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PASSPORTS - Yes? or No?

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Hopefully, this will help answer many of the questions we get about Passports, especially from first time cruisers, and whether you need them or not for your cruise, or whether you have a choice of other options available to you.

If you want additional and up-to-date information about Passports, please go here; travel.state.gov

Obviously, this post applies to U.S. citizens. Foreign citizens, including those in the U.S. with Green Cards, should discuss the required documentation with their agent, the cruise line, or their local consulate.

Let me begin by saying; I ALWAYS RECOMMEND TRAVELING WITH A PASSPORT! There are no bad reasons for having a passport, but there are MANY reasons why you should never travel without one. And keep in mind that Passports are not the same as Passport Cards. You can go here to compare the two; Differences Between Passport Book and Passport Card I suggest a Passport over the Passport Cards and I'll explain why later in this post.

First, I'll cover the answer to the easiest question: When are Passports required?

Passports are required whenever you're flying between the United States and a foreign country. (This includes Canada if you're doing an Alaskan cruise and flying into or out of Vancouver. Likewise for a Canada/New England cruise and flying into or out of Montreal or Quebec.) Keep in mind that some places, like St. Thomas and Puerto Rico, are U.S. Territories.

Most one-way cruises require Passports. (Check with your agent or the cruise line for additional information.)

So the next obvious question is: When are Passports not required?

Passports are not required when sailing solely within the United States. An example is the Norwegian Pride of America sailing around the Hawaiian Islands.

Passports are not required when you're doing a 'Closed-Loop' cruise.

Directly from the State Department website defining "Closed-Loop" Cruises:

If you are a U.S. citizen, and you board a cruise ship at a U.S. port, travel only within the Western Hemisphere, and return to the same U.S. port on the same ship, you may present government-issued photo identification, along with proof of citizenship (an original or certified copy of your 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.

The "Western Hemisphere" is defined as Canada, Mexico, Bermuda, and the Caribbean.

I will add to that to check with your agent or the cruise line to find out if any Visas are required for your particular cruise.

One thing not mentioned in their definition is that you should always make sure your Passport does not expire within 6 months after the end of your trip. While most countries visited during short cruises from the U.S. do not require this, some countries do have this requirement and you would hate to find out about it when you go to check in at the pier and are denied boarding.

So, if a Passport is not required when doing "Closed-Loop" cruises, why do I highly recommend you get a Passport? Here are just 3 main reasons why:

1) Missing Ship's Departure From Embarkation Port

Let’s say that you are flying into Ft. Lauderdale to catch your Western Caribbean cruise and for whatever reason, you miss the ship’s departure from Ft. Lauderdale. Because you cannot fly outside the United States with a Passport Card or your Birth Certificate, you will miss your entire cruise. If you had a valid Passport, you could fly to the first port of call and join the ship from there. (If you purchased the travel insurance and missed the ship for a covered reason, such as weather, they will normally reimburse you for this type of expense in getting to the next port of call.)

2) Missing Ship’s Departure While in an International Port

Without a Passport, you cannot arrange to fly from a foreign country back into the United States or to another country. This situation will create substantial problems and you will more than likely miss the balance of their cruise. You will have to visit the local U.S. Consulate to obtain a temporary Passport, which can take alot of time and hassle. You may also have to incur hotel expense as well as not being able to secure immediate airline reservations. (Imagine the cost of purchasing a last minute airline ticket from some small island in a foreign country!)

3) Have a Medical Emergency While Cruising

Should you have a medical emergency and need to be transported from an international country to the United States, you will need a Passport to do so. For that matter, the same thing applies if any emergency arises that requires you to get back home in a hurry. This is one of the most important reasons for getting a Passport.

Yes, I completely understand the expenses involved with getting a Passport. It's not a cheap proposition, especially when traveling with your family. And yes, most people do "Closed-Loop" cruises without any problems and chances are you won't have any problems either. So, if you feel comfortable taking a chance, then by all means go for it.

But not having a Passport is like not have travel insurance: You hope you never need it, but if you need it, you'll be very glad you had it.

When traveling around the world, I've developed the philosophy that: It's better to have it and not need it, than to need it and not have it. I have over 1500 clients around the world and luckily, over the last 12-1/2 years, none of them have had any major problems because we go over all these requirements and suggestions very carefully. However, we have heard many stories and seen many instances where people suffered the consequences when something went wrong simply because they weren't properly prepared.

So my best advice is that it's always better to spend a little extra money to protect your expensive vacation and make sure you have the proper documentation as well as travel insurance.

If you have any questions or need additional information about Passports, please post them and the many wonderful well-traveled people here will be happy to help.

Pete