How to Get a Job on a Cruise Ship

by - October 10, 2022

As someone who has done two different jobs on two different cruise lines, I know how hard it can be to get a job on a cruise ship and how many scammers are out there trying to extort money out of people for an opportunity like this. 

In order to get a job on a cruise ship, you can apply directly through the cruise line itself, you can apply through a recruitment agency or you can apply through different social networks and other platforms.  The process, however, is never quite as straightforward as you would expect and so, in this post, I'm going to explain exactly how to go about getting a job on a cruise ship based on my experience of doing this twice. 

Whether you are South African (like me) or from anywhere else in the world, read on to learn about how to start a career at sea.

Cruise ship employee on bow of ship

A brief introduction:

I first decided I wanted to work as an entertainment host or "cruise staff" on a cruise ship in 2006. After three years of applying, I was offered the job of a group services coordinator (it's a bit like an event planner) and I took it. I quit after two 6-month contracts to pursue other things on land.  

By this time though, I was hooked and it wasn’t long before I started applying for the job that I originally wanted once again. There wasn’t a single recruitment agent in South Africa at that time who recruited for the cruise staff position but I landed an interview for the role of a youth counsellor and managed to talk my way into my dream job. I then spent five years at sea. 

After four more on land, I am once again exploring my options (but just for One More Contract and Then I’m Done).  

How to apply for a cruise ship job

As someone who has done this successfully twice, there are two main ways to apply for a cruise ship job:
You can either apply directly through the company itself or you can apply through a recruitment company.

Personally, I have applied directly through the direct careers page or website of every possible cruise line I can think of and never once have I received a reply. Having said that, I hear it works for other people. 

I believe it also depends on where you’re from. When I finally landed the role of cruise staff after seven years of applying, I met another girl who had applied for the job just two weeks before getting it. 
She was American and, from what I can tell, the US-owned cruise lines (which are all the major ones) do give preference to applicants from the USA. Fortunately, there are not enough people from the USA who want this kind of work. 

If you’re American or from a first-world nation that has any of its own cruise line companies, apply directly through the company first. 
If you’re from South Africa, or from anywhere else, I recommend applying for a cruise ship job through a recruitment agency. 

How to apply directly for a job through the cruise line:

Here is a list of clickable links that will take you to the job portal for each of the respective cruise lines mentioned:
Prep your CV, search for available positions and follow the instructions.


How to apply through a cruise ship hiring agency in South Africa

There are a lot of scammers out there but here is a list of what I believe to be legitimate South African recruitment companies:


The company that recruited me for my first job is no longer in existence. Gourmet Recruitment recruited me for the cruise staff role that I loved so much. 

If you are aware of other legitimate cruise ship recruitment agencies or you have reason to believe that any of the ones listed here are not legitimate, please let me know and I'll update this list?

Specialist hiring agencies

While most hospitality positions are employed by the cruise line directly, a number of concessions hire their own employees for the ships, i.e, spa, gift shop and art auction.  

Certain positions such as the medical staff are also sometimes employed through specialist recruitment companies. 

If you want to work in the spa (this includes hairdressers, personal trainers and cosmetic doctors) try: 

 
If you want to work as a guest entertainer or a musician try: 


If you want to work in the gift shop, try:


And if you want to work in the art auction, try:


If you want to work in the medical centre
, try: 


Other job portals

There are also job listing websites such as AllCruiseJobs but, again, I have never had any success applying through sites like these, nor do I know the legitimacy of the jobs advertised here. 

Cruise ship crew on a break on the beach


Using social media to get a cruise ship job

LinkedIn

If you want to work at sea, having a good LinkedIn profile can be incredibly beneficial. While you are unlikely to be approached by someone offering you a job on a cruise ship you can reach out to people who can help you get one. 

In addition to networking with existing employees, this social network also allows you to follow the recruitment pages of these cruise lines, subscribe to job announcements and apply directly through LinkedIn. 

