Do kids need a passport to go on a cruise? Yes. And also no.
The type of documentation or ID your child needs in order to sail varies based on the itinerary, your mode of travel to your homeport, who your child is sailing with and even the cruise line. Here, we break down when your kids needs a passport and when just a birth certificate will suffice.
Note: This advice pertains only to U.S. citizens. Citizens of other countries or U.S. permanent residents should check with the appropriate government agency for travel documentation requirements.
Times Your Child Does Not Need a Passport to Cruise
Closed-loop cruises: As part of the Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative (WHTI), cruises that sail roundtrip from a U.S. homeport and visit only destinations in Canada, Mexico, the Caribbean and Bermuda do not require passengers of any age to carry a passport.
Children younger than 16 need only to carry their birth certificates (original or copy); children 16 and older, as well as adults, each need to show both a birth certificate and a government-issued photo I.D.
However, Cruise Critic always recommends carrying a passport, which is acceptable in lieu of both documents, when visiting a foreign country in case unforeseen circumstances necessitate your disembarkation before the end of the cruise.
Round-Hawaii cruises: If you're sailing on Norwegian Cruise Line's Pride of America (or any other U.S.-flagged vessel sailing roundtrip from a U.S. homeport and visiting only ports in the U.S.), kids younger than 16 need no documentation at all. Each adult and teens 16 and older will only need a government-issued photo I.D.
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Times Your Child Does Need a Passport to Cruise
Cruising to/from a foreign homeport: Any time your embarkation or debarkation port is in a foreign country, all cruisers (kids and adults) need to carry valid passports. This includes Canada, Mexico and the Caribbean. In most cases, passports must expire 6 months or more after the end of your trip.
One-way cruises from the U.S.: One-way cruises, whether they start and end in different U.S. cities or sail from a U.S. port to a foreign one, are excluded from WHTI exemptions, and all travelers must carry passports.
Traveling with one adult: Certain cruise lines, specifically Holland America and Princess, require any minor traveling with only one adult to carry a valid passport, even on closed-loop cruises that otherwise wouldn't require one.
Traveling on certain cruise lines: Some cruise lines -- mainly upscale small-ship lines, such as Regent Seven Seas Cruises and Crystal Cruises -- require all passengers to carry passports, regardless of destination.
Specific itineraries: Certain ports demand that all visitors show valid passports even if they're on a closed-loop cruise that otherwise wouldn't require one. Costa Rica and ports in the French West Indies (Guadeloupe and Martinique) are among the destinations with this rule. All Panama Canal itineraries, even partial-loop cruises that sail roundtrip from a U.S. port, require adults and kids to show valid passports.
Multi-national shore excursions: Certain shore excursions require passports because you'll be crossing an international border. These include train rides on Alaska's White Pass and Yukon Railway, which cross into Canada, and some day trips from one Caribbean island to another. Kids are not exempt from these requirements.
You're from Puerto Rico: The U.S. government does not recognize birth certificates issued in Puerto Rico prior to July 1, 2010, as valid proof of citizenships for travel purposes. If your child was born in Puerto Rico prior to that date, he or she will have to carry a passport, even on closed-loop cruises.