Cruisers: The new passport rules what you must know

Posted by Anita Dunham-Potter On March - 27 - 2008

** UPDATE** This article has been updated from a previous version*** 

passport.jpgDo I need a passport to cruise? It’s the biggest question from readers and travel agents say there’s plenty of confusion regarding the U.S. State Department’s guidelines. Here’s the real deal with cruising and the new passport rules launching June 1, 2009.

Passport quandary

“The State Department has changed the regulations so many times that it is nearly impossible to keep up,” says travel agency owner John Frenaye. Indeed, the U.S. State Department’s Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative (WHTI) passport rule, which goes into effect on June 1, 2009, has been delayed three times creating much confusion regarding passport requirements.When researching this article I was given the wrong information from the State Department regarding cruise passengers. Fortunately, the U.S. Customs and Border Protection provided the correct details.

What, specifically, does the new WHTI passport rule mean for cruisers? It all depends where you’re taking your cruise and how you get to your cruise embarkation port.

U.S. citizens need a passport now for cruises that stop at ports in South America, Europe, Asia, Africa, Australia and Antarctica. Additionally, U.S. citizens who travel by air to the Caribbean, Canada, Mexico and Bermuda to catch their ship must have a passport.

However, if you are cruising to and from the Caribbean, Bermuda, Mexico, and Canada from a U.S. port you do not need a passport – this is deemed a “closed loop” voyage. A “closed loop” voyage or itinerary occurs when a vessel departs from a U.S. port or place and returns to the same U.S. port upon completion of the voyage. Per the WHTI Land and Sea Final Rule, travelers on “closed loop” voyages are not subject to the same documentary requirements for entry to the United States as other travelers.

If your voyage falls under the closed loop rule you only need to carry a government-issued photo ID (such as a driver’s license) and a certified birth certificate (children traveling with an adult require a birth certificate as well). A certified birth certificate has a registrar’s raised, embossed, impressed or multicolored seal, registrar’s signature, and the date the certificate was filed with the registrar’s office, which must be within one year of your birth.

Keep in mind this rule is for U.S. citizens cruising from a U.S. port. If you are taking one way itineraries you will have to have a passport. For example, if you start a cruise in Vancouver or Seattle and end in Seward or Whittier Alaska you must have a passport. Ditto for cruises starting in Los Angeles and ending in Acapulco, cruises starting in Miami and ending in Barbados, or cruises starting in Quebec and ending in New York City – you’ll need a passport.

Currently, those who drive across the Canadian border to a port will not need a passport since land-crossings are currently exempt. In that instance the aforementioned proof of citizenship is needed.

As always, passports are not required for U.S. citizens traveling to or returning directly from Hawaii or a U.S. territory, including Guam, Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands, American Samoa, Swains Island, and the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands.

Requirements on June 1, 2009:

On June 1, 2009 all arriving and returning U.S. citizens must have a passport or passport card to enter the U.S. by land from Canada and Mexico. One exception is U.S. and Canadian citizens under the age of 16 will be able to present a birth certificate instead of a passport for crossing land/sea borders between the U.S. and Canada. There also will be special provisions for children traveling in school, sports or other groups. This date now means that U.S. citizens sailing round trip Alaska cruises from Vancouver will require a passport.

Passport or passport card?:

What’s the difference between a passport and a passport card? The passport card was mandated by Congress as an alternative secure document but only for land and sea entry. The card contains radio frequency identification on an RFID chip, designed to be read quickly by scanning equipment installed at U.S. points of entry. One very important distinction is the passport card is not acceptable for air travel.

There is some cost savings in having a passport card versus a passport, here’s what you need to know:

*Standard, first-time passports now cost $100 and are valid 10 years. U.S. citizens age 15 and younger pay $85 for a passport valid for five years.

*The new land/sea passport card costs $45 for adults and would be valid 10 years. Citizens age 15 and younger pay $35 for a card valid for five years.

*Current passport holders can apply for the card as a renewal and pay $20. The card costs $10 for those younger than age 16 who already has a passport.

