10 Questions and Answers to Using a Birth Certificate to Cruise

Can I use a birth certificate to cruise? Do I have to get a passport?

Frankly, the rules around the documents you need to set sail can get confusing. We are here to lay them all out in plain English.

Birth certificate
Cruising with a passport is best, but you can also sail with a birth certificate and photo ID. Below, we cover questions about sailing with a birth certificate for your cruise.

First things first, if you are leaving the United States on a cruise, be prepared. Traveling abroad means you need some sort of identification — not only for getting into a foreign country, but also for getting back into the United States. These documents aren’t just to tell who you are, it’s also to prove your citizenship.

For many people, this identification is a passport. Getting a passport is by far the simplest way to have the needed citizenship identification to travel to and from the United States. That’s why we recommend everyone cruise with one (as do Customs and Border Patrol agents we’ve spoken with).

However, if you are on a tight schedule, a passport may not be feasible. Routine processing for a new passport is currently 6-8 weeks. If you pay to expedite the process, it can be 2-3 weeks.

Then there is the expense. A first-time passport holder can expect to spend a minimum of $165 to get a passport. The costs can rise when you include photos and expediting the process should you need a new passport quickly.

The good news? You don’t have to hold a passport to go on most cruises from the United States if you’re an American citizen. Instead, your birth certificate and government-issued identification is all that’s needed.

Closed-Loop Cruises Usually Don’t Require Passports

Most cruises operate as “closed-loop” cruises. Put simply, closed-loop cruises are those that begin and end at the same port. So if your trip departs Miami, sails the Caribbean (including stopping at a foreign port) and returns to Miami at the end of the trip, it’s considered a closed loop.

With closed-loop cruises that head to The Bahamas and Caribbean, you aren’t usually required to have a passport to return to the United States. Instead, you can return with just a birth certificate and a government-issued ID, such as a driver’s license. (Just to be sure, it’s a good idea to confirm your trip is suitable for a birth certificate with your cruise line well in advance.)

If, however, your cruise doesn’t begin and end at the same port (e.g. sails from New York, stops at a foreign port, and then ends in Miami), then you’ll have to use a passport.

While it might seem simple at first blush, there are actually some good questions that come up when talking about using your birth certificate for a cruise.

For example, does the document have to be notarized? Or can you use a copy of your birth certificate instead of the original

We answer these questions and more below…

Passport visas

What Do I Need To Cruise If I Don’t Have A Passport?

As mentioned above, U.S. citizens taking a closed loop-cruise can usually travel using a birth certificate and a non-expired government-issued ID with photo, name, and date of birth (if 16 years old or older). This is usually a driver’s license or government-issued ID card.

There are some exceptions, however.

You might have heard about Enhanced Driver’s License (EDL). This is a special type of driver’s license that has a proof of citizenship component. Currently it’s only available from a handful of states (Michigan, Minnesota, New York, Vermont, and Washington).

According to U.S. Customs and Border Protection, if you have one of these, it can act as your proof of citizenship/ID for a cruise, and you don’t need your birth certificate.

Keep in mind that the Enhanced Driver’s License is different from a REAL ID that all states are switching to due to federal rules. Driver’s licenses that comply with REAL ID rules can’t be used for proof of citizenship.

If you aren’t sure if you have an Enhanced Driver’s License or a REAL ID, then just pack your birth certificate to be safe.

Does My Birth Certificate Have To Be An Original?

No. The birth certificate can be an original or an official copy. However, for copies we would recommend you have a copy issued by the local health and vital statistics department. In other words, you don’t want to just make a photocopy of your actual birth certificate and use that to board the cruise (although some lines do allow that).

If you no longer have your birth certificate, you can get in touch with the city or county you were born to get a certified official copy to use on your cruise. There’s usually a small fee and waiting period, but it’s faster than getting a passport.

Does My Birth Certificate Have To Be Notarized Or Certified To Cruise?

It depends on the cruise line. For instance, Carnival states that a copy of the birth certificate doesn’t need to be notarized or certified while Royal Caribbean says that “it must be a state-certified birth certificate issued by the government.”

For cruising purposes, we recommend your birth certificate be a notarized copy with some sort of official seal. This can help ensure there are no issues getting back into the country.

If your birth certificate looks like something that a person could make at a local copy shop, then it could raise questions on its validity.

Will The Hospital Birth Certificate Work For A Cruise?

No. The birth certificate must be one issued by a local or state government. If you have a hospital birth certificate (so-called “baby feet” certificate), it will not work. Remember — you want something that’s officially issued by the city, county, or state as this will be used to prove your citizenship.

