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Do Kids Need Passports For Cruises?

Family vacation options can often be limited based on whether or not everyone has a passport. And, in recent years, the time and effort it takes to obtain or renew a passport has increased considerably. Plus, procuring a passport for a child is not routine and requires more steps than what’s required for adults. So it’s not surprising that families considering cruise vacations want to know do kids need passports for cruises.

The Short Answer: Kids need passports when they take cruises unless it is a closed-loop cruise. Any US citizen, including children, can enter or depart from the country solely with evidence of citizenship. But other countries on the itinerary may require the child’s passport to enter.

Unforeseen circumstances occur when you’re traveling, so it’s best to be prepared if you can. That includes having the relevant documentation for your children should the unexpected happen while you’re on a cruise. Keep reading to learn the different scenarios that may require you to have a passport for your child.

Do Kids Need Passports For Cruises?

On certain cruises, it may not be necessary for children to carry passports. But, if the unlikely happens and your child needs to enter another country unexpectedly, possessing a passport will facilitate an easier return to the USA. 

The Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative (WHTI) expects all travelers, whether US citizens or foreigners, to present acceptable documentation denoting identity and citizenship on entry to the USA. It aims to tighten border security and make entry into the country more efficient for US citizens and legitimate international visitors. Children also fall under this rule.

Cruises That May Exempt Kids From Passports

Certain types of cruises may exempt kids from carrying passports on cruises.

Closed-Loop Cruises

A closed-loop cruise starts and ends in the same US port and travels within the Western Hemisphere. The WHTI does not require cruise passengers sailing a round trip from any US port and visiting Canada, Bermuda, the Caribbean, or Mexico to carry passports. 

Documents Accepted On Closed-Loop Cruises

All US citizens can enter or leave the country with only proof of their citizenship. Children under 16 years old can provide original, notarized, or certified copies of their birth certificates. A Consular Report of Birth Abroad or a Certificate of Naturalization will also suffice.

Children between 16 and 18 years old can submit their birth certificates, as above, driver’s license, picture ID, or an Enhanced Driver’s License (EDL). With an EDL, kids can re-enter the country from Mexico, the Caribbean, and Canada. 

Documents Not Accepted On Closed-Loop Cruises

Authorities generally do not accept the following documents as  proof of citizenship:

  • Baptismal certificates
  • Hospital-issued birth certificates
  • Social security cards

A hospital birth certificate will suffice if you have not yet received your newborn’s birth certificate from the Vital Records Department.

Round-Hawaii Cruises

When you travel on Pride of America (Norwegian Cruise Line) or any other US-flagged ship, making a round trip visiting only US ports, you do not need to produce any documentation for kids under 16. For teens 16 to 18, a government-issued photo ID will do.

When Do Kids Need A Passport For Cruises?

When you embark or disembark in a foreign country, your children (and adults) need to carry passports. This also applies to Mexico, Canada, and the Caribbean. The passport should usually only expire six months after the cruise ends.

Children also require passports on one-way cruises, whether they sail and dock in different US cities or go from a US city to a foreign port.

Some cruise lines insist that all passengers carry their passports, regardless of their destinations. Examples of these are Crystal Cruises and Regent Seven Seas Cruises. Even though legally, they may not need passports, passengers, including kids, still need to follow the cruise line’s rules.

Do Kids Need Passports For Cruises

Sometimes, even when traveling on a closed-loop cruise, some ports demand that all tourists, including children, present valid passports. Examples of ports in this category are Costa Rica, Martinique, and Guadeloupe in the French West Indies. All cruises via the Panama Canal expect visitors to present their passports.

Cruises that offer shore excursions where tourists cross international borders require all passengers, including kids, to present their passports. Examples include train trips on Alaska’s White Pass and Yukon Railway, taking the visitor into Canada, and some day visits from island to island in the Caribbean.

If your child has a birth certificate that was issued in Puerto Rico prior to July 1, 2010, the US government won’t recognize their birth certificate as evidence of citizenship when traveling. They will have to carry a passport on any vessel, whether on a closed-loop cruise or not.

Kids Traveling With One Parent Or Adult

Certain cruise lines like Princess and Holland America require that children accompanied by only one adult carry a valid passport, even if it is a closed-loop cruise that doesn’t usually request them. If you are cruising as a single parent and your child has a different last name, many cruise lines request a valid passport for the child, along with their birth certificate.

Children traveling with a single parent must also carry a passport when they take international flights to the embarkation port. Mexico and Canada have stringent rules regarding children traveling with one parent, so it is wise to do your homework properly when finding out what documentation you need.

Sometimes you might need additional documentation, such as a notarized consent letter signed by the absent parent, permitting you to leave the country with the kids. This would be for the specific dates for that cruise and allow you to make decisions in medical emergencies during the trip. 

If you are traveling with a minor and are not their parent or legal guardian, you will need a notarized letter signed by the child’s parents permitting you to take them on the cruise.

Closing Thoughts

Do kids need passports for cruises? Not necessarily, if you’re sailing on a closed loop cruise. However, it is still a good idea for children to have appropriate documentation for travel. You never know when a passport may be needed.

Elaine Warren

Founder & Crew Chief

Elaine founded this website after publishing the book The Family Cruise Companion’s Guide to Cruising With Kids. She has sailed on 39 cruises (and counting). She loves helping families navigate their way to an adventure-filled, fun, and memorable vacation.

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