U.S. Passport Requirements for Planning your Cruise Vacation
In planning an international cruise vacation, both veteran and first-time cruisers need to learn and understand the myriad travel rules and restrictions issued by the U.S. State Department and the Department of Homeland Security for U.S. citizens and U.S. nationals traveling abroad, as well as foreign nationals embarking to or from U.S. ports on international cruise travel itineraries.
There are some limited exceptions to the requirement that U.S. citizens and nationals carry a valid passport for international travel. For example, cruises sailing exclusively within U.S waters for the entire duration of the voyage with no international ports of call on the sailing, i.e., San Diego to San Francisco or Seattle, or a Hawaiian Islands cruise. However, if you want to board and disembark from a cruise ship at a U.S. port returning from an international cruise, you will be required to carry either a valid U.S. Passport or an acceptable citizenship document.
As of June 1, 2009, the Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative (WHTI) Federal law went into effect. Under WHTI, U.S. citizens and permanent residents returning to the United States from Canada, Mexico, the Caribbean or Bermuda, by land or sea, are now required to present one of the approved travel documents listed below:
- U.S. Passport
- U.S. Passport Card
- Enhanced Driver’s License (EDL)
- Trusted Traveler Program Card
For the most accurate and up-to-date information relating to WHTI applicable rules and regulations, specifically relating to when one of the substitutes for a valid U.S. passport may be used for foreign travel, cruisers should consult the U.S. Customs and Border Patrol official Website at:
Cruisers should keep in mind that individual cruise lines may impose travel citizenship documentation requirements that are more restrictive than U.S. law. Even if a passport card or other WHTI compliant citizenship document is acceptable for departure by ship when sailing on an international cruise, or when driving into Canada, if it becomes necessary for a cruise passenger to interrupt the voyage or an auto vacation, and fly back to the U.S. due to medical or family emergency, a valid U.S. passport will be required to re-enter the country. Travel professionals uniformly advise that by far the best way to go for U.S. citizen travelers planning an international cruise is to apply for and carry a valid U.S. passport.
In the United States, the State Department processes all passport applications and issues all passports and passport cards to both U.S. citizens, and all foreign nationals who are U.S. permanent residents (green card holders). First-time passport applicants need to use the DS-11 form, and form DS-82 is used for all renewals, including lost or stolen passports. For the most definitive, thorough, and up-to-date U.S. passport information (though not always presented in the most user-friendly format), the State Department official Website is the place to go:
U.S. Passport Application Process
1. Official Passport Acceptance Facility (U.S. Post Office, Public Library, County Clerk’s Office)
According to the State Department Website, routine passport applications submitted by U.S. citizens are processed approximately 4 to 6 weeks after receipt of a fully completed passport application, including all required supporting documents (primarily a valid certified copy of the applicant’s birth certificate for proof of citizenship).
Expedited processing of passport applications are available for an additional cost of $60.00, which can cut estimated processing time in half, to about 2 to 3 weeks. The applicant is also required to make advance payment for overnight delivery to and from the passport agency.
Passport application processing by the State Department is highly seasonal, and you can fully expect processing times of up to 60 days, even longer, for applications that are submitted in late spring and summer. The best practice is to submit your completed passport application just as soon as you begin planning your cruise. Once issued, a U.S. passport is valid for ten years for travelers over 16 years old, and five years for children and teenagers under the age of 16 at time of issuance.
Generally, most travelers are able to submit their initial U.S. Passport applications at an official passport acceptance facility. This is by far the easiest and most accessible type of passport office to go through; there are usually several acceptance facilities located in each city or town. Most passport offices are located inside your local post office or public library. Often, your county court clerk’s office, frequently located in the county courthouse may also be a passport acceptance facility. On larger college campuses, colleges and universities with international study programs also have these passport offices on campus.
At a passport acceptance office, you will meet with an experienced passport agent to submit your application. You may also be able to get your photo taken at the office, but be sure to check first, because not all acceptance offices offer passport photo service.
Application fees of $110 for a passport book and $30 for a passport card apply to first time adult applicants, plus a $25 execution fee for every application submitted. However, if an applicant applies for the passport book and card at the same time, only one execution fee is charged.
Minor applicants are charged an $80 application fee for the passport book and $15 application fee for the passport card. In addition, a $25 execution fee is charged for each application. These fees are in effect for first time applicants until they reach the age of 16.
2. Certified copy of Birth Certificate or other evidence of citizenship
The most important official documents that you will need to submit along with your completed passport application are a government issued photo ID such as a driver’s license and a certified copy of your birth certificate, which should be returned to you upon issuance of your passport.
If you do not already have a certified copy of your birth certificate you will need to contact the Vital Statistics office for your state which is generally located in your state capital. The State Department Website has active links to Vital Statistics office for all 50 states, Washington D.C., Puerto Rico, Virgin Islands, Guam, American Samoa, and the former U.S. Canal Zone.
Beginning April 1, 2011, the U.S. Department of State began requiring the full names of the applicant’s parent(s) to be listed on all certified birth certificates to be considered as primary evidence of U.S. citizenship for all passport applicants, regardless of age. Certified birth certificates missing this parental information will not be acceptable as evidence of citizenship.
Applicants need to submit either the original or an official certified copy (i.e., a copy you requested from the Department of Vital Records where you were born.) In order for the State Department to accept it, the certificate must have a raised seal. However, a raised seal will not meet State Department requirements if the birth certificate is issued from the hospital. Hospital birth certificates may look official, but they aren’t accepted as proof of citizenship. Passport applicants must submit certified copies of official governmentally-issued birth certificates.
Birth certificate’s that are ripped or torn may be rejected. If the condition of your birth certificate is questionable, order a new (certified copy) from the department of vital records for your state.
In planning your international cruise, most, if not all, of the major cruise lines have dedicated passport assistance desks in their customer service departments to aid passengers with passport-related issues. The little navy blue U.S. passport booklet is literally your ticket to the world of international travel. With your passport in hand, virtually the entire world is at your door-step, opening up opportunities for you and your traveling companion to travel to exciting and exotic world destinations, enabling you to cruise or fly to the four corners of the globe, literally on a moments notice. If not now, then when? What are you waiting for?