Facing customs and immigration can be intimidating. The experience even led travel memoirist and I-will-never-remarry icon Elizabeth Gilbert to say "I do" when her Brazilian-born partner was refused reentry in the U.S. She got a gold ring and another best-seller out of the deal, but you might just get a spoiled vacation and a heap of trouble.
For the most part, customs and immigration is a practically imperceptible process handled by cruise line officials on your behalf, often in the early hours of the morning. Occasionally, you might have to meet face-to-face. Since you may not be able to marry a Norse god to get off the boat in Oslo, here are some tips for clearing customs and immigration on your next cruise.
Updated July 23, 2019
1. Carry the correct ID, plus photocopies.
You will want to bring not only your passport, but also a photocopy of your passport. Keep the copy separate, just in case you misplace the original (or have it stolen). Also carry a driver's license or government-issued photo ID.
2. Have a notarized travel permission letter for minors traveling without both of legal guardians.
If you're cruising with your grandkids, but not their parents, or taking your child's best friend on your family trip, you will need a notarized letter from both of the minor's parents or legal guardians giving the OK to travel outside your home country. Even one parent traveling alone with his or her child can encounter difficulties entering certain countries without a notarized letter from the other parent giving permission for the travel. If you have full custody or the child's other parent is deceased, you might also need relevant paperwork.
3. Turn off your cell phone.
Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officials are directed to confiscate mobile phones if they see passengers using them. Sure, customs lines can be long and dull, but don't risk losing your phone.
4. No jokes!
No wisecracks, no smart-aleck remarks. Don't fuss or make a scene. All these behaviors might tag you for secondary screening. It's best just to speak -- in a polite, efficient manner -- only when you are addressed.
5. Do your research.
A visa doesn't guarantee entry into the United States. CBP officials make the final determination as to whether to admit you or not. It is often the same for U.S. citizens at foreign ports. Don't assume you are entitled to enter another country. Other things you need to think about:
Have a misspent youth? You may be deemed "unfit" to enter some countries, such as Canada, if you've ever been convicted of a DUI, driving dangerously, simple assault or even shoplifting.
Cruise line-sponsored excursions are usually covered under visa waiver policies. Plus, take note that 38 countries and territories participate in the Visa Waiver Program with the United States. (Get more details through the U.S. State Department.)
If you're going off on your own in ports in certain countries (such as Russia), you may need a visa. Cruise-sponsored and state-approved tours will get you a visa waiver.
6. Keep good records.
When you return to the U.S., you must declare everything you didn't have when you left. Keep a running tally and all receipts. Don't bring back any meats, fruits or vegetables. No alternative-remedy shopping while in port, either. Customs almost never allows you to bring in medicines purchased abroad that aren't FDA-approved.
7. Think twice before bringing back compromising photos or videos of you, your partner or your friends.
Currently, the CBP can confiscate phones, laptops and other devices without a warrant. While it's unlikely to happen to most cruise travelers, know that the possibility exists and take steps to protect your privacy. Otherwise you might be entertaining CBP officials in the office.