Will You Need a Passport for Your Next Cruise?

January 28, 2008
To be or not to be ... in possession of a passport? That's the question we've been hearing from first-time and seasoned cruisers alike, especially as the next deadline in the U.S. Department of State's Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative draws near. As of January 31, 2008, all U.S. and Canadian citizens traveling by land and sea will need to present either a WHTI-compliant document (such as a passport) -- or government-issued photo ID (such as a driver's license), plus proof of citizenship (such as a birth certificate).

If this sounds familiar, it should: This phase of the initiative actually doesn't affect cruisers traveling between the United States and Canada, Mexico, Bermuda or the Caribbean as they've always needed to provide the aforementioned documentation in order to embark. The real impact of the January 31 deadline will be on, for example, the road tripper driving into Canada. Where rules weren't necessarily enforced in the past, they will be now.

But don't put those passport applications through the shredder just yet. The same rules currently in effect for air travel to these same regions -- passport or other valid document required! -- will apply to land and sea crossings eventually ("at a later date, to be determined," travel.state.gov reads). Sarah Schlichter, editor of Cruise Critic's sister site IndependentTraveler.com, tells us that if you're waffling on whether or not to get a passport, you might as well take care of it now. Though there was a pesky backlog last spring and summer, that's pretty much been abolished, and you can now expect to receive a passport within the normal four to six weeks, as opposed to three months.

If cost is a factor -- and you don't plan on traveling outside of the Western Hemisphere -- you can apply instead for the new U.S. Passport Card, beginning February 1, 2008. This limited-use, wallet-sized passport card will only be valid for land and sea travel between the U.S. and Canada, Mexico, the Caribbean region and Bermuda. The Department of State expects the cards to be available and mailed to applicants sometime in the spring of 2008. First-time applicants will pay $45 for adult cards and $35 for children, compared to $97 and $82 for a full blown passport; adults who already have a valid passport can apply for the card as a passport renewal and pay only $20 (as opposed to $67 for renewing a passport).

Again, as of January 23, 2007, all persons traveling by air between the United States and Canada, Mexico, Bermuda and the Caribbean region are required to present a passport or other valid travel document to enter or re-enter the United States. And, as always, if you are traveling or cruising outside the Western Hemisphere (on a Europe or Asia sailing, for example), you'll need your passport.

--by Melissa Baldwin, Managing Editor