How to have your travel documents in ship-shape order for a Bahamas cruise
Although it's only a short distance from American shores, the Bahamas is another country, so U.S. citizens traveling there for pleasure require documentation. Travelers planning to set sail for the Bahamas should be advised that documentation requirements for land and sea differ from requirements for travelers coming to (or departing from) the islands by air. Before setting sail, it's good to know all the details about which travel documents are required, particularly if children are traveling too.
Do I need a passport to cruise to the Bahamas?
When traveling to the Bahamas, the kind of documentation you need to enter the country is less important than the kind of documentation you need to reenter the United States. When traveling to the Bahamas via cruise, you don't, strictly speaking, require a passport to enter the country. Documents such as an enhanced driver's license are typically sufficient for entry into the Bahamas. Requirements for visitors entering the Bahamas is less stringent by land and sea than it is by air. However, while it's not necessary to bring a passport to the Bahamas if you're entering the country on a cruise, there is always the possibility that weather, an emergency or some other incident will require you to return by air to the United States. For this reason, while it's not necessary to bring a passport with you on a cruise to the Bahamas, it may be a good idea ‒ just in case!
Do I need a visa?
Visas are not necessary for travelers entering the Bahamas, unless they are planning a stay that exceeds three months. If you are planning a trip that extensive, plan to reach out to Customs and Border Patrol in the Bahamas well before your departure to see if you need to submit any paperwork or an official declaration of your intentions. Typically, American travelers do not need to file a visa unless they are planning a prolonged visit for work or study, but checking with the Customs & Border Patrol guidelines for beginning an extended trip is always a good idea.
What if you fly to the port?
Any and all travelers over the age of 16 who are traveling to the islands by air will be required to present a valid passport to U.S. Customs and Border Patrol personnel upon arrival. In this case, an enhanced driver's license is not sufficient documentation to enter the country. Be sure all travel documents are up to date before heading to airport. Travelers coming to the islands by air who arrive without a passport, or with a passport that has expired, should be prepared to be turned away and forced to return to the United States, which can really put a damper on a fun vacation.
If you are traveling to the Bahamas with children under the age of 16, they must have copies of their birth certificates to show Customs and Border Patrol personnel. If you have children who are traveling to the Bahamas with adults other than you and your partner, be advised that you should supply the adults with whom they're traveling with a signed letter acknowledging that you give these adults permission to leave the country with your child. Likewise, if you are traveling with children who are not your own, or if you are the sole parent traveling with your child, it is advisable to bring a letter from the absent parent or parents to remain in compliance with Customs and Border Patrol laws. Like the United States, the government of the Bahamas has laws in place to prevent child abduction, and every precaution is taken to ensure that children leaving the U.S. for the Bahamas are doing so willfully and with the full knowledge of their parent or guardian.