What If My Name Has Changed From My Birth Certificate?

If you’ve had a name change (for example, you changed your name once married) to where it doesn’t match your birth certificate, then you will need to also bring along some proof of the name change.

This can be a marriage license (again, the original or a notarized copy is best) or if you’ve had a name change unrelated to marriage, your documents that prove the change. Carnival says plainly on their website “failure to bring documentation bridging the name differences could result in denial of boarding.”

What If I Don’t Know Where My Birth Certificate Is?

Lost your birth certificate? Don’t worry, it’s common. You can contact the city or county of your birth and follow procedures to get a new one. There’s usually a small fee, but it’s considerably cheaper and faster than getting a passport.

What we actually suggest if you have the time and money, is to get your birth certificate and then turn around and use that to get your passport. That way you’ll have the passport for your upcoming cruise.

Do I Need Identification In Addition To The Birth Certificate?

Yes, as mentioned above, you must have a government-issued ID with your name, photo, and date of birth. It must not be expired. This is only required of passengers 16 years or older. The best idea is just to use your driver’s license. Kids don’t need photo ID.

You can see more about the requirements on the USCBP website here.

What About Kids? Do They Need Birth Certificates?

Yes. If you are sailing with kids (even babies), then they will need a birth certificate to leave and re-enter the country.

One thing to know is that kids under 16 don’t have to show any identification. The ID requirement only applies to those 16 years or older.

Do I Show My Birth Certificate When I Get On And Off The Ship in Port?

No. The only time you’ll need to show your birth certificate is during the boarding check-in process and when you leave the ship as you arrive back home. Apart from that, you should keep it secure in your cabin safe.

When you get off and on the ship in ports of call, you’ll just need to have your ID and your cabin keycard. The cruise ship takes care of the immigration process for passengers arriving in a foreign port. You just get to come and go as you please.

Why Is Having A Passport Better Than Cruising With a Birth Certificate?

The rules around identification and birth certificates for a cruise can get complicated depending on the cruise and where it goes. It’s far easier just to have a passport, which serves as the only citizenship document you need.

As well, having a birth certificate is only valid for closed-loop cruises. If you have a different route, then you need a passport. Plus, if something happens and you have to fly home during your cruise unexpectedly, then you’ll need a passport; birth certificates aren’t valid proof of citizenship for air travel.

Finally, most ports have moved toward faster screening of passengers with passports. Today, those with passports simply take an “exit” photo as they leave the cruise terminal and are on their way out of the building immediately.

Those with birth certificates have to wait in a line to have their documents checked by an agent before being allowed to leave. So not only is a passport more flexible, it could get you off the ship and back home faster.

Note: If you have specific questions about your documents or situation, it’s best to contact your cruise line.

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93 COMMENTS

  1. I’m going on a cruise from the US to the Bahamas. I was only able to get a short form birth certificate due to a change being made on the original. Is this acceptable as long as I have a valid US drivers license? Also, my drivers license is in my married name which is different from the birth certificate of course. Do I need to provide my marriage license also?

    • Should be fine, but you can contact the cruise line. I’d bring proof of marriage if the names are different.

  2. I have a closed loop from Orlando to Bahamas, my birth certificate has one letter off at the end of it. In the name it should be a “W” but instead it has an “R”. My FL license has my name correct, but Birth certificate doesn’t, will it be an issue?

    • We aren’t the authorities, so can’t tell you for sure. That said, having one letter off but everything else matches seems minor in our opinion. If you’re worried, you can call the cruise line and ask.

  3. my wife has a State of California Certified Court Order Delay Registration of Birth It shows the Court Order Number from Los Angeles Superior Court dated May 14, 1981 She was born in Mexico in 1965 but due to death of parents she was raised by relatives in United States who are US citizens. Is this document acceptable for a closed loop cruise?

  4. I will be going on a closed loop cruise in March 2024. I went and got a copy of my birth certificate and noticed that my mother’s madian name is not spelled correctly. Will I be able to board the cruise like it is? Everything else is correct on my birth certificate.

    • It should be fine since the birth certificate is to prove your citizenship, so that’s the real important information.

      But if you’re worried, you can contact the cruise line.

  5. We booked a cruise with Royal Caribbean in October. I do not have time to get even an expedited passport but was told since it is closed loop cruise birth certificate and drivers license is all I need. My question is, my birth certificate and drivers license have different last names due to marriage. I’ve been married twice so my current marriage license has my first husband’s last name (not my maiden name). If I bring my marriage license from my first marriage (that has my maiden name), divorce decree, and then marriage license for my current marriage will that suffice to bridge the gap from maiden name, to first married name, to current married name?

