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What are the Requirements to Work on a Cruise Ship? (Step by Step)

Got Hired? Required Steps to Take Before Joining Your Next Ship!

You did your research, wrote a great resume, sweat through all the interviews and finally, a job offer was extended to you. Congratulations! You are halfway there.

The requirements to work on a cruise ship can differ from requirements to work on a land job. Working on a cruise ship requires a lot more pre-employment paperwork that you need to complete when compared to a regular job on land.

These are the most common requirements to work on a cruise ship that every crewmember needs to complete before they can step foot onboard:

  • Pre-employment medical evaluation (PEME)
  • Criminal background check
  • STCW Certificate
  • First Aid/CPR (for Youth programs)
  • Visas
  • Passport
  • Seamans book
  • MMC (Merchant Mariner Credential)
  • TWIC (Transportation Worker Identification Card)

Pre-Employment Medication Examination (PEME)

PEME Medical - Requirements to Work on a Cruise Ship

Cruise lines will require that you go through an extensive pre-employment medical checkup (PEME) before they can officially extend an offer letter to you. You will be required to complete a physical check, blood work that includes HIV check.

Some of the requirements vary from company to company but the most common are:

  • Chest X-Ray
  • Blood work
  • Urinalysis
  • Hepatitis B (HSAG)
  • Pap Smear (Females Only)
  • Drug Screen
  • Vision Exam
  • Hearing exam
  • Immunization records

If you will be working with kids, you will be required to have your immunization records. Also, if you had any previous surgeries the cruise line medical department will ask for a waiver from your physician attesting that your fit to work and that your previous surgery will not impede your ability to perform your functions.

If you have or are taking prescription medications the cruise line will want to make sure that you’re going to have enough medication to cover for the duration of the contract as they will not provide medication for most of the cases.

Criminal Background Check

Criminal Background check - Requirements to Work on a Cruise Ship

Normally the cruise lines will start the background check as soon as they have decided to offer you a position but before an official letter of employment is sent to you.  They want to make sure that you don’t have any past convictions that could jeopardize your employment.

Some companies might be satisfied with a local background check in your country but the majority of the cruise lines will ask you to complete an international background check. If your company it’s an American company, which most of them are, you will be completing an FBI background check and depending on your country you can take a few weeks for the background check to clear.  The cruise line will provide all the necessary forms for you to complete, sign and send it back to them in order to start the background check.

Once the background check is cleared, you will officially receive the letter of employment and the required documents to apply for your visa. The background check might take some time to complete, so it makes sense that cruise lines want to get everything else in order instead of waiting for it to clear.

STCW Training

MPT Maritime Professional Training

STCW stands for The International Convention on Standards of Training, Certification and Watchkeeping for Seafarers (or STCW). It’s a required certification that every crewmember must possess while working on a cruise ship or any seagoing vessel. It provides you with the necessary training in the event of an emergency.

Most companies will provide the certification while onboard at no cost to you. If your cruise line requires you to pay out of pocket for this certificate before joining the ship, expect to spend between $800 to $900 for this certificate if taken in the USA. The price might vary from country to country.

STCW training is divided into four modules:

Personal Survival Techniques:

This was my favorite part of the whole course. In this module is focused on basic and essential survival at sea.

  • The correct way evacuate the ship
  • How to flip a life raft that is capsized
  • How to use the necessary tools inside the life raft
  • Survival and rescue techniques.
STWC Training - Requirements to Work on a Cruise Ship
Source: Nautical Trips

Fire Prevention and Basic Firefighting

Fire Fighting training - Requirements to Work on a Cruise Ship
Ready to put out a fire!

This module covers both the theory and practice portion of the STCW Fire Prevention and Basic Firefighting.  

You will first learn about:

Requirements work cruise ship
Source: Wikipedia
  • Types of fire hazards encountered onboard,
  • How to correctly use and identify fire extinguishers
  • How to identify the different types of fire
  • The fire triangle
  • Types of chemicals react with what kind of fire

The practice part of this module involves how to identify and use breathing apparatus, how to use a fire blanket, how to properly handle and put out a live fire using the correct fire extinguisher.

You will have to use a full firefighting suit with a self-contained breathing apparatus or SCBA. This is by far the most fun part of the fire fighting training in my opinion but I can see that some people didn’t enjoy as much because you have to wear the SCBA the entire time without freaking out or trying to scratch your nose. Trust me, your nose will itch as soon as you cannot itch it

First Aid and CPR

CPR - Requirements to Work on a Cruise Ship
Source: American Red Cross

You will learn how to perform basic first aid procedures such as cuts and burns. You will also learn how to perform CPR (Cardiopulmonary resuscitation) in both adults and kids. The CPR portion of the course will involve performing CPR on a mannequin.

