Passport Rules Getting More Complicated

| May 12, 2008

Carribean cruise passengers will still be able to get by without a passport, but we don't recommend it.

The notion that passports will soon be needed by all cruise passengers has become a popular one, but it isn't true.

Like most people, I had heard from several sources that passports will eventually be required to cross any border into the U.S. However, it appears the State Department is not going that for cruisers in the Western Hemisphere.

The State Department recently published, on March 27, the final rules on the new Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative, and it turns out that the rules are not changing much from what they have been in the past. You will still be able to travel with a state-issued ID and another document, e.g. a birth certificate, as long as you are traveling within the defined Western Hemisphere, which includes Canada, Mexico, Bermuda and much of the Caribbean.

And on the day the new rules take effect -- projected to be June 2009, guess what, the rules are almost identical to what they are right now and have been all along!

Specifically, for cruises to destinations within the Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative (WHTI), the only thing that the State Department and CBP (Customs and Border Protection, now a part of the Department of Homeland Security) will no longer accept is an "oral declaration of citizenship."

Countries covered by the Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative include:

  • Canada
  • Mexico
  • Bermuda
  • 17 Caribbean nations as follows:
    • Anguilla
    • Antigua and Barbuda
    • Aruba
    • Bahamas
    • Bermuda British
    • Virgin Islands
    • Cayman Islands
    • Dominica
    • Dominican Republic
    • Grenada
    • Jamaica (except for business travel)
    • Montserrat
    • Netherlands Antilles
    • St. Kitts and Nevis
    • St. Lucia
    • St. Vincent and the Grenadines
    • Turks and Caicos

    Now, when it comes to the transition period we are in, and whence the WHTI is fully implemented, the State Department and Customs and Border Patrol are warning us that if you do not have a passport you could be subject to delays. Here is the most recent statement regarding border crossings:


    CURRENTLY: U.S. citizens need to present either (a) a passport, passport card (available in spring 2008), or WHTI-compliant document; or (b) a government-issued photo ID, such as a driver's license, along with proof of citizenship, such as a birth certificate.

    LATER: On June 1, 2009, the U.S. government will implement the full requirements of the land and sea phase of WHTI. The proposed rules require most U.S. citizens entering the United States at sea or land ports of entry to have a passport, passport card, or WHTI-compliant document.

    Note that these rules are for land and sea arrivals. The exception is arrival by air. All air passengers are already required to present a passport to cross our borders. While the statement above implies that a passport or equally official document will be required for anyone arriving by sea, it isn't the whole story. As of January 31, 2008, the information below shows the list of acceptable documents to prove citizenship:

    This list I will refer to as the "one document option" (although that is not an official term).

    • U.S. or Canadian Passport
    • U.S. Passport Card (Available spring 2008)*
    • Trusted Traveler Cards (NEXUS, SENTRI, or FAST)*
    • State or Provincial Issued Enhanced Driver's License (when available - this secure driver's license will denote identity and citizenship)*
    • Enhanced Tribal Cards (when available)*
    • U.S. Military Identification with Military Travel Orders
    • U.S. Merchant Mariner Document
    • Native American Tribal Photo Identification Card
    • Form I-872 American Indian Card
    • Indian and Northern Affairs Canada (INAC) Card
    * Frequent Land Border Crossers - to expedite processing into the United States, U.S. Customs and Border Protection recommends using one of the above asterisked documents.

    Below is what the State Department calls the "Two Document Option." That is their official term.

    The "Two Document" Option:

    All U.S. and Canadian citizens who do not have one of the documents from the list above must present BOTH an identification and citizenship document from each of the columns below:

    (Column 1)

    Identification Documents*

    Driver's license or identification card issued by a federal, state, provincial, county, territory, or municipal authority U.S. or Canadian military identification card. * All identification documents must have a photo, name and date of birth.

    (Column 2)

    Citizenship Documents

    • U.S. or Canadian birth certificate issued by a federal, state, provincial, county, territory or municipal authority
    • U.S. Consular report of birth abroad
    • U.S. Certificate of Naturalization
    • U.S. Certificate of Citizenship
    • U.S. Citizen Identification Card
    • Canadian Citizenship Card
    • Canadian certificate of citizenship without photo

    In other words, the old standard of a drivers license and a birth certificate is not going away - although most of us thought it was, at least within the Western Hemisphere. Now, the State Department notes that you face possible delays if you go with the "two document" plan. State also points out that you should know the requirements for any country you plan to visit, because many of them require a passport to enter.

    Here is the relevant wording from the 38-page document titled the WHTI Land and Sea Final Rule, dated 3/27/08: ( -- page 37, middle column)

    When traveling entirely within the Western Hemisphere on a cruise ship, and when the U.S. citizen boards the cruise ship at a port or place within the United States and returns on the return voyage of the same cruise ship to the same United States port or place from where he or she originally departed. That U.S. citizen may present a government-issued photo identification document in combination with either an original or a copy of his or her birth certificate, a Consular Report of Birth Abroad issued by the Department, or a Certificate of Naturalization issued by U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services before entering the United States; if the U.S. citizen is under the age of 16, he or she may present either an original or a copy of his or her birth certificate, a Consular Report of Birth Abroad issued by the Department, or a Certificate of Naturalization issued by U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services;

    Here is a summary of the same statement from the WHTI FAQ:

    How will the final WHTI requirements affect passengers going on cruises?

    U.S. citizens on closed-loop cruises (cruises that begin and end at the same port in the U.S.) will be able to enter or depart the country with proof of citizenship, such as a birth certificate and government-issued photo ID. A U.S. citizen under the age of 16 will be able to present either an original or a copy of his or her birth certificate, a Consular Report of Birth Abroad issued by DOS, or a Certificate of Naturalization issued by U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services.

    Please be aware that you may still be required to present a passport when you dock at a foreign port, depending on the islands or countries that your cruise ship is visiting. Check with your cruise line to ensure you have the appropriate documents for the stops you'll be making on your cruise.

    CruiseMates still recommends that every cruiser should have a passport. It is by far the best proof of citizenship. They are even better than the new U.S. Passport Card, when they become available (applications are now being taken here:

    The reason a standard passport is still better is because even though the passport card will facilitate entry at U.S. land and sea ports-of-entry when arriving from Canada, Mexico, the Caribbean and Bermuda, the card cannot be used to travel by air.

    Another reason for our passport recommendation is that all cruisers must now go through Customs and Border Patrol when disembarking a cruise ship. This means everyone must prove their citizenship in order to get off the ship, and if you are relying on the "two-document option," it can delay everyone, not just yourself.

    In addition, if an emergency occurs you might find yourself in a situation where you have to enter a foreign country that requires a passport. Or you may be forced to return to the U.S. by air, and all air travelers are now required to produce passports to airport Border Patrol and Customs officers.

    Yes, we are just as confused as you probably are, and that is yet another reason to just get the passport. For more information, go to these web sites:

    Copyright © 2009, Cruisemates. All rights reserved.
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