Skip to content Skip to footer

Can I Cruise with Just a Driver’s License?

Is a driver’s license enough ID to take a cruise? The answer is mixed.

Despite tightened modern security requirements, there’s a loophole that allows American passengers to cruise the Caribbean and other destinations without using a passport.

In some cases. United States citizens can sail without bringing a passport if they’re taking what’s called a “closed-loop” cruise—that is, a cruise that begins and ends at the same U.S. port. 

Nearly all Caribbean cruises departing from mainland U.S. states, including Florida, have itineraries that qualify as closed-loop.

But if you’re beginning or ending your cruise in a foreign country—even if it’s only at one end—then you have to use a passport issued by your country, and so will any infants with you. Here’s how to apply for one

Your cruise also is not considered closed-loop if it begins and ends at different ports in the United States and stops even once at a foreign country in between. The U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) gives an example of a cruise that starts in San Diego, ends in Miami, but passes through the Panama Canal and stops somewhere outside of the United States along the way. Even if it had never stopped, that cruise was scheduled to begin and end in different U.S. ports, it would be considered “open-loop” (which is like an “open-jaw” ticket in airfare) and so in most cases it would require a passport. 

So yes, you can get on your cruise with just a driver license, provided it has the right type of itinerary. But here’s where it gets complicated: Just because you can get on a ship without a passport doesn’t mean you will be allowed to get off at every stop.

Some countries still demand to see a passport if you disembark to play for the day. Barbados, Cuba, Guadeloupe, Haiti, Martinique, St. Bart’s, St. Martin, and Trinidad and Tobago have all at one time or another required cruise passengers to have a valid passport in order to set foot in their countries. People who sail using driver licenses will have to remain on board their ship at any port that insists on a passport—and rules may change without notice.

“You should check with your cruise ship, travel agent, and destination country to confirm the requirements to enter the foreign countries you will visit,” the U.S. CBP advises.

So passports are, without a doubt, better for cruise travel, even in cases where they’re not explicitly required.

How to upgrade your driver’s license

If you insist on traveling with only a driver’s license, at least do yourself a favor and make sure it has been updated to a format that U.S. Homeland Security likes to work with. One of those is the Enhanced Drivers License, which validates citizenship, allows Americans to enter “the United States from Canada, Mexico or the Caribbean through a land or seaport of entry, in addition to serving as a permit to drive,” the CPB says. EDLs are not widely used; they’re favored by Americans who drive their cars into Canada or Mexico often.

The more prevalent form of drivers license favored by Homeland Security is called REAL ID. Starting May 7, 2025, the federal government won’t even allow Americans to use airports unless they have REAL ID, so you might as well have one.

That deadline has been routinely pushed back for nearly 20 years to allow states to upgrade their issuing systems. Most states now require standard driver license renewals to conform to REAL ID requirements, anyway, so you probably already possess one.

If your driver license has a gold star (on in California’s case, the emblem of a gold bear) on it, then it conforms to REAL ID rules. Old-style, pre-REAL ID licenses won’t be accepted at federal facilities (like cruise ports, borders, and airport checkpoints) after that May 7, 2025, deadline. Use this portal for your state’s REAL ID application process.

REAL ID driver’s licenses don’t replace a passport—they just serve as the new standard for driver’s licenses. Even with REAL ID, you’ll still need a passport for cruises that aren’t closed-loop.

Also on Frommer’s: Do I need a passport to cruise?