STCW Personal Safety and Social Responsibility

This portion of the course covers the following:

  • personal hygiene
  • ship management and hierarchy
  • how to find your escape routes in case of emergency
  • how to use and operate watertight doors
  • safe working practices
  • how to control fatigue
  • among other things.

This course is mostly in the classroom.

The whole course should take about two weeks to complete. There’s a test at the end that you need to pass in order to obtain the certificate. Failure to pass the test will result in taking the test again, with the chance of being fired if unable to obtain the certificate after retesting.

The test is not hard at all but could be a challenge if you are not used to taking tests in English.

Additional First AID/CPR for Youth Staff

Cruise Ship First Aid and CPR Training - Requirements to Work on a Cruise Ship
Image by succo from Pixabay

If your job onboard will be at the youth center, you will be required to have first aid and CPR course before you join the ship. Although the STCW training does cover First Aid and CPR, the cruise line will be required that you provide them with a valid First Aid and CPR certificate valid for the duration of your contract even though you might already have the STCW certification. You can easily get a First Aid and CPR certification at any Red Cross.

Do I Need a Passport to Work on a Cruise Ship?

Cruise Ship Requirements to have a Passport - Requirements to Work on a Cruise Ship
Image by jacqueline macou from Pixabay

You will be required for the majority of cruise lines to obtain a C1/D Crewmember/Transit visa. This visa is a non-immigrant visa for people transiting the United States as a passenger or crew member to join a vessel or aircraft. The cruise lines will provide you with a letter of employment for you to take to the nearest US Consulate in your home country to apply for this visa. The visa is valid for up to ten years and it costs approximately $160 US dollars and most companies will not reimburse you for this expense.

Do I Need a Seamans Book to Work on a Cruise Ship?

During my career working on cruise ships I heard about seaman service book but I was never obligated to have one, therefore, I never had one. I know that having a seaman’s book it’s very helpful when traveling abroad, it also works as a tool to record your work career at sea. The company you work for will let you know if a seaman’s book is required and where to apply for one.

Additional Requirements for US Citizens

Do I Need a Passport to Work on a Cruise Ship
Pride of America in Nawiliwili, Kauai

If you will be working on a US-flagged ship, currently the only major US-flagged ship it’s the Pride of America, owned by NCL and sailing out of Hawaii on 7-day cruises to visit all the island. The majority of cruise lines have ships registered in different countries and therefore, don’t need to follow US labor laws. As a US-flagged ship, the cruise line has to follow US labor laws, meaning that the majority of the crew members needs to be US citizens or permanent residents. There are some crew members not from the US but it’s a small percentage when compared to non-flagged US ships.

If you will be working for Norwegian Cruise Line on the Pride of America, or any other US-flagged ship, you will be required to have a valid MMC (Merchant Mariner Credential) book and a TWIC (Transportation worker identification) card.

MMC (Merchant Mariner Credential)

MMC ( Merchant Mariner Credential) - Requirements to Work on a Cruise Ship
MMC ( Merchant Mariner Credential)

The Merchant Mariner Credential (MMC) is an issued by the United States Coast Guard in accordance with the International Convention on Standards of Training, Certification and Watchkeeping for Seafarers (STCW). It’s only issued to United States seafarers. The MMC is the standard documentation required for all crew members of U.S. ships. You are still required to complete the STCW certificate but it has to be at an approved US Coast Guard facility. The MMC has to be renewed every five years.

To learn more about the Merchant Mariner Credential and how to apply, please visit the US Coast Guard website.


TWIC Card Cruise Ship - Requirements to Work on a Cruise Ship
Source: Wikipedia

The Transportation Worker Identification Credential (TWIC) card is issued to US Citizens and immigrants in certain immigration categories. You are required to have this credential visible when transiting around port facilities, exiting and entering the port. The TWIC card has to be renewed every five years.

To learn more about and how for a Transportation Worker Identification Credential (TWIC) please visit the TSA website

Final Words

Getting ready to work on a cruise ship can be a daunting task especially when it seems that you have not enough time to complete all the required paperwork before you can join your assigned ship.  Somethings will be out of your control but on top of the ones you can control and in no time you will be sailing the seven seas, seeing awesome places while getting paid to do it. Also, don’t forget that you will have to work hard but the payoff is worth it.

“A Ship is safe in the harbor but that’s not what ships are built for.”

William G.T. Shedd