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How to Find a Job on a Cruise Ship

Written by Kobus on September 25, 2012

Crew painting the Norwegian StarGetting work aboard a cruise ship is slightly different than on land. You still need to write a resume and a cover letter, go to an interview and sign a contract. The difference is that you cannot simply walk up to a ship and apply for a job.

Start by looking at your experience and skills and match them to a ship board position. If you have a degree in photography then getting work as a ship photographer is easier than trying to get a job as a bartender. If you work with children or in entertainment then you can apply to be a youth coordinator or one of the cruise staff.

If you don't have any relevant skills, then go get some experience first. Volunteer, take lessons, or do an internship. A few months of experience will greatly increase your chance of being hired, especially if your resume is otherwise empty.

Two Places to Apply

Recruitment Agents

Agents are the middle men and buffers for cruise lines. They work in specific countries or regions and interview potential employees to make sure candidates qualify for visas and to weed out the crazies. It is all fun and games until your roommate jumps out of his bunk bed in the middle of the night wielding a Crocodile Dundee knife.

When applying, be sure to have a good resume and cover letter tailored to the position you want. Explain why you are the best candidate. If there are available positions and you get called in for an interview, dress appropriately. Show interest by asking questions about the cruise line.

Here are two directories for placement agents around the world.


photogs at workIn my opinion concession positions are the best because employees receive staff perks. These vendors usually operate under their own set of rules. The staff generally has more time off in port but seldom fewer working hours when the ship is at sea.

Generally, a concession will only hire specialized staff with experience in their field. For example: retail in the gift shop, massage therapists in the spa, hair stylists in the salon, staff in the casino, photographers, internet café managers and certain entertainment staff.

Again, you need a resume and cover letter filled with information specific to the position you are applying for. The rest of the process will differ depending on the concession. For example, if you are applying for a job in the casino you will be called in for a table test to affirm your competency as a dealer. If you are looking to be a photographer you may be required to submit a portfolio.

Concessions are sometimes owned by the cruise line, in which case you would apply through a placement agency. Here are a few links of independent concessions that I know of. Obviously this list is nowhere near complete. For a full up to date list of concessions on all cruise lines, how and where to apply, check out this ebook by cruise veteran Wandering Earl.

  • Steiner Spa
  • This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
  • Trans Ocean Photos
  • Diamonds international

Choosing a Destination

room stewardOn your first and sometimes your second contract you will not be able to select your destination, itinerary or ship. This will only be possible once you have built up a reputation with your department heads.

Domestic Cruises

Cruises in domestic waters are easy to work on if you are a resident of the country. You won't need any special visas or clearance, with the exception of the crew on the Pride of America.

Americans Working on US-Flagged Ships

Very few cruise lines accept direct applications, with one exception. If you are an American you can apply though the Norwegian Cruise Line (NCL) website to work onboard the US-flagged ship the Pride of America based out of Hawaii.

All crew members aboard the Pride of America are merchant mariners. In order to become one you have to undergo specialized training conducted by the USCG to receive a merchant marine card (MMC). Also you will need a transportation worker identification card (STCW) that is issued through TSA.

If you are an American citizen and interested in working for Norwegian Cruise Line America (NCLA) you can apply on their website.

International Cruises

Crew working in international waters often need to have special visas, but are not usually required to pay taxes on money earned. Tax laws vary greatly based on your country of citizenship.

The Basic Steps to Apply

  1. Write a resume and cover letter. Highlight your skills in the cover letter, stating what makes you a great candidate for the position.
  2. Submit it to the recruitment agent, concession or cruise line.
  3. If all goes well, you will be sent an application form.
  4. If the application is approved you will be called for an interview
  5. After a successful interview you will be given a letter of employment.
  6. If you are from the US looking to work for NCLA get your MMC's and STCW. Usually the cruise line will help with this process.
  7. After receiving your conditional offer of employment you will have to go to a medical exam to get a medical certificate. These are basic screenings for drug use, contagious diseases and STD's.
  8. You will also need to provide the cruise line, recruitment agency or concessionaire with an official police background check in order to ensure that you do not have a criminal background.
  9. Take the conditional offer of employment to the appropriate embassy to get your visa. C1D if you are primarily in US waters.
  10. Once the paperwork is done you will and returned to the hiring party and they approve  it you will receive a welcome aboard email that contains all the details to your new career as well as your contract. Once you receive your “welcome aboard” email, you can expect to join a ship within 2-4 weeks!
  11. Sign your contract and return it.
  12. Buy your flight tickets. For some senior positions, your flight tickets are included in your contract. Usually, all return flights are paid for by the company provided you complete your contract. If you cut your contract short, you pay your own ticket home.
  13. Sign on and begin your contract!

Rules and regulations do change; companies, vendors and agents come and go. The work stays the same. If you have any advice or new information we welcome the addition in the comments below.

If you are really serious about getting a job on a cruise ship, especially one that travels through international waters, then you should consider purchasing this ebook. Our information is based on our experiences nearly 5 years ago and specific to only Norwegian Cruise Lines. This book fills in the gaps. It has detailed instructions on how and where to apply and what happens after you get the job. The author has worked more contracts than we have on several cruise lines. We just reviewed the entire book and can verify the information is not only excellent, but is also up to date.


Brendon of Nerd trav
#1 Brendon of Nerd trav 2012-10-09 20:51
Awesome article. really helpful for someone like me that knows nothing about getting a job on a cruise ship.

I'm thinking of a career change from 6 years working in Video game industry. Guess I have to work on my hospitality experience :D.

Im doing an extended backpacking trip in latin america where I will be doing a bunch of volounteer work so I'm hoping that will help my resume a bit as well.

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