4 scuba divers near a coral bottom

Do You Need a License to Scuba Dive?

Many travelers wonder if you need a license in order to scuba dive. For some people, scuba isn’t necessarily something they plan to do a lot but rather something they’d like to participate in on a vacation to the Caribbean.

This is a normal question. In fact, it is one of the things I googled myself before ever becoming a certified diver. 

I was heading to Belize for a week and thought it would be fun to get a firsthand look at the wildlife on the barrier reef. It was quite literally the title to this article, do you need a license to scuba dive?

While it is not illegal to dive without a scuba certification, it is incredibly dangerous and no reputable operator would allow it. However, there are a few opportunities where people can experience scuba without being certified such as the Discover Scuba program, SNUBA, and “resort dives.”

Let’s take some time to understand why diving without a certification should only be done in highly controlled environments and explore the options where those without a license can try out scuba.

2 scuba divers silouteed against the surface

Why Do You (Generally) Need a License to Dive?

First, let’s clarify terminology. A scuba “license” is more typically referred to in the scuba community as a certification. 

The basic certification is called open water certification and allows you to dive to 60 feet.

Scuba diving is a very safe sport; however, there are a number of important safety procedures and issues that need to be followed. Thus, it would be dangerous for someone to scuba without some basic competencies and information. 

In fact, even certified divers that have gone a long time without diving are often required to take refresher courses by dive operators.

Since you are underwater, your equipment is your lifeline. It is critical to understand how to use it effectively and how to respond to any issues that arise. Additionally, there are a number of problems that can occur underwater. 

As part of basic certification, you learn how to calmly respond to these issues.

a scuba diver in shallow water

How Can You Safely Tryout Scuba with a License?

There are some ways where people can try out scuba diving without a license. These methods are always conducted under strict supervision by professional diving instructors in order to ensure safety.

Additionally, these methods all provide a teaching experience where participants will learn some basics about the scuba process. You won’t learn enough to become certified, but you will get a good idea of if certification is something you want to pursue.

Discover Diving

Discover Diving is an introductory program that is offered through the various scuba certification agencies. This is an affordable introduction to scuba and tends to be $40 – $50 per person.

In Discover Diving, you will learn about scuba equipment, how to move underwater, and basic key skills. You’ll also have an opportunity to explore scuba diving in a controlled environment. These experiences often occur in swimming pools. 

Some aquariums also offer Discover Scuba in their large tanks (yes, with fish).

To participate in Discover Scuba, you must be at least ten years old. However, children eight years and up can participate in the PADI Bubblemaker program which gives a similar experience in less than six feet of water.

a scuba diver silouteed against the surface


SNUBA isn’t the same as scuba diving but is worth a mention. With SNUBA, instead of breathing from an air tank on your back, you have a long hose that is connected to an air source on the surface. SNUBA limits people to a maximum depth of 20 feet.

SNUBA typically can be found in tropical areas near reefs, which means you’ll be able to see a lot of marine life even while staying near the surface. 

While you won’t learn about scuba equipment, you will learn basic information about breathing compressed air that applies to both SNUBA and scuba. A SNUBA experience averages $150 per person.

2 snuba divers

Resort Dives

“Resort dives” is a bit of a slang term for Discover Scuba type experiences that are offered in open water. You can consider these as Discover Scuba in the same environment as SNUBA (shallow reefs).

You’ll begin on land and learn equipment, safety procedures, and hand signals for communication. Then you’ll practice basic skills in a pool or near the shore in similar conditions. 

Next, you’ll go to a shallow dive spot and have an instructor-guided tour or the reef. The cost of these experiences vary a great deal by location. With a search of popular destinations, I found rates from $129 to $250.

Final Thoughts

Many people wonder about experiencing scuba diving without having to devote the time and money into obtaining a certification. It is important to never scuba dive without a certification except in very specific approved programs due to safety concerns.

However, people wanting to get their feet wet (literally) can check for Discover Scuba programs at their local dive shop or aquarium or “resort dives” at popular vacation spots. They can also try SNUBA for a somewhat similar underwater experience. 

Mike Seals
Chief Crisp Eater at Guiness Brewey | + posts

Mike resides in landlocked Indiana but takes every opportunity to travel to warm waters for diving. When in his home state, he typically dives quarries. His favorite place to dive is the reef off of Ambergris Caye, Belize. When not diving, he works as a researcher, runs marathons, and spends time with his three kids.

One thought on “Do You Need a License to Scuba Dive?

  1. I have been certified for lots of years.
    Scuba is safe – almost always.
    Scuba is easy – almost always.
    Scuba can be done safely with training – almost always.
    But you can get seriously hurt/injured or even killed scuba diving
    Would anyone give somebody with no training the keys to a car? Why?
    Key point is that it is almost always safe and easy.
    But what you do when it isn’t is the difference between being certified and a ‘statistic’.

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