Do I need a passport to go on a cruise vacation? It’s a big question for many cruise travelers and there’s been plenty of confusion regarding the U.S. State Department’s new guidelines. Here’s what you need to know when you cruise and how the new passport rules launching June 1, 2009 could affect you.
Currently, U.S. citizens need a passport for cruises that stop at ports in South America, Europe, Asia, Africa, Australia and Antarctica. However, U.S. citizens cruising roundtrip from a U.S. port to Bermuda, the Caribbean, Canada, and Mexico do not need a passport under the U.S. State Department’s Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative (WHTI). These itineraries are called “closed loop” voyages. A “closed loop” voyage or itinerary occurs when a vessel departs from a U.S. port or place and returns to the same U.S. port upon completion of the voyage. Per the WHTI Land and Sea Final Rule, travelers on “closed loop” voyages are not subject to the same documentary requirements for entry to the United States as other travelers.
If your voyage falls under the “closed loop” rule you only need to carry a government-issued photo ID (such as a driver’s license) and a certified birth certificate (children traveling with an adult are also required to carry a birth certificate). A certified birth certificate has a registrar’s raised, embossed, impressed or multicolored seal, registrar’s signature, and the date the certificate was filed with the registrar’s office, which must be within one year of your birth.
Keep in mind this rule is for U.S. citizens cruising from a U.S. port. If you are taking one-way itineraries you will have to have a passport. For example, if you start a cruise in Vancouver and end in Seward or Whittier, Alaska you must have a passport. The same is true for cruises starting in Los Angeles and ending in Acapulco, cruises starting in Miami and ending in Barbados, or cruises starting in Quebec and ending in New York City.
One very important item to understand regarding the WHTI rule is that U.S. citizens who travel by air to the Caribbean, Canada, Mexico and Bermuda to catch their cruise ship must have a passport. Currently, those who drive across the Canadian border to a port will not need a passport since land-crossings are currently exempt. In that instance the aforementioned proof of citizenship is needed.
As always, passports are not required for U.S. citizens traveling to or returning directly from Hawaii or a U.S. territory, including Guam, Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands, American Samoa, Swains Island, and the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands.
Requirements on June 1, 2009:
On June 1, 2009 all arriving and returning U.S. citizens must have a passport or passport card to enter the U.S. by land from Canada and Mexico. One exception is U.S. and Canadian citizens under the age of 16 will be able to present a birth certificate instead of a passport for crossing land/sea borders between the U.S. and Canada. There also will be special provisions for children traveling in school, sports or other groups. So, if you drive to Canada to catch a cruise you?ll need a passport. Additionally, the new rule means that round trip Alaska cruises from Vancouver will require a passport.
Passport or Passport Card?
What’s the difference between a passport and a passport card? The card contains radio frequency identification on an RFID chip, designed to be read quickly by scanning equipment installed at U.S. points of entry. However, it is not acceptable for air travel.
There is some cost savings in having a passport card versus a passport, here’s what you need to know:
- Standard, first-time passports now cost $100 and are valid 10 years. U.S. citizens age 15 and younger pay $85 for a passport valid for five years.
- The new land/sea passport card costs $45 for adults and would be valid 10 years. Citizens age 15 and younger pay $35 for a card valid for five years.
- Current passport holders can apply for the card as a renewal and pay $20. The card costs $10 for those younger than age 16 who already has a passport.
For travelers who don’t want to deal with passports or passport cards, there is the “trusted traveler” card issued by the federal government to prescreened travelers (But those won’t get you over an international border the way a passport will.) Also, a number of border states are working on enhanced drivers licenses containing the RFID chip and other security features that are acceptable for entry at land and sea points.
Traveling without a passport is risky
Traveling to foreign countries without a passport carries some risk. For example, if someone who sails out of Miami without a passport falls ill when the ship is at sea and needs to fly home from the Bahamas it will be a hassle to get home since air travel from foreign countries requires a passport.
Additionally, if you miss embarkation and have to fly to meet the ship at the next foreign port – you would need a passport. These situations are rare, of course, but it does happen from time to time.
Lastly, keep in mind that all cruise line passenger contracts state it is the passenger’s responsibility to have proper documentation when arriving for embarkation at the pier. If you don’t have proper documentation you won’t be allowed to board the ship for your cruise.