For travelers who don’t want to deal with passports or passport cards, there is the “trusted traveler” card issued by the federal government to prescreened travelers. (But those won’t get you over an international border the way a passport will.) Also, a number of border states are working on enhanced drivers licenses containing the RFID chip and other security features that are acceptable for entry at land and sea points. Currently, Washington state is the only one with these licenses. New York, Arizona, California, Michigan, Texas and Vermont are set to follow.

Why traveling without a passport is risky:

Travel agents want you to know traveling without a passport is risky. “I advise all my clients who travel abroad to apply for a full-fledged passport,” said Frenaye. He cites an example of someone who sails out of Miami without a passport who falls ill when the ship is at sea and needs to fly home from the Bahamas. Frenaye adds, “Without a passport, this person is likely to incur extreme scrutiny and questioning by customs, which will only add more stress to the initial event.” It’s a rare situation, of course, but it does happen from time to time.

Passport basics:

So cruising regulars if you don’t have a passport it might be a good time to get one soon.

Plan ahead. Apply for your passport at least four months in advance, if possible. Renewals can take as long as a first issue, so check your passport’s expiration date. If the passport is due to expire soon and you are planning a trip abroad, check the passport rules for the countries you’re visiting. Many countries require your passport to be valid for three to six months beyond the date you enter the country. For example, if your passport expires in November 2009, and you want to travel this coming March, you may need to renew your passport before you go.

Also, according to new guidelines from the U.S. State Department, county clerk offices cannot process a passport application if the applicant’s birth certificate was issued within that county. This modification was enacted in response to a problem when officials discovered illegally produced birth records. This rule will be a major inconvenience for many rural citizens since first-time applicants and all children must apply for a passport in person — that may mean a long drive to the clerk’s office in the next county.

Applications and instructions are available at passport offices and select U.S. post offices and online at the U.S. State Department’s travel Web site. Be sure to write your trip’s departure date on the application. Passport officials say they are doing their best to get passports out in time for travelers’ departures.

Allow plenty of processing time. The new rule of thumb is to allow at least 12 weeks for a regular application and four weeks for an expedited application. Holidays will slow down the process, sometimes considerably.

Expedite the process. If you are leaving within the next two months, pay the additional $60 to expedite your application. The State Department says it will get an expedited passport to you in two or three weeks. If you are truly desperate, hire a “passport expediter,” who can get you a faster turnaround for a fee of $100 or more (that’s in addition to the $60 State Department expediting fee, which is in addition to the regular $100 fee for an adult’s passport). These companies aren’t a sure thing, but they do have standing appointments at passport offices around the country; that appointment status effectively allows them to jump the line. To find an expediter, check the National Association of Passport and Visa Services Web site.

Keep good records. Keep all receipts, a copy of your application and records of communication with the passport office. Make sure to note your “Passport Locator Number” when you complete your application at the post office.

Check on the status. Applicants can check their passport’s status online on the State Department’s Passport Application Status Web site. If you are traveling within the next two weeks, contact the National Passport Information Center at (877) 487-2778. If you haven’t already done so, you can request that your application be expedited.

Get extra copies of your birth certificate. Since one certified birth certificate must be sent with your passport application, it is wise to obtain extra copies of the birth certificate to use for identification until the original one is returned with your passport.

Don’t get into a documentation dilemma that causes you to miss your cruise. All cruise line passenger contracts state it is the passenger’s responsibility to have proper documentation when you arrive at the pier. Furthermore, basic travel insurance will not cover you if you forget your passport or little Johnny’s birth certificate. A number of cruise lines and large third party travel insurance companies have “cancel-for-any-reason” coverage. That is the only policy that would protect your cruise investment in a documentation faux pas.

Need more info? The Travel Business Roundtable has set up a Web site, getapassportnow.com that explains the new rules and requirements for getting a passport.

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46 Responses

  1. TPKeller Said,

    Your report is irresponsibly incomplete, and therefore completely misleading.

    The fact is that for the VAST MAJORITY of cruise passengers “entering the United States”, they will have also DEPARTED from the United States, and from the same port.

    Those conditions merit an exception to the rule, and since this rule is now permanent, for the foreseeable future, US Citizens, who are cruising round trip from and to the same US Port, ARE NOT REQUIRED to have a Passport!

    You can read the actual rule here: http://www.dhs.gov/xlibrary/assets/whti_landseafinalrule.pdf

    See pages 89-91 for the details.

