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Do You Need a Passport for a Cruise?


Whether you need a passport for a cruise depends in part on whether you are taking a closed-loop or open-loop cruise. You might not need one at all.

A closed-loop cruise begins and ends in the same U.S. port. An open-loop cruise begins in one port and ends in another. Most cruises are closed loop.

People taking a cruise that begins and ends at the same U.S. port are usually not required to have a passport.

However, they will need proof of citizenship such as an original or certified copy of a birth certificate, a certificate of naturalization, a passport card, an enhanced driver’s license (EDL) or a government-issued photo ID.

Children are also required to bring proof of citizenship, and if 16 and over, a photo ID is also required.

All of this means that cruise passengers can use a passport on a cruise but don’t need one because they have other options.

Three Major Exceptions

That said, some cruise travelers may need a passport if they end up stuck in another country. For example, on rare occasion one or more cruise passengers don’t make it back to the ship before it embarks because they are stuck somewhere. That actually happened on one of our cruises.

Another exception is a medical emergency. There are real-life examples of passengers who have a serious medical problem and have a helicopter take them off the ship for the nearest hospital. If that hospital is in a foreign country such as Dominican Republic, a passport is a critical need for local authorities.

A third exception is a non-medical emergency. We have been on cruises where a speedboat pulled up to the ship in high seas to take off several passengers.

Official Definition

“U.S. citizens who board a cruise ship at a port within the United States, travel only within the Western Hemisphere, and return to the same U.S. port on the same ship may present a government issued photo identification, along with proof of citizenship (an original or copy of his or her birth certificate, a Consular report of Birth Abroad, or a Certificate of Naturalization),” the U.S. State Department says on its Web site.

The Department of Homeland Security has issued its own definition

“Closed-loop cruises are defined as U.S. based cruises with itineraries that both originate and terminate in the United States, returning from contiguous territories or adjacent islands.”

A valid passport may not be required for a U.S. citizen taking a closed-loop cruise. But the U.S. State department and cruise lines strongly recommend that anyone taking a cruise of any kind travel with a passport

A common example of why it is important to have a passport is the possibility of missing the scheduled embarkation from a port or disembarking the ship in case of an emergency.

Cruise travelers in those situations will need their passports to use the local airport to fly back to the U.S.

Regardless, anyone taking a cruise needs proof of citizenship to board their ship. If they do not have it, they will not be allow to board and will not receive a refund.

Open-Loop Cruises

If a cruise begins and ends in different U.S. ports, or begins and ends in a foreign port, a valid passport or other recognized document is required.

Recognized documents are defined by the Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative.

Passports should be valid for at least six months beyond the end of the trip.

Travelers are advised to contact their cruise lines for updated information.

Scott S. Bateman is a professional journalist who has traveled widely throughout the Caribbean and the Americas. He is the author of four books about cruising in the Caribbean, Alaska and Mexican Riviera.
February 01, 2020

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