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. We’ll cover the details, but the bottom line is that it’s 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 if you are an American passenger. You will need at least an official birth certificate and photo ID (if 16 years or older) as almost all Alaskan cruises also make a stop in Canada.
Full details are below…
Are 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 Protection says on the topic:
“As a reminder, since June 1, 2009, all U.S. and Canadian citizens 18 years and older, who enter the United States at land and sea ports of entry from within the Western Hemisphere need to present either a government-issued photo ID, such as a driver’s license, as well as proof of citizenship, such as a birth certificate, or a valid passport or other acceptable document for WHTI compliance. U.S. citizens on closed-loop cruises (cruises that begin and end at the same U.S. port) are able to enter the United States with a birth certificate and government-issued photo ID. U.S. and Canadian citizen children ages 16 and under are able to enter with only proof of citizenship, such as a birth certificate. Verbal claims of citizenship alone are not sufficient to establish citizenship for entry into the United States.
There are a couple of important points on this. First, if you look at any Alaskan cruise, you’ll notice that there is 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 or passport. 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 only a birth certificate and photo ID.
Permanent U.S. Residents, Canadian Departures, Foreign Citizens on Alaska Cruises
What if you aren’t an American citizen sailing from the United States and returning on a closed-loop cruise? In that case, you will almost always need a passport.
For instance, say instead of cruising from Seattle you are sailing from Vancouver, British Columbia. That means you’ll be flying, driving, or taking a train into Canada to get to the cruise port. This will require a passport.
What about permanent residents of the U.S.? Customs and Border Protection says they do not require you to have a passport, but that it will likely be required by other countries that you visit.
And of course, if you are a foreign citizen traveling to or from the United States then you’re required to have a passport.
For more on official requirements, you can read these articles:
- CBP: Do I need a passport for a cruise?
- CBP reminds Seattle cruise ship passengers of ID requirements
Frequently Asked Questions
Do I need a passport to cruise to Alaska?
In most cases, no a passport isn’t required, but it is a good idea. If you are an American citizen and your cruise begins and ends in Seattle, 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.
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 aren’t required 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 $160 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 faster.
More on Taking an Alaskan Cruise
- Complete Guide to Taking an Alaskan Cruise
- How Alaskan Cruises Differ From Caribbean Cruises (And It’s NOT Just Colder)
- 29 Must-Have Things to Pack for an Alaskan Cruise (11 You’d Never Think Of)