    Posted on March 28th, 2008 at 11:09 am

  2. anita Said,

    TPKeller,
    Why promote the delay in getting a passport? If people want to travel out of the country they SHOULD have one – period. What if somebody gets sick and needs to fly home off the ship from a foreign port? You need a passport! There are a lot of tangibles that could come up during a cruise that require a passport. People need to stop delaying and just get their passport. The rest of the traveling world gets this; why do some Americans think they don’t need one?

    Anita Dunham-Potter
    Editor, ExpertCruiser

    Posted on March 28th, 2008 at 11:31 am

  3. TPKeller Said,

    Not promoting, just reporting the facts. I completely agree, there are many very good reasons to get a passport. I don’t think we need to resort to misleading people about it. The merits of passport ownership can hold up on their own.

    Every week, thousands of people cruise without passports, and some of them must return home, for whatever unforeseen circumstance. They get home. They aren’t stripped of their citizenship and forced to become homeless in the Caribbean.

    Resorting to FUD calls your credibility into question.

    As an expert in the Cruise Industry, you should realize that for quite a number of short Bahamas cruises, the cost of a passport can add nearly 50% to the price of the cruise, and as such, would clearly deter many people who are considering a short trial first cruise. I believe this is the true reason why the Industry successfully lobbied for this exception to the rule, and for now at least, that is how it will be.

    I agree, it will add to the confusion. But it’s not insurmountable, with clear and accurate reporting.

    Thanks!

    Posted on March 28th, 2008 at 11:42 am

  4. anita Said,

    TPKeller,
    No FUD, just facts. Do you have a passport?

    Anita

    Posted on March 28th, 2008 at 11:55 am

  5. TPKeller Said,

    I do, in fact I’m about half way through my second. I don’t want to come across as argumentative, but FUD (Fear Uncertainty Doubt) is how I would describe the claim that a passport is required to return home early from a cruise. It happens, albeit with perhaps a little extra effort, but you will get home.

    I see these same points over and over again on cruise message boards, and they just don’t hold water. Americans think they don’t need a passport, because they don’t, in fact, need a passport, under these certain conditions.

    I’m all in favor of promoting passports, but only using reasons that are true.

    If you want to cast blame, I suspect it’s the Cruise Lines themselves who lobbied for these exceptions.

    Posted on March 28th, 2008 at 12:11 pm

  6. anita Said,

    TPKeller,
    Good for you having a passport. It’s an important document to have while traveling. You are correct about the passport issue for cruises to the Bahamas, BUT the ruling also states that “an approved secure document” will be required. That to me is a huge can of worms. What exactly are the secure documents other than a passport. TK the problem is I get cases where people are unable to cruise because they did not have the right documentation. The problem with having differing rules for differing countries creates a ton of confusion.

    These two stories alone:

    http://www.expertcruiser.com/ombudsman/hey-kids-no-birth-certificate-no-cruise/

    http://www.expertcruiser.com/ombudsman/no-passport-no-travel/

    Had these folks had a passport they would have cruised…period. Granted, one story didn’t need a passport, but birth certificates, still wrong information cost them their cruise vacations.

    My theory is simple: Get a passport and you won’t have to worry what documentation (other than country specific VISA requirements) is required. I am just amazed at the number of people who love to travel out of the country, but don’t want to get a passport.

    I guess I am stubborn on this issue.

    Anita

    Posted on March 28th, 2008 at 12:23 pm

  7. Snorkel2Much Said,

    TPKeller – Good for you in trying to get the FACTS out there, well done.

    ExpertCruiser – Shame on you for a grossly misleading story. Please read the ruling in the link TPKeller provided, paying particular attention to Paragraphs IV-B-6 and VI-A. How about an equally prominent retraction as a follow up?

    anita – Next time read the reference before telling someone who did read it that they’re wrong.

    Posted on March 30th, 2008 at 8:46 am

  8. Jan Murdoch Said,

    snorkes2much I am with anita on this. Shes just trying to get the word out to make sure people don’t run into document problems on their cruises. there was a lot of confusion last year. Sure there are some cruises that won’t require a passport but the majority do. Jan

    Posted on March 31st, 2008 at 5:12 pm

  9. John F Said,

    You are forgetting who owns the ships. It is the cruise lines and not the government. The cruise lines are going to err on the side of caution and require it. Not requiring it creates a hassle for them and will delay the embarkation and disembarkation procedures accommodating those that are claiming an exception.

