Some confusion exists around what types of travel documents for cruises are necessary. Even different cruise lines sometimes seem to have conflicting information on whether passengers must obtain and carry a US passport. Much of this confusion has resulted from the changes that have been made in recent years to travel requirements in the United States. Different modes of transportation have different requirements. It’s important that you determine what types of travel documents for cruises are necessary, and to realize that these requirements may differ from air and land travel regulations.
In 2004 the Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative was enacted. It was developed in agreement with the United States, Canada, Mexico, Bermuda and the Caribbean region. Since a number of these countries share common borders, it became necessary to develop a standardized way of screening travelers in order to protect US borders. This initiative helps to strengthen borders without making it prohibitive for American citizens and legitimate foreign travelers to enter and leave the United States. The initiative legislates uniform standards for travel documents for cruises, as well as for land and air travel across borders.
The Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative has been implemented in graduated stages since it was drafted in 2004. The first changes were made in 2007 and affected air travel only. Since that time all foreign air travel requires a US passport. The most recent change implemented in January of 2008 directly affected land and sea travel. Prior to this date, oral declarations of citizenship were accepted when crossing borders by land or sea. However, current regulations dictate that oral declarations are no longer acceptable. Currently all land and sea crossings require a US passport or WHTI compliant documentation. When the final phase of the Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative is enacted in June, 2009, most travelers will be expected to travel with a US passport or passport card (eligible for land and sea crossings only.)
What does this mean for travelers planning cruises between now and June, 2009? Acceptable travel documents for cruises which have ports outside of the United States include a US passport, a passport card, OR a government-issued photo identification card (valid driver’s license, military ID card, Native card, etc.) PLUS proof of citizenship (a US birth certificate or naturalization certificate.) Those travelers booking cruises for dates after June 1, 2009 will be expected to comply with the full set of rules for travel documentation. After this date, the only acceptable travel documents for cruises will be a US passport, a passport card, and limited forms of government-issued identification plus citizenship confirmation documents.
Some cruise ship companies have tightened their own rules regarding travel documents for cruises. A few have chosen to issue tickets only to holders of US passports or passport cards in an effort to expedite crossings and maintain security. Check with your cruise company to find out exactly what it recommends for documentation. Those who don’t have the correct travel documents for cruises may find themselves unable to board or disembark or even to return home in a timely manner.
In anticipation of the implementation of the final phase of the Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative, the US government is urging all Americans who have not done so to apply for a US passport. While no further changes have been made to travel documentation requirements, there is speculation that a US passport may one day 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 checking into hotels. Experts feel that its logical that the US will someday follow suit in a worldwide effort to maintain secure borders.