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Updated October 10, 2019
U.S. citizens are encouraged to carry a passport when cruising, and they are mandatory when sailing out of foreign ports. There are two options: a traditional passport book or the newer passport card. Whether you opt for a U.S. passport card versus a book depends on your budget, how frequently you travel and where you plan to sail. We compare the two to help you decide which type of ID is best for you.
Differences Between Passport Books and Cards
Like a driver's license, a U.S. passport card is plastic and easily slips into a wallet. Passport books are larger and filled with blank pages used for visas and stamps anytime you enter and exit a country.
The most important difference between U.S. passport books and passport cards is that passport cards are not valid for international air travel; they're only acceptable for land and sea border crossings between the U.S., Canada, Mexico, Bermuda and the Caribbean. You cannot use a passport card on cruises from international homeports. (These rules do not apply to cruises roundtrip from San Juan, Puerto Rico, as the island is a U.S. territory; a government-issued photo ID and copy of your birth certificate would suffice.)
Even on a closed-loop sailing out of the U.S., if you're forced to disembark unexpectedly, need to fly home from a foreign port and only have a U.S. passport card, you can expect delays getting home. To protect yourself against emergency situations, go with a passport book, which covers all international travel -- by air, sea or land.
There's also a price difference. U.S. passport books cost $145 for adults and $115 for minors, while passport cards are only $65 for adults and $50 for minors. When it comes time to renew, cards cost $30 as opposed to $110 for passport books.
Similarities Between Passport Cards and Books
Both passport books and cards are valid for 10 years. Although not required on "closed loop" sailings, which call at foreign ports but sail roundtrip from the U.S., either type of passport can be used in lieu of the two documents you're required to bring: proof of citizenship (such as a birth certificate) and proof of identification (such as a driver's license).
Both passport cards and books are also acceptable on shore excursions -- such as the White Pass and Yukon Route train ride from Skagway, Alaska, and day trips to Anguilla from St. Maarten -- that require you to show ID because you will be crossing a land or sea border into a foreign country.
Tip: During your cruise, keep your passport card or book in your cabin safe, and simply carry a photocopy of it when walking around in port, in case of an emergency.
U.S. Passport Card Vs. Book
For travelers on tight budgets, who cruise roundtrip from the U.S. and don't plan to leave the country by air, it can be cost efficient and convenient to carry a U.S. passport card. A passport card also could be useful for Alaska cruises, as long as all border crossings into Canada are done by land or sea.
But if you have the money to spare or anticipate traveling more frequently (and internationally), a passport book is always the best choice. In addition to being mandatory for air travel, it can offer peace of mind for emergencies. You never know when you might need to get off the ship because of an injury or illness, and arranging an unexpected flight home is much easier with a passport in hand.