    So, the cruise lines will err to the side of caution.

    TPKeller–you accuse Anita of FUD yet are you not guilty as well? The cost of a passport can only impact the cost of the FIRST cruise to the Bahamas.

    Posted on April 2nd, 2008 at 9:41 pm

  10. Snorkel2Much Said,

    anita – You still refuse to educate yourself to the facts that have been clearly made available to you:
    US citizens on any sailings that begin and end at the same U.S. port will be exempt from the WHTI document requirement. Instead they will only need to present a government-issued photo ID (such as a driver’s license) and proof of citizenship (an official copy of a birth certificate, certificate of naturalization, etc)
    –See, it’s not that hard to write a simple explanation.

    You should’ve tried to ask someone who had experienced this before you stated:
    “What if somebody gets sick and needs to fly home off the ship from a foreign port? You need a passport!”
    – Sorry anita, but you most certainly do not. Flying home from a foreign port due to an emergency without possessing a passport is NOT the impossible mission you claim, it’s a minor hassle compared to trying to make last minute air bookings.

    First time cruisers without passports, who may never cruise again, should be told the unbiased facts and allowed to make an informed choice.

    Posted on April 8th, 2008 at 6:33 pm

  11. John F Said,

    Again it is the cruise line’s choice who to accept on their vessel and who not to accept. There are reprecussions for ill documented passengers.

    Posted on April 10th, 2008 at 8:32 pm

  12. Explore Hawaii Blog Said,

    Well i agree with you it depends entirely on cruise line’s choice but i think they should give some respect to clients needs and to make sure there is not much trouble for them.

    Posted on July 27th, 2008 at 12:02 pm

  13. Syria Said,

    i think that they should required. It’s an important document to have while traveling.

    Posted on August 4th, 2008 at 6:10 am

  14. Dan Said,

    If we followed TPKeller advice, there is a risk of problems later. What if you got sick on the ship and needed to return home? Can you walk into an airport, buy a ticket, and fly back into the USA with no passport? What if you were not even sick, what if there was an emergency at home?

    Required or not, it’s not a good idea to leave for a trip without a passport.

    Posted on December 4th, 2008 at 12:26 pm

  15. jmf Said,

    the pass port is not required. a state issued i.d. card and certified birth certificate is. i believe each person is able to get an i.d. card from their local tag agency. thanx

    Posted on January 4th, 2009 at 6:16 pm

  16. Mary Said,

    I have read all of the comments and have one question. Will passports be required for travel from Jacksonville, Florida to the Bahamas on a Carnival Cruise line leaving Jacksonville? I am told as of 6/1/09 they will be required. I myslef have one and always tell strongly recommend my clients get one but I have a lage group of first time cruisers that are pulling all of their money to go on this one cruise. It will be a financial hardship on them and I know half will cancel due to the new ruling. So please if anyone cal tell me for certian that they will not need one I woul appreciate it. I had a group that got them last year and ended up mad at me that it was extened.

    Posted on January 19th, 2009 at 9:05 pm

  17. Glinda Said,

    Nice post! Keep up the good work

    Posted on March 25th, 2009 at 8:15 pm

  18. Rick Goforth Said,

    Just responding to the need of a Passport issue. I was diagnosed last March with terminal cancer. This past year has been horrific to say the least. My doctor’s will not give me a specific time remaining; however, based on my being stage three at diagnosis the best, statistically, they will offer is thirty-six months. My children wanted to go on a “trip of a lifetime” together so we applied for, and paid, our passports. I was denied mine because they tell me I am behind on child support due to being out of work for the past 14 months. I’m not behind, I simply didn’t work during this period. I am currently disabled and again paying my support. This is so wrong and unfair but it’s OK cause it’s the rule. I’m not a DEAD BEAT DAD, simply a dying one. Thanks for all your insight. RG

    Posted on April 29th, 2009 at 10:19 pm

  19. Erica Said,

    I completely understand your heartache, Rick Goforth. I’m sorry to hear you’re dealing with the strain of this diagnosis. Hopefully the ruling that a closed loop cruise doesn’t require a passport will bring some comfort and you and your family will be able to enjoy a wonderful vacation together.

