Do Cruise Ship Passengers Need a U.S. Passport and When


It’s sort of complicated and I’m asked this question a lot.  “I’m a United States citizen taking a cruise from the U.S. to the Caribbean.  Do I need a U.S. passport”? After yet another reader asked this same question today, I decided to put together this passport advice article.

Mostly, whether or not a passport is required depends on your itinerary.  If you are going on what’s called a “closed-loop” cruise (for example, leave from Ft. Lauderdale, visit a foreign county and return to Ft. Lauderdale) then technically you do not need a U.S. passport booklet.

On a closed-loop cruise and without a passport, U.S. citizens will be able to enter or depart the U.S. with certain proof of citizenship.  You will be required to present a government-issued birth certificate and a laminated government-issued photo ID, denoting photo, name and date of birth. You may also present an Enhanced Driver’s License (allows you to re-enter the U.S. only by land or sea and only from Canada, Mexico, and the Caribbean) or a Passport Card. Check with your state to see if it offers an Enhanced Driver’s License.  Passport Cards have the same limitations at an EDL.

Keep in mind that some Caribbean countries on your closed-loop cruise might require a U.S. passport to enter.  If this is the case, without a passport booklet you will not be allowed to cruise. Caribbean nations that require cruise passengers to have a passport include:  Barbados, Guadeloupe, Haiti, Martinique, St. Bart’s, St. Martin and Trinidad and Tobago.  Note: Royal Caribbean’s private island, Labadee, though part of Haiti, does not require a passport.

If your cruise is not closed-loop and you board, for example, in San Diego for a one-way Panama Canal cruise to Ft. Lauderdale, you will need a U.S. passport. Period. End of discussion.

What you need to know

  • Your passport must not expire for at least another six more months from the date you return to the U.S.
  • There must be at least two blank pages in the booklet.
  • While an Enhanced Driver’s License or a Passport Card are handy, they are valid only for re-entering the U.S. at land borders or sea ports-of-entry from Canada, Mexico, Bermuda and the Caribbean.  They cannot be used for air travel entry to the U.S.
  • Visit to know exactly what will be required for your cruise itinerary

Why you should have a passport for a closed-loop cruise

Expect the unexpected.  Events can occur during your cruise that prevent you from returning to the U.S. on your cruise ship.

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  • You get sick or injured.  An injury or illness while on your cruise may require a doctor or hospital visit or worse, admission to a local hospital and you miss your ship’s departure.  The need for medical evacuation back to the U.S. also prevents a return by ship to your expected U.S. port.  When it comes time to fly home, you need an actual U.S. passport to reenter the United States.
  • Cruise ship damage or weather interruption.  The same situation applies here.  If you departed on a closed-loop cruise and the ship has a mechanical issue or weather takes a turn for the worse, you may have to disembark the ship somewhere in the Caribbean. Again, if you’re flying home rather than cruising back to where you started, you will need a passport to reenter the United States.

Speaking of these unexpected events, you should also purchase travel insurance to cover any medical emergencies and evacuation .  You can buy travel insurance from your cruise line or from a third-party insurance vendor.  Prices vary but third-party insurance coverage provides many more and a higher level of benefits than cruise line insurance and acts as primary insurance.  More on that later.

I hope this has cleared up any questions about whether or not and when a U.S. citizen needs a passport to cruise from a U.S. port.  For more detailed info, visit: and

Bon voyage and happy travels!


By |June 25th, 2017|Travel Tips|

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