You might be surprised to know that certain U.S.-based cruises allow you to cruise without a passport. But just because some cruise passport requirements allow for “no passport cruises” doesn't mean you should sail without one. So, do you need a passport to go on a cruise? Most of the time, yes. We break down closed-loop cruises, what happens in an emergency if you cruise without a passport, and what passport rules are for Alaska, the Bahamas and other popular cruise destinations.
We often get the following questions about cruise passport requirements: Do you need a passport to cruise to the Bahamas? Do you need a passport for a Caribbean cruise? Do you need a passport for an Alaska cruise? What about Hawaii?
The answer to all of these questions for U.S. citizens is no -- as long as you’re taking a closed-loop cruise. Closed-loop cruises travel to Canada, Mexico, the Caribbean and Bermuda but start and end at the same U.S. homeport. These cruises don’t require a passport. However, there are some caveats you'll need to know about ID requirements.
First and foremost, if a United States citizen chooses to do a closed-loop cruise without a passport, they'll still be required to show a government-issued photo ID (such as a driver's license) and proof of citizenship (a certified copy of your birth certificate). So while you don't need a passport of passport card to cruise to Alaska from Seatlle or other U.S. ports, you will need this idenfitication as the cruise must stop in Canada on its way. Without these required documents, you will not be able to board your cruise or get back into the United States.
Be aware that requirements on closed-loop cruises can still change in certain countries, so be sure to check the entry requirements of the specific cruise ports on your itinerary. Some Caribbean nations still require passports or passport cards, like Martinique and Guadeloupe.
If you are a U.S. citizen and your cruise embarks or disembarks in a foreign country, including Canada, you will always need your passport for the cruise (in some cases a passport card will suffice). You'll also need a passport for a cruise that begins and ends in different U.S. ports.
Keep in mind that cruise passport requirements can change based on shore excursions, too. For example, any time you cross a land or sea border into a foreign country, you’ll need a passport, whether it's riding Alaska's White Pass and Yukon Railway or taking day trips to smaller Caribbean islands. Additionally, it's a good idea to check entry requirements of all individual ports in your itinerary, as you might need a visa as well.
What's the downside of going on a cruise without a passport? If an emergency arises, only an official passport will allow you to fly home quickly from a foreign port. If you end up stranded in another country because of unforeseen circumstances, you do still have options, but it will take more time and effort to get home with only a birth certificate and photo ID.
These documents will permit you to receive a temporary passport to be used for reentry into the United States. Temporary passports are only valid for a short period of time and are given out to travelers who need to travel quickly but don't have time to wait for a standard passport. After applying for a temporary passport at the local U.S. Embassy or consulate abroad, it typically takes only a few days for temporary passports to process and receive.
Scrambling for a temporary passport can create mounds of paperwork and plenty of headaches, and the time it takes to process is never guaranteed. Isolated incidents have left passengers stranded for longer than anticipated.
In cases where a ship forces disembarkation in a foreign port, the cruise line will work directly with the international immigration department to assist passengers with passport processing and whatever means of transportation they need to take home.
Even if you plan to stick to a closed-loop cruise, we still recommend you invest in a passport or passport card before your cruise. The fee is worth shelling out from a peace-of-mind standpoint. Though you can cruise without a passport and still get home if you get stranded in port, the hassle of obtaining a temporary passport on top of making arrangements for last-minute travel is rarely worth it. Remember, official U.S. passports last for 10 years. In our minds, investing around a dollar per month for 10 years of security is a steal.