Updated October 10, 2019
Whether or not you need a visa in addition to a valid passport for your cruise is a common question with a rather complicated answer. There are a few countries where visas are handled by the cruise line on arrival in port. In all other cases, the cruise line might only advise you that you might need one, but they can be rather elusive when it comes to details regarding visa requirements and how to get one if you do need it.
The Cruise Critic message boards can be a helpful resource. Search for or ask questions of fellow cruisers who might have recent visa experiences to share regarding specific ports of call.
U.S. citizens can easily look up visa requirements at Travel.State.gov under the "International Travel" tab. Search for each country your ship will visit to see the visa requirements, along with a wealth of other information. The tourist visa requirement is displayed in the "Quick Facts" box at the top of the page. Scroll down a little to the specific section for "Entry, Exit and Visa Requirements," which will have details, sometimes including additional information specifically for cruise passengers. Canadian citizens can use a similar site: Travel.gc.ca.
In some cases, the entrance requirement isn't even a formal visa. Effective October 1, 2019, New Zealand requires a process called the Electronic Travel Authority (ETA) that will cost less than $10 and last for two years. (An additional $24 International Visitor Conservation and Tourism Levy will also be waged.)
Beginning in 2021, U.S. visitors to 26 member nations of the European Union (referred to as the Schengen Area) will need to obtain a European Travel Information and Authorization System (ETIAS) registration prior to arrival. It's not a full visa, but the short online application will cost about 7 euros and last for three years.
It is important that you have a valid visa for all ports of call that require them, even if you do not plan to disembark. Emergencies -- either yours or the ship's -- could force a situation that would make a visa unexpectedly necessary.
Here are some countries that currently require visas for U.S. citizens on cruises.
Australia Cruise Visas
U.S. passport holders visiting Australia on a cruise can apply online for an electronic visa for a fee of $20 Australian dollars, to be paid by credit card.
Bahrain Cruise Visas
Bahrain requires a two-week tourist visa, with the application available on the government website.
Brazil Cruise Visas
As of June 17, 2019, visas are no longer required for American citizens traveling to Brazil.
China Cruise Visas
Visas are required in most instances to enter China, with a few exemptions. Transit exemptions allow a stay of up to 144 hours when you enter China at specific airports or cruise ports from one country and exit one of those ports or airports to a third country. The 144-hour exemption applies to ocean cruises originating or concluding in Shanghai; Beijing has a 72-hour exemption. Hainan, China's southern province, has also adopted a 15-day visa-free policy for groups traveling to the region by cruise ship.
Some river cruise passengers are also exempt, but only if they are traveling with a tour company licensed by the Chinese government. Check with your river cruise line to determine if you are exempt. The cost of a 10-year visa is $140 from the consulate.
Egypt Cruise Visas
A visitor's visa is required in Egypt. If you arrive by cruise ship, the visa is usually handled onboard the ship for you. If you arrive by air (as when you are taking a river cruise), you can procure an electronic visa either at the airport or online before you arrive. A renewable single-entry 30-day tourist visa on arrival at Egyptian airports is $25 USD for U.S. citizens; a multiple entry visa is also obtainable for $60.
Ghana Cruise Visas
A visa is required ($60 for a single entry), but ships stopping in Ghana usually arrange for visas for their passengers.
India Cruise Visas
An electronic visa application is now available online. Alternatives include a standard 10-year tourist visa or a transit visa for a stay of no more than three days. These two options have online forms but must be printed and processed through an Indian consulate, either in person or through an agency for an additional charge.
Jordan Cruise Visas
A visitor's visa is required in Jordan, but most cruise ships handle the process for you.
Kenya Cruise Visas
Kenya issues either a single-entry or multiple-entry electronic visa, but most cruise ships that call on Kenya will process the correct one for you.
Madagascar Cruise Visas
Visas for cruise passengers stopping in Madagascar are usually handled by the cruise line, but they require a minimum of three blank pages in your passport.
Myanmar (Burma) Cruise Visas
Myanmar has an electronic visa procedure available online for $50. The website indicates that you must choose a port of entry from a drop-down list but that you may enter at an alternate port. As none of the ports of entry on the list are cruise ports, it might be safer to allow your cruise ship to process the visa -- an option offered by all of the cruise lines currently calling in Myanmar.
Namibia Cruise Visas
Visas are normally provided by the cruise ship upon arrival in port in Namibia.
Oman Cruise Visas
Oman offers electronic visas for 20 Omani rials (roughly $50), but your ship might also make arrangements for a visa onboard.
Papua New Guinea Cruise Visas
Although Papua New Guinea allows U.S. citizens to obtain a visa on arrival at airports, cruise passengers are considered in transit and are issued a "seaman pass" upon departing the ship.
Qatar Cruise Visas
Passengers on cruises to Doha in Qatar require a tourist visa, which can be obtained online.
Russia Cruise Visas
Passengers on ocean cruises with stops in St. Petersburg and Vladivostok are allowed 72 hours in port without a visa, provided they are with an authorized tour guide at all times. If you plan to tour on your own, a tourist visa is necessary. It's recommended that U.S. citizens apply for a three-year multiple-entry tourist visa regardless of the dates of entry/exit, number of entries or period of stay; the cost is $160.
River cruise passengers with itineraries that include other Russian cities will need a visa. The consensus on the Cruise Critic message boards is that using the service provided by the river cruise line is far easier than filling out the forms on your own.
Sri Lanka Cruise Visas
A tourist visa is required in Sri Lanka and can be obtained online, though a transit visa with entry for up to two days is free of charge. A 30-day tourist visa to Sri Lanka will cost about $35 USD in advance.
Turkey Cruise Visas
U.S. citizens traveling on cruise ships can enter visa-free for a maximum of 72 hours with permission from authorities at the port of entry.
Vietnam Cruise Visas
A tourist visa is required in Vietnam and can be obtained from the ship on ocean cruises. Passengers on river cruises will need a visa in advance (visa fees are about $25). The application can be filled out online, by email or by mail.