Cruises Without a Passport: Here’s Everywhere You Can Cruise Without a Passport in 2023
When you think about cruises, you probably think of international travel. After all, most cruises departing from a U.S. port are headed into international waters, whether you’re sailing from Florida into the Caribbean or from Boston up into Canada. And when we think of international travel, we often think of one key requirement: a passport.
However, despite this, you don’t actually need a passport to go on every cruise. No, that doesn’t mean you’ll be stuck on New England small ship sailings or taking a river cruise down the Mississippi. You can take a wonderfully warm, tropical Caribbean cruise away from the States without the hassle of acquiring or renewing a passport.
Here’s how it works.
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Cruises That Do Not Require a Passport
Certain cruises do not require cruisers to present a passport when boarding which is good news for the many Americans suffering from long passport processing times.
These include cruises that fall under the guidelines of an international agreement referred to as the Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative and which start and end at the same U.S. port (known as a closed-loop itinerary). The Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative dictates where you can and cannot sail without a passport, but most Western Hemisphere destinations are approved.
A note on closed-loop itineraries
Understand that when the government says “closed-loop itinerary” — they mean it! If you plan to take a cruise that visits foreign locales, it must start and end at the exact same U.S. port.
If you leave Miami, you have to return to Miami. You cannot leave Miami, visit a few Caribbean islands, go through the Panama Canal and Mexico, and then hop off the ship in California. While, yes, you would have started and ended your journey in the United States, that’s still not good enough. You have to start and end at the exact same destination.
Examples of Cruise Destinations That Do Not Require a Passport
Of course, there are places in the Caribbean that you can go without any sort of special documentation whatsoever beyond what you would typically use to fly within the mainland United States. These destinations include:
- Puerto Rico
- St. Thomas
- St. John
- St. Croix
However, thanks to the Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative, you can travel to many other islands throughout the Caribbean via a cruise. There’s no passport required. You will have to book a closed-loop sailing. However, that’s easy enough, as that’s the primary option you’ll find when booking most cruises anyway.
Caribbean islands that you can visit during a closed-loop sailing without a passport include:
- Antigua and Barbuda
- The Bahamas
- The British Virgin Islands
- The Cayman Islands
- The Dominican Republic
- The Netherlands Antilles
- St. Kitts and Nevis
- St. Lucia
- St. Vincent and the Grenadines
- Turks & Caicos
Caribbean islands that you cannot visit during a closed-loop sailing without a passport include:
- St. Barts
- St. Martin
- Trinidad & Tobago
Before booking your Caribbean cruise, thoroughly review the itinerary. You want to ensure that the ship will not stop at any of these islands.
Otherwise, as you can see from the list above, most popular Caribbean destinations are fair game. Just ensure that you have the requisite documents in place of your passport, including a government-issued photo ID and an original or copy of your birth certificate.
Whether you want to cruise along Mexico’s Caribbean side or the Pacific coast, you can do so without a passport, so long as your cruise starts and ends in the same port city in the United States. On these closed-loop itineraries, you only need to present a government ID and birth certificate (or a passport card).
You won’t need a passport if you want to cruise up either side of Canada. This includes cruise itineraries that go to Alaska and that make stops in Canada along the way.
This is also the one example of where you can take a cruise without a passport and without adhering to the closed-loop itinerary rule. You can technically take a cruise to Canada and not return to the same U.S. port, just as long as you don’t try to fly anywhere. The amicable relationship between Canada and the U.S. means you can cross Canada-U.S. borders via sea or land (not air) without a passport, if you have other valid identification, such as a NEXUS card or FAST card.
That said, to be honest, gathering up other valid types of identification might be more troublesome than just getting a passport. For the most convenience possible, consider getting a passport if you don’t want to book a closed-loop itinerary cruise to Canada.
Otherwise, on closed-loop itineraries that travel to Canada, you only need to present a government ID and birth certificate (or a passport card).
Don’t forget about Hawaii! When most travelers think of cruises in sunny, sandy locales, they think of the Caribbean or South Pacific. However, Hawaii is right there, and since it’s a U.S. state, there’s no worry about passports.
You can choose to either fly out to Hawaii and take an inter-island cruise, or you can take a cruise all the way from California to Hawaii and back.
The Vacationer Tip
Before cruising, read our Guide to Bringing Food, Alcohol, Water, & Snacks on a Cruise Ship as well as our guide on the Best Credit Cards for Cruises.
What Documentation Do You Need for a Cruise if You Don’t Have a Passport?
According to the Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative, when traveling on a closed-loop cruise without a passport, other valid documentation that you can present during cruise ship boarding includes:
- A government-issued photo ID (for everyone over the age of 16)
- PLUS an original or copy of your birth certificate from the Vital Records Department
- OR a consular report of birth abroad
- OR a certificate of naturalization
Note that the government-issued photo ID must show your photo, name, and date of birth. A driver’s license is valid; however, a social security card is not.
