have booked and your citizenship. To make things simple, here are the main types of cruises, as well as the passport requirements for each: 

Domestic Cruises and Closed-Loop Cruises

As the name suggests, a domestic cruise leaves from and returns to a domestic port. The domestic ports do not have to be the same, but they both have to be in the same country. Closed-loop cruises are similar but must depart from and return to the same port. 

For American travelers who have booked a domestic cruise, this will likely mean the cruise ship will depart from and return to a U.S. port. This also means you and any children you travel with would not need to present a passport to board the ship. 

Instead of requiring a passport, you must show valid government-issued photo identification for yourself. This allows the staff to match you to the name on the ticket. For children under the age of 16, it is a good idea to ensure that you carry a birth certificate or a certified copy of it. If your child has a passport and you want to play it safe, you can use this as a form of identification.

US Kids Passport
US Kids Passport (Photo Credit: BiLal45378)

Another consideration when booking a domestic cruise is whether or not the itinerary involves making stops in one or more foreign ports of call. In these situations, passport requirements can be a little bit more complex. Typically, it is advised that you bring a passport for yourself and any children traveling with you. 

The U.S. Customs and Border Protection Agency offers a helpful guide to passport requirements for domestic and international cruises for American citizens. It also provides information regarding identification options for American citizens under 16 who are traveling on a domestic cruise. This is also helpful for children not born in the United States, so they cannot present a U.S. birth certificate as ID. 

International Cruises

Any cruise with an international itinerary generally requires the presentation of a passport for all passengers, including children. Some countries will require passports for all cruise passengers to enter, so many cruise lines will check passports before you board the ship for the first time to ensure that they adhere to all international entry requirements. 

Cruise Ships Docked in Barcelona, Spain
Cruise Ships Docked in Barcelona, Spain (Photo Credit: Haland / Shutterstock)

While it may seem a little bit strange needing to present passports when you are departing from a country where you hold citizenship, remember that cruises often involve visiting other nations and destinations as part of their itineraries. Think of it as showing your passport as you progress through security on your way to boarding an international flight. 

In short, you should bring a valid passport for each child you travel with on an international cruise, regardless of age. 

Things can get a bit more complicated if you travel with children who are not under your legal care. This tends to happen with nieces, nephews, grandchildren, or even family friends, but there are other scenarios where you might need to make sure you have the proper identification for the children you are traveling with.

Kids Going Cruising
Kids Going Cruising (Photo Credit: Karl Allen Lugmayer)

Regardless of legal guardianship status, you will still need a passport for each child if you have booked an international cruise. A valid passport for each child will make everything smoother, as it is the most universally accepted form of identification for any type of travel. 

In most cases, you must also obtain permission letters from the legal guardians of each child under 17. Getting the letter notarized is a good idea, as this will help you avoid complications. Most cruise lines also provide letters of permission, which you can download, print, and fill out ahead of time. For example, here’s a sample of Royal Caribbean Group’s consent form for children under 18 to travel without their legal guardian. 

What About Children Under Your Care Who Have Different Last Names to Your Own?

While the need for a passport will remain the same if you and the children under your care if you have booked an international cruise, you will also need to bring supporting documentation that clarifies why they have different last names.

Kids on a Cruise Ship
Kids on a Cruise Ship (Photo Credit: Tomsickova Tatyana)

Supporting documents could include state or county-issued marriage licenses, divorce decrees, a government-issued name change document, or an official child adoption paper. These documents can be originals, or a notarized copy will also work. 

Adoption and step-parent relationships are common reasons for confusion regarding last name differences, so it can feel a little bit frustrating having to prove that you are the legal guardian of the child in your care, but it is worth remembering that cruise lines and border security personnel do this to protect children. For international cruises, ensure your child has their passport, and you have the proper documents you can present if required. 

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

What if your child has lost their passport on the cruise ship?

In case of a lost or stolen passport, you should immediately report the incident to the cruise ship’s guest services. They will inform you of the next steps you should take.

While these incidents can be incredibly stressful, you can help avoid them by always holding passports and important documents for your children. Once you are sure the passport cannot be located, it should be reported as lost or stolen to protect your child from identity theft. 

You can also help prepare for the worst by having photocopies of all important documents, like birth certificates, to help ensure the replacement process goes smoothly when you are back in your home country. 

How old must an American child be before you can get them their own passport?

You can apply for a passport on behalf of your child as soon as they are born. Passports are available to citizens regardless of age, meaning even babies can hold valid passports. If you plan on taking an international cruise with your child when they are very young, you should apply for their passport as soon as possible.

The U.S. Department of State provides all the steps and documentation you will need to apply for a passport for any child under 16.

Can you still travel if your child’s passport is expired?

No, expired passports are not considered valid forms of identification for international travel. In fact, most cruises will reject passports that expire within six months of your return date. This is why it is so important to renew the passports for you and your children well ahead of your cruise date if they are anywhere near their expiration date. 

Final Words

While it can seem slightly confusing at times, it is worth ensuring that you have met all of the passport and identification requirements for children you are traveling with before you arrive for your cruise. If you have questions, you can always contact the specific cruise line you are traveling with, as they will be happy to assist you. After all, it is in their best interest that everything goes smoothly during the boarding process.

Read Also: Boarding a Cruise Ship – All You Should Know

We also advise taking proactive measures to ensure that you have all of the accompanying documents with you if you are traveling with children with different last names to your own. As you should with your travel documents, you should also ensure that passports belonging to children in your care are always kept safe.

Children can be forgetful, so hold onto a child’s passport for them after you have presented it to the relevant crew and border agencies. If you are worried about traveling with a passport book for each child, you can also look into getting each one a passport card, which provides a more convenient alternative for certain forms of cruise travel.

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