Many cruise ships, even those that depart from U.S., Canadian and European ports, fly under Bahamian, Bermudan or other flags, meaning that the boats are officially registered in a foreign country [source: McGee]. The good news is that work authorization requirements are based on where a worker boards the ship, not the country in which the vessel is registered. U.S. and Canadian workers who board ships in those countries need not obtain a work visa. Citizens of other nations, however, must obtain a C1/D crewman's visa. This nonimmigrant work authorization allows foreign citizens to enter the U.S. to work aboard ships that depart from or operate in the country [sources: Ruggero, U.S. Department of State].
Most cruise ships require all workers to have a valid passport, which expires more than six months from the date of departure, regardless of citizenship. Some cruise companies also require their workers to undergo medical testing before joining the ship [source: Royal Caribbean].
Of course, you're wondering about the pay. Wages for cruise employees vary widely, depending on the ship and the job. A chief engineer may earn $9,000 per month. On the other hand, a cleaner might earn $800 a month [source: Cruise Ship Jobs]. This is one reason why crew members are largely workers from developing countries – wages that may seem low to Americans are more acceptable to them. However, bear in mind that cruise ship employees don't pay anything for food and lodging, and many crew members (waitstaff and housekeeping) can supplement their wages with tips. Some positions, like cruise chaplain and "gentlemen hosts" (men who dance with unaccompanied ladies) don't have any salary at all – candidates are just offered a free cruise in exchange for services.
Cruise operators pay their workers at designated intervals through the course of employment and provide a number of ways for workers to access that cash and send it home. Royal Caribbean workers are paid twice a month, for instance, while Carnival employees get their paychecks every two weeks. Carnival also offers workers the option of receiving their pay in cash or via direct deposit to a specialized crew payroll card that works like an ATM card and allows workers to send some of that money home via online transactions.
Just don't spend it all at the gift shop.
Author's Note: How Working on a Cruise Ship Works
If you're like me, the idea of spending months on a cruise ship is some form of cruel and unusual punishment that should be reserved as a last-ditch alternative for getting information out of suspects implicated in heinous crimes. It's sort of like the Hotel California. Sure, you can "check out" when you're off the clock, but you can never leave. There is a reason I stay away from shopping malls. Hopping aboard a sea bound one to work long hours in cramped quarters just doesn't float my boat.
- Askin, Dan. "Q&A: 'Cruise Confidential Author on the Life of a Crewmember." Cruise Critic. (Jan. 4, 2015)
- Carnival. "Team Member Facilities." (Jan. 4, 2015) http://www.cclcareers.com/life-onboard/team-member-facilities.aspx
- Cruise Ships Jobs. "Shipboard Position Descriptions, Requirements and Salaries." (Jan. 4, 2015) http://www.cruiseshipjob.com/position.htm
- McGee, Bill. "Why are cruise ships registered in foreign countries?" USA Today. Jan. 8, 2013 (Jan. 4, 2015) http://www.usatoday.com/story/travel/cruises/2012/12/11/why-are-cruise-ships-registered-in-foreign-countries/1760759/
- Motter, Paul. "What's it Like to Work on a Cruise Ship?" Fox News. Jan. 9, 2012 (Jan. 4, 2015) http://www.foxnews.com/travel/2012/01/09/working-on-cruise-ship/
- Norwegian Cruise Line. "Shipboard Employment: Frequently Asked Questions." (Jan. 4, 2015) http://www.ncl.com/about/careers/shipboard-employment/faq
- Reddit. "I Work on a Cruise Ship! Ask Me Anything." June 14, 2014 (Jan. 4, 2015) http://www.reddit.com/r/IAmA/comments/28555d/i_work_on_a_cruise_ship_ask_me_anything/
- Royal Caribbean International. "Shipboard Careers: A Day in the Life." (Jan. 4, 2015) http://www.royalcareersatsea.com/pages/day_in_the_life
- Royal Caribbean International. "Shipboard Careers: FAQ." (Jan. 4, 2015) http://www.royalcareersatsea.com/pages/faq
- Royal Caribbean. "Shipboard Careers: Recognition." (Jan. 4, 2015) http://www.royalcareersatsea.com/pages/recognition
- Royal Caribbean International. "Shipboard Careers: Working Onboard." (Jan. 4, 2015) http://www.royalcareersatsea.com/pages/working_onboard
- Royal Caribbean. "Ship Fact Sheet." (Jan. 4, 2015) http://www.royalcaribbeanpresscenter.com/fact-sheet/21/oasis-of-the-seas/
- Ruggero, Renee. "Passport and Visa Requirements to Work on a Cruise Ship." CruiseShipJobs.com. (Jan. 4, 2015) http://www.cruiseshipjobs.com/passport-and-visa-requirements-to-work-on-a-cruise-ship.htm
- TV.com. "The Love Boat." (Jan. 4, 2015) http://www.tv.com/shows/the-love-boat/
- U.S. Department of State. "Crewmember Visa." (Jan. 4, 2015) http://travel.state.gov/content/visas/english/other/crewmember.html