Pro Tip: 

Don’t necessarily try to connect with or reach out to people with “HR” in their job title. Instead, look for people involved in “manning” or “recruitment". Some cruise lines have HR personnel on board (a lot do not). If you reach out to an HR person who works on a ship, they are involved with managing employees on board but not the hiring process. 

Cruise ships are not like normal organisations because each ship operates quite independently from the people who work shoreside at the head offices. The people who do all the recruiting have very little to do with the employees after that. 

In my experience, it does no good to network with people who have jobs on ships because they are unlikely to have good relationships with the people responsible for recruitment. Even if they are able to provide you with a contact, claiming to have been recommended by someone who works on the ship is unlikely to mean much to them. Rather spend your efforts networking directly with head office staff.

Facebook

Facebook can also be beneficial in helping you find a job at sea but beware that there are a lot of cruise ship job scams on this platform so be careful which pages you follow and groups you join. 

Useful Facebook pages to follow from legitimate cruise line career profiles include:

South African recruitment company pages: 

South African recruitment company groups:


Beware that some of these groups are not monitored or censored.  While the company may post job listings here, a lot of scammers may also use these groups to post false job offers or scams. Before responding to a job ad, check the credibility of the person who posted it first.

I also started a Facebook group a while ago because I was trying to keep an eye out for possible opportunities and noticed the vast abundance of scams out there. I personally manage this group and I decline scam posts daily:


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Related post: (coming soon) How to Spot a Cruise Ship Job Scam 
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If you do find a job post on one of these pages or groups, click on the link or follow the instructions laid out in the post. (You will most likely have to upload your CV somewhere or email it to the included address.)

Don’t respond on Facebook with “I’m interested” and expect someone to get back to you.
And, whatever you do, do not post your email address or phone number or join a WhatsApp or Telegram group via a link.

It's tough to get a job on a cruise ship, you have to work for it. If it comes looking for you, it's likely to be a scam.

pier flanked by cruise ships

Other advice for those wanting a job on a cruise ship

Get experience

There are a lot of scammers out there saying that you can get a job without any experience. To the best of my knowledge, you have to have two years of experience in a related position. The beauty of working at sea is that just about any work experience on land is translatable into a job that is offered on board. 

Consider other onboard positions

Any job on a cruise ship is better than not being able to get a job on a cruise ship. Don’t be afraid to accept a lower position than the one you think you deserve. You can always work your way up in the company when you get on board. 

Secondly, even if you accept a job that is different from what you want, you can always cross-train into the position that you do really want. 

(If you work for a concession, i.e. gift shop, spa, or art auction, and you want to transfer from a company that has staff on the ship to working for the cruise line itself, you may have to wait six months between contracts.)  

Tailor your CV for the specific job 

If you want a childcare position but you studied something else and you have had 12 different accounting jobs and only two childcare jobs - really hype up the childcare jobs. Mention all the responsibilities you had in that title. Then include any other relevant experience like all the times you babysat, the volunteer work you did at a children’s home and the time you taught Sunday school at church. You don't have to go into too much detail about any jobs that don't relate to the one you are applying for. 

If you are applying for a front-of-house position (meaning you will be interacting with guests), your first language is not the same as the dominant language spoken by the cruise line and you are applying in that language, find a friend who speaks the language really well, buy them a cup of coffee and get them to proofread your CV for you. (I’m personally not a fan of grammar-checking software as it is incorrect about 50% of the time.)

Cover letter tips:

Don’t tell them how badly you want the job, try to convince them how badly they should want you for the job by telling them what value you can give them. I know you might be desperate for a job at sea but don't tell them that. Approaching any job application from a place of begging or desperation is going to count against you. 

Cruise ship job interview tips:

  • Be ready for tough questions 
They will ask you how you deal with conflict or problems specific to your position or working and living in close proximity with other people from other cultures. The living and work environment is quite intense. Familiarise yourself with what it is like so you aren’t caught off-guard when they ask you how you will cope with it. 

