Visiting the Caribbean Without a Passport
American travelers to the Caribbean should obtain a passport as soon as possible; it is the best way to avoid hassle when re-entering the United States.
But if you want to travel soon and don't have a passport, don't worry - it's still possible to have a fabulous vacation in the Caribbean, even if you don't have a passport yet.
Here are your options for traveling to the Caribbean with just a birth certificate and a driver's license or other primary forms of identification.
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A passport is not required to visit Puerto Rico
Puerto Rico is a community of the United States, so traveling here is like crossing a state border: no passport is required for US citizens; just a government-issued identity card.
Plus, you don't have to go through customs! Puerto Rico has the best air service in the Caribbean, with international flights to San Juan, Aguadilla, and Ponce, and can offer a wide range of experiences, from the urban sophistication and history of San Juan to the El Yunque rainforest.
Add an extra trip to Vieques and/or Culebra and you'll experience three Caribbean islands without ever having to leave the US.
Visit the US Virgin Islands with just a driver's license
The US Virgin Islands, St. Thomas, St. John, and St. Croix, are US territories that do not have a passport for US citizens. St. Croix, the largest of the islands, has two great cities (Christiansted and Frederiksted), a rainforest, and preserved historic plantation houses.
Bustling Charlotte Amalie on St. Thomas is the Caribbean's most popular cruise port and shopping destination, while two-thirds of St. John is preserved as a tropical national park.
* Please note: When leaving the islands, you may be required to present a valid government-issued identification card prior to boarding your flight back to the continental US.
The British Virgin Islands are just steps from St. Thomas and St. John and are accessible by ferry or private boat.
However, you will need a valid US passport to visit the BVI.
Take a "Closed Circuit" Cruise
You can still sail to the Caribbean without a US passport if you are a US citizen, but only if you take what is known as a "closed circuit" cruise.
This means that your cruise must begin and end at the same US port.
The good news is that most US-origin cruises operate closed-loop (the exception would be something like a Canal Cruise cruise). Panama begins in Miami, for example, and ends in San Diego.
However, there are some caveats. Some Caribbean countries - Barbados, Guadeloupe, Haiti, Martinique, St. Barths, St. Martin (but not Dutch St. Maarten), and Trinidad and Tobago - will require you to have a passport to enter or exit.
Always check with your cruise line first if this applies to any of your ports of call unless you want to get stuck on the ship.
Also, if something goes wrong with your cruise and you need to fly home, not having a passport can be a problem.
If you are sailing on a closed cruise ship without a passport, you will need proof of citizenship and, if you are over 16 years old, an official photo ID.
But again, the best and safest way is to spend the money to obtain a passport before traveling.
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