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When Is a Visa Needed to Cruise?

On this website, we’ve discussed the need to have correct travel documentation. In fact, in this article, I discussed the types of documents someone traveling from the United States needs to board a cruise. I discuss what a closed-loop is and where you might find yourself in a bind. I mentioned that going on an Alaskan cruise with a birth certificate, enhanced driver’s license (EDL) or passport card could get you into a sticky situation.

That’s because none of those documents will allow you to get on a plane. So if your cruise leaves from Anchorage and you live in the United States, there’s a good chance you will have a layover in Canada.  If you travel without a passport, the moment you attempt to board the plane for the last leg of your flight, you will be denied. That’s why we highly recommend you travel with a passport, not just a passport card.

And that leads us to the reason for writing this post. An Indian family booked a cruise to Alaska on Norwegian Cruise Line and was denied entry onto the cruise ship. Leaving the family at the dock and having to get back to India on their own dollar. 

Why did this happen? The family sent their documentation to the NCL rep who confirmed that their passports were in order. The family had emails confirming they had what the rep told them they needed. So what went wrong?

When a Visa Is Needed to Cruise

So why were they denied entry onto the ship?

You should be extremely interested in the reason this family couldn’t board the ship. Because you could easily find yourself in the same situation.

The problem is that the family didn’t have a visa. Yes, they had what was necessary to enter the United States. The NCL rep told them that the cruise was a closed-loop leaving the continental United States, visiting Canada and returning to the original port of call.

So far so good.

Here’s the problem. The ship was making a stop in Canada. The members of this family are not American citizens. So the Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative does not apply to them. Therefore, this family needed a visa since the ship was stopping in a foreign country. As close as the U.S. is with Canada, sometimes it takes a conscious effort to remember that it is a foreign country. 

Why Is This Important to You?

You might be thinking the problem here is that they were from a foreign country. And you’d be absolutely correct.

So how does this affect you? 

Back when travel between the United States and Cuba was a thing, American cruise lines taxied vacationers to Cuba regularly. What most did not know unless they planned to take a cruise there was that anyone cruising to Cuba needed a visa. That was true even if you had no intention of getting off the ship.

So if you booked a cruise on a closed-loop from the United States with a stop in Cuba, you would have been stuck in the same situation as this Indian family.

“Since Cuba is off-limits again, there’s nothing to worry about.”

Not exactly.

Are you planning on taking a cruise with a stop in New Zealand? Better have your visa. Want to go to the Land Down Under? China? Pretty much anywhere in Asia? You need a visa.

If you don’t have it – even if you have a passport – you will be denied entry onto the ship.

What You Should NEVER Do

One of the things NCL did was to attempt to get the family to sign a waiver saying that not getting onto the ship was their fault. The family contended that they asked the rep what was needed, even sending their documentation to the NCL rep. 

Needless to say, they never signed anything. Had they done so, they would have been accepting responsibility for everything that happened. We’ll get into the traveler’s responsibility in the next section. The technicality here is that the family booked an NCL cruise through NCL. An NCL rep told them all their documentation was good. After contacting Elliot Advocacy, they were able to get the money they paid for the cruise returned (not including airfare, hotel, car rental, etc). But only because they didn’t sign anything.

Never sign anything when both parties don’t agree on the details.

Your Responsibility

The cruise line wasn’t wrong in their argument that it’s the traveler’s responsibility to make sure they have the correct documentation. What made it the cruise line’s fault is that the cruise line’s rep is the one who made the mistake. Had they booked anywhere else, it would have been on the family for not having the proper documents.

So what can you do?

Make sure your passport is not going to expire within 6 months of your cruise. It should also have at least 1 page free in your passport book. Verify if ANY of your cruise ports require a visa – even if you have no intention of getting off the ship in that country. Some countries will let you apply on the ship; others require you to obtain it in advance.

This goes for everyone cruising with you. Even your children. I heard of the experience of an American mother taking her minor daughter on a cruise to Alaska with a layover in Canada. The mother had a passport; the daughter a birth certificate. The authorities told the mother she could get on the plane but the daughter would have to stay.

So make sure you have all your documentation in order. Give a copy of it to your travel agent. This way should problems arise and you need a copy of your documentation, you have someone you know you can call to get help. 

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