Do You Need a Passport for an Alaskan Cruise?

Unless you're on a closed-loop itinerary, you'll likely need a passport or similar documentation on your cruise.
Ramsey Qubein
By Ramsey Qubein 
Edited by Meghan Coyle

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Alaska is a bucket-list, adventure-filled destination, and a cruise is one of the best ways to see it.

Some places in America’s largest state are not even accessible by road, so a cruise ship is the ideal way to see many wonderful sights without having to pack or unpack.

But a common question is, do you need a passport to cruise to Alaska? Even though Alaska is part of the U.S., the answer can depend on the embarkation and disembarkation points, where the ship sails and your age.

Let’s get into the details to help you understand what you need to bring on your next Alaskan cruise so that you’re not surprised at the gangway.

Do I need a passport to cruise to Alaska?

Alaska is part of the United States, but some cruises either depart from a Canadian port like Vancouver or make a stop in a Canadian port like Victoria. In these cases, it is necessary to have a passport or passport card with you as identification.

But there is a loophole. Thanks to something known as the Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative, some cruises are classified as “closed-loop cruises.” These are cruises that begin or end at the same U.S. port.

So if your cruise starts and ends in, say, Seattle and sails to Alaska (and even makes a stop in Canada), you don’t necessarily need to bring a U.S. passport.

If you’re a U.S. citizen who doesn’t have a passport or is waiting for one to be renewed, you can bring an official U.S. birth certificate and government-issued photo ID.

Both documents would be necessary for anyone 16 and older. Those under 16 only need to show a U.S. birth certificate since they may not have photo identification yet.

Travelers crossing the U.S.-Canada border by land or sea can opt to use a passport card instead of their passport book. But if you have a change of plans and need to take a plane, you would be out of luck as you would need a passport book to fly.

What if my Alaska cruise doesn’t sail to Canada?

Chances are your Alaska cruise will make a stop in Canada due to U.S. law that says that foreign-registered cruises cannot sail between most U.S. ports without making a stop in another country along the way.

Since cruise lines register their ships in foreign countries for more favorable tax reasons (among other considerations), they are not able to transport passengers on a purely domestic itinerary. That’s why they stop in a foreign port, and Canada is conveniently on the way.

This practice dates back to a regulation known as the Passenger Vessel Services Act of 1886. While the writers certainly were not envisioning kids on waterslides vacationing with their families or binocular-toting cruisers getting up close and personal with glaciers when they drafted it, the law continues to be valid today.

But back to the main question of do you need a passport to go to Alaska? Maybe.

If the cruise is not a closed-loop cruise, then you would need passport identification to board the ship.

There are also some “Inside Passage” sailings on smaller ships (where you may fly into and out of an Alaskan airport from the Continental U.S.) and do not make a stop in Canada.

Still, a passport may be necessary if any of your shore excursions enter Canada. For this reason, some cruise lines may still require them on these sailings.

Alaskan cruise passports recapped

Whether or not you need a passport for your Alaska cruise will depend on your itinerary. You’ll want to check with the cruise line since it may have its own rules and regulations, but U.S. citizens on a closed-loop cruise have more flexibility.

The answer to do you need a passport to cruise to Alaska depends on where you’re departing from and returning to. Even if you visit a Canadian port, you may be able to sail to Alaska with just a U.S. birth certificate and photo identification.

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