Gaining employment on a cruise ship rests largely on your qualifications and experience, but actually getting on board calls for a work permit as with cases of land-based jobs in other countries. However, the type of permits are often different.
Most big and popular cruise ships are headquartered in the US or operate from there, so to get into the country and join your ship, you will need the necessary travel documents. Other than your passport with a validity that comfortably extends beyond the end of your contract, you will need a special type of visa. It’s good to let your recruitment agency know that you have a valid passport and the date until which it extends so they know you are employable immediately.
Most work permits to the US for land-based jobs are B-type visas, but cruise ship crew fall under the ‘Seamen’ category, and as such require C1, D or combined C1/D visas. Whether or not you need a visa is dependent on the country you’ll be joining the ship at and the ports you might want to get off at, no matter what flag the ship flies.
Cruise ship companies deal with thousands of employees every year, so they have Human Resource divisions dedicated to helping new crew with the required procedures. However, the cost of getting the visa will be borne by the employee. While the recruiting agency or crew manning agent provides assistance, the employee must ensure that he/she has all necessary documents in order and turns up to the visa interview, if required, on time.
If a cruise line chooses to hire you, they will provide you a letter of appointment which will be required when applying for your visa. This is where you will choose the type of visa to apply and pay for.
C1 visas request the consulate to allow the non-immigrant applicant to enter the US, usually by air, and transit directly and immediately to the cruise ship. With a D visa, crew members can be in the US for as long as the cruise ship is in the country, up to 29 days at the most. To allow crew members to enter and exit the US, and also go ashore at ports of call, most cruise ships suggest applying for a C1/D visa.
To join a cruise ship in the UK, you might need a visa for ‘Visitor in a Transit area’ and a Transit visa (subclass 771) for Australia. Your recruiting company will suggest the most appropriate visa type based on where you will join the cruise ship and the ports it will stop at.
To apply, remember to fill up the application form – usually online – with all the requisite information. Also ensure that your photograph is strictly according to the specifications requested, or your application may be rejected.
For US visas, applicants are required to appear personally for an interview, so don’t forget to schedule one as soon as you receive confirmation that your application has been received. For all visa interviews, dress smartly, and carry your passport, letter of appointment, visa payment receipt, a print out of your completed visa application form and an extra photograph that complies with the specifications.
You can keep renewing the visa over the course of your employment. You should also consider getting a Seaman’s Book or a CDC, a document you can obtain to show a record of your career certifications that might help with future visa applications.