Going on a cruise is one of the best vacations anyone could ever hope for- you are on the sea, you are sailing on a luxurious ship with all the marine life around and underneath you, and you will be visiting warm and beautiful islands. It is hard to think of anything more relaxing than that kind of trip.
However, cruising is considered traveling. Traveling has become much, much more difficult these days, due to the rising bouts of terrorism in different parts of the world. It is inconvenient though it is understandable. Ships sunk, planes lost, lives destroyed- these are the horrors of terrorism, and it is all too real.
It is simply unsafe, and the only way for you to be able to travel without hassle is to make sure that you can prove your identity.
First of all, do you need a passport to go on a cruise?
Short answer: It depends.
There are a lot of preemptive questions that need to be answered before you can get to the point of asking if you need a passport for a cruise:
Are you a US citizen?
If you are a legal US citizen, chances are that you will have a much easier time going on cruises as compared to non-US citizens, and there will be a higher chance for you not needing to bring and present a passport. There will still be some conditions depending on different factors, however, but generally those who are not legal US citizens will be more likely to be asked for a passport.
What type of cruise are you going to take?
There are two main kinds of general cruise trips, of which one is a closed loop.
What is a closed loop?
A closed loop is a cruise trip, wherein you ship off and come back to the same exact port at the end of the cruise. Granted, you may visit islands outside of the border, so that complicates things as well. For US citizens who are taking a closed loop cruise that will not go outside US borders, you will not actually need a passport. You will only need legal documentation that will serve as a proof of citizenship, such as a birth certificate.
Even then, for those are not US citizens but permanent residents, you may need a passport where US citizens will not. Even if the government does not generally require you to have a passport during travel, there is a higher possibility that you encounter an area that will require you to have one.
For non-US citizens, however, it is not that simple. Even if you are going on a closed loop cruise, there are extra steps you have to take in order to continue:
First, you WILL need a passport, unless you have it waived, though the length and area of travel will be heavily restricted.
If you are not taking a closed loop, that simply means that you are getting off at a different port from where you started. Still, if you are leaving the boundaries, the restrictions will apply.
How long will your cruise take?
This is very important, especially for non-US citizens. If you are going on a cruise, be mindful of your schedule, knowing full well the laws and restrictions applied when leaving and returning to the country- even if you are just taking a cruise, it counts as time in a different country. Re-entering the United States at a compromising time will have legal repercussions.
Where are you going?
This is, perhaps, the most important question to take into consideration. Even if you are sailing on a US commissioned ship and are setting sail from an American port, there is a chance that you will not be sailing solely on American waters. If this is the case, then you might be asked for a passport or other legal documents- some even require visas.
What other legal documents?
Aside from the passport, there are some other legal documents that you might need to bring. US citizens will need a legal, government ID, such as a driver’s license, as well as a birth certificate. Proof of citizenship is very important during travel. For permanent residents, a United States Permanent Resident card will be asked, though having a passport from your home country will make the trip a lot easier.
What are the most common destinations of a cruise?
The Caribbean, Bahamas, Alaska, Hawaii, Mexico and Bermuda are all very popular cruising destinations, though there are a lot more than that. You will require a valid passport for these (also common and popular) destinations: Haiti, St. Martin, Barbados, Guadeloupe, Tobago and Trinidad.
What cruise line will you be sailing with?
Another very important question- if you are going cruising, make direct contact with the cruising line of your choice before everything else. Some cruising lines will directly require you to have a passport on you, regardless of your citizenship, and regardless of the destination and routes of your cruise. Give them a call and ask them, and what other legal documents they specifically require you to bring before boarding the ship.
These seem like a lot of questions to ask just to answer that one simple question. The problem is, while the question itself is simple, the answer is not, because there are too many individual factors in that you need to take into account, not just do you need a passport for a cruise.
At the end of the day, you will probably have a couple of chances to sail without a passport. However, that is never a good idea. While you should not be bringing your passport in your back pocket whenever you go out for dinner, as a general rule, you should have your passport on your person whenever you do long term traveling- why? If you end up docked at another place than your destination, and you need to re-enter the US and you do not have a passport, then you should be prepared for a headache and a half to hit you like a wrecking ball.
Once you have finally considered an answer to whether or not you need your passport and you have already compiled your legal documents, here are a couple of other important things to bring on your cruise:
You do not have to generally suffer sea-sickness for you to bring medicine in case it happens. Besides, even if you don’t get sick, you do not know if your fellow passengers are queasy, so it gives you a chance to be a good Samaritan. If you have prescription medicine, bring the prescription to the cruise if possible- remember, when traveling it is just a lot better to be safe.
2. A small carry on for your documents
It is best to keep your travel documents somewhere easily accessible, like a small backpack or a front pocket on your luggage. You never know when you will be asked, especially when you are just boarding the ship. However, make sure it is secure.
3. Appropriate attire
Of course, swimsuits are a given, as well as casual attire for when on board and on the islands. However, keep in mind that some ships hold dinners wear the required attire is black tie or smart casual, so bring such clothes with you as well.
The rest is generally very similar to when riding a plane, such as flammable liquid and sharp objects.
So, do you need a passport to go on a cruise? The answer will still depend on too many factors that it could not be answered generally. The most accurate answer will probably be a «maybe» at best.
If you are going on a cruise, the best possible thing to do is to simply call the cruise liner and ask them- while you’re at it, ask them what other legal documents they require, as well. Make sure that you are specific about which cruise you are taking, as well as the destinations marked on your route.
At the end of the day, the best option is to simply bring your passport. Bringing a passport gets rid of a lot of your worries, and you will have all the grounds covered. It’s honestly better to be safe than sorry, especially if you are going to risk getting stranded outside of the US.