How to Stay Safe and Informed During International Cruises

Always take precautions when traveling internationally

Never Go Overseas Unprepared

Traveling abroad, whether for cruising or not, can be a thrilling, once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. While exploring new countries is an experience we think everyone should have, international travel is not without it’s obstacles and potential hazards. Every country is different, and there is no “ones size fits all” list of do’s and don’t before leaving the comforts of one’s home country. For citizens of the United States, however, there are a few basic precautions that everyone should take prior to traveling to foreign countries. Bottom Line Up Front (BLUF): Never travel abroad without notifying the Department of State and making other critical preparations to ensure you arrive home safely.

The Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP)

The Bureau of Consular Affairs (part of the U.S. Department of State, or DOS) has implemented a hassle-free way to notify them if you or a loved one will be traveling overseas. It’s called the Smart Traveler Enrollment Program, or STEP.  STEP is a free, voluntary program in which you can sign up to have DOS travel advisories for specific countries emailed directly to you AND you can enter your contact information and travel itinerary for upcoming international trips.

A screen grab of the STEP homepage.

Why Use STEP?

If you are planning an upcoming trip with international destinations; frequent a particular foreign country for work/pleasure; or have loved ones living abroad, STEP can help you be in-the-know when it comes to travel advisories and special DOS warnings/notifications.

Above all else, we highly recommend using STEP to notify DOS of your upcoming international travel. By inputting your itinerary and contact information in STEP, the closest U.S. Embassy and/or consulate will be able to get in touch with you in case of an emergency, even if it’s a situation you may not even be aware of while traveling (e.g. civil unrest or a natural disaster). Similarly, if you or a member of your party goes missing or suffers a serious injury, STEP will aid in finding contact information to quickly coordinate with local U.S. authorities.

If you have a specific foreign country interest, STEP can also send you notifications regarding changes in the DOS travel advisory level for that country. Here are the four levels that DOS ranks foreign countries on with regards to safety of travel for U.S. citizens:

You can register for email updates anytime the travel advisory level changes for any country. These emails will also typically contain additional information as to WHY the level changed.

Be Smart With Your Passport

We would be remiss if we didn’t reiterate the importance of safeguarding your passport during international travel, especially on a cruise ship. Before you walk out the front door to begin your overseas adventure, it is essential that you have a way to keep your passport(s) secure on your person.

If you have gotten a new passport within the past 12 year, it is equipped with a Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) chip that customs officials will scan to ensure authenticity. While RFID technology can be a hugely beneficial technology, it can also be exploited. There are RFID scanners that are capable of scanning RFID-equipped devices, like your passport, from up to 30 feet away without you even knowing it. Foreign intelligence services, identity thieves, and scammers are just a few examples of nefarious actors who could harvest your passport information during travel.

An example of a travel wallet with RFID-blocking technology

There are endless types of travel wallets with RFID-blocking technology that can be purchase online or in stores. These blockers can protect both your passport and credit cards (many of which are also equipped with RFID chips) from unauthorized scans. We recommend choosing a travel wallet that is easily concealed and secured to your person via a neck strap; belt; etc. to thwart pickpockets. Take the time, do your research, and choose the option that best suits your needs.

Where to Leave your Passport While Crusing?

Ah yes, the age-old dilemma when cruising abroad- should I leave my passport on the ship or always keep it with me at ports of call?

While the answer to this question can vary depending on what countries you visit, we think that the best policy is having the redundancy (back-up) of a passport card to go along with your passport book.

For about $30, you can buy a passport card in addition to your regular passport book from the U.S. State Department. While you will still need the passport book for many international cruises, we like the idea of keeping the passport book secured in your cruise cabin (in a safe if available) while you bring the passport card ashore once the cruise is underway. This method gives you an acceptable form identification to take with you in case of an emergency while protecting your passport book from loss and/or theft.

You should always check with your cruise company in advance of your trip to see what the passport requirements will be once underway. Some countries and/or cruise lines may require that you have your passport book with you at all times, while others may have different rules.

Conclusion

The key to smooth international travel is planning ahead. While a passport is a given requirement when traveling outside the U.S., there are often more nuanced details that you should know before you leave home. Being stuck in a foreign country without the necessary travel documents is the type of scenario nightmares are made of. Make sure you keep ALL your travel documents as secure as possible during your cruise. Contact the cruise line well ahead of time if you have questions related to passports and/or passport cards. Bon voyage!