Do I Need a Passport to Go on a Cruise? – Full Guide

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While a cruise can offer a wonderful mixture of relaxation and adventure, you must ensure that your packing list contains everything you need. Right at the top of that list should be your mandatory forms of proper identification. For many cruises, this means bringing a valid passport.

That said, passport requirements can differ depending on where your cruise departs from and its itinerary. This is where we can help! This comprehensive guide will explain everything you need to know about passport regulations for cruises.

If you’re ready to stop the stress and uncertainty of knowing whether or not you need a passport to go on a cruise, it’s time to get started.

Do I Need a Passport to Go on a Cruise?

While it may sound a bit frustrating, the answer is it will depend on several factors. For starters, you need to determine if your cruise is departing from and returning to your home country. You also need to know if the cruise itinerary will involve making stops in other countries along the voyage. 

To help you understand your passport requirements, we will cover different types of cruises and whether you need a passport to board them. 

Domestic Cruises that Leave and Return to U.S. Ports

If your cruise is listed as domestic, you will not need a passport, as you will not be disembarking into a foreign country during the voyage. Instead, you will be boarding the ship in a domestic port and returning to a domestic port, even if they are not the same. 

For American travelers or alien residents about to board a domestic cruise, you will only need a standard piece of government-issued photo ID, like a valid driver’s license, Real ID, permanent resident card, or Green Card, which will be used to identify yourself during boarding procedures. Some people prefer to bring their passports in addition to other forms of identification, as it ensures they have covered all of their bases.

Do You Need a Passport to Go on a Cruise
Photo: Shutterstock

On the other hand, if you are boarding a domestic cruise in a country where you do not hold citizenship, you will need to bring your passport. For example, an American traveler boarding a “domestic cruise” in another country, like Canada, would still need to ensure that they had their passport on them, as they would not have another form of acceptable photo identification.

If you are unsure if your cruise is domestic, consult the cruise line, as they can quickly tell you what type of cruise it is and your specific I.D. requirements. 

Closed Loop Cruises

Closed loop cruises are similar to domestic ones, but the voyage will always start and finish in the same port. If you book a closed loop cruise in your home country, you will not need a passport. 

Again, you could board the ship with an enhanced driver’s license or a valid government-issued photo identification and a birth certificate. This ensures that the name on the ticket matches the person boarding the ship.

If you choose to use your birth certificate as a form of ID on a closed-loop cruise, there are some things to keep in mind. While most cruise lines will accept a copy of your birth certificate, it has to be an official copy issued by a local health and vital statistics department.

Docked Cruise Ships
Docked Cruise Ships (Photo Credit: EWY Media)

If you need a new copy of your birth certificate, you can request a new one from your local or state vital statistics department for a fee. Some cruise lines may also ask that the copy of your birth certificate be notarized, so check with your individual cruise line to make sure you have what you need.

Read Also: What Is a Transatlantic Cruise?

If you have changed your name for whatever reason, you must also bring proof of name change. Also, remember that children (even infants) will need a birth certificate to leave and enter the United States, but kids under 16 do not need to show a second form of identification. 

It’s worth noting that although you can take a closed loop cruise with proper ID and your birth certificate, we recommend getting a passport. Passports are generally easier to check than other documentation and may save you time when boarding and deboarding.

International Cruises

You probably guessed it – you’ll need a passport if you have booked an international cruise. This could be a cruise departing from or returning to a port outside your home country, or it could refer to a cruise that features international ports of call in its itinerary. 

If you are unsure about the meaning, ports of call are temporary stops in various ports. They allow you to exit the ship and experience different cultures, climates, and on-shore excursions. As you would expect, if these ports of call are in international destinations, you would need a passport, even if you initially boarded your cruise ship in your home country. 

Princess Cruises Ship
Princess Cruises Ship (Photo Credit: Anutr Yossundara)

For example, if you were an American who booked a cruise where you would depart from and return to Fort Lauderdale, USA, but that same cruise also had a scheduled port-of-call stop in the Bahamas, you would need a passport. This is because you would be stopping in a separate country. 