Additionally, the birth certificate must be from the Vital Records Department, not the hospital, with the only exception being if the individual in question is so young that the Vital Records Department has not issued a birth certificate yet (so, basically a newborn).
You can also get a passport card, which is like a lower-cost, limited version of a passport book (which is what a traditional passport is). This will work as valid identification for sea and land travel. However, it will not be accepted as a valid form of ID for air travel unless you’re flying domestically.
Some U.S. citizens may also be able to use an “EDL” or an Enhanced Driver’s License, which can be used in place of a passport when re-entering the United States after traveling from Canada, Mexico, or the Caribbean. However, at this time, EDLs are only available to citizens in certain states.
Likewise, another potential option that’s valid on some cruises and in some destinations (though not all) is a Trusted Travel card. Trusted Traveler cards include Nexus, SENTRI, and FAST cards.
The Vacationer Tip
Still looking to get a passport? Learn How to Take Your Own Passport Photo at Home.
What happens if I don’t have the right documentation?
Don’t have the right documentation to cruise, according to the Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative and the U.S. Customs and Border Protection? Then don’t even bother trying to board the ship. You’ll be turned away at the cruise port.
Is it Worth Trying to Cruise Without a Passport?
Let’s remember that just because you can do something doesn’t always mean that you should. For some travelers, trying to cruise without a passport just isn’t worth it.
For example, if you don’t have a copy of your birth certificate or any of the other accepted forms of documentation that you’ll need to cruise without a passport, you’ll still have to do a fair amount of paperwork and waiting to get that documentation. At that point, you could just get a passport.
Additionally, if you choose to go the passport card route, you’ll find it quite limiting. If you have any future plans of traveling internationally, paying the extra cost for a passport book is worth your time.
There are also accidents and unforeseen emergencies to consider. While not common, it’s certainly not out of the realm of possibility for a cruise ship to need to make a sudden, unplanned stop at the nearest port. If that place happens to be somewhere that requires a passport, you may find yourself in a bad spot.
Or, what if you’re in an accident or there’s an emergency at home? If you had a passport, you could just leave the cruise during its next stop and hop on a flight from the nearest airport. However, you always need a passport to fly internationally, so if you don’t have one, you’d be out of luck.
The same thing could happen if you accidentally don’t make it back to your ship in time for departure, following a day out at one of the itinerary’s destinations. While normally, you could meet back up with the ship on the next island over, if you had a passport, again, if you don’t, you can’t.
All that said, though, if you don’t plan on traveling internationally at any other point, and you already have a copy of your birth certificate handy, then go ahead and book that cruise — just realize that there are some associated risks.
Have a Passport? You Might Not Necessarily Be in the Clear
If you’ve given it some thought and plan to use your passport for an upcoming cruise, don’t just assume your trip will be all smooth sailing from here.
Most destinations require that your passport be valid for six months after your departure date, and the same is true for most cruise lines. Before you book your cruise, ensure your current passport will still be valid six months from the cruise’s end date.
The Vacationer Tip
If you do have a passport, read our guide to the Best All-Inclusive Cruise Lines. Explore options for ocean and river cruises across the world.
You Should Always Check with Your Cruise Line
All of the above considered, you should always check with your cruise line regarding what documents you may need for an upcoming cruise. The cruise line will be able to inform you of its policies, as well as requirements that will apply to your specific itinerary. Most cruise lines, however, do greatly encourage travelers to bring a passport as their primary form of ID.
If your cruise begins and ends at the same port in the United States, stays within the Western Hemisphere, and does not visit certain Caribbean countries, then you can travel using other accepted documents.
According to U.S. Customs and Border Protection: “U.S. citizens on closed-loop cruises will be able to enter or depart the country with proof of citizenship, such as an Enhanced Driver’s License (EDL), a government-issued birth certificate (issued by the Vital Records Department in the state where he or she was born) or passport, and if 16 or older, a government-issued driver’s license, picture ID, denoting photo, name, and date of birth.”
If your cruise itinerary does not necessitate a passport, you must show other valid documentation. If your cruise itinerary does require a passport, and you don’t have one, you will be turned away from the ship and not allowed to board.
Caribbean countries that you cannot cruise to unless you have a passport include Barbados, Guadeloupe, Haiti, Martinique, St. Barts, and Trinidad & Tobago.
No, in most cases, you will not need to go through customs every time you leave a cruise ship. The cruise line will record your information upon boarding and then will provide that information to the destinations you visit on your behalf, so you don’t have to spend hours standing in long customs lines every time you want to disembark for a shore excursion.
Editorial Disclosure: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, hotel, airline, or other entity. This content has not been reviewed, approved, or otherwise endorsed by any of the entities included within the post.
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