    My husband isn’t able to get a passport either. He has child support issues as well. He has been current on his child support for over 10 years however they still claim that he is in arrears due to an incorrect calculation of his wages 15 years ago.

    Our state will NOT make a judgement retro-active, therefore he owes the arrears (even though they made the error). It’s a burden for us, but one that we are committed to dealing with and paying off.

    I get frustrated with all of those who say, “you have to have a passport!” or “just get a passport – you’re a fool for traveling without one”. It’s not that easy for everyone, people. Some people cannot have a passport.

    What about those who are felons? That right is forever gone. Those who have paid their debt to society cannot have a passport. Whether you believe that is right or wrong (I believe it is right – they should have their passport rights revoked), there are going to be those out there who need clarification on passport rules. There are those of us out there (like my husband who cannot get a passport due to child support arrearages) who want to travel and who must do so within the confines of countries and cruise lines that will let us travel with just state identification and a birth certificate.

    And before people jump down my throat about paying the arrearages and not traveling, like I stated before, we pay a great deal every month for child support, we are current, but like most Americans, we work insanely hard and would like a vacation every now and again.

    I for one am thrilled that we can still cruise the Caribbean and Mexico on closed loop voyages.

    Hang in there, Rick Goforth. I hope you and your family get to vacation together very soon.

    Posted on June 3rd, 2009 at 2:41 pm

  20. Jacksonville real estate homes Said,

    We are planning a trip and were debating on the need for a passport, I think we will go ahead and get one now. Thanks!

    Posted on December 9th, 2009 at 9:40 am

  21. gunceldurum Said,

    i think that they should required. It’s an important document to have while traveling.

    Posted on December 9th, 2009 at 8:51 pm

  22. Norwegian Pearl Cruises Said,

    It is important to carry a passport when traveling outside the country whether required or not. When on a cruise it can certainly remove the fear of any hassles you may experience while in port.

    Posted on December 31st, 2009 at 3:46 pm

  23. meylan Said,

    i have a question, im not us citizen i just have my resident card and i want to go to bahamas i just have my resident card and my passport (cuban pasaport) can i go to bahamas on a cruse just with my resident card and my cuban passport?

    Posted on January 8th, 2010 at 5:34 pm

  24. Ben Lambert Said,

    Of course they should be required. An essential document that proves multiple purposes. Not sure why anyone would think they could travel around without one, whether crusing or not.

    Posted on January 18th, 2010 at 1:54 pm

  25. ezel izle Said,

    it is important to carry a passport when traveling outside the country whether required or not. When on a cruise it can certainly remove the fear of any hassles you may experience while in port.

    Posted on January 24th, 2010 at 7:20 pm

  26. ezel izle Said,

    It is important to carry a passport when traveling outside the country whether required or not.

    Posted on January 24th, 2010 at 7:22 pm

  27. jasper Said,

    But what if something goes wrong, for example the boat has to leave the closed loop and go to a different port?

    I suggest to just always take your passport with you, just to be save

    Posted on January 31st, 2010 at 8:35 am

  28. mccube Said,

    I am not Canadian citizen, but I have resident card,so I think that it is important to carry a passport when traveling outside the country whether required or not. When on a cruise it can certainly remove the fear of any hassles you may experience while in port.

    Posted on March 16th, 2010 at 6:10 pm

  29. Elaine Said,

    I appreciate this clarification of the laws regarding passports and cruises. I’m one of those unfortunate victims of the child support laws myself. I lost my ability to get a passport before I was even supposed to pay child support because of a typo in my divorce decree that put me in arrearages for child support before I even started. My husband still wants to take me on a cruise later, and I thought I was going to have to be completely paid off and even ahead before I could go. It’s nice to know that I’ll be ok.

    Posted on April 24th, 2010 at 3:06 pm

  30. Lucie Said,

    I totally agree. Why risk it.. if you’re travelling outside the country you’re asking for something to go wrong if you don’t have your passport.

