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Why Do Cruise Ships Keep Your Passport?

If you are taking a cruise you may have heard that the cruise line will keep your passport for immigration purposes. A lot of people worry about this but it really isn’t anything to worry about. I’ve had my passport kept by the cruise line on a number of cruises.

During this post we will explore why, when, and where this is likely to happen.

Why do Cruise Lines Keep Your Passport?

A cruise line may keep your passport for the duration of your cruise or certain segments to make it easier for immigration to check passports when travelling between different countries. Immigration officials will often come onboard cruise ships to check documentation and the process of keeping the passports centrally makes it much easier and faster for the cruise line and passengers. 

It’s worth noting though that on the majority of cruises the cruise line will not keep your passport. It is far from the norm but it does happen fairly regularly so if you are taking a cruise you should be prepared for it to happen.


This will only happen on cruises where a passport is mandatory. There are some cruise routes which can be taken without a passport such as closed loop US and Australian cruises. If in doubt it is always easier to get a passport but in some circumstances other forms of ID will suffice. To learn more about which cruises you don’t need passports for, including which ports you are allowed to visit, check out this post: Do You Need A Passport To Cruise? (Everything You Need To Know)

Can You Opt Out?

Generally speaking no. By purchasing the cruise you are agreeing to the cruise contract, the ability to be able to keep passengers passports is usually in the cruise contract but very few people read it. In the YouTube video below I go through everything that you are agreeing to when signing a cruise contract.

It used to be the case that some cruise lines would allow you to opt out of having your passports kept by the cruise line but I haven’t seen this happen in the last few years. When this happened the guests would have to meet at a designated place everyday when the ship pulled into port and a few hours before disembarkation, this could be as early at 5.30am so it’s definitely not something that I’d like to do.

Where in The World Do The Cruise Lines Need to Keep Your Passport?

The process of cruise lines keeping your passport is most common in places like Asia but can also happen in the Mediterranean or any other cruise destination. Generally speaking the greater number of countries that a cruise visits the greater the likelihood of your passports being retained.

The chance is also increased if you are travelling far from where you are originally from. It’s quite rare for anybody with a European passport to have their passport kept on a Mediterranean/Northern Europe cruise but if you are from the US this does happen.

How Does it Happen in Practise?

If this happens you’ll be asked to give in your passports to reception or at check in. You’ll usually be given some sort of ticket or a token so that you can get your passport back when you need to. I’ve still got a sticker on my passport from then this happened during my Asia cruise. The cruise was almost two years ago!

On some cruises your passport may be kept for the entirety of the cruise and on others they may only been kept overnight or for a few days. It’s important that you don’t lose your ticket to get your passport back, if you did you would still be able to get it back but you’d probably be put to the bottom of the list and it would take quite a lot of time to rectify.

In Person Immigration Checks

Just because your passport has been kept by the cruise line doesn’t mean that guests don’t have to still attend some immigration screenings in person. I’ve been on a number of cruises were guests were required in person to collect their passports and then present them for screening with immigration officials onboard to check guests passports.  It can be quite annoying to have to do this as the lines can be long but it isn’t a huge problem.

River Cruises

On a European river cruise you are more likely to have your passport retained as you are passing through a number of different countries. I took a cruise last year with Saga where we had to attend an immigration check between 11-12pm. This was the time that we were passing through a country which had a requirement that all guests were seen face to face.

It was a little annoying as it was so late at night, not so much for me but for other passengers who wanted to be in bed at this time, that said the process was vey efficient and didn’t take very long at all.

Saga River Cruise Exercise

Should I Take my Passport on Land?

This one is usually up to personal preference. In most cruise ports you will need some form of ID but something like a drivers license is usually okay and I personally normally leave my passport on the ship in the safe and take my drivers license off the ship with me.

If you are going on a cruise where you suspect they may retain your passports it’s important that you bring another form of ID if you do have it. During my Asia cruise the cruise line retained our passports but we also needed some form of ID to disembark. I’m not too sure what would have happened if my passport was my only form of ID.

Passport Copies

It’s always a good idea to keep a photo of your passport or a photocopy on your phone or on your person. I always have a photo of my passport in my emails so that it cannot be lost. A photocopy of your passport wouldn’t count as ID but it may help you if you were lost and needed to apply for an emergency passport or something similar.

There really is nothing to lose from taking a photo of your passport on your phone or camera before you cruise so I’d strongly recommend you do this. It’s also a good idea to send the picture to another person so that in the event of an emergency somebody else knows your details.