International Maritime, Maritime Law

What You’ll Need to Get Through Customs on Your Next Cruise


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Lipcon, Margulies & Winkleman, P.A. is made up of attorneys who are nationally recognized industry leaders in the field of maritime and admiralty law. Our team of cruise lawyers has well over two centuries of combined experience, has successfully handled over 3,000 cases, and has recovered over 300 million dollars in damages for our clients. Several of our attorneys have even been selected to “Best Lawyers” ® by US News & World Report every year as far back as 2016.

Cruise Ship In A Port

Going through customs can be intimidating. Immigration officers are notorious for asking a host of often invasive questions, and even if you’re abiding by proper procedures and have all your documentation, the process can be stressful.

First-time cruisers, in particular, may not always know what to bring. Yet, even cruise veterans can face difficulty when it comes to customs because the laws regarding identification documents and visa requirements are not the same for all cruises. We know it can be tough to keep up with the ever-changing travel requirements, so our cruise lawyers have compiled some basic important information all cruisers should know before embarking on a vessel so the customs process can be as smooth as possible.

What Identification Documents Are Required for Cruise Passengers?

According to the U.S. Customs and Border Patrol, passengers who are taking a closed-loop cruise — that is, a cruise that starts and ends at the same port of call — are not required to bring a U.S. passport. A birth certificate and government ID will be sufficient to satisfy U.S. customs. However, passengers should still consider getting a passport, even if the U.S. doesn’t require it. Why? Better to be safe than sorry!

It is important to note that some ports of call do require a passport in order for you to be able to get off the vessel while it is in port. This is most commonly an issue for travelers on a closed-loop Caribbean cruise. Barbados, Guadeloupe, Haiti, Martinique, St. Barts, and Trinidad and Tobago all require U.S. citizens to present a valid passport to disembark and enter the country, despite WHTI regulations not requiring a passport for these destinations. That being said, Labadee, Royal Caribbean’s private island, is an exception and does not require a passport even though it is in Haiti. As all of these rules and exceptions to the rules can be confusing to even a seasoned cruiser, this is why cruise lines often recommend passengers to have a valid passport in order to embark on the cruise, even though U.S. Customs does not require it.

Many countries don’t require a visa for U.S. travelers, as the U.S. participates in visa waiver programs with many nations. However, if you are not a U.S. citizen or are going to a country that does require a visa and you don’t have one, you will not be able to debark the vessel. To avoid any mishaps, anyone considering a cruise should contact the cruise line as well as their travel agent to learn about specific requirements and ensure they have all the necessary documents prior to departure.

Documents Can Vary Based on the Cruise Line

The cruise line you are using may also have specific requirements in place in terms of documentation and customs requirements depending on where you are cruising in the world. Some of the most common cruise lines our clients have traveled aboard include:

What Else Can Cruise Passengers Do to Ensure a Smooth Experience When Going Through Customs?

For one, always carry a photocopy of your passport and any other important documents you may need for your trip with you and leave the copy in your room safe. If the unthinkable happens and the original documents become misplaced, a copy can be a life-saver. Individuals need to note that entry into a country is not guaranteed, even with a valid visa.

Immigration and border officers have immense discretion in deciding whom they allow to enter and who they turn away. If you say the wrong thing, appear suspicious, or even if you are just talking to loved ones on your cell phone, you can be denied entry. The border is no place to make jokes or comments. Passengers should be very mindful of what they say and do not only when entering a foreign country at a border checkpoint but also while in that country and until they get back on board the vessel.

Additional Factors That May Affect Entry Into a Foreign Country

Cruise passengers can also be denied entry into certain countries if they have a criminal record. In some cases, a DUI conviction counts as having a criminal record. This is why it’s crucial to research the laws of each destination your cruise is sailing to so you don’t have to deal with an unfortunate surprise upon arrival.

Passengers who plan to make purchases abroad should also make sure to carefully document every item they purchase. Travelers are not allowed to bring fruits, vegetables, meat, livestock, plants, or medicines purchased abroad or on the ship into the United States port of debarkation (this includes items you may have purchased in U.S. ports such as those in Alaska, Hawaii, the U.S. Virgin Islands, Puerto Rico, Guam, or any other U.S. port). All other purchases must be declared when returning to the States.

Luckily, for most people who sail out of a U.S. port and return to the same U.S. port, getting back into the U.S. is a fairly painless process. Remember to have all the required documentation ready and to be patient and courteous and in all likelihood you’ll pass through customs without incident.

Our Cruise Ship Accident Attorneys Protect Injury Victim’s Rights to Maximum Compensation

Lipcon, Margulies & Winkleman, P.A. have spent more than fifty years advocating for cruise ship accident and injury victims. Our firm is regularly selected to “Best Lawyers” ® in America and we have been named to US News & World Report’s “Best Law Firms” ® annually since 2016. We are the nation’s top-rated maritime and cruise ship accident lawyers with extensive knowledge of how customs and cruise ship ports around the world operate.

When you have been seriously injured or lost a loved one at sea, our firm is uniquely qualified to take on your case. Let us put our 50+ years of legal experience to work for you. Contact our cruise ship accident attorneys online for a confidential consultation or call us at 877-233-1238 to connect with a skilled maritime lawyer.

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