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Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative
The Big Cruise Exception

Previously: The Passport Requirements - who needs a passport, for what, and when?

The Big Cruise Exception - yes Congress was being Congress, they wrote in a big "except..."

Congress is Congress. They can't seem to write a law without including a loophole. As far as loopholes go, this one is a doozie, as I suspect it covers the very vast majority of cruise passengers departing from US ports. Taken directly from the text of the WHTI Final Rule, Section VI(A) (page 90):

U.S. citizen cruise ship passengers traveling within the Western Hemisphere are permitted to present a government-issued photo identification document in combination with either:

(1) an original or a copy of a birth certificate,

(2) a Consular Report of Birth Abroad issued by DOS, or

(3) a Certificate of Naturalization issued by US. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS),

when returning to the United States, under certain conditions:

The passengers must board the cruise ship at a port or place within the United States; and

The passengers must return on the same ship to the same U.S. port or place from where they originally departed.

It is very important to note that this is straight from the Final Rule of the WHTI. Unless Congress re-writes the law (which has taken nearly 8 years to finally put in place) these rules are it... for passengers meeting the specified conditions, a passport will never be required to cruise!

If you care to gain a better understanding of why this exception exists, the authors of the WHTI Final Rule spend quite a bit of time explaining their rationale. Agree or disagree, it does make a certain amount of sense, and it is not hard to understand why they have done it. See Section IV(B).5 Cruise Ships, beginning on Page 29.

In spite of these clear rules and exception to the rules, some are so strongly of the opinion that a passport should be required of all cruise passengers that they tend to choose to overlook some facts.

Next: Fear, Uncertainty and Doubt - "just the facts, ma'am..." No you won't be left stranded overseas if you miss the ship!

Disclaimer: For those (and I know they are out there) who will want to pull their hair out upon reading some of this information, please take comfort in the fact that I have always, and continue to advise that obtaining a Passport is always the best option. In my opinion, it is well worth the expense. Having said that, it must be recognized that there are those for whom it may not be worth the expense. We are all entitled to our opinions, and if the thought of a US citizen cruising without a passport in hand makes your blood boil, then I encourage you to exercise your invaluable right as a citizen to petition your representatives to change the laws and rules as you see fit.
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Updated May 26, 2008. Comments?
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