The Caribbean’s 26 countries (and thousands of islands) encompass independent nations and territories with varying entry and exit requirements. Some countries only require an official birth certificate for kids under 16 while others require that minors carry a passport. In addition, cruise lines sailing to the Caribbean have their own set of guidelines.
Here’s a quick guide to when and where you need to bring the kids’ passports when traveling to the Caribbean.
Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative (WHTI)
In effect since 2009, the Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative (WHTI) states that children under the age of 16 can travel to and from WHTI nations with a certified birth certificate or naturalization certificate. Ages 16 and older traveling by air to and from WHTI nations, on the other hand, require a passport booklet to enter a Caribbean nation and to re-enter the United States.
Nations in the WHTI include Canada, Mexico and 17 Caribbean nations: Anguilla, Antigua and Barbuda, Aruba, Bahamas, Bermuda, British Virgin Islands, Cayman Islands, Dominica, Dominican Republic, Grenada, Jamaica, Montserrat, Netherlands Antilles, St. Kitts and Nevis, St. Lucia, St. Vincent and the Grenadines, and Turks and Caicos.
U.S. Protected Territories (WHTI)
Kids and adults don’t need a passport to bask in the sun on an exotic family vacation in Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands, which include St. Thomas, St. John and St. Croix.
Land and Sea Border Crossings
Kids under 16 who are citizens of the U.S. or Canada are exempt from the passport requirement for land and sea border crossings. A certified birth certified is all they need. However, kids ages 16 and older need to bring their passports on cruises that begin in one U.S. port and end in another.
If the ship begins and ends its voyage at the same domestic port (considered closed loop itineraries), passengers of all ages can board with just a certified birth certificate while ages 16 and older will need to show two documents - an official birth and a government-issued photo ID. Keep in mind, however, that although you can sail without a passport, that doesn’t mean you can disembark in all ports. For example, Barbados, Guadeloupe, Haiti, Martinique, St. Barts, St. Martin, and Trinidad and Tobago require cruise passengers to have a valid passport in order to enter their countries.
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Consider also that guidelines for required travel documents vary among cruise lines. For example, Princess Cruises requires that all passengers carry a valid passport when a minor is traveling with only one adult 21 years of age or older to the Caribbean. And while an original birth certificate will suffice for Carnival Cruise Line, a passport is preferred regardless of the passenger’s age (passengers must be at least six-months-old to sail with Carnival). Make sure you check these guidelines with your cruise line a month or two before your family cruise.
Other Island Nations
Still not sure about passports? For those island nations that are not part of the Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative, it would be a good idea to visit that country's website for more information about required documents for children and adults.
To be on the safe side, and especially if you visit the Caribbean often, it’s a good idea for each family member to have a passport valid for at least six months from the final day of travel. If during your Caribbean vacation your family has an emergency, passports can expedite the process of returning to the U.S.
Also, remember that any child traveling without one of the parents listed on the birth certificate must have a notarized letter from the absent parent granting permission for the child to travel.
Mimi Slawoff of Planetfamilytravel contributed this to MiniTime. She is a Los Angeles-based journalist and a seasoned family travel expert who explores the world with her three children and writes about their journeys.
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