    • Sounds like it should do it. There just needs to be proof to show you are a citizen (birth certificate) and then that the person on the birth certificate is who you are (photo ID). Those documents to walk through the name change will allow them to see that path. I’d highly recommend calling the cruise line to confirm, however.

  6. My birth certificate is very old but has a stamp. It’s really small too, compared to the other birth certificates.. Will this work?

  7. My boyfriends birth certificate says “Jr” on it but his drivers license doesn’t. Will this be ok to cruise to the Bahamas?

  8. Ok, new idea. What if we disembarked in Vancouver, rented a car and drove to Seattle, and flew home from there? It seems that we can cross the Canada border by land or sea with an enhanced drivers license (for the 18 year old) and a birth certificate (for the 15 year old).

  9. Great info! My wife and I have passports, but we have an 18 year old and a 15 year old that do not possess passports. We are booking an Alaska cruise this summer that departs in Alaska and disembarks in Vancouver Canada. The cruise line has told me that they only need government issued ID’s and birth certificates, but I am skeptical and want to preempt any issues at the Vancouver airport.

    • Oh, I’d definitely want a passport for everyone in that case. I’ve only heard of the birth certificate being good on closed-loop cruises. It may be ok, but I wouldn’t want to risk it.

  10. Great article with lots of info. I’m curious about one part though. You quoted the Carnival website about denial of boarding for failure to account for a name bridge. However, the first part of that section indicates that they’re talking about situations where the name in the ID doesn’t match the name on the cruise ticket/reservation. There’s no mention of a birth certificate at all in that section. Can you review that part? I’ve copied for your reference.

    Names on Travel Documentation
    It is important that the guest’s full name (first name and last name) on the cruise and airline tickets be the same as the guest’s non-expired government-issued photo I.D. they plan to use for travel identification. In the event of a different name on the cruise/airline ticket and the guest’s photo I.D. as a result of a marriage, divorce or a legal name change, documentation (original or clear, legible copy) supporting this change is required (at embarkation), such as a marriage certificate, marriage license or legal name change court document. Failure to bring documentation bridging the name differences could result in denial of boarding.

    • Sorry, but not sure what you’re asking here. If your documents don’t match the name for the cruise ticket or your birth certificate doesn’t match the ID name, then you’ll want to have something that shows the name change. That passage may not directly talk about the birth certificate, but you definitely want those to match. If not, you want to show evidence of the change so that officials know you are who you say you are.

  11. If I bring a 16 yr old on the cruise what does the letter need to look like from the parent for them to be able to get on the cruise?

    • I’d refer you to the cruise line. I’d think something basic with the name of each parent and the child, along with details of the specific sailing and something definitive stating they give their approval to travel with the other parent. However, the cruise line will be able to give you the best details for what they require.

  12. my passport wont be here on time for my cruise in 4 days. I ordered a new certified copy of my birth certificate to take with me as identification. Years back, I legally changed my last name. My birth certificate now has my old last name with a strike through it and the new name written in. There is also a note written by the courts stating that it is amended, and the probate judge changed the name. Is this fine to take or will I still need proof of name change from the courts as well to cruise on Royal Caribbean?

    • I would take everything you have to prove your name change. If you’re not sure, the cruise line is the best resource to call!

  13. My son is 10, his mom and I are not together and I was not there to sign his birth certificate. We have joint custody 50/50. Will it be an issue that my name is not on his birth certificate. We do share the same last name.

    • Here is what Carnival says about the situation (not sure your cruise line):

      Traveling with Minors

      When traveling with a minor where one parent or both parents or legal guardians are not cruising, we strongly recommend bringing an original signed letter from the absent parent(s) or legal guardians authorizing the minor to travel with you. If there is no second parent with legal claims to the minor (due to sole custody, deceased, etc.) other relevant paperwork, such as a court decision, death certificate, birth certificate naming only one parent, would be useful to bring in place of a signed letter. This will expedite processing by the Department of Homeland Security.

  14. We only have a copy (not certified) of my son’s birth certificate. The passport agency still has his original and has been in processing for 10 weeks now. We are going on closed loop with Carnival. Do you think we can still get on?

    • Carnival says the following is acceptable, so it looks like you’d be good to go. You can call the cruise line to confirm.

