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. This ID isn’t just to tell who you are, it’s also to prove your citizenship.
For many people, this identification is a passport. However, if you are on a tight schedule, a passport may not be feasible. Routine processing for a new passport is 4-6 weeks. During busy times it can be two months or more to get your document.
Then there is the expense. A first-time passport holder can expect to spend a minimum of $135 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 a cruise.
Note: Even though you can cruise without one, we strongly suggest getting a passport before you set sail.
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 several ports) and returns to Miami at the end of the trip, it’s considered a closed loop.
With closed loop cruises, you aren’t 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 with your cruise line well in advance.)
Note: If your cruise is traveling to Cuba, you must have a passport.
And while it might seem simple at first blush, there are actually some good questions that come up when talking about birth certificates. For example, does it have to be notarized? Or can you use a copy of your birth certificate instead of the original?
We answer these questions below…
What do I need for a cruise if I don’t have a passport?
As mentioned above, if you are a U.S. citizen taking a closed loop cruise, then you can usually travel using a birth certificate and (if over 16 years old) a non-expired government-issued ID with photo, name, and date of birth. This is usually a driver’s license or government-issued ID card.
Does my birth certificate have to be original?
No. The birth certificate can be an original or a copy. However, for copies we would recommend you have a copy issued by the local health and vital statistics department.
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 “all documents must be original or a notarized copy.”
For cruising purposes, we recommend your birth certificate be a notarized or copy with some sort of official seal. This can help ensure there are no issues getting back into the country.
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.
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.
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 state 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.
Do I have to have identification in addition to the birth certificate? What about kids?
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.