What Travel Documents Do I Need To Cruise?

Cruising is amazing, fun, and relaxing all in one, and in order to get to that amazing, fun, and relaxing part, it is important to first take some time to ensure that all required paperwork is in place.  Understanding what travel documentation is needed to cruise starts with understanding the types of cruises that exist.  My hope is that the information in this post will help you to prepare well for your cruise by having all the documentation that you need, and then some. 

Types of Cruises:

Example 1: The cruise originates in Cape Liberty, NJ and ends at Cape Liberty, NJ.  This is a closed loop cruise.

Example 2: You fly from New York, NY to Fort Lauderdale, FL to board a cruise ship at Port of Miami, FL; that ship sails from Port of Miami, FL and ends at Port of Miami, FL.  This is a closed loop cruise. 

Example 3: The cruise originates in New York, NY and ends in Port of Miami, FL.  This is NOT a closed loop cruise. 

** Please Note: The information provided in this blog post pertain primarily to Unites States citizens.  However, some resources mentioned here, such as https://visacentral.com/ can be a resource for all **

Passport Requirements:

Closed loop cruises are those that start and end in the same United States port.  For closed loop cruises, generally, no passport is needed.  However, cruises from the United States to Cuba generally start and end in the same United States port, but these cruises require all travelers, including infants, to carry a passport.  All cruises that are not closed loop also require all travelers, including infants, to carry a passport.  Additionally, cruising from a port outside of the United States, requires carrying a valid passport, not expiring within six months of the return of the cruise.  In addition to passport requirements, there may also be visa requirements; however, that is covered later in this post. 

Passport Recommendation:

My Cruising Family highly recommends a passport for all cruises.  Why?  Although a cruise starts and ends in the United States, the ship will venture into foreign waters and, generally, there will be foreign ports-of-call throughout the cruise, and My Cruising Family recommends that travelers have access to their passports when in a foreign country because it serves as identification and, although one may be on a cruise, there may be an emergency situation that requires a person to immediately return to the United States before the ship returns, and if that’s the case, then that person may have to fly from a foreign port-of-call to the United States.  Getting on that flight will require a passport.  Going through immigration, customs, and border control after the plane lands in the United States will also require a passport.  When planning our cruises and, really, any vacation, we expect the best, but we plan knowing that anything can happen because we want to be prepared rather than unprepared in the rare case that unexpected challenges happen

While there are provisions that allow United States travelers to use an Enhanced Driver's License (EDL), or a government-issued birth certificate (issued by the Vital Records Department in the state where he or she was born), it is highly recommended that travelers obtain a passport prior to cruising, and take that passport on the cruise.  My Cruising Family suggests making a copy of each passport, and instead of taking the actual passport off the ship in ports-of-call that don’t require it, travelers can keep their actual passports in the stateroom’s safe.  That way, travelers can take the copy into port, and that copy can assist travelers at a local embassy or consulate, if necessary.  However, it is important to know whether each port-of-call requires that you present a passport; in those instances, of course, travelers must take their passports with them into port. 

The information provided in this post is an overview of general requirements and recommendations; however, travelers should always check with the cruise line or destination countries to confirm the documentation requirements for entry into the foreign countries being visited.  Read more, here


Visa Requirements:

Visas are generally not required for cruises from the United States. 

Specific visas may be required for entry into some European, Asian, Australian, and South American ports.  My Cruising Family suggests checking the Visa Central website, https://visacentral.com/, for information on visa requirements.  Again, it is very important that travelers always check with the cruise line or destination countries to confirm the documentation requirements for entry into the foreign countries being visited. 

At present, one of the most popular cruise destinations is Cuba.  Anyone who is traveling to Cuba on a passport other than a valid Cuban passport is required to obtain a visa prior to his or her arrival into Cuba.  United States residents may obtain the Cuban visa on their own.  United States cruise lines that are presently sailing to Cuba can obtain the visa on the traveler’s behalf.  If sailing on a United States cruise line, the most convenient way to obtain the Cuban visa is through the cruise line.  Please see the following links for further information on documentation requirements for sailing to Cuba: 





Notarized Letter 

For children traveling with only one parent or with someone who is not a parent or legal guardian, the parent who is not traveling should provide a notarized letter, stating something like: “I acknowledge that [Name of Traveler] is traveling out of the country with my son/daughter [Name of Child].  [Name of Traveler] has my permission to travel with my son/daughter [Name of Child].”  The person who is traveling with the child should keep that letter throughout the trip in case he or she is ever asked to present it. 

To be honest, although my husband and I have both cruised with our boys on each of their cruises thus far, we have also prepared a similar letter stating our consent for the boys to travel with my mother who is usually accompanying us.  We do this for two reasons: (1) if the boys are booked in the same room with her, then I think that, technically, she could be asked to present such a letter, although that has not yet happened, probably because we tend to check in together; and (2) as previously stated in this post, we expect the best, yet we plan knowing that anything can happen, so if for some reason, my mother is accompanying the boys and needs to present this letter, they will be prepared to do so. 

It should be noted that some cruise lines may already have a form to be completed, so again, I suggest checking with the cruise line.  For further information visit the United States Customs and Border Protection website, here


Travel Insurance Policy:

As explained in an earlier blog post, here, My Cruising Family highly recommends the purchase of travel insurance.  After purchasing travel insurance, make sure to carry the insurance policy documents on the trip.  That way, if needed, the terms of the policy and contact information for the insurance company are easily accessible. 


Booking Confirmation Air/Hotel/Car/Transfers/Cruise/Excursions

When cruising, My Cruising Family tends to carry printouts of each booking confirmation, including, but not limited to, flights, hotels, transfer/shuttle services, and shore excursions.  While many of these confirmation documents may be accessible from mobile devices, we tend to turn our mobile devices off during our family cruises, and we do not usually purchase the ship’s WiFi service.  We take this approach so that we can be fully present in each moment of our family vacation.  Additionally, we won’t be paying any roaming charges.  Therefore, with our mobile devices off, the printed confirmation documents are available for us to provide should we need them. 


Online Check-In

All cruise lines with which we have traveled, so far, use an online check-in system, so usually within 60 days of the cruise, guests can go online and check in.  Guests must check in before embarkation day.  This requires information from travel documents, so be prepared to provide passport numbers, passport expiration date, or similar information for whatever travel document is being used.  After online check-in is completed, the cruise line issues the documents that will be needed in order to board the ship. It is essential to print those documents and carry them to the cruise port to present to the cruise representatives there. 

Generally, at that point, you provide the completed documentation to the cruise representative at the port of embarkation, then the representative will provide you with your cruise card (or equivalent – some cruise lines now use wristbands).  The cruise card or wristband is to be used for the duration of your cruise, each time you get on and off the ship, and is also used for other cruise services. 


Wheewww!  This is a lot of information!  Any questions?  If you have a cruise booked, make sure to review your cruise line’s website and the documents that have been issued to you.  Bon voyage!