Immigration Tips Before Taking a Cruise

While foreign nationals are typically mindful about confirming the permissibility of international travel prior to boarding a plane, an individual may be less mindful about another, less common form of travel – international cruises. However, like air travel, a foreign national should understand the nature of sea travel to avoid unwanted immigration consequences.

International Travel for Nonimmigrants

International travel considerations vary depending upon an individual’s immigration circumstances. In addition to a valid passport, a foreign national generally requires a certain travel document to be granted entry into the United States. A nonimmigrant typically requires a valid visa foil (commonly referred to as a visa “stamp”), while an individual with a pending form I-485, application for adjustment of status, with the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) must have an advance parole document, or valid nonimmigrant visa in certain cases, to leave the United States without abandoning the pending I-485 application.

Open Loop vs. Closed Loop Cruises

An international cruise is distinguished between closed loop and open loop cruises for travel document purposes. A closed-loop cruise starts and ends its voyage at the same U.S. port and only travels within the Western Hemisphere. By contrast, an open-loop cruise starts its voyage from one U.S. port but ends at a different U.S. port and/or travels outside of the Western Hemisphere.

For a closed-loop cruise, neither a U.S. citizen nor a lawful permanent resident (LPR) is required to have a passport to reenter the United States. A U.S. citizen can provide certain other proof of U.S. citizenship and an LPR can travel with only a green card. However, a nonimmigrant must show a valid passport and other appropriate travel documentation to reenter the United States whether the international cruise is closed or open-loop.

Cruises for Visa Waiver Program Travelers

If a foreign national entered the United States under the visa waiver program (VWP), the individual’s I-94W typically can be used for reentering the U.S. at the end of the cruise, provided that the person’s 90-day admission period has not expired, the cruise did not travel beyond adjacent islands or contiguous territory, and the individual was not outside the United States for more than 30 days. Additionally, a VWP traveler entering the U.S. by sea must receive an Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA) approval from the U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) before boarding the ship. An approved ESTA will be required for reentering the United States as a cruise ship passenger.

Documenting Reentry into the United States

A foreign national nonimmigrant or LPR should always document entries into the United States. Ink stamps in passports have been the best method for doing so, but the CBP generally has been expanding its stampless entry program and passport stamps are often not provided to an individual who disembarks from a cruise. Alternative options for documenting entries into the United States are explained in the MurthyDotCom NewsBrief, Expansion of CBP Stampless Entry Program (15.May.2023).


A cruise vacation may be possible for a foreign national; however, there are immigration concerns and document requirements that should be reviewed well in advance of travel to avoid unwanted consequences. Attorneys at the Murthy Law Firm regularly advise clients on immigration matters related to travel and are available to help ensure that a foreign national’s cruise is smooth sailing.


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Disclaimer: The information provided here is of a general nature and may not apply to any specific or particular circumstance. It is not to be construed as legal advice nor presumed indefinitely up to date.