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. After all, you are likely leaving from the United States, visiting the United States, and returning back to the U.S.
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, it is much easier to cruise to Alaska with a passport.
If you don’t have one, then yes, you can still cruise to Alaska in most cases. You will need at least an official birth certificate and photo ID as almost all Alaskan cruises also make a stop in Canada.
Full details are below…
Passports for American Citizens on an Alaskan Cruise
The rules surrounding identification and border crossings can be hairy. Fortunately, 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 the rule has a section for “closed-loop cruises.” These are cruises that begin and end at the same port. So if you sail from Seattle, head to Alaska and Canada, and then return to Seattle, you are on a closed-loop cruise.
U.S. citizens traveling on these cruises only have to show government-issued ID (typically a driver’s license) and a birth certificate to re-enter the country.
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 important points on this. First, if you look at any Alaskan cruise, you’ll notice that there is almost always a stop in Canada.
That’s because laws state that foreign-flagged ships (which almost all cruise ships are) can’t usually take passengers from one U.S. port to another without making a stop somewhere along the way in another country.
Since you will be stopping in a foreign country, you need some sort of citizenship documents, like an official birth certificate. A driver’s license or other photo ID alone won’t cut it (except in a few specific cased with the new “Enhanced ID“).
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. 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.
Even the U.S. State Department recommends you travel with one.
But if you don’t have a passport already, most of the time you can sail to Alaska with a birth certificate and photo ID.
Frequently Asked Questions
Do I need a passport to cruise to Alaska?
In most cases, no. If your cruise begins and ends in the same port, then the trip likely falls under the Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative (WHTI). These rules allow you to sail on “closed-loop” cruises with only an official birth certificate and a photo ID.
That said, your cruise line or your specific itinerary could require a passport. It’s a good idea to get one anyway, just in case.
What about kids? Do they need a passport or ID?
If you are taking your Alaskan cruise with kids, they will either need a passport or a birth certificate (if on a closed-loop cruise) as well. Kids under 16 years old don’t need to have a photo ID.
How much does a passport cost? How long does it take to get?
These days you can expect to pay about $150 to get a passport that’s valid for 10 years. The regular processing times are 6-8 weeks, but you can get it expedited and get it in as little as eight business days.
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.