      – “A clear, legible copy (photocopy) of a birth certificate that was originally issued by a government agency (state/county/city) or the Department of Health and Vital Statistics. The copy does not need to be notarized or certified.”

      https://www.carnival.com/help?topicid=3409

  15. I don’t have my birth certificate but my son have my name in information on his certificate will that work

  16. We are going on an Alaskan cruise in mid July. Starting and ending in Seattle. My moms birth certificate has a different middle name than her drivers license , ss card , marriage license and all other legal documents. Never been an issue before. Should we be concerned and try to have the birth certificate changed? She wasn’t able to get a real ID because of the discrepancy.

  17. We are driving to depart on cruise and have three children under 12. Have copies of all three birth certificates , digital copies of all three but just realized only two originals. Is this going to be problem

  18. Hi I have a question!
    So I’m wanting to go on a Carnival cruise to the Bahamas from Florida, in May.
    I recently got married and I already changed my license to my new name, so my name on my birth certificate will be different.
    I heard that I would have to bring a copy of my marriage license to prove that my name was changed, but the kicker is, I also just applied for a new passport for my new name, but I had to send my marriage license with my old passport, so I don’t have my marriage license to prove my name! I’m not sure if the passport will be back in time, so what do I do?!

    • If it’s already sent, there is a good chance the passport should be in by then. If not, can you go to the county office and get a registered copy of the marriage license?

  19. My son is a 10 years old US Citizen. We’ll be cruising on a closed-loop cruise from Seattle to Alaska|Victoria and back to Seattle with Norwegian Cruise Line. My son’s US Passport book has not arrived yet, only the US Passport card we have in possession. Will his birth certificate and US Passport card be sufficient?

    • Yes, the birth certificate would be enough for a closed-loop cruise. Having the passport card will be even easier.

  20. My friend had his dad last name added to his he has the sealed court ordered document he had the name added to his Id but not his birth certificate do you think that would be ok if he brings the court ordered document

  21. My daughter is 18 and has a AZ Graduated Instruction Permit. Which has her picture DOB and everything else a DL has. Would this work when combined with a certified BC for a closed loop cruise out of LA?

  22. My Husband has his birth certificate from the Caribbean. He has his citizenship and a Drivers License. Will that be ok on a closed loop Cruise? Hi Passport expired last year and we won’t get a renewal in 3 weeks. Should we take the expired one along with birth certificate and DL?

  23. My birth certificate and drivers license have different last names due to marriage. I’ve been married twice so my current marriage license has my first marriage name. Is that a problem? What kind of paper trail do I need?

  24. I was born in Germany. Military Kid. My Birth Certificate says “Certification of Birth Abroad of a citizen of the United States” The signature has a stamp that says Vice Consul of the United States. I do not have a passport and I don’t have time to get one but my upcoming cruise is close loop. Departing and arriving back in Galveston. Going to Honduras, Costa Maya, and Cozumel. Will I be okay? We forgot my birth certificate last year and I wasn’t able to board the Carnival Cruise ship for my honeymoon so I am nervous. It’s the original B.C. not a copy and we are sailing with Royal Caribbean

  25. I have a closed loop cruise out of Miami, going to Aruba, Bonaire, La Romana and amber cove. I DO have my certified birth certificate issued from the local state department with a seal. However, my birth certificate only has my maiden last name on it. I do not have a first name on my birth certificate, only my last. (It has alway been this way.) I also have a certified marriage certificate, my social security card with my full name, first and last maiden name. Along with my current DL (married last name). Will it be an issue that my certified B.C does not have my first name on it? With having all my other documents will that pass? Will there be an issue boarding or going to ports and re-boarding?
    Thank you in advance!

    • I think you should be good, but why risk it? If you’re worried about it, I’d suggest calling the cruise line to be sure.

      Is a passport not an option? It would be much, much easier than having to carry all those different documents.

      • A passport is not an option at the moment. The passport agency said that my full name needs to be on my B.C. I have mailed my addendum to Sacramento to add my full name, but it will not be corrected before my trip.

  26. Hello my birth certificate has some lines cross has the birth certificate since i was bored will that be okay to aboard the cruise

  27. I have a cruise for Royal Caribbean in 2 weeks

    Got my Birth certificate today and noticed I have an added middle name that isn’t on my ID.

    Will this be a problem boarding ?

  28. I don’t have a birth certificate. I have a certificate of “US citizen born abroad” from the military. Will that be acceptable to cruise?

    • You’ll want to call the cruise line, but that sounds like it proves citizenship so I would think it would be acceptable with photo ID.

