One of the biggest questions we hear is whether or not you need a passport to cruise. It seems like a simple question, especially if your cruise is going to Alaska. Alas, not everything is cut and dry when it comes to government enforcement and rules put in place by different cruise lines.
The bottom line, if you can, it’s much easier to cruise with a passport. If you don’t have one, then yes, you can still cruise in most cases, but not always. Full details are below.
Passports for American Citizens on an Alaskan Cruise
The rules surrounding identification and border crossings can be hairy. For American citizens traveling on a cruise, there is a loophole designed to make it easier for people to travel, without a passport. It’s called the Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative (WHTI) and has a section for closed-loop cruises. These are cruises that begin and end at the same port. U.S. citizens traveling on these cruises technically only have to show government-issued ID (typically a driver’s license) and a birth certificate.
Here’s what the Customs and Border Patrol says on the topic:
“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 (referred to as a “closed loop” cruise), 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).
“Please be aware that you may still be required to present a passport to enter the countries your cruise ship is visiting. Check with your cruise line to ensure you have the appropriate documents.”
There are a couple of sticking points on this. First, you might have heard about the recent turmoil with so-called “Real ID” causing certain state driver’s license not being suitable identification to be used to board domestic flights. It’s not yet known if this extends to cruises.
Secondly, each cruise line has their own specific rules regarding documentation needed to travel. This makes it dependent on the cruise line itself if you have to bring a passport or not.
To be clear, every cruise line recommends you travel with a passport even if you are on an Alaskan cruise that doesn’t stop in Canada. This is because should anything happen and you have to get off the ship in another country (medical emergency, ship breakdown, etc.), it’s much easier to get home with a valid passport.
Still, we know that not everyone wants to go through the time and hassle of getting a passport. That’s why we’ve rounded up the rules posted by each cruise line.
Carnival highly recommends that all guests travel with a passport (valid for at least six months beyond completion of travel-unless otherwise noted differently). This will enhance the debarkation experience as delays may be expected upon return to the United States for those without one. Additionally, this will enable guests to fly from the U.S. to meet their ship at a foreign port should they miss their scheduled port of embarkation and allow guests who must disembark the ship before their cruise ends due to an emergency to fly back to the U.S without significant delays and complications.
Cruises that begin and end in the same U.S port / Cruises that begin and end in a different U.S port
ALL guests are required to carry proof of citizenship such as a birth certificate OR a valid, unexpired U.S passport OR a WHTI-Compliant Document AND proof of identification (a non-expired government-issued photo ID for all guests 16 years of age or older). (Source)
A valid passport is a requirement for air travel to/from Canada, Mexico, the Caribbean and Bermuda. Valid passport (unless otherwise noted below) or other Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative (WHTI) compliant document will be accepted for entry or re-entry into the United States.
The Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative (WHTI) requires all travelers to and from Canada, Mexico, the Caribbean and Bermuda to present a valid passport or other approved document that establishes the bearer’s identity and citizenship in order to enter or reenter the United States.
U.S. citizens on closed-loop cruises (cruises that begin and end at the same port in the U.S.) will be able to enter or depart the country with proof of citizenship, such as a government-issued birth certificate and laminated government issued picture ID, denoting photo, name and date of birth. A U.S. citizen under the age of 16 will be able to present either an original or notarized or certified copy of his or her birth certificate, a Consular Report of Birth Abroad issues by DOS, or Certificate of Naturalization issued by U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services.