  • Always have a question for them
At the end of every job interview, the recruiter is likely to ask you if you have a question for them. 

If there is something you are unsure of, it’s okay to ask. You don’t have to know everything about the industry if you’ve never worked in it. If you have done your research and you have exhibited that, no question you ask will be a dumb question.

  • The best cruise ship interview question you can ask:
If you ask “Based on my qualifications and experience, do you have any hesitations about hiring me?” they will likely tell you exactly why they might not want to hire you. This will give you a final opportunity to convince them otherwise and convey why you believe you are the right person for the job. 

In 2013, when I was desperately trying to get a job as cruise staff, I eventually applied for the role of a youth counsellor in the hopes that I could ultimately move into the job I really wanted once on board. At the end of the interview when I asked the recruiter this question, she expressed doubt about my experience level, stating that I looked like I had more experience entertaining adults than children. I ultimately convinced her to forward my CV to someone who recruited for cruise staff if she didn't believe I was fit for the role of a youth counsellor. She did and that’s how I landed my dream job.  

cruise ship staff - group photo

Other Frequently Asked Questions:

What do cruise ship staff get paid? 

It’s been a few years since I last worked on a cruise ship and people were encouraged not to talk about their income. I have seen entry-level positions offering less than $1000 USD per month. I feel that this is a bit low and I assume that they are tipping positions and they earn the majority of their money through tips. 

If you see an ad for a job offering you $5000 per month to be a housekeeping steward, waiter or other entry-level position, it's definitely a scam.

Can you get a job on a cruise ship with no experience? 

I have seen some jobs for housekeeping stewards that require no experience but, for the most part, you do need about two years of related experience on land. Having said that, almost any work experience on land is transferable to a job on board. 

Keep in mind that getting a job on a cruise ship is hard and if someone is implying otherwise, they’re probably trying to scam you.  

If I want to work on a cruise ship do I need to be vaccinated?

To the best of my knowledge, at the time of this post, all cruise lines require their staff to be vaccinated and boosted against COVID-19. (Please correct me if I’m wrong.) You may also require other vaccinations as part of the medical you will need to pass to do the job, and additional vaccinations (like Yellow Fever) if your cruise ship is visiting certain ports.

Do cruise ships pay well? 

When you live in a first-world country, it’s not that easy to live off a cruise line salary. If you live in a third-world country, those dollars, euros or pounds translate quite nicely into decent pay.

Do cruise ship staff pay taxes? 

Whether or not you pay taxes as a cruise ship crewmember depends on where you are from and where you are cruising. If you are a US citizen working on a ship sailing out of the US, from what I understand, you will have to pay taxes. If you are a South African citizen and you are working overseas for a period of at least 183 days per year (about 6 months) with at least 60 days in a row (two months), you don’t have to pay tax (on the first R1 million only, but you are unlikely to earn more than that, sorry). 

Who can apply for a cruise ship job?

To the best of my knowledge, most of the mainstream cruise lines won't recruit anyone under the age of 21. Beyond that, as long as you can pass the police clearance and the medical exam and prove that you are fit to carry out your safety-related duties, you are eligible for a job on a cruise ship.

Is it easy to get a cruise ship job?

No. If it is, you are probably being scammed. 

Are cruise ship jobs worth it?

Yes. Well, they’re not for everyone. Some people do one contract and never go back. The rest of us really struggle to quit:

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Can I get a job on a cruise ship if I have visible tattoos? 

Yes, but you may have to cover them with makeup, etc. Alternatively, if you work for Virgin Voyages, they welcome crew members with tattoos. 

Can I get a job with my spouse or partner on a cruise ship? 

