What Cruise Documents Do You Need To Board?

Cruise documents…what are they and which ones you need? To help you avoid any major mishaps, let’s walk through the basics and touch on some additional items you might want to bring along just in case.

Boarding a cruise ship is different from boarding a domestic plane flight. Because cruises involve international travel, you won’t be allowed to sail if you don’t have the proper documents and identification. Therefore, you will want to know EXACTLY what to take with you. And then double and triple check your list to ensure you haven’t forgotten anything.

The check-in process can be intimidating if you have never done it before. To make it easier, let’s explore exactly what cruise documents are, which ones you need and how you obtain them. With this information in hand, you will be all set for a successful and stress-free embarkation day.

What are cruise documents?

Necessary cruise documents include acceptable official forms of identification and your boarding pass. If you are visiting countries that require visas, you must also have those with you. These items must be presented upon arrival at the port.

After port officials check and verify each these documents at the terminal, will you be permitted to board your ship.

Many cruise lines are now providing online boarding passes. Take a screen shot or add it to your wallet on your phone for easy access. At a time when eco-friendliness is top of mind and nearly every traveler has a mobile phone, it’s easy to rely on apps to keep everything in one spot and avoid wasting paper. But…what would happen if your phone was lost, stolen or broken during your travels? For this reason, I always advise printing hard copies of anything you might need in a pinch. Try to use as little paper as possible. It’s better to be safe than sorry.

ALWAYS…..pack all necessary travel documents in your carry-on luggage in an easy to access place. Also, be sure to carry on any medications and valuables, such as jewelry, car keys, glasses, etc.

Documents needed for cruisers to board a ship


For most cruises, you’ll need a passport book that’s valid for at least six months from the day your sailing ends. In some cases, you can use a passport card instead of a passport book. This will only work if you are re-entering the United States via your ship from Mexico, Canada, Bermuda or the Caribbean.

If your cruise is a closed-loop voyage, according to U.S. Customs & Border Protection, you can embark with an Enhanced Driver’s License, which is a state-issued driver’s license that provides proof of identity and U.S. citizenship; a government-issued birth certificate (issued by the Vital Records Department in the state where the person was born) or passport; and if 16 or older, a government-issued driver’s license or picture ID denoting photo, name, and date of birth. To qualify as a closed-loop cruise, the places these itineraries can include must be contiguous territories of the United States. That includes Mexico and Canada, because both share land borders with the U.S., and several of the islands of the Caribbean.

The Enhanced Driver’s License allows you to re-enter the U.S. from Canada, Mexico, and the Caribbean and is valid at land and sea border crossing but not airports. So, if you are boarding in Alaska and flying home from Vancouver, a passport card will not work.

NEXUS card. If you are a U.S. or Canadian citizen, you may use a NEXUS or FAST Trusted Traveler Card for closed loop cruises to Alaska, the Caribbean and Bahamas, Pacific Coast, Canada, and the Panama Canal. For cruises to Europe and Transatlantic sailings, a passport is still required for travel.

Different documentation is acceptable for minors under 16, including an original, notarized, or certified copy of their birth certificate, a Consular Report of Birth Abroad, or a Certificate of Naturalization. Voter registration cards and Social Security cards are not considered proof of citizenship, nor are school ID’s.

If you do choose to take advantage of this opportunity to travel without a passport, there are a couple of warnings to keep in mind. If something goes wrong and you have to return to the U.S. by air, you will need a passport to board a flight.

Also, if you miss the ship in one of the ports, you will have to make your own way home or to catch up with the cruise, which would be difficult without a passport. 

Additionally, if you are a U.S. permanent resident, you must carry your green card. You can use it instead of a passport on closed-loop sailings, but carrying a passport from your country of citizenship is highly recommended. Also note that if your green card is expired, you likely will not be allowed back into the U.S. You are responsible for contacting the embassies in the places you’ll be visiting to make sure there is no additional paperwork required.

If you are a US citizen and want to apply for a passport, this is the link. Be sure to apply at least 6 months prior to departure from the USA. Applications are taking longer than usual to be approved. https://travel.state.gov/content/travel/en/passports/how-apply.html

Boarding passes

Just like a flight, a cruise boarding pass is the document that shows you’ve checked in for your sailing, set up an onboard account for purchases and chosen a boarding time. It will also includes important information like your name, booking number, cabin number and any packages you may have booked with or purchased, such as a beverage package.

Most cruise lines are now using mobile apps that allow you to check in prior to arriving at the terminal. If you don’t plan on using the app, be sure to arrive with a printed copy of your boarding pass….having one will speed up the check-in process on boarding day.

If , for some reason you arrive without a boarding pass, don’t worry. The port personal can look up your reservation in the system when you arrive, it will just add a little extra time before you can board your ship and begin your vacation.

Health information

Cruise lines have required passengers to fill out health forms before boarding in an effort to prevent the spread of norovirus on board for many years. This used to be a paper form you filled out in the terminal at check-in. Now, with the use of mobile apps, this can be done online approx. 24 hours prior to embarkation. It is a few simple questions asking if you have been experiencing any sickness symptoms or are over 23 weeks pregnant.

