In a past life, I had a different job. From 2004-2006, I was a consular officer at U.S. Embassy Mexico City. To be clear, I have long been a private citizen and am writing this post as a private citizen. However, the job of a consular officer is to help U.S. citizens when they get into trouble overseas. From that experience, I have learned that there is a lot of difference between what you can do and what you should do. Even if the rules let you use another travel document, you should always take your passport when you cruise. There are three reasons for this, although first we will explain what the actual rules are.
What are the actual rules?
There are several sets of rules which apply, and it is absolutely essential that you check with your cruise line to see if they have any rules in addition to standard government regulations. Different rules apply depending on your citizenship and where you are departing from. However, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security gives some excellent, and very clear, guidance. If you are a citizen of the United States departing from a U.S. port, you are allowed to use other documents to prove your citizenship and identity if you are on a closed loop close. That means your cruise returns to the same port from which it departed. You can check out the link above to know precisely what documents are acceptable. That means you can quite often cruise without a passport, but we still think it is a bad idea.
So why do you need a passport when you cruise, then?
Like I said, I think there are three excellent reasons to take your passport when you cruise. I explained a little bit more on the Dine Drink Travel Cruise YouTube channel, and this is also consistent with advice from the U.S. Department of State. However, the first reason to take your passport happens before the government ever gets involved. Your cruise line may may different, and more stringent, requirements. You will have contact with a handful of contracted employees on departure day, and they will all know what a passport looks like. They may not know what your other travel documents are supposed to look like. Imagine, for example, that you get someone who is new or poorly trained. You can eliminate a lot of heartache by using the document all cruise lines accept and all contract employees will know how to recognize.
The second reason you should always have a passport when you cruise is that sometimes documents get lost. If you lose your Texas driver’s license in Miami, nobody with the State of Florida is going to be able to help you. If you are travelling on a Massachusetts birth certificate from 1953, the consular agent is not going to be able to replace that. Travel on federally issued documents and they will be easier to replace if they get lost.
The final issue is what happens in the event of an emergency. A friend broke her foot on a shore excursion in the Bahamas once. Perhaps your boss is unkind and you have to return to the U.S. for an emergency meeting. Perhaps there is some sort of significant family problem. Life comes up, and it is a good idea to plan for contingencies. You must have a passport to enter the U.S. via air. While your consular agents will do everything they can to help you, they have no idea what your church baptismal record from 1973 is supposed to look like. That will result in a delay of several days to get back to the U.S.
But what if nothing happens?
There are three common responses to needing a passport. One of those is that nothing bad will happen. You know what? You are probably right. Nothing bad has ever happened to me on a cruise. I had great luck living in Nigeria and travelling to Indonesia. You are correct. Most of the time, nothing bad will happen. That is why I love cruises so much– every one I have taken has been great. However, you still need to be prepared just in case.
The other two objections are hassle and cost. That makes a lot of sense to me. However, I just renewed my Texas driver’s license this month. That required about exactly the same level of hassle as renewing my passport. As for cost, that’s fair. A passport does indeed cost more than most other travel documents. However, adult passports are good for 10 years. That means that one investment will last you for a decade. At Dine Drink Travel, we think you should always take your passport when you cruise. Travel safe!