    Posted on May 31st, 2010 at 12:00 pm

  31. itgasht Said,

    Nice post! Keep up the good work

    Posted on October 14th, 2010 at 4:29 am

  32. mispelled Said,

    I also suggest to always take your passport with you, because you never know what happens.
    Good post. Thanks…

    Posted on February 16th, 2011 at 10:44 am

  33. Sherry Said,

    I have a friend that would like to take a cruise to Alaska going North to South. She is afraid that she will not be able to board due to a pass legal issues as she may not be able to get off in Vancouver.
    Has anyone know how they handle this on a cruise starting on US territory? We would like to plan a cruise and don’t want to waste our time if this is going to be an issue. Thanks

    Posted on March 11th, 2011 at 9:35 pm

  34. surabaya Said,

    Again it is the cruise line’s choice who to accept on their vessel and who not to accept. There are reprecussions for ill documented passengers.

    Posted on April 11th, 2011 at 4:47 am

  35. steve Said,

    Who on gods earth does not think at any time traveling to and though a different country that you do not need a passport thats why it is called a pass port or in the old days port pass OH that’s right American’s

    Posted on May 1st, 2011 at 6:18 am

  36. EagerTraveler Said,

    This is waaay out of date and should not be trusted. Check with your TA.

    Posted on May 24th, 2011 at 3:51 am

  37. erikgault Said,

    Still its better to carry a passport, just for precautions

    Posted on June 29th, 2011 at 10:50 am

  38. Angel Said,

    I’m confused…..if you have an original birth certificate or a certified copy and your driver’s license, what is the problem? Why do people keep reciting “repercussions for ill documented passengers” as if you will get turned away if you don’t have a passport. The rules are clear cut. Passport or BC +DL on closed loop cruises.

    Posted on July 10th, 2011 at 10:12 am

  39. Marx Said,

    my story, my friend that would like to take a cruise to Alaska going North to South. he is afraid that she will not be able to board due to a pass legal issues as she may not be able to get off in Vancouver.
    Has anyone know how they handle this on a cruise starting on US territory? We would like to plan a cruise and don’t want to waste our time if this is going to be an issue. Thanks

    Posted on July 23rd, 2011 at 5:59 am

  40. Crissreid Said,

    I strongly believe it’s important to carry passport when you are outside your company… obviously it is cruise’s choice to allow some one or not….

    Posted on July 28th, 2011 at 1:40 am

  41. Cruise Legs Said,

    It may not be required but I completely agree that you need a passport to cruise. While an emergency may not be likely, I wouldn’t want to be stuck in the Caribbean when someone needed me back home.

    Posted on July 30th, 2011 at 5:07 pm

  42. Florida birth certificates Said,

    My mother had the same problem years ago. What exactly is the issue? Surabaya is correct the decision is entirely upon the cruise line whether they accept your documantation or not.

    Posted on September 23rd, 2011 at 4:51 pm

  43. petra jordan Said,

    I have read all of the comments and have one question. Will passports be required for travel from Jacksonville, Florida to the Bahamas on a Carnival Cruise line leaving Jacksonville? I am told as of 6/1/09 they will be required. I myslef have one and always tell strongly recommend my clients get one but I have a lage group of first time cruisers that are pulling all of their money to go on this one cruise. It will be a financial hardship on them and I know half will cancel due to the new ruling. So please if anyone cal tell me for certian that they will not need one I woul appreciate it. I had a group that got them last year and ended up mad at me that it was extened.

    Posted on November 25th, 2011 at 4:05 pm

  44. M2Games Dot Net Said,

    “i think that they should required. It’s an important document to have while traveling.” I agree with you, in travelling passports is important one

    Posted on December 29th, 2011 at 3:34 am

  45. Jennifer S. Said,

    I have read everyones comments and personal opinions and have decided to renew my passport and plan my 1st cruise to the Bahamas and if that goes well I will continue traveling by sea…Its definately a GREAT Idea to be prepared (passport inhand) than NOT!!

    Posted on June 27th, 2012 at 12:52 am

  46. JamieV Said,

    I work for a cruise line and every cruise, and I mean every cruise, I see people turned away because they don’t have proper identification. It’s easy, get a passport, that way you don’t have to worry about whether you need a passport or not.

    Posted on August 2nd, 2012 at 11:29 pm


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