No, a printout from Ancestry.com is not valid ID to cruise

Valid ID to cruise to Canada? Not a printout from Ancestry.com. Michelle Couch-Friedman, author

Barbara Vannier’s adult daughter tried to check in for her international cruise with just a driver’s license and a printout from Ancestry.com. Unfortunately, she quickly found out that this is not valid ID to cruise to Canada and the ship left without her. Now Vannier wants an apology from Royal Caribbean and a full cash refund for her daughter’s missed vacation. But is she entitled to either? 

This story is a reminder of the importance of understanding that in today’s world, there are firm and unbending identification rules for international travelers. And gone are the days when American citizens can casually cross our northern or southern borders with little to no official documentation.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by Allianz Travel Insurance. The Allianz Travel Insurance company has built its reputation on partnering with agents all around the world to provide comprehensive travel insurance for their clients. Contact Allianz Travel Insurance for a comprehensive list of coverage.

You can’t board the cruise with this paper!

“So, my daughter had sent off for her passport months before — expedited service — enclosing her birth certificate,” Vannier recalled. “Unfortunately, being the government, it didn’t arrive on time. Instead, we took an Ancestry.com printout, a reliable source, with her date and location of birth to check-in.”

It’s unclear how Vannier came to believe that an unofficial paper printed at home could be sufficient identification to enter a foreign country. But Royal Caribbean soon clarified: It isn’t.

“Then they sent a heavy escort to place her in a cab,” Vannier reported. “Her son has been denied the enjoyment of memories of a cruise with his mother. Grandmothers are OK, but not the same.”

Now, months after this cruise, Vannier wanted our advocacy team to ask Royal Caribbean to accept responsibility for this fiasco. She wanted the cruise line to apologize and refund her daughter. (By the way, we list Royal Caribbean executive contacts in our database.)

Several times a month, we receive a complaint from a traveler who has shown up at the air or cruise port without the proper identification for travel. Invariably this mistake has turned into an unexpected expense, and the consumer wants our help to retrieve their money.

Regrettably, there is nothing that our advocacy team can do in most of these situations.

Royal Caribbean: “It is the sole responsibility of the guest to identify and obtain all required travel documents.”

It’s always the traveler’s responsibility to know and possess the required documents for their intended destination. In fact, every airline and cruise line has this information incorporated into their terms and conditions.

The Royal Caribbean terms make it clear who bears the responsibility when a passenger shows up with the wrong ID for the cruise:

The requirements described below are government regulations and policies. They are subject to change without notice. It is the sole responsibility of the guest to identify and obtain all required travel documents. And have them available when necessary. These appropriate valid travel documents, such as passport, visas, inoculation certificate and family legal documents, are required for boarding and re-entry into the United States and other countries. For your protection, we recommend that your passport book expiration date not occur within six (6) months following the voyage termination date.

The name on your cruise line or airline reservation must match the name on your passport book or other identification documents.

Guests who do not possess the proper documentation may be prevented from boarding their flight or ship or from entering a country.  They may also be subject to fines.

What is a valid ID to cruise to Canada?

A closed-loop cruise, such as Vannier’s, is one that begins and ends in the same US port. And although a passport is not required on such cruises, Royal Caribbean strongly recommends its passengers carry one. Alternatively, a passenger may use an original birth certificate and an official government-issued photo ID to cruise. You can find this information on the US Customs and Border Protection Website.

It’s unknown why Vannier’s daughter’s expedited passport application took “months.” In general, this type of application, which costs an additional $60, should take no more than 2 to 3 weeks. After a traveler submits their passport application, they can easily track its progress here. Once the initial delivery estimate had passed, Vannier’s daughter should have attempted to locate the MIA passport.

Vannier’s daughter could have applied for a raised seal copy of her original birth certificate through the office of vital statistics in her state. That document, along with her driver’s license, would have allowed her to travel.

In the end, Royal Caribbean granted Vannier’s daughter a 75 percent future cruise credit as a goodwill gesture. Although Vannier called this “a scam,” but we must call it a Case Dismissed. Unfortunately, the person who is ultimately responsible for this missed cruise is Vannier’s daughter. And she, by the way, never asked for our help.

This is how to avoid showing up with the wrong ID for your cruise

  • Visit the Department of State: This is especially true during these uncertain times as the world faces the coronavirus pandemic. In fact, even after the cruise industry returns to normal, there will likely be additional considerations that passengers will need to know. The U.S. State Department provides much guidance to cruisers. If you’re a U.S. citizen, you can easily determine the correct ID you’ll need to cruise to all your destinations. There, you can also learn about health and safety concerns for your sailing.
  • Check with the consulate of any country on your itinerary: Whether online or in-person, you should visit the consulates of all of the countries on your cruise’s itinerary. This is especially true if you have a unique citizen status. You can find most consulates on the internet and can email and ask for specifics about your situation. And if you do, make sure to keep a copy of that email!
  • Visit Global Visa Search (online): Global Visa Search is another great resource for all travelers — not just cruisers. You enter your passport information, your intended destination, and the purpose of your visit. And presto — it tells you if you’ll need a visa.
  • Bookmark the International Airport Travel Association’s (IATA) traveler’s tool: IATA provides a fabulous tool for travelers to determine their required documentation for entry to foreign countries. The professional version of this tool is what many airlines use to decide if you have a valid ID to travel.
  • Read your cruise contract: It’s important that passengers read all of the pre-cruise information sent by the cruise line. It includes critical information travelers need to know.
  • Double-check and cross-reference your information: It’s always a good idea not to rely on just one source for your information. So if you want to really make sure you never miss your cruise, flight or entire vacation, double- and even triple-check your data.
*This article first appeared in 2017.  It was last updated in March 2020, to include current tips and guidance for cruisers.

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