Travel documents for cruises – Do I need an American passport?

There is some confusion about what types of travel documents for cruises are needed. Even several cruise lines sometimes seem to have conflicting information about whether passengers should obtain and carry an American passport. Much of this confusion stemmed from the changes made to travel requirements in the United States in recent years. Different modes of transportation have different requirements. It is important to determine what types of travel documents are needed for cruises and to realize that these requirements may differ from the air and land travel regulations.

In 2004 the Travel initiative in the western hemisphere was enacted. It was developed in agreement with the United States, Canada, Mexico, Bermuda and the Caribbean region. As some of these countries share common borders, it has become necessary to develop a standardized way of controlling travelers in order to protect the United States' borders. This initiative helps strengthen borders without making the entry and exit of American citizens and legitimate foreign travelers to the United States prohibitive. The initiative regulates uniform rules for travel documents for cruises, as well as for land and air travel across borders.

The Travel initiative in the western hemisphere it has been implemented in stages since it was drawn up in 2004. The first changes were made in 2007 and only affected air travel. Since then, all foreign air travel requires an American passport. The latest change implemented in January 2008 directly affected land and sea travel. Before this date, oral citizenship declarations were accepted when crossing borders by land or sea. However, current regulations stipulate that oral statements are no longer acceptable. Currently all land and sea crossings require a US passport or WHTI compliant documentation. When the final phase of the Travel initiative in the western hemisphere issued in June 2009, most travelers will need to travel with a US passport or passport card (only eligible for land and sea crossings)

What does this mean for travelers planning cruises between now and June 2009? Acceptable travel documents for cruises that have ports outside the United States include a U.S. passport, a passport card or a government issued photo ID card (valid driver's license, military identity card, native card, etc.) PLUS proof of citizenship (a birth certificate or a naturalization certificate from the United States). Travelers who book cruises for dates after June 1, 2009 must comply with the entire set of rules for travel documentation. After this date, the only acceptable travel documents for cruises will be an American passport, a passport card and limited forms of identification issued by the government in addition to documents confirming citizenship.

Some cruise ship companies have tightened their travel document rules for cruises. Some chose to issue tickets only to U.S. passport holders or passport cards in an attempt to speed up crossings and maintain security. Check with your cruise company to find out exactly what it recommends for documentation. Those who do not have the correct travel documents for cruises may find themselves unable to board or disembark or even return home in a timely manner.

In anticipation of the implementation of the final phase of the Travel initiative in the western hemisphere , the United States government is urging all Americans who have not done so to apply for an American passport. Although no further changes have been made to the travel documentation requirements, an American passport one day is assumed to be a standard form of personal identification. Many countries, particularly in Europe and the UK, currently require a passport for all types of travel, including domestic flights, and for check-in at hotels. Experts believe it is logical that the United States will one day follow suit in a worldwide attempt to maintain secure borders.