Do You Need a Passport to Go on a Cruise?

do you need a passport go on a cruise
Surprise! There are some cruises you can take without a passport. - Photo by Yungshu Chao

One of the most common questions among many potential first-time cruisers is a simple one: do you need a passport to take a cruise?

While you might think passport requirements for cruises would be clearcut, the answer actually depends on the cruise. This can cause some confusion about which cruises require a passport and which don’t. So we decided to provide some clarification on the topic so you don’t encounter a situation that stops your cruise before it even gets started.

Cruises That Don’t Require a Passport

Are there actually sailings where you can cruise without a passport? The short answer is yes. When the ship begins and ends its voyage at the same domestic port, it’s referred to as a closed-loop cruise. For example, if you leave from Miami, FL sailing to the Bahamas, if your itinerary returns you to Miami, you’re on a closed-loop cruise. There are some limitations when it comes to where you’re able to sail without a passport, but this is a great option if you’re looking for a last-minute cruise getaway and don’t have a passport.

If you're a US Citizen, a US Passport Card will serve as proof of citizenship for "closed-loop" sailings — cruises that embark and return to the same US port — to Mexico, Bermuda, Alaska or the Caribbean. While less expensive than a Passport book, the Passport Card is only accepted at land border crossings and sea ports when arriving from Canada, Mexico, the Caribbean and Bermuda.

For these sailings, passengers can board by showing an official government birth certificate and — for anyone 16 or older — a government-issued photo ID. You can get more information on required documents for a closed-loop cruise from U.S. Customs and Border Protection.

Just remember, on this type of cruise you may not be able to enter some ports without a passport. Contact your cruise line to see if the ports on your itinerary require a passport.

We Recommend a Passport, No Matter What

Though a passport may not be required, traveling without one does involve certain risks. For example, if you do find yourself in a situation such as missing your ship at your port of call, a passport will be crucial in getting back on track. Only an official passport will allow you to catch a flight in a foreign country.

A Passport Card will not allow you to travel internationally by air. If you miss your cruise ship and need to fly to the next port to catch up, or have a medical or other emergency during your cruise that would require you to fly back to the US from a foreign port, a Passport Card will not be sufficient.  

If you’re still planning to cruise without a passport, we encourage you to contact your cruise line to make sure you have the correct documents. You won’t receive a refund on your cruise if you’re unable to board the ship due to problems with your paperwork.

Bottom line, cruise with a passport. It’s far less likely you’ll experience any issues with boarding or entering foreign ports when you have a passport in hand.

Getting a Passport for Your Cruise

If you need to renew your passport or just need to get one and you have a long time before your cruise departs, get the process started now. If you’re applying for your first passport or a new one, you will have to do it in person.

You can apply by mail if you’re renewing your passport and meet all of the following criteria: It was issued less than 15 years ago, you were 16 years of age or older when you got it, and it’s in your current name (or you can provide legal documentation of your name change).

Find out more information on applying for a passport at USA.gov.

How to Speed Up the Passport Process

If you find yourself getting close to your sailing date and don’t have a passport, don’t panic. You can get a passport quickly if you use the expedited service. If you’re able to provide proof of closely upcoming international travel, such as purchased cruise tickets, you qualify for application.

Through services such as the government’s expedited passport service or rushmypassport.com, you can receive your documents in a timely manner. It’s important to remember that timing to receive your passport can vary so get started right now.



Join The Discussion

Have you cruised without a passport?

12 Comments

Posted by disfan2003

My kids entered St. Martin in 2013 with just a birth certificate. It was not a problem at all. However, my husband and I had passports. Not sure if that made a difference.

Posted by blame

Is it possible to go on a cruise ship from Miami Florida to the Bahamas on a Haitian pass port?

Posted by CrystalRoy

I've heard yes and no. Do my children need passports? I even spoke with carnival cruise and they even said a valid id and birth certificate should be fine. please help, what is accurate. First time cruise coming soon!

Posted by MrChocoholic

I have cruised with and without my passport. All cruises so far have been closed-loop anyway, but if I intend to get off the ship I bring my passport. NOTE: If you choose to bring a State-or-County-issued Birth Certificate be sure it's an original with raised seal. They look for that often enough to detect forgeries and will prevent you from boarding if you only show a copy. One time I did get away with showing a copy I made from my scanner, which looked good enough to pass. I had the original with me alongside in the same folder so it was easy to "accidentally" pull it out and see if it would pass.

Posted by KidA

Sorry to hear that, Nailerman, but did you read the article? It clearly states that you need an official government birth certificate and a government-issued photo ID. Sounds like you only had the one. I also doubt anyone would accept a pdf of an official document as if it was the same thing.

Posted by Nailerman

I just read this article and can tell you it is rubbish. Last Year I was refused boarding on a four night Royal Caribbean run to Nassau and Back as I had forgotten my Passport. Having ADHD is a pain in the butt at times. I did have a pdf of the pass port on my laptop as well as a Virginia driver’s license. I told them the pdf should do as the License, but no. I am out around $700.00. Today I carry as well a former military ID issued by the state of Virginia and a DD214 with me as well. So how do I get on to Royal Caribbean to make at least a credit toward another cruise?

Posted by larryGo

Many European countries require at least 3 months before a passport is to expire. My son in law was not able to make a cruise because of this requirement. Not readily publicized and the cruise agency and discount air agency did not advise him of this.

Posted by floaters2

We carry both the full passport & the passport card, the size of a regular credit card. The card is easier to carry and is accepted by all cruise lines and TSA [US airports] and is good for travel to Canada, Mexico, Bermuda, Caribbean. However, should you have to fly back to the states from another country, except Porto Rico, St Thomas, you will need the full passport to board.

Posted by SvetlanaS

Not sure... My friend was declined boarding on Seattle to Seattle Alaskan cruise. She did had gov issued ID and a birth certificate. Still had to fly on her own, pay fine and join us in Juno.

Posted by Jackston

Thinking about a cruise that begins in Central America then to San Diego. Our neighbours attempted it last year and were rejected by US Customs at preclearance (Canadian airport). That young family all had valid passports and the father was rejected and not provided a reason -- they still have no idea why he was rejected. Subsequently, they lost the price of airfare and forfeited the cost of the entire cruise (about $15k). Is there no way to do a pre-check (prior to final payment) or some sort of insurance to find out or cover whether you are on some sort of list or something? Until we feel more comfortable with this US-entry situation, we will not be signing up for any flights or cruises that begin or end in the US. Too much risk on something that is arbitrary discretion by a Customs employee.

Posted by kswismer

We have the most trouble returning to the ship in Nassau, Bahamas, Hilo Hawaii and downtown San Juan, PR. Photo copies of official ID was heavily frowned upon.

Posted by JennTurtleJenn

I once asked my mother the Passport Question when I was 15. This is how she answered me. "are you planning on LEAVING the USA?" yes "are you planning on RETURNING to the USA?" Yes. "then you need a passport". A passport is Proof of Citizneship to which ever country you are a citizen of. It shows that you have a citizen right to enter that country if you ever leave. It is also identification of who you are that is recognized as Government ID in every country (even the ones that have not been created yet). She went on to tell me that even though we don't travel out of our country as much as people from other countries do, we need to remember our passports. Mom got a passport card recently and went to New England and South East Canada. While in Canada her wallet was stolen along with her Passport Card. She called me and had me overnight her passport to her. Always have your passport so you can come home. I know they are expensive, but if you plan on cruising once, you are going to cruise again, and probably in the next 5 years so it is worth your $100 now to get your child a passport because it will be worth it later.

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