Cruise 101: Do I need a Passport to Cruise?

Courtesy Celebrity Cruises

Q: Do I recommend a passport for everyone departing the US by any means?
A: YES. No doubt about it.

Determining if you need a passport to go on a cruise isn’t quite as easy as you might think. The answer mostly depends on the destination of your cruise, which port you’re embarking and disembarking from, and which forms of ID you currently have.

Here are some definitions of words we’ll use throughout this article:

  • Birth certificate (Original U.S.) – This is your state or county-issued vital records office type birth certificate, not the one with the baby footprints on it. Also, a photo copy is not acceptable for travel needs.
  • Certificate of citizenship – document proving the citizenship of a person who was born outside the United States to U.S. citizen parents.
  • Closed-Loop Cruise – this is a cruise that departs from a US port of call and returns to the same US port of call at its conclusion
  • Enhanced driver’s license – REAL ID compliant driver’s license
  • Naturalization certificate – document to prove that the person named on the certificate has obtained U.S. citizenship through naturalization. Naturalization refers to the process in which a person not born in the United States voluntarily becomes a U.S. citizen.
  • Passport Book – this is the US passport that is a miniature book, valid for international travel by land, air, or sea
  • Passport Card – this is a land cross only passport and rarely helpful in most leisure travel circumstances
  • Trusted Traveler card – Trusted Traveler Programs are several and include: TSA PreCheck, Global Entry, NEXUS, SENTRI, and FAST – see more at

I always recommend you carry a valid, unexpired U.S. passport onboard, no matter where you’re going. This will always make your trip smoother, especially if you come across any unforeseen circumstances during your vacation, for example, a stop at an unscheduled port due to weather or maybe even a family emergency that would require you to book a last-minute plane ticket home.

That being said, if you’re a U.S. citizen and want to know if you need a passport to go on your upcoming cruise, I’ve compiled some helpful details to help you understand when you are required to bring a passport and which ones do not require this.

Do I need a passport if I’m flying to a cruise departure port in another country?

Woman holding passport and ticket
Courtesy Celebrity Cruises

Anytime you ever board an aircraft to travel internationally, you absolutely need a valid U.S. passport book in order to board the plane. By definition: the U.S. passport book is a government-issued document that allows U.S. citizens to travel internationally by air, land, and sea. A valid U.S. passport book is needed even if you’re flying to or from Canada, Mexico, Bermuda, and the Caribbean from the United States.

Do I need a passport to cruise to the Bahamas?

Colorful pastel houses and turquoise waters in Nassau, Bahamas
Courtesy Celebrity Cruises

If you are cruising to the Bahamas from the U.S., you can use the following documents: passport book, passport card, Trusted Traveler card, or an enhanced (REAL ID) driver’s license.

If your Bahamas cruise is what’s called a “closed-loop” (which means it starts and ends at the same U.S. port) – you can take this cruise using a state-issued ID (like a driver’s license) plus an original U.S. birth certificate (not the footprints one, but from your county/state office).

Children below the age of 16 can cruise to the Bahamas with the same type of original birth certificate, naturalization certificate, or certificate of citizenship. If under 19, they can use these same documents only if they are traveling with a school, church, sports team, or other organization with adult supervision.

Do I need a passport for a cruise to Mexico?

Tulum Mayan Ruins, Mexico with beautiful view of Caribbean sea
Courtesy Celebrity Cruises

When taking a Mexico cruise, be sure to bring a U.S. passport book, passport card, Trusted Traveler card (Nexus, SENTRI, or FAST), or an enhanced (REAL ID) driver’s license. Again, if this is a closed-loop cruise, like the Bahamas, you can take it without a passport & you’ll need to show a state-issued ID plus an original birth certificate instead. I still recommend a passport book.

Do I need a passport for a Caribbean cruise?

When cruising to the Caribbean, you will either your U.S. passport book, passport card, Trusted Traveler card (Nexus, SENTRI, or FAST), or an enhanced driver’s license.

If you are aboard a Caribbean closed-loop cruise, you can use a state-issued ID (for example: your driver’s license) and an original birth certificate. You must have both of these documents in order to be able to travel without a passport. I still recommend the passport book either way.

