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Cruise Travel Safety & Security

Identify Yourself With A Passport

Updated: May 2009 It's official. The United States Dept of Homeland Security has stopped dithering with dates and announced that travelers will be required to present a passport or other approved secure document denoting citizenship and identity for all land and SEA travel into the United States effective June 1, 2009.

From their perspective, most Americans haven't seen much need for identity "papers" in the past. They've moved about the United States freely and even ventured into Canada, Mexico, and the Caribbean with ease. Proof of citizenship was only necessary when crossing the U.S. borders to the north and south and, even then, it was usually an effortless procedure.

For travel to more far-flung foreign regions, a passport has always been a necessity. However, to most cruise passengers, the need hasn't been great.

Why not spend that passport fee on piña coladas instead?

Because things have changed and you must now have a passport to fly out of and back into the United States from almost everywhere, including those countries previously exempted. Plus, the Dept of Homeland Security's Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative (WHTI) requires "all citizens of the United States, Canada, Mexico, and Bermuda to have a passport or other accepted document that establishes the bearer’s identity and nationality to enter or depart the United States from within the Western Hemisphere."

However, your cruise may be exempt.

Cruises to the Bahamas, Bermuda, Mexico & Caribbean
It's every passenger's responsibility to have proper identification. Arrival at port without it means that boarding can be denied and no fare refund will be issued. Most travel agents know the requirements and can guide you to the proper agency to obtain what you need if you don't have it.

U.S. citizens on closed-loop cruises (cruises that begin and end at the same port in the U.S.) will be able to enter or depart the country with proof of citizenship, such as a birth certificate and government-issued photo ID.

For the present, a closed-loop cruise to the Bahamas, Bermuda, Mexico, and most Caribbean countries requires proof of citizenship for Americans in the form of a passport OR:

  • A certified birth certificate copy, preferably with a raised seal (although some are currently issued with a stamped seal)
  • A government-issued photo identification card, such as drivers license, military or government employee ID

Canadian citizens need identification similar to Americans and resident aliens of the U.S. need their valid passport and Alien Resident Receipt Card (form I-551). To embark in U.S. ports, passengers from foreign countries must carry a valid passport and a visa waiver or multiple entry visa for the U.S.

Even when embarking on a cruise in a U.S. port, you should be aware that you may still be required to present a passport when you dock at a foreign port, depending on the islands or countries that your cruise ship is visiting. Check with your cruise line to ensure you have the appropriate documents for the stops you’ll be making on your cruise.

In addition, for admission into Mexico, minors under the age of 18 who are not traveling with both parents require a written, notarized letter of consent to travel signed by the absentee parent or both parents if neither is accompanying the minor. For a sample parental consent letter that can be modified for individual purposes and printed, CLICK HERE.

The Rest of the Cruising World
Everyone needs a passport. No ifs, ands, or buts about it. It is each passenger's responsibility to have a passport and, in some instances, it must not expire for two to six months following your return date. 

Some countries also require entry visas and those can be acquired through their embassies or consulates. Private visa services, such as Travisa, can also expedite the paperwork. Be mindful of visa requirements; some are valid only if your trip begins within a certain number of days from issuance. Consult the embassy or consulate of the country you plan to visit for details--some visa applications must be accompanied by passport-style photos and proof of transportation to leave the country within a specified period of time.

Without a passport and proper visas, you won't get any further than the airport. Foreign countries are very strict about their entry requirements and air carriers are scrupulous when examining identification before allowing flyers on their aircraft.

Once on board their cruise ships, passengers are often required to turn passports over to the Purser. This is not only for safekeeping, but also to expedite "clearing" the ship upon arrival in each port of call. At the end of the voyage, cruisers often find "stamps" in their passports, indicating they were examined by local officials.

Before leaving home, make a sharp, color copy of the inside photo/signature pages of your passport to carry ashore. It will make money changing and use of your credit card simpler when identification is necessary. Some travelers also carry two extra photos just in case their passport is lost or stolen. It makes issuing a replacement easier.

Getting That Passport
My personal theory is that the American aversion to obtaining a passport has a lot to do with the photographs. Good news! They no longer have to look like a prison mug shot. Although in years past we were told to "look natural" (meaning: don't smile!), that has changed. You can smile for the birdie and obtain passport photos at many office supply and service outlets, such as Kinkos and Mail Boxes, Etc. For the truly picky, some professional portrait studios will also shoot your passport photos and do them over right on the spot if you're unhappy with the results.

With two copies of the passport photo in hand, you must apply for a passport in person if, 

  • You are applying for a U.S. passport for the first time.
  • Your previous U.S. passport was lost, stolen, or damaged.
  • Your previous U.S. passport has expired and was issued more than 15 years ago.
  • Your previous passport has expired and it was issued when you were under 16.
  • Your name is changed since your passport was issued and you do not have a legal document formally changing your name.
  • You are a minor child.

See How to Apply in Person for a U.S. Passport for complete instructions and links to additional information, including the searchable data base of more than 4500 passport facilities nationwide where you can apply. These  include many convenient locations such as Federal, state, and probate courts, many post offices, some libraries, and a number of county and municipal offices.

Passport Benefits
Yes, there are benefits. Passport holders can be ready to travel at short notice and take advantage of late-breaking cruise bargains. A passport is the ultimate identification and is accepted at airline check-in counters and by merchants and banks worldwide. They are sometimes even required by banks in foreign countries for simple currency exchange transactions.

Additionally, if you must permanently disembark your closed-loop cruise early in a foreign port and return to the United States by air, your passport will be worth its weight in gold.

Passports are valid for ten years and can be conveniently renewed by mail. Their annual cost can be less than your drivers license over the years.

Now... isn't your peace of mind worth the price of a few umbrella drinks?

Back to Cruise Diva's FOCUS on Safety & Security

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Cruise News -- The latest information regarding cruise lines and ports.

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