Knowing how to get a passport is critical for every cruise passenger, because passports are now required for all sea travel including voyages to the Caribbean, Canada, and Mexico.
A passport is an internationally recognized document that officially verifies the identity and nationality of the bearer. Only the U.S. Department of State can issue passports (or the more limited passport cards), and they are required to enter and leave most foreign countries. While in the past a valid picture ID and birth certificate were sufficient for cruise passengers, tighter identity regulations have made passports required documents for all travelers, even infants and children.
Once issued, an adult's passport is valid for 10 years (children's passports are valid only for 5 years because kids' appearances change much more rapidly). Cruise passengers should ideally have a valid passport at least six months prior to traveling, however, because some countries may not honor very recent passports due to security and fraud concerns. Similarly, some countries will not accept passports that will expire within a few weeks or months. Consult a cruise travel agent about the nations on a specific itinerary for updated information and passenger documentation requirements.
Process for How to Get a Passport
Getting a passport can be tricky and requires careful coordination to avoid unnecessary delays and red tape.
There are more than 9,000 locations that can accept passport applications, including official passport agencies as well as a number of post offices, public libraries, courthouses, and county and municipal offices. To find the nearest passport acceptance location, visit this online locator.
If you are applying for a new passport, you must apply in person. Anyone who has had their passport lost or stolen, or if their old passport expired more than five years ago or they do not have their old passport to submit for renewal, must also apply in person. Anyone whose first passport was issued while they were under the age of 16 must also apply in person.
When applying for a passport, every individual will need the following paperwork:
- Application Form: These can be picked up at the designated locations or downloaded from the U.S. Department of State website.
- Proof of U.S. Citizenship: A previous passport or certified copy of your birth certificate is required. Individuals who cannot secure a copy of their birth certificate can apply for a passport with other detailed documentation; contact a passport agency for details.
- Proof of Identity: A valid driver's license, military ID, or other government photo ID card is acceptable, but a social security card is not. If a woman has recently married but does not have an ID with her married name, bring along the original marriage certificate as an extra precaution.
- Passport Photos: Identical photos must measure 2x2 inches and be taken within the last six months while wearing plain street clothes without hats, sunglasses, or other obscuring details other than religious clothing that is worn daily. Drugstores, photographers, and other locations may offer passport photos for less than $20.
- Social Security Number: Each individual's social security number must be supplied when applying for a passport.
- Payment: New passports cost $100 for adults, with an extra $60 fee to expedite the processing if the passport is required quickly. Passport cards are less expensive but are not valid for air travel or cruises that visit any destinations outside the Caribbean, Mexico, Canada, or Bermuda. Different passport agency locations may accept different forms of payment, including checks, major credit cards, and money orders - verify acceptable payment methods before applying at a specific location.
To ensure a smooth application process and minimal delays, be sure to:
- Fill out the application form carefully, following all instructions. Signing the form must be witnessed by an official, so do not sign until told to do so at the application office.
- Renew a passport at least six months before your next cruise; earlier renewals are even better, particularly for exotic destinations.
- Your birth certificate will be sent in with the passport application; it will be returned to you when the new passport is ready, but be sure to have an additional copy available if you anticipate needing it in the interim.
- Lines at passport offices can be lengthy; be sure to have at least two hours available to visit the office. Visiting during the week and outside peak hours can lessen the wait.
Once you have submitted your passport application, it can take an average of four to six weeks to receive your new passport. If demand is particularly heavy, passports could take two months or longer to be processed, though you can expedite your application for an additional fee. To ensure speedy processing, opt for overnight mail delivery, follow all application instructions carefully, and apply well in advance of your travel plans.
Protect Your Passport
Going through the process for how to get a passport can be exhausting, and it is important to protect this vital document once you have it. Keep the passport book locked in a safe location when it is not being used, and when you do need it for your next cruise vacation, keep the book in good condition so it is legible and will not be questioned. Always fill out the contact and address information inside the book in pencil to leave room for changes, and when you are on a cruise, use the safe in your cruise ship cabin to keep it secure.
Knowing how to get a passport can save travelers plenty of aggravation when they are planning their next cruise, and having a valid passport can help them set sail with ease.