Do I need a passport?
Short answer – yes you do!
Long answer…if you are traveling internationally, with a few exceptions, you’ll need a passport. Even if you fall into one of those exceptions, a passport may make your traveling life much easier. The exceptions only apply to land and sea travel and not air.
If you’re traveling by air you’ll need a passport – no exceptions.
Do I need a passport is a common question among first-time cruisers and Caribbean travelers. The question is understandable, as the cost of a passport is a bit steep (around $135 for those over age 16), and like many dealings with the government, the process can be a little frustrating. And, the exceptions do apply to Caribbean travelers and cruisers, among others.
Despite the cost and frustration, we highly recommend that you get a passport even if you fall into one of the exceptions.
By passport, we mean the passport book, as the federal government also offers a driver’s license-like passport card. We’ll touch on the card in a minute, and the times one might come in handy.
What about the exceptions?
Again, we recommend that you get a passport no matter what, but here are the exceptions:
You do not need a passport if you are traveling by sea on what the federal government calls a “closed loop” cruise. According to the U.S. Department of State:
“If you are a U.S. citizen and you board a cruise ship at a port within the United States, travel only within the Western Hemisphere, and return to the same U.S. port on the same ship, you may present a government issued photo identification, along with proof of citizenship (an original or copy of his or her birth certificate, a Consular report of Birth Abroad, or a Certificate of Naturalization). Please be aware that you may still be required to present a passport to enter the foreign countries your cruise ship is visiting. Check with your cruise line to ensure you have the appropriate documents.”
There’s one exception. Are there others?
There are a few other times when a passport book is not necessary and a passport card will suffice.
What is a passport card?
In the federal government’s own words:
“The passport card is the wallet-size travel document that can only be used to re-enter the United States at land border-crossings and sea ports-of-entry from Canada, Mexico, the Caribbean, and Bermuda. The card provides a less expensive, smaller, and convenient alternative to the passport book for those who travel frequently to these destinations by land or by sea.”
To sum it up, you may re-enter the United States on a passport card when traveling by land from Canada or Mexico or when traveling by sea from Canada, Mexico, Bermuda, or the Caribbean. If you travel to Canada, Mexico, Bermuda, or the Caribbean frequently, the card might make you life a little easier in the short term.
Just remember, unless you have a passport (book) you will never be able to re-enter the US by air.
Again, it it is never possible to re-enter the United States by air without a passport book, regardless of the traveler’s age. Never. If you or your family are traveling by air internationally, you must have passports – passport cards will not work.
If I fall into one of the exceptions, why do you recommend that I get a passport anyway?
If you’re on a “closed loop” cruise and break your leg, or a family member passes away suddenly back in the States, or your boss says get back or you’re fired, your only option will be to stick with your cruise…unless you have a passport (book, not card).
With a passport, you could arrange a quick flight home. Without a passport you are stuck. While such situations may be rare, without that passport you have no options.
You want options!
How do I get a passport?
Here’s where the frustration starts. Stay calm, though, you’ll get through it.
This site is run by the Bureau of Consular Affairs of the U.S. Department of State. These are the folks who issue U.S. passports, and while the process is intense they have done a great job on this website. The site will walk you through all the steps and instruct you on where to apply for the passport, as you do have to apply in person. Most cities and many small towns across the country have some agency or facility that can accept your application.
Don’t forget, you’ll also need a photo of a specific size. Many chain drug stores across the country offer this service. Google will be able to point you in the right direction.
Our final advice – be prepared, get that passport. Don’t hesitate to reach out to us if you have any questions at all!
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