Note: Baptismal papers and hospital certificates of birth are not acceptable. Voter registration cards or Social Security cards are not considered proof of citizenship. (Source)
U.S. citizens on closed-loop cruises: U.S. citizens on closed-loop cruises: U.S. citizens on cruises in the Western Hemisphere that originate and terminate in the same U.S. port are required to have proof of citizenship such as a valid U.S. passport or a government issued birth certificate combined with a government issued photo I.D. Other approved proof of citizenship documents such as a passport card, an enhanced driver’s license (EDL) or certificate of naturalization along with a government-issued photo ID are also acceptable. A passport is still the preferred document. PLEASE NOTE –WHTI-compliant documents are acceptable for entry or re-entry into the United States. You may be required to present additional or different travel documents when entering foreign countries, including some countries in the Western Hemisphere. (Source)
For closed-loop sailings (cruises that depart from and return to the same U.S. port), you may sail with a valid passport, proof of citizenship and a valid government-issued photo I.D. (driver’s license with a photo), or any other valid WHTI compliant document.
Baptismal paper, hospital certificates of birth, and Puerto Rico birth certificates issued prior to 7/1/10 are not acceptable.
A U.S. citizen under the age of 16 do not require a government-issued photo ID.
For open-jaw sailings (cruises that depart from one U.S. port and return to a different U.S. port), you are required to carry:
- A valid passport
- U.S. passport card
- U.S. or Canadian Enhanced Drivers License
Permanent residents of the U.S. are required to carry their valid ARC cards for boarding AND passport from their country of citizenship
Note: If you miss your ship at its scheduled U.S. departure port and need to travel outside the U.S. to meet your ship, or should you unexpectedly need to depart the ship from a foreign port prior to the end of sailing, a passport would be required to leave or re-enter the U.S. by air. To that end, Norwegian Cruise Line strongly recommends all guests to obtain a passport for their voyage on any Norwegian Cruise Line vessel. (Source)
Passport and visa requirements and regulations in regards to vaccination certificates and other health requirements vary by destination. It is the sole responsibility of each guest to obtain and have available appropriate valid travel and health documents for their chosen itinerary. Any guest traveling without proper documentation will not be allowed to board the vessel and no refund of cruise fare or any other travel components purchased from Oceania Cruises will be issued. Passports must be valid six months from the date of trip completion. Due to airline security measures, your passport name must match your airline ticket name or you may be denied boarding. Oceania Cruises accepts no responsibility for obtaining required visas or for advising guests of visa or other immigration requirements beyond the guidelines indicated. (Source)
If your travel plans do not include international air travel described above, and you will have completed your travel prior to June 1, 2009, U.S. and Canadian citizens are not currently required to sail with a passport on domestic itineraries including Alaska, Bermuda, Canada, Caribbean, Hawaii and Mexico. For itineraries for which a passport is not required to sail, U.S. and Canadian citizens who do not have a valid passport must provide the following proof of citizenship: Naturalization certificate or an original certified birth certificate from the state/province of their birth (a hospital certificate will not suffice) together with a current and valid government issued photo identification, such as a driver’s license. U.S. citizens may also present a U.S. Passport Card or Enhanced Driver’s License. Neither oral nor written declarations of citizenship will be accepted. (Source)
U.S. citizens on closed-loop cruises (cruises that begin and end at the same port in the U.S.) will be able to enter or depart the country with proof of citizenship, such as a government-issued birth certificate and laminated government issued picture ID, denoting photo, name and date of birth. A U.S. citizen under the age of 16 will be able to present either an original, notarized or certified copy of his or her birth certificate, a Consular Report of Birth Abroad issues by DOS, or Certificate of Naturalization issued by U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services. (Source)
One final note. Get a passport. You don’t want to become a news story like this one.
More on Cruising From Seattle
Getting to the Port of Seattle — Transportation options from airports and the Seattle area to the cruise port. Everything you need to know to get to the port and start your vacation.
Seattle Cruise Parking — Parking at the port? We’ve got you covered with all your parking options, including costs and discounts.
Dropping Off at the Port — Dropping off passengers? Not sure where to go once you get to the port? We have turn-by-turn directions to find your cruise terminal.
Seattle Cruise Hotels — Getting in late? Leaving early? Simply need a place to rest your head? We’ve rounded up the options for places to stay near the port.