Since 2005, American cruise ship passengers have been told they needed passports to return to the United States after stopping at foreign ports of call, including Mexico. The deadline and enforcement kept getting pushed back, but even since the new rules took effect on June 1st, 2009, there remains one big loophole for cruisers: If the cruise leaves and returns to the same U.S. port, you don’t need a passport to reenter the United States.
“This exemption’s definitely a bit of a travel secret,” Carolyn Spencer Brown of Cruise Critic told the Washington Post. According to the article, a birth certificate and government-issued photo ID (e.g. a driver’s license), “will suffice for U.S. citizens cruising to Canada, Mexico, Bermuda or the Caribbean as long as the cruise departs from and returns to the same U.S. port.”
Spencer Brown suggests that if you’re going to travel without a passport, to make sure you have bona fide documents. A certified birth certificate will have a raised seal stamped into the paper. “Travelers have to make sure they really pay attention to that detail, because if the ID’s not acceptable, they’re out of a cruise and will not get a refund,” Spencer Brown warned.
Our advice: if you have a passport – take it! Only use this loophole as a last resort, and double check to make sure you have bona fide documents.