  29. Hi. We’re cruising tomorrow from Florida to the Bahamas. It’s a closed loop trip. My wife does not have her birth certificate, but has our marriage certificate, Social Security Card and Drivers License. Will we be able to sail?

    • You’ll want to contact the cruise line, but typically it’s passport or birth certificate as those show proof of citizenship.

  30. I have a drivers license and I’m a US citizen but I’m adopted. My birth certificate is from the Caribbean. Will that serve as a second form of identification?

    • You’ll want to contact the cruise line, but if you are a U.S. citizen, then some sort of proof of citizenship will likely be required.

  31. Wife lost her drivers licence sometime between checkin in terminal and ship. Wondering what going to need to get off ship. Checked with guest services no luck on it beingfound.

    • Yes, ports require some sort of ID to get back to the ship (not just the keycard). Not sure what to do in that case, but Guest Services should have been able to explain your options.

  32. I have my original birth certificate and my marriage license, my marriage license does not have my married name on it, just my maiden name will that be a problem? I am cruising to the Bahamas. I also have my social security cards maiden name and married name and a copy of my passport. I sent my passport in to renew and haven’t received it back yet and not sure if I will get it back before this last minute cruise.

  33. Hi my husband won’t get his passport in time we plan on taking his birth certificate however it’s not a certified copy it’s a general photo copy carnival stated that will do but we worry about his return back home. Will it cause any issues?

  34. I cant get my birth certificate. I am a US citizen. It is a closed loop cruise going from Seattle to Seattle. I have a SS card voters card ID and other items to prove that i live in the US. Would that be enough.

  35. My cruise will sail on 12 12 21 to san quan Puerto. Passport are behind not sure it will be back in time. I am a us citizen. May I use my birth certificate and driver’s license if passport do not arrive.

    • We’d suggest a call to the cruise line to ask. Normally “closed loop” cruises allow you to use a birth certificate and driver’s license, but it’s always a good idea to make sure.

  36. My sister’s birth certificate has her name spelled incorrectly. It has her first name spelled “LaDrick” and it should be “LaDrich”. Our mother’s h’s look like k’s, and the person who typed the name typed it wrong. It was never changed, and my sister was able to get her driver’s license, SS card and passport with the correct spelling without any problems. She renewed her passport unfortunately but won’t get it back in time to have it for our cruise so she will have to use her birth certificate and ID card. Is this going to be a problem for her getting on the ship.

    • I can’t say for sure, but if it were me, I wouldn’t be too worried. If you have a couple of pieces of ID with the correct name, it should help if there is any question.

  37. We are doing a closed loop Royal Caribbean Alaskan cruise the first week of June (leaving and returning to Seattle). My husband’s birth certificate has his birthdate listed incorrectly as September 16, 1947. It was never corrected to his actual birthdate of September 17, 1947. He is 72 years old and has used his real (09-17-47) birthdate his entire life and that date is on all of his official records, including driver’s license, military documentation, law enforcement certifications and ID’s, and his social security information. No one ever told him to change the date on the birth certificate. We went on a Carnival cruise out of Galveston 6 years ago and were able to board the ship even with the date discrepancy between birth certificate and his driver’s license, although it was questioned. There is not enough time to get the date changed on the birth certificate before our Alaskan cruise in June as we would be required by the State of Texas to get a court order to change it and the processing itself is a long process. Do you think Royal Caribbean would have a problem with the date difference? The name on the birth certificate and driver’s license is exactly the same and he could bring other documents with his name listed as the same if needed. I know this is confusing, but would appreciate your opinion. Thank you.

    • Thanks for writing. Sounds like a doozy. Our opinion is that it’s likely not a big deal given that the dates are so close, but then again, we aren’t government officials, nor do we work for the cruise line.

      We think the best thing to do would be to get it fixed so you don’t have to worry about it. Short of that, your idea of bringing other documents to verify identity seems like a good one.

  38. My husbands birth cert is old ripped worn and raggedy but still readable should we just request another one before our cruise?

    • We actually suggest people always travel with a passport if at all possible. If you’re going to request a document, get a passport. Otherwise, yes it would be a good idea to get a new birth certificate. It’s something that will be good to have anyway.

    • Not sure what a delayed birth certificate is. If it’s the official birth certificate (such that they would use for any other identification purposes), then it should be fine… but call the cruise line to be sure of their policy.

  39. My cruise starts Aug. 25 .My Birth certificate is 1952 issued from hospital in Phoenix Ariz. With seal and states to use for future use to prove citizenship and to obtain a passport . Can I use for my trip Sat in Galveston to cozemel and yuk.?

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