Do I need a passport to go on a cruise?

You’ve talked the family into taking a cruise for your summer vacation.  Do you really need to invest in passports?

If your cruise begins or ends in a non-US port, the answer is YES!  No questions asked and no way around it!   

If your cruise begins in one US port and ends in a different US port, the answer is YES!  Common “one way” itineraries include Panama Canal cruises that begin in Ft. Lauderdale and end in Southern California, Hawaii sailings that depart from the West Coast and end in Honolulu, and repositioning cruises that sail from Boston or New York and terminate at a Florida port.  You need a passport for all of these!

If your cruise includes Cuban ports of call, the answer is YES!  Passports are required for Cuba regardless of where the cruise begins or ends.

If your cruise begins and ends in the same US port (officially called a “closed loop” cruise), the answer is NO, BUT A PASSPORT IS HIGHLY RECOMMENDED!  Before boarding, cruise passengers must show proof of identity and proof of citizenship.  A passport is an easy “all in one” solution.  Without a passport, an adult traveler must present a government issued photo ID such as a driver’s license and a certified copy of his or her birth certificate with government seal.  A child must travel with certified birth certificate.

You may be thinking, “That sounds easy enough.  For our Caribbean cruise from Pt. Canaveral, we’ll skip passports and use that money for shore excursions!”  In a perfect world, that’s a great strategy.  Unfortunately, we live in an imperfect world.  Consider this scenario:  While enjoying your cruise vacation, you receive news from home that a loved one has become suddenly ill and requires emergency surgery; the situation is touch and go.  You desire to return home to be with the family during this difficult time.  Without a passport, you may not fly back to the United States; you must return to the US on the ship…so you spend the remainder of your cruise vacation worrying instead of relaxing and having a wonderful time.  With a valid passport, you may use the ship’s wifi to book a flight home from the next port of call!

Applying for or renewing a passport is fairly simple.  You’ll find application forms and a wealth of information on the US State Department’s website,

Passport Book vs. Passport Card?  Definitely select the passport book option.  Yes, it’s a little more expensive, but the passport card is only good for land border crossings between the US and Canada or the US and Mexico.  It will not allow you to fly between the US and any international airport.  (In my opinion, the single advantage a passport card has over cruising with passport and driver’s license is that the traveler has only one piece of documentation to keep up with.)

Prorated over five to ten years, a passport book costs $13 – $22 per year.  That’s a modest pricetag for flexibility, opportunity, and adventure on the high seas.  Plus, you’ll be prepared to see the world on short notice, even if a cruise ship isn’t involved.

The world is a big place.  Get out there and explore!

2 thoughts on “Do I need a passport to go on a cruise?

  1. Norma says:

    Really liked your article Lisa! It was easy to follow and offered very valuable information! I look forward to reading more articles by you.

    • Lisa says:

      Thank you for reading, Norma, and for taking time to comment. The passport question is one I receive on a regular basis from prospective cruise clients.

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