Do I need a passport to sail to Mexico, Caribbean or Alaska?
This has to be the one question I am asked by almost every client on their first cruise to one of these destinations who are American Citizens.
The answer…it would depend what type of cruise you are taking to the Caribbean or Mexico or Alaska. If you are on an ‘open-ended’ cruise (one way cruise: embark in one port and disembark in another) then YES you DO need a passport. Even if you are sailing from say San Diego to Seattle that includes a stop in a port in British Columbia, Canada, you need a passport.
If you are on a ‘closed loop’ cruise where you embark and disembark from the same US port then you don’t need a US Passport BUT…yep there are some buts in here… if you talk to the cruise line or a very good travel agent they would tell you they STRONGLY recommend that you do have a passport. Now in reading that you have probably gathered that you don’t really need a passport for a closed loop cruise and you would be right. According to the WHTI’s (Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative) website it states:
““Closed Loop” Cruises: U.S. citizens who board a cruise ship at a port within the United States, travel only within the Western Hemisphere, and return to the same U.S. port on the same ship may present a government issued photo identification, along with proof of citizenship (an original or copy of his or her birth certificate, a Consular report of Birth Abroad, or a Certificate of Naturalization). Please be aware that you may still be required to present a passport to enter the foreign countries your cruise ship is visiting. Check with your cruise line to ensure you have the appropriate documents.”
Now let me tell you why the Cruise Lines and good Travel Agents STRONGLY recommend you need a passport. What happens if you have an emergency or incident that happens where you have to leave the ship mid-cruise. If you don’t have a passport with you it will take you a lot longer to get home with all the red tape you would have to wade through. If you have your passport it would be a lot smoother to get you home should anything happen that causes you leave the ship during your cruise.
Another great example as to why you need a passport would be if anything happens to the ship, like the incident on Carnival Triumph in February 2013 where the ship almost ended up being towed to Mexico. Onboard the ship were 900 people who did not have passports. If the ship had been towed to Mexico those without passports would have a more difficult time entering Mexico, leaving Mexico and re-entering the US. Fortunately because of the currents and the ship drifting closer to the US they were towed to Mobile, AL. This will help those who did not have their passports to re-enter the US but because they are not coming back into the same port they will have some problems re-entering the country.
The advice I have for you is just go and get your passport. Period! Do it now before you plan any trips. They are good for ten years and it is one less thing you have to worry about when planning your trip. If you decide to do a last minute trip outside the US at least you are prepared and don’t have to put off a dream opportunity or business trip because you don’t have a passport.
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