Family Vacation Tips

Do You Need Passports To Take A Family Cruise?

[fa icon="calendar"] Jun 19, 2013 12:20:00 AM / by Sally Black

Sally Black

Do you need passports to take a cruise

UPDATED January 2019 

The short answer is ... No.

For most people sailing from the U.S to the Caribbean, Canada, Bermuda, Bahamas or Mexico according to U.S. government and cruise line rules, you officially do not need passports to take a family cruise.

If that is the answer that you were hoping to find, then you don't have to read any further, you're done here.

Contrary to these official rules, Vacationkids HIGHLY RECOMMENDS THAT EVERY ADULT AND CHILD CRUISE PASSENGERS SAIL WITH A VALID PASSPORT(And no, Vacationkids does not make any money or commissions selling passport services just in case that's what you're thinking).

If you want to understand WHY Vacationkids recommends getting a passports and how your family can avoid a world of worry and hassles, then we invite you to read on...

First thing you need to understand is that the U.S. Government has different border crossing rules depending on HOW people cross borders.  If you FLY to any foreign country from the U.S., all passengers must absolutely, positively have valid passports. Many foreign countries required that your U.S. passports be valid for an additional 6 months after the last day of your trip (So remember to check expiration dates before you travel!). Airline gate agents will not allow you to board your airplane and you will forfeit the entire cost of your vacation if you show up at the airport without valid passports for an international flight. No Exceptions and no excuses allowed.

If you drive or sail from the U.S. across an international border, then the rules are different. Passengers driving or sailing are allowed to use these other forms of identification in leiu a passport -

  • An ORIGINAL, state issued birth certificate with a raised seal (no hospital records or foot print documents)
  • Consular record of a birth abroad
  • Certificate of Naturalization
  • Passport card (which is a government issued, cheaper alternative to a passport)
  • IN ADDITION to one of these documents, all passengers must present a state issued photo ID (like a driver's license)

If you plan on using one of these alternative documents to take your family cruise, remember you must bring the ORIGINAL document and it MUST have a raised stamped seal on it. Photocopies are NOT accepted. In addition, women using a different last name from their original birth certificate should also bring original documents proving the name change. For example if you are married and using your husband's last name, then you should also bring your original marriage license.

In addition, your cruise must start and end in the exact same U.S. port in order to use one of these forms of identification otherwise, you will be required to show a passport at embarkation. Say your family was planning on taking a Panama Canal Cruise that left from Fort Lauderdale and ended in Los Angeles, everyone would need a passport. Again this is because your ship would be embarking and disembarking from two different U.S. port cities.

If you're saying to yourself..."wait a minute, we went to Jamaica on our honeymoon and we didn't need no stinking passports", well you could be right. Up until 2007, you could use your birth certificate and a photo ID to fly to many foreign destination in North America. Then the rules have changed.

...And the rules continue to change adding even more confusion. The bottom line is people who have valid passports do not have to worry about rule changes or having to prove their identification or citizenship. Generally passports cost about $100 per person. Adult passports are valid for 10 years. For kids under the age of 16, passports are valid for 5 years. Figure that's a $10-$20 per year/vacation investment for peace of mind. Compared to the total cost of your cruise vacation, a very inexpensive investment for peace of mind.

Sure enough, there are thousands of people who sail away every year on family cruises using their birth certificates and driver's license without any problems. But what happens where there are "problems"?...

-How about the multi-generational reunion cruise to celebrate Grandma's 80th birthday. Over 50 family members have flown in from all corners of the country to take Grandma on her dream Caribbean cruise. She has waited to take this cruise her entire life. At embarkation, questions arise because Granny's 80 year old birth certificate isn't stamped like they are now a days. Pier and cruise line officials do not allow her to board the ship because they do not have enough time to verify her credentials before the ship sails. Being 80 years old, she couldn't justify spending the extra money to get a passport at her age. Grandma and one of her daughters were forced to spend the week in Florida and forfeit the cost of their cruises while the rest of the family celebrated without them.

-How about the family who received the tragic news that the husband's twin brother was suddenly killed in a car accident.  They need to fly home immediately for services and to be with their family at this very sad time. The problem is that they do not have passports and it will take extra time for the authorities in Mexico to approve them for air travel.

-How about the family that enjoyed a memorable and amazing day scuba diving at the Blue Hole in Belize. As their port excursion is getting ready to head back, there are engine problems with their dive boat. By the time help is dispatched and the problem is solved, their cruise ship has sailed away without them. They need to either fly to meet their ship which is heading for an island off of Honduras or fly home. They are stranded for several days over a weekend because they can do neither without passports.

Believe it or not, these are all true stories that have happened to Vacationkids passengers over the years.  In each and every single case, our staff advised ALL of these families to travel with passports even though it wasn't "officially" required. We offer this advice because we know what can happen and we want to save our clients hassles and grief.  When clients call us angry, upset and frightened in these situations it is very frustrating for us because there really isn't much that we can do to help solve their problems. They must either lose their vacation or wait for approval from government agencies. Again it is the passenger's responsibility to have proper identification so travel insurance will not cover you for denied boarding or additional expenses while awaiting approval to fly home. This of course adds insult to injury.

Problems, illness and unexpected events can happen to anybody.

How much risk are you and your family willing to take?

Can you take a family cruise without having passports? - The answer is yes.

Should you take a family cruise without having passports? - Vacationkids warns Absolutely not.


Did you know it doesn't cost any extra to use the services of a travel agent to help you plan and book your cruise? The cost of using a travel agent is already included in the prices you're finding online. If you book your cruise online or with the cruise line directly, you're left searching for answers to important questions like this while the cruise line pockets the profits. So instead of searching, why not get the service and peace of mind you deserve?

Vacationkids often has exclusive cruise deals and perks you won't find anywhere online.  Our experience, expertise and insights will help make a fun vacation even more enjoyable. 

Click for Cruise Planning Help

Topics: Family Cruises

Sally Black

Written by Sally Black

Sally is the Founder of Travel Agency and author of the book "Fearless Family Vacations". She is also the Director of Travel Agent Initiatives and Training at The Family Travel Association.

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