Conflicting regulations from the US Department of Homeland Security and major cruise lines have left many travelers asking “Do I need a passport to go on a cruise?” and not getting a clear answer. According to the Palm Beach Daily News, as a result, passengers end up not only confused, but stranded as well.

Here’s the skinny: Under Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative (WHTI) regulations, people traveling by boat to Canada, Mexico or the Caribbean need one of the following documents:

  • A US passport book
  • A US passport card
  • An enhanced driver’s license (only available in certain states )
  • A “trusted traveler” card, such as a NEXUS, FAST or SENTRI card

HOWEVER, the WHTI also contains an exception for passengers on closed-loop cruises, cruises that begin and end in the same US port. These passengers are eligible to travel with a driver’s license or other state-issued photo ID and a certified birth certificate.

Sounds simple enough, right? Wrong. The Palm Beach Daily News outlined a couple of different issues that frequently confuse travelers.

First, there’s the birth certificate issue. You need either the original or an official certified copy (ie, a copy you requested from the Department of Vital Records where you were born.) In order for the cruise line to accept it, it must have a raised seal. But beware! A raised seal means nothing if the birth certificate is from the hospital. Hospital birth certificates look official, but they aren’t accepted as proof of citizenship.

Another tip: your birth certificate might be rejected if it’s ripped or torn, so if it’s showing signs of wear and tear, order a fresh copy from your State Department of Vital Records.

Another issue: if you’re lucky enough to live in one of the four states that issues an enhanced driver’s license, you might think that you could get away with boarding just with the license and not have to bring your birth certificate. After all, under the WHTI, enhanced driver’s licenses are valid for land and sea travel to Mexico, Canada and the Caribbean.

But not so fast! Glenn Ryerson, Celebration Cruises’ VP of sales, told the Palm Beach Daily News that “even enhanced driver’s licenses aren’t accepted by Celebration, which follows standards of other cruise lines.”

Also, be aware that even if the cruise is “closed-loop,” passport books may be required if the cruise involves an overnight stay on land at a port instead of on the ship.

Confusing, right? This is why having a passport is the best way to go. That way, you know you’re covered. Barring that, check government requirements AND check with your cruise line. If the cruise line requirements are stricter than the government’s requirements, go with the cruise lines’ requirements. If the cruise line requirements are less stringent than the government’s, something’s fishy. For example, one customer interviewed in the article claimed that the cruise line had told her she could travel with a driver’s license only. She got left at port.

If you need a passport at the last minute, RushMyPassport can help. We’ll personally deliver your documents to the Department of State for processing times as low as 24 hours with no need to make an appointment or wait in line at a passport agency office. That means you’ll spend less time worrying about your passport and more time packing for your cruise!

Apply for your US passport today!