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Do I need to bring my passport on my US cruise?

By February 16, 2022Immigration
A cruise ship at sea

I am taking a cruise that leaves from the U.S. and returns to the U.S., but visits a foreign country on the way. Do I need to bring my passport?

Many cruises depart from and return to the United States, with a brief stop in a foreign country – such as Cancun or the Bahamas – during the trip. For these cruises, what documentation is required to return to the U.S.? The answer depends on whether the cruise is a “closed-loop” cruise.

Please keep in mind that this post only discusses requirements of the U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP). It does not consider any requirements imposed by a foreign country that the traveler might visit during the trip. As a result, it is always recommended that you confirm with the cruise line and foreign country whether any additional documentary requirements will apply.

What is a closed-loop cruise?

A closed-loop cruise starts and ends at the same U.S. port. For example, a cruise that leaves from Miami, visits Cancun, and returns to Miami, is a closed loop cruise.

In contrast, a cruise that leaves from Miami, visits Cancun, and returns to Fort Lauderdale is not a closed-loop cruise, since the cruise does not return to the same port that it departed from. Because of the change in port, the documentation requirements for this cruise are different from those for a closed-loop cruise.

What are the documentation requirements to return to the U.S. if I am not on a closed-loop cruise?

For those who are taking a cruise that visits a foreign country and is not closed loop, the documentation requirement is largely the same as for any international travel. Specifically, a passport is required to re-enter the United States. This applies to all travelers on the cruise, whether they are on a visa, have a green card, or are U.S. citizens – they all must have a valid passport to re-enter the U.S.

Let’s apply this to our earlier example: an F-1 student is taking a cruise that leaves from Miami and returns to Fort Lauderdale, and visits Cancun along the way. The F-1 student must have a valid passport, as well as a valid visa that would permit her re-entry to the U.S.

Taking another example, a family of U.S. citizens, consisting of a couple and their infant, is taking the same cruise. To re-enter the United States, they must all have valid passports.

What are the documentation requirements to return to the U.S. if I am on a closed-loop cruise?

For those who are traveling on a closed-loop cruise, the documentation requirements differ depending on whether the traveler is on a temporary visa, has a green card, or is a U.S. citizen. Let’s take a look at each.

Nonimmigrant Visa Holders

Unfortunately, those who are in the U.S. on a nonimmigrant visa must treat a closed-loop cruise as international travel, just as they would a cruise that is not closed-loop. Those who are visiting the U.S. on a nonimmigrant visa (for example, a student visa or H-1b) must have the same documentation that would be required for re-entry to the U.S. after international travel. This would typically require that they have a valid passport and visa, and any additional documentation required pursuant to their visa status.

Those who are visiting the U.S. on the Visa Waiver Program (or ESTA) should have their passport and the I-94 document they were issued when they initially entered the U.S. They should also be mindful of a few additional requirements: those on ESTA should make sure that the cruise  returns to the U.S. port before their 90-day admission period ends, that they are not outside the U.S. for more than 30 days, and that they do not go beyond the territories neighboring the U.S. or islands adjacent to it. If any of these terms are violated, the traveler may need to re-apply for admission.

Lawful Permanent Residents/Green Card Holders

To re-enter the U.S., a Lawful Permanent Resident taking a closed-loop cruise only needs their green card. They do not need a passport for re-entry to the U.S. However, as noted before, any foreign country that the cruise visits might require that the Lawful Permanent Resident present a passport, so it is important to check with the cruise line and foreign country to confirm.

U.S. Citizens

U.S. citizens who are taking a closed-loop cruise can re-enter the U.S. with proof of citizenship. This can be a passport, but does not need to be. U.S. citizens can instead provide a notarized, original or certified birth certificate, or an enhanced driver’s license, for example.

It is important to note that proof of citizenship must also be provided for infants as well. For infants, CBP will accept a birth certificate issued by the hospital if the official birth certificate has not yet arrived.

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