The cruise lines that I have worked for would not accommodate couples working together on the same ship during their first contract.  After your first contract, they are more likely to try to put you together. One cruise line did a decent job of trying to sync the ship and contract for couples, while the other one made only a vague effort to enable married couples to be on the same ship over the same contract time. 

people working on cruise ship pose on bow

What are cruise ship crew cabins like? 

Management positions or officers get their own single cabins, while those who are in lower positions usually have to share.  Staff (ranked lower than officers but higher than crew) usually share a cabin with only one other person. Crewmembers ranked as crew share with two to four or even six people per cabin. Some of the newer ships have tried to give staff very small single cabins with one bathroom between two but, as these are not standard throughout the fleet, you definitely cannot guarantee your place on a ship like that.

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How many days off do you get?

0 (Unless you are a musician or a guest entertainer.)

Do you get to leave the ship in port?

You do get to leave the ship in port. This is subject to your work hours, and other things like in-port manning (when you have to stay on board to maintain a minimum level of manning in the event of an onboard emergency in port). Sometimes certain nationalities will be forbidden from leaving the ship in certain ports if the immigration authority is afraid they may jump ship and stay on illegally. Visa restrictions can also be an issue. 

What training do you need to have to work on a ship?

You will need some form of Basic Safety Training or STCW to work on a cruise ship. Most of the major cruise lines offer this training to their crew for free once they are already on board. 

Can I do a cruise ship job during a gap year?

You can but I wouldn’t. Some cruise lines only recruit staff who are over the age of 21 (the legal drinking age in America and on US-owned cruise lines). Having said that, not all do. I have met a number of 19 /20-year-olds on ships and many of them have struggled to cope with the pressures of the job.  

The mentality associated with doing a gap year job compared to that of starting a long-term career is vastly different and I have seen many young people come for a party, resent the hard work and ultimately get fired for doing something stupid. The cruise lines definitely try to draw the types of candidates that see this type of work as a long-term career.

How hard is it to work on a cruise ship?

Hard. In most jobs, you will work 10 hours a day, seven days a week for at least six months at a time. Sometimes these 10 hours are broken up in such a way that you often have a number of small breaks in the day that don't really allow you much time to properly relax before you have to be back at work. It can be pretty gruelling. 

How much does it cost to get a cruise ship job?

If you are being recruited directly through the company or through a legitimate cruise ship recruitment agency, there should be no application fees. If a company is asking you for an application fee, it is a scam. 

Having said that, getting onboard may still be quite expensive. Some fees that may be required include:

  • Your visa fees. (If a recruitment company asks you for money to apply for a visa on your behalf, this is also likely a scam. You will most likely have to apply for your visa yourself and in person.)
  • Police clearance.
  • Your medical exam. 
  • Sometimes STCW training (but, like I said, most major cruise lines provide this for free once you are on board).
  • Possibly your first flight to join your ship. (If you complete your first contract, the company will most likely pay for all future flights.)

Once onboard, they may refund you for some of these fees or a portion of them.


How do cruise ship contracts work?

Usually, a contract will last between 6 - 8 months, sometimes up to 10,  after which, the company will fly you home. During your first contract, there is often a three-month probation period for you to prove yourself where the company can send you home if they think you are not a good fit.

You will be given a performance review at the end of each contract and if you successfully complete a contract, you will be offered another one. 

What qualifications do I need for a cruise ship job?

Unless it's a highly specialised position, usually a high school certificate and the ability to speak the prominent language of the ship enough to handle the safety responsibilities involved is all you need for a job on a cruise ship. As I said, some safety and STCW training will be required but it is usually offered on board.

What visa do I need to work on a cruise ship?

The visas required to work on board usually depend on the country you are from and the country where you are joining the ship or that your ship uses as the main port (usually referred to as an embarkation port). For cruise ships cruising out of the USA, you will usually require a C1/D visa if you are not American. This is a type of crew-in-transit visa. 
For European countries, you would probably require a Seaman’s book (a type of passport for seafarers) and a visa for the country of entry. 

Feel free to share further questions below.





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