Home Cruise Safely What Travel Documents Will I Need For My Cruise?

When making your reservation for your dream cruise, the cruise line will refer you to the fine print on the last few pages of their brochure. Among all the other key contractual items will be a requirement to obtain the necessary travel documents for your trip. A few weeks before your cruise you will get your cruise documents which will remind you that you are responsible for obtaining proper travel documentation. A failure to do so may result in being denied boarding and forfeiture of the amounts paid. They will give you a vague list of requirements and instructions to make inquires at the embassy of the countries you are going to. If you are a first time cruiser, the terms they use may be confusing and if you waited till you received your cruise documents, it may be a rush to get your travel documents arranged in time. This article is primarily focused on U.S. citizens.

WHTI, Passport Card Or Passport (book)

Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative (WHTI), Passport Card and Passport (book) are three terms that might be unfamiliar to you but may appear on a cruise lines website or documents you receive. Before 2009, U.S. citizens only needed a proof of identify to enter the U.S. from Canada, Mexico, Bermuda, and the Caribbean. The WHTI established new documentation requirements to enter by land and sea. Trusted travelers programs following the WHTI guidelines allow frequent border crossers the ability to get special identification cards to rapidly and often automatically cross the border. It was envisioned that a state drivers license would become an WHTI approved document under the Enhanced Drivers Licenses (EDL) program but currently only the states of Washington, Vermont, New York, and Michigan meet the requirement. To most cruisers the WHTI program does not really apply.

The Passport Card is a wallet size identification card issues by the U.S. Passport service. It allows U.S. citizens to leave and enter the United States by land and sea ports of entry. While accepted for cruises that start and finish within the United States, the cruse line often advises against using the card. If you wish to leave the ship early to return to the United States while abroad, you will not be able fly out.  Also, if you miss your ship at a port, you cannot fly to the next port to catch up with it.

The standard U.S. Passport is the recommended document for all cruises and a requirement for any cruise that starts or finishes outside of the United States. The Department of State is responsible for issuing passports and you can either apply at one of its processing centers or at an Authorized Passport Acceptance Facility. Most communities have one or more acceptance centers often at post offices and public libraries. Allow at least two weeks, four weeks if you also need to get a visa, to process your passport. Given the limitation of the two previous options, this is the best route to go. Face it, most first time cruisers come off the cruise ready for the next, and the next might require a passport. There is an exception to the rules for cruises starting and finishing at the same U.S. port but you still you face the same problems as with the WHTI and passport card if leaving the ship early.

U.S. citizens on closed-loop cruises (cruises that begin and end at the same U.S. port) are able to enter the United States with a birth certificate and government issued photo ID. Please be aware that you may still be required to present a passport to enter the countries your cruise ship is visiting. – U.S. Customs and Border Protection website.

Visa Requirements

Visa requirements are perhaps the most confusing aspect of international travel. While a passport is issued by your country, a visa is issued by the country you intend to visit. Few countries have a standardized visa program, visa requirements differ depending on a number of factors such as your nationality, purpose and duration of stay, and means of travel. There are also different means to get a visa depending on the country you are visiting and your home country. As a general rule, if a visa is needed you should obtain it from the Embassy of the country you will visit before leaving home.

Visa Waiver Programs

These programs allow certain nationalities to enter a country within a set of guideline with the need of a visa waived. As an example, A U.S. Citizen visiting the Philippines as a tourist may have the need for a visa waiver if they have a round trip air ticket. They will be issued a permit to enter which is valid for thirty days. If they wish to stay longer they need to get a visa before arriving or obtain one from the Immigration Office within the 30 day period. Some countries relax visa requirements for cruise ship passengers. As an example, Barbados requires a visa from most countries (Visa waivered for US) however, they do not require one from cruise ship passengers. China requires a Visa for U.S. passport holders obtained before traveling, except for ships stopping at Sanya. U.S. passport holders can get a visa on-board ship if they take a ship tour and it is only good for the tour.

Visa On Arrival

Many people confuse a Visa on Arrival (VOA) with a visa waiver, however, they are distinctly different. Not all countries offer VOA and even those that do have restrictions. Generally a VOA requires you to apply for a visa, however, instead of sending your passport to have the visa placed in it, it is done when you arrive. Using Vietnam as an example, U.S. Citizens require a visa to visit the country. If you arrive by cruise ship, the cruise line will apply for you when you arrive. However, if you fly into one of the three airports you will need a visa. Instead of applying at an embassy, you can go online and fill out your application and in a few days they will email you an acceptance letter. When you arrive at the airport, you go to the VOA office and they will place the visa in your passport before you go to immigration. If you enter Vietnam by a land route, a visa must be secured before you arrive at the border.

Visa Requirements Change

When you get ready to book, verify the visa requirements by checking the cruise line website and embassy website for the countries your cruise will visit. Review the information a month before your cruise to ensure no changes have occurred. In 2014, Thailand changed there list of countries with visa waivers four times.

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