Sunday, August 9, 2009
The news about passport requirements that took effect June 1 for U.S. citizens traveling in the Western Hemisphere overlooked a major exception: On cruises that leave from a U.S. port and return to the same port after visiting certain countries in the hemisphere, you don't need a passport to reenter the United States.
"This exemption's definitely a bit of a travel secret," said Carolyn Spencer Brown, editor in chief of Cruise Critic, an online travel service. In fact, the State Department doesn't mention the exception on its Web page about travel by land and sea in the Western Hemisphere. (Passports were already required to fly into any foreign nation; there are no exceptions to that rule.)
But it's a fact: A birth certificate and government-issued photo identification, such as 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. See http://www.getyouhome.gov/html/lang_eng/eng_sa.html, a Web site maintained by U.S. Customs and Border Protection.
If you elect to cruise without a passport, be sure that the birth certificate you carry is a real, state-issued certificate and not a copy or a souvenir handed out by the hospital. The genuine article has 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.
And if a cruising traveler has a driver's license with a name that doesn't match the birth certificate? "No problem; it happens all the time," said Carnival Cruise spokeswoman Jennifer de la Cruz. However, it would be "prudent for a traveler to also carry a copy of the official document that generated a name change," said State Department spokesman Cyril Ferenchak in an e-mail. "In most cases, this would probably be a marriage certificate."
CoGo, personally, would rustle up a marriage certificate and bring it along, just in case. Experience suggests that new rules sometimes confuse the people charged with enforcing them, and it's better to be safe than sorry.
Also remember that if you're on a cruise and suddenly need to fly home, you'll face a big hassle if you don't have a passport.
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Reporting: Cindy Loose, Andrea Sachs
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