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  • Do Cruise Passengers Need Tourist/Transit Visas?

    Cruise passengers visiting several countries on a voyage can face different visa requirements from each destination. Getting the right information and preparing accordingly can be the difference between enjoying those exotic ports of call, or being confined to ship's quarters.

    So, do you need a visa for your upcoming cruise?

    This is one of the most commonly asked travel questions, both on the Word Travels forum, and the Internet at large. Unfortunately, it is a question with a thousand possible answers, depending on:

    What nationality are the passengers?
    Which countries are they visiting?
    Are they disembarking the cruise ship at the various ports of call?
    Or simply transiting through?

    All these considerations must be taken into account. What follows, here, is a rough guide to making sure that – when planning your cruise vacation – you stay informed and on top of the visa requirements for your trip. It is vital to remember that cruise companies ultimately will not accept responsibility for ensuring that your travel documentation is in order – it is your responsibility to keep abreast of your own visa requirements.

    Passport validity

    Firstly, before the issue of visas is addressed, it is almost certain that you will need to be in possession of a valid passport in order to undertake your cruise. While historically it has been possible for some passengers (chiefly US or Canadian citizens) to undertake cruises with some other form of photo identity on them – increasingly, it is becoming mandatory for all cruise line passengers to carry a passport. Possessing a passport – that is valid for at least six months beyond the date of your scheduled return – is a fail-safe method of ensuring that you will always have legitimate, globally-accepted identification on you while you travel.

    Planning far ahead

    Moving on to visa matters, it is worth mentioning that it's probably a fortunate thing about most cruise trips, that they have to be booked long in advance. While the reason for this is of course due to limited space and availability, if you do have to do some leg-work in terms of organising visas, it is at least handy to be able to use this 'waiting period' to secure your travel documentation.

    When booking your cruise, you will choose between a variety of itineraries offered by the cruise line company. This pre-determined itinerary will indicate exactly which countries you will visit on your cruise, and how long you will spend at each of the ports of call.

    It is at this stage that you can begin to research the visa requirements for your trip. In fact, most reputable cruise companies will provide you with a letter detailing this information before finalising your booking – just remember to tell them the nationality of the passport you will be travelling on.

    Specific visa requirements for cruise passengers

    And this is where the question of specific visa requirements becomes a little tricky... By way of example, let's say two friends – one of whom holds a South African passport, the other an American passport – have booked a Mediterranean cruise, that will take them to Greece, Italy and Spain. The American traveller will not require a visa for this cruise, as they are allowed to spend up to three months in Schengen member states without a visa. The South African traveller, on the other hand, will have to secure a multiple-entry Schengen visa for the cruise, issued by the country in which they are due to spend the longest period of time.

    However, now let's say the same two friends want to take another cruise, to Brazil. This time around, the South African traveller wouldn't require a visa for a stay of up to 90 days in the country; while the American traveller would have to secure a Brazilian tourist visa before leaving home.

    A third example would see the two friends book a cruise to Syria. The travellers do their research, and discover that they both require visas to enter Syria – however, because the American friend has visited Israel in the past, and still has an Israeli tourist stamp in her passport, her visa application will be denied, while the South African's wouldn't.

    Finally, it is also worth bearing in mind that some countries – such as Turkey – stipulate different visa rules for 'ordinary tourists' and cruise ship passengers. In the case of Turkey – provided that tourists enter and leave on the same ship – a 'blanket visa' will be issued to the cruise line, covering all passengers on board. In cases such as this, passengers will (ordinarily) not be allowed to spend the night off-ship, and may even be restricted to hanging around the port area.

    Thus, with all the possible permutations involved, it is impossible to generate a definitive set of rules for visa requirements for cruise ship passengers. Rather, these requirements will vary according to the passenger's nationality and their itinerary.

    Researching your visa requirements

    The easiest way to conduct your research into the matter, of course – once you've decided on your itinerary – is simply to look up the countries you'll be visiting on the Word Travels website, and check the 'Visa and Passport' section of the respective country guides. There, you'll find accurate, up-to-date information informing you of your entry requirements.

    It is also worthwhile contacting visa experts such as and for their advice.

    Be wary of relying on so-called 'official websites', as often these can be out-of-date, or simply inaccurate.

    Please remember that the process of applying for a visa – which, more often than not, will be done at the embassy of the country you intend on visiting, in your country of origin – can be lengthy. Ensure that you leave yourself plenty of time (at least two months) to get your documentation sorted out. It is also worth remembering that for the large majority of countries, you will be required to hold confirmation of your cruise booking – i.e. be required to show proof of onward or return travel – in order to be issued your visa.