That said, you generally do not need to bring your physical passport as you exit the ship at a port of call. That is because you have already registered with the ship, and they will present this information to any customs agents on your behalf. Another option for a cruise passenger is to keep their passport card on them while storing their passport book in their cabin safe. In either scenario, you must still bring your passport when boarding the ship. 

Other Situations Where You Would Need a Passport

While you might be okay not bringing a passport if your cruise departs and returns to your home country, it can be a good idea in case of an emergency. This is particularly true if your cruise hugs the shorelines of other countries. 

While nobody likes to think about the worst-case scenario when planning a vacation, being prepared is always a good idea. Sudden medical emergencies requiring you to be transported to a nearby country for treatment are always smoother if you and your travel companions have valid passports on you.

Passport Travel

Then there are scenarios where severe weather or some other unforeseen situation could require the cruise ship you are traveling on to make an unexpected stop at a foreign port. In these cases, you may be required to stay on the ship if you do not have a valid passport to show port authorities. 

Basically, having a passport on you while you travel by cruise ship can be a worthwhile precaution, even if it is not needed. Any international movement, whether planned or unexpected, will always be smoother if you have a passport on you.

What Do You Need to Remember About International Cruise Trips?

Aside from remembering to bring a passport or passport card for yourself and any children in your care, you also need to make sure that those pieces of identification have a valid expiration date. 

Far too many travelers overlook the expiration date on their passports, which can result in a complete disaster when they arrive to start their vacation. As an extra precaution, most countries will require travelers to have a passport valid for at least six months after the planned return date, which you should keep in mind. You may need to start the passport renewal process and get a new passport a few months before the expiration date.

MSC Cruises provides a relatively straightforward breakdown of travel documents and visa requirements for travelers of all nationalities. While you may want to check with your specific cruise line to ensure that you have all of the relevant documents for your cruise ship’s exact itinerary, it does provide a rough guide for some of the most popular cruise destinations.

How Early Can You Board a Cruise Ship
Cruise Ships in Miami, Florida (Photo Credit: Felix Mizioznikov / Shutterstock)

Depending on where you are traveling and your nationality, you may also require an entry visa to board the ship or enter certain countries the ship will visit. While most cruise lines are happy to provide this information, it is ultimately the passenger’s responsibility to ensure they have all of the necessary visas before they board the ship. 

Non-American travelers planning to board cruises with stops within the United States will want to familiarize themselves with the Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA). The United States Customs and Border Protection Agency website provides the relevant information. 

You should also ensure that the name you used when booking your cruise is the same as the one on your passport. If you have recently changed your name, there are certain steps you will need to take. Fortunately, Royal Caribbean International offers a simple guide explaining what you must do to address this issue. 

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

What if I forget to pack my passport for a cruise where it is required?

You will be rejected if you forget your passport and it is required to board the ship. Unfortunately, you would also be ineligible for a refund, as bringing your passport is your responsibility.

Forgetting your passport could also mean you would face serious difficulties entering certain countries during port-of-call stops. In short, do not forget your passport if you are booking a cruise where it is needed! 

Can I just bring a photocopy of my passport or other forms of identification?

No, photocopies are not considered valid forms of identification for any cruise, domestic or international. If you are worried about losing your passport or other important documents, it is advised that you secure them in your cabin safe box as soon as you make it there.

Immigration and border authorities must be very strict about checking documents for validity, so a photocopy will never be sufficient, even if it is just for a child or senior in your care. 

Final Words

Whether or not you need a passport for your cruise depends on the cruise type, where it visits, and your own circumstances. Ensure you know your requirements before you try to board your cruise. If you have questions, contact your specific cruise line. They want to ensure you enjoy a seamless vacation, so they will happily help!

Emrys Thakkar
Emrys Thakkar
The founder of Cruise Hive which was established in 2008 as one of the earliest cruise blogs in the industry. Emrys has been reporting on the latest cruise industry news since the site first launched. Expert insights and tips featured on a number of publications including The Express, Business Insider, and more. Worked for Carnival Cruise Line for 8 years and is well and truly dedicated to cruising! Has also been on a number of cruises so can offer an insight into the industry that many will not be able to do. What's even more impressive is that Emrys has traveled the world by visiting more than 34 countries, lived in China for 8 years, and cruised the Caribbean, Baltic, Mediterranean, Asia, and Europe. Find out more about us here.

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