These Caribbean countries require the above documentation: Anguilla, Antigua and Barbuda, Aruba, Bahamas, Bermuda, British Virgin Islands, Cayman Islands, Dominica, Dominican Republic, Grenada, Jamaica, Montserrat, Netherlands Antilles, St. Kitts and Nevis, St. Lucia, St. Vincent and the Grenadines, and Turks and Caicos.

Do I need a passport to take an Alaskan Cruise?

Celebrity Eclipse cruising towards Hubbard Glacier
Courtesy Celebrity Cruises

Even though Alaska is part of the United States, most of the time these itineraries will necessitate traveling with a U.S. passport, because many of them begin, end, or visit Canada. You’ll have to have a passport book or passport card. But, don’t forget that if you are traveling by air into or out of Canada, you must travel with a U.S. passport book.

If you’re traveling on a closed-loop cruise to Alaska that starts and ends in the same U.S. port, you can travel with a passport card or a state-issued ID and an original birth certificate.

Do I need a passport for a cruise to Hawaii?

Skyline of Honolulu Hawaii including Waikiki Beach
Courtesy Celebrity Cruises

Even though Hawaii is a U.S. state, most Hawaii cruise itineraries require you to travel with a U.S. passport book or card. That is because many Hawaii cruise itineraries either depart or end in Canada, and as such, U.S. citizens are required to bring a passport book or passport card. Again, if you are traveling by plane to get to your departure port in Canada or are flying back into the United States, you must travel with a U.S. passport book.

What’s a passport card and should you get one?

If you’re traveling by land or sea to Canada, Mexico, Bermuda, and the Caribbean, you can bring a U.S. passport card instead of a passport book. Advantages to a passport card rather than a passport book are a lower cost & portability.

Please note: a passport card does not work for air travel into Canada, Mexico, Bermuda, or the Caribbean.

USA Passport and Passport Card on a table
Courtesy Celebrity Cruises

A passport card’s real benefit, if it helps you, is its smaller size. Passport books are 5” x 3.5” when closed & contains several pages, but a passport card can easily fit into a wallet, money belt, or pocket.

Tip: If you get a passport card, place it into a zippered pocket for safe keeping.

That being said, we always recommend bringing a valid passport book on your cruise. If you don’t make it back to your cruise ship on time after your port visit, or if a family emergency comes up and you have to fly back home from one of your cruise ports, a passport card will not allow you to travel on a plane. In case there are any unforeseen issues, a passport book will always work as a valid travel document via air, land, and sea.

Do kids need a passport for cruises?

Any person of any age traveling internationally by air needs a valid U.S. passport.

Kids painting onboard Celebrity Cruises
Courtesy Celebrity Cruises

When traveling to Canada, Mexico, Bermuda, or the Caribbean by cruise ship, children under age 16 can travel with a U.S. passport, passport card, trusted traveler card, or an original birth certificate, naturalization certificate, or certificate of citizenship. Children under 19 can do the same only if they are traveling with a school, church group, or other organization with adult supervision.

Tip: be sure to review other requirements for children, such as a signed and notarized letter from a non-traveling parent if not traveling with both parents, or a written letter of consent if the child is traveling as part of a group without an adult that is 21 or older. This can be a huge problem if not adhered to ahead of time.

When do I need a passport book to cruise?

Non-Closed Loop Cruises in the U.S.

A passport book will be needed if you are starting and ending your cruise in different ports. This does apply even when your cruise starts and also ends in U.S. cities, you’ll still need to have a valid U.S. passport book in order to board.

Couple strolling near the Colosseum in Rome, Italy
Courtesy Celebrity Cruises

International Cruise Departure with Air Travel

You’ll also always need a passport book if you are taking a cruise that, in order to join the sailing, means taking an international flight to get to your departure port, for example – cruises departing from Europe, South America, or Asia. You cannot board an international flight without a passport book.

International Cruise Destinations

Let’s say you’re cruising to somewhere not located within Canada, Mexico, the Caribbean, or Bermuda. In this case, you need to have a U.S. passport book; the passport card won’t suffice as a valid travel document.

Even when taking a closed-loop cruise (one that starts and ends in the same port) to Canada, Mexico, the Caribbean, or Bermuda, I always still recommended that you bring a passport book in case of an emergency or unforeseen situation that might require air travel. 

