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 but even cruise veterans can face difficulty when it comes to customs because the laws regarding identification documents and visa requirements is 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 put together a list of some basic important information all cruisers should know prior to embarking on a vessel so the customs process can be as smooth as possible.
What identification documents are required for cruise passengers?
According to 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 I.D. 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? Because many ports of call do require a passport in order for you to be able to get off the vessel why it is in port. This is why Cruise lines often require 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. So 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.
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. It is important for individuals 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 check point 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. Just 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.