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Cruise Travel Documents: Which Form of ID is Best?

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You’ve booked your first cruise and are super excited! You’re imagining yourself on the Lido deck with a DOD (Drink of the Day) listening to the sound of steel drums as the tropical breeze floats over you. You went shopping and purchased your swimwear, sunscreen, and flip-flops. You’re packing your bags with the Piña Colada song playing in the background. You are READY! You stack your bags by the door and sit to admire your work while you mentally run down a checklist to make sure you’ve got everything. You’re confident you are good to go. But you have just one question: will they let me on the ship with the ID I have? Is it enough? ?

Getting through security and boarding the ship can be a little daunting if you’re a first-time cruiser. While there are quite a few documents needed for boarding, none are more important than your ID. It’s a question most often asked by new and seasoned cruisers alike. So, let’s talk about it.


The passport booklet is a small book with blank pages for stamps and visas. It is only issued by the US Department of State. A valid unexpired passport booklet provides both proofs of citizenship and identification. You can use your passport booklet for entry into the United States from most countries (check with the Department of State or the Department of Homeland Security for restrictions). In general, your passport must be valid for at least six months AFTER your date of travel. So, you can’t use it if it expires a week after you get back.

New adult applications are $135 and adult renewals are $110. Click here for the chart of fees.

Passport Card

A passport card is similar to the passport booklet, but with limitations. This is also only issued by the US Department of State. It is intended for land and sea travel between the U.S. and Canada, Mexico, the Caribbean and Bermuda but cannot be used for other countries. It is in effect a national identification card. It is Real ID compliant and can be used for domestic travel. What’s the limitation? It’s not valid for international air travel, so you can’t use it for that great weekend fare to London. ?

The passport card costs $55 for new adult applications and $30 for adult renewals. Click here to see the chart of fees.

Birth Certificate & State ID

This is the easiest of the three as most people already have them. A birth certificate is simply a record of your birth and provides you proof of citizenship. A driver’s license or non-driver ID is issued by your state’s DMV and provides proof of identity. These documents combined do not allow you to enter or exit the US by air. The costs to obtain a birth certificate and driver’s license are nominal and vary by the local governing entity.

So which is best for a cruise?

Well, it depends.

On a closed-loop cruise (a cruise that begins and ends in the same US port) any of the three will work just fine, so it’s all about your risk tolerance and what other travel you plan to do.

The passport gives you the most freedom and peace of mind but also costs the most. With the passport, if you had to leave the ship in the middle of the itinerary for a medical or family emergency, you would have no problem getting on a flight back home. Your passport allows you to fly back.

The passport card is great if you only plan to take closed-loop cruises and visit our bordering countries, the Caribbean and Bermuda. It’s about half the cost of a passport booklet and is as easy to carry as your driver’s license. But, if you have to leave the ship in the middle of the itinerary for a medical or family emergency, you’d have to first make a pitstop at the nearest US Embassy to get a passport for re-entry into the US. Remember, the passport card is not valid for international air travel.

The same goes for the birth certificate and state-issued ID. They work great in a pinch, but since they are not valid for international air travel, you’d also have to stop at the nearest US Embassy to get a passport for re-entry into the US. However, this is the least expensive option.

Which one do I use? The Passport booklet. I like to be as footloose and fancy-free as possible when I’m on vacation. And while I mostly take closed-loop cruises to the Caribbean, I like to keep my options open. Mediterranean cruises have been calling me and I need a passport to fly to Europe so I can answer. ?

Hit me in the comments and tell me which form of cruise ID you prefer.