Do I always need a passport card or passport booklet to cruise?

I always recommend carrying a passport book or a passport card while vacationing on a cruise. That being said, there are certain cruise types where you’ll be able to board with other types of documentation if you do not have either a passport book or passport card.

Learn more about How to Apply for or Renew Your Passport by clicking HERE.

Passport and Trusted Traveler card on a table
Courtesy Celebrity Cruises

Citizens of the United States who are taking a closed-loop cruise to Mexico, Canada, Bermuda, or the Caribbean can travel using the following documentation:

  • U.S. passport book or card
  • Trusted Traveler card (Nexus, SENTRI, FAST)
  • Enhanced Driver’s License
  • An original copy of your government-issued birth certificate or naturalization certificate and a government-issued photo ID (such as a driver’s license)

Should I bring a passport on closed-loop cruises?

Although some cruises don’t require you to have a U.S. passport book, I always recommend you bring one on your trip. If you need to fly back to the United States during your cruise, you’ll only be able to board a flight with a passport book.

Guests with life jackets and hats preparing to go to an excursion in Galapagos Islands
Courtesy Celebrity Cruises

Let’s say one day you happen to miss the ship’s departure time during a port excursion, it’ll be tons tougher to meet up with your ship at the next port if you don’t have your passport book on you.

Some ports may require a passport to get off the ship, even if you don’t need one to board the cruise. It’s always smart to review your itinerary and figure out what kind of documentation each country requires of U.S. citizens in order to enter. If you’re hired me or another trusted travel agent, you’ll have someone to ask.

What else should I know about cruising with a passport?

Check the Passport Expiration Date & Requirements

You’ll want to double check when your passport expires, because most countries require a passport to be valid for 6 months after the date of your trip is over. On a cruise, this means making sure your passport is still valid for another 1/2 a year following the last day of the cruise.

Man stamping a passport
Courtesy Celebrity Cruises

Check Passport Blank Pages

Also, be sure to check is the amount of blank pages in your passport book. You want to have at least 1 blank page for each country you’re visiting. If you don’t have enough left for stamps, you’ll absolutely need to renew your passport before your trip – and consider opting for extra pages if you can!

A huge advantage of cruising is that international customs are mostly handled for you. Prior to boarding, you’ll give the cruise line your passport number & other information, and the cruise line then provides this information to customs authorities where you’ll visit. Once this is done, you’ll just get off the ship & enjoy the port of call without having to go through customs every time. That’s not to say that you shouldn’t always check what the passport protocol is for the cruise ports you’re visiting – you certainly should!

Visa application papers including a passport
Courtesy Celebrity Cruises

Check for any Necessary Visas

It is also your own ultimate job to get any visas you may need during your cruise. Be sure to check the visa requirements for each country you’ll be visiting during your itinerary or ask your trusted travel agent for that information. You’ll also need to cover any fees relating to the visa.

Make a Copy

On some itineraries, the cruise line might hang onto your passport during the cruise in order to expedite the clearance formalities at each port you visit. In those cases, I’d recommend making at least one color photocopy of your passport to carry with you during visits to international ports.

How do you recommend keeping my passport safe on a cruise?

Woman putting passport inside her belt bag
Courtesy Celebrity Cruises

The best way to keep your passport safe while cruising is to store it inside a money belt or passport necklace.

What if I lose my passport during my cruise?

Old couple talking to Guest Relations representative
Courtesy Celebrity Cruises

If you were to lose your passport while on your cruise, the most important and immediate thing you need to do is reach out and let the nearest U.S. consulate know, in order to get a replacement passport issued. Secondly, you’ll also want to reach out to the guest relations department onboard your ship so they can provide assistance on how to handle the rest of your trip before you get your replacement. If you lose your passport while you’re on the ship, you can and should fill out a lost item report with the guest relations and/or security department.

To help reduce the odds of losing your passport while sailing, we recommend keeping it in your stateroom/suite using the in-room safe, which is easy to use & will safely keep your passport secure. When you’re cruising, there’s no reason to carry it on you since you’ll use your room key card for everything.

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Relaxing view of boardwalk with turquoise waters at The Caribbean
Courtesy Celebrity Cruises

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