Most cruise lines have removed the COVID-19 vaccination mandates, such as providing proof of a current vaccine and/or a Covid test. However, things can change, so check with your cruise line for current protocols. There are still also a handful of countries requiring Covid testing prior to boarding, so be sure to verify with your cruise line if this is necessary.

Likewise, check to see if any of the destinations you’re visiting requires specific inoculations for entry; if they do, carry proof that you’ve received them.

Visas and other destination-specific documents

Some destinations require visas or other documents that grant you permission to enter and stay in a specific country or region. It is the passengers responsibility to know when you need to apply for a visa, how much it will cost you and how much time you need to allow for processing.

Occasionally, your cruise line will take care of visa procurement on passengers’ behalf and cover any associated fees. Check the official websites of the countries on your itinerary to see what’s required and contact your cruise line directly to ask if they take care of applying for you. Keep all required documents with you for your trip. Another good source of information are online cruise forums. Check Facebook for one that applies to your cruise or cruise line. Other cruisers love to help!

Cruise line luggage tags

When you arrive at the port, you can drop off your luggage with porters who will make sure it is loaded onto the ship. Make sure to print out the paper luggage tags provided by your cruise line when you receive your check-in documents. The tags are prefilled with information like your name and cabin number, so the crew knows where to deliver your your luggage. We have been using luggage tag holders after having them accidentally torn off during loading. These are for Royal Caribbean and Celebrity ships. Other cruise lines are also available. https://amzn.to/3JVb90S

If you’re driving to your embarkation port, you can attach the tags before you leave home. If you’re flying in, attach them after you land to ensure the airline baggage handlers don’t remove them.

If you arrive at the port without them, don’t panic. The porters have them ready to fill out and will attach them.

Permission to travel

If you’re pregnant, you must disclose this and some cruise lines require you to provide a note from your doctor verifying your due date and that you’re fit to travel. No cruise line will allow you to sail if you are more than 23 weeks at embarkation.

If you are planning to travel with someone else’s kids and they won’t have a parent or guardian on the cruise, you will need a notarized letter granting you permission to take them out of the country and consent to medical care on their behalf in the event of an emergency. It is a good idea to have a similar letter handy for your own children if you will be traveling with them alone and their last name does not match yours. If you are unable to obtain a notarized letter from the other parent or parents, you need to have court provided documents granting you custody. This is becoming more and more important, as cruise lines and airlines are really cracking down on child trafficking.

Useful information to carry while cruising

Other travel information

Are you flying in for your cruise, flying home after or staying at a hotel prior to or after your cruise? It is important to have information like airline confirmations, hotel reservations numbers and address and flight information. Be sure to screenshot your flight boarding passes or save to your phone wallet after check-in. I like to make a master list of all important reservations and print it out in case something happens to my phone.

Emergency contacts

If something goes wrong while traveling, you will want to carry a printed list of emergency contacts and their phone numbers, as well as contact numbers for your doctor, credit card companies and bank, and the local embassies or consulates for the countries you’re visiting. And only carry the credit cards/debit cards you plan to use while traveling!

Having these handy ensures you will know what to do if you have an emergency, lose your passport or find a hold on your travel funds.

Travel insurance information

Travel insurance has become a non-negotiable item. The return to travel has been fraught with problems and travel insurance helps you navigate any problem should one should arise. Print out and carry the policy card listing your policy number and the phone number of the insurance company. If your trip is interrupted or canceled, or you experience a medical emergency, you will have quick access to the key information so you can get help immediately.

Copies of important documents

You should always protect your personal documents and only take them with you when necessary. Make copies of the information page of your passport or passport card, the front and back of your driver’s license and birth certificate (if using it for a closed-loop voyage), and the front and back of each credit card. Keep them in a safe place, separate from the originals. You can also take photographs and keep them in a separate location on your phone. These copies won’t replace the real things, but they could help to speed up the process if you have to procure replacements. When you are in your hotel room or cruise cabin, place them in the safe. In some countries, the ship will keep your passport so that the authorities in port can easily check all passengers passport prior to disembarkation. The ship will provide you with a receipt for your passport which you will need to retrieve it.

These holders are useful for organizing all your important travel documents.


.https://amzn.to/3M43hx7 This one comes in many fun colors too!

Final thoughts

Cruise documents provide the verification you’ll need to board the ship on embarkation day. They include identification, boarding passes, health forms and any required visas, which you should always keep handy in your carry-on bag or personal item.

You’ll need to keep track of several documents, but if you plan ahead and follow the list above, you should have no problem ensuring you have everything you’ll need for a successful and seamless boarding experience.

I hope you have a wonderful cruise!!

I have lots of other helpful cruise and travel items in my Amazon store. https://amzn.to/3EKalLq

This list may also help….I wish I had known some of these items sooner! https://zest4travel.net/2021/10/31/things-to-be-sure-to-pack-for-your-cruise/

If you love cruising, planning cruises, talking about cruises and helping other cruisers…..join us at https://www.facebook.com/groups/6024668980942660

If you found this information useful, please share on Facebook or pin to your favorite board on Pinterest. Links can be found below. Thank you!

*As an Amazon Associate, I earn from qualifying purchases.


Published by zest4travel

Addicted to Travel and New Adventures...With a Touch of Disney

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