TSA Guidelines & Tips for Traveling with Cremation Ashes

As the cremation rate continues to rise in the United States, more and more families are asking questions around transporting ashes of a loved one.  Is it legal to take ashes on a plane? Can they be driven from state to state? Are cremated remains TSA compliant?  Are there TSA compliant urns? Can you mail ashes?

Flying with Ashes

Asking if you can fly with a loved on'es ashes is a very common question received by funeral directors. The general answer is yes, you can fly with a loved one’s ashes. However, you should plan ahead and make sure you follow all of the rules and regulations surrounding this. Check with your airline to see if they have any specific rules around including ashes in carry-on or checked baggage. Most airlines allow this, however, some have specific requirements and documentation that must be provided ahead of time. Information about the airline’s rules surrounding transporting ashes can typically be found on their website or by giving their customer service a call. On a domestic flight in the United States, you typically need to provide a copy of your loved one’s Death Certificate and Certificate of Cremation. It is also encouraged to attach a second copy of these documents to the outside of the urn.

In addition to complying with airline regulations, you must also be aware of TSA rules. Prior to 2001, a family would only have to show proof to TSA that they were carrying an urn and then they were allowed to pass through security. However, after the events of 9/11, TSA must be able to see the contents of the urn through an x-ray and the TSA agents are not permitted to open the urn and look inside. If the contents cannot be made visible with an x-ray, TSA will not allow you to bring the urn on your flight. Therefore, it is important to fly with a TSA compliant urn.

TSA compliant containers typically include bamboo urns, wood urns, plastic urns, or bio urns  as an x-ray of this material will typically show the inner contents. Urns that are not TSA compliant typically include ones made out of metal or stone. The TSA compliant urn used for a flight can either be a permanent or just a temporary urn for traveling.

If your destination is a foreign country, it is important to also check on the rules in the country you’re traveling to before departing. Every country has their own unique rules and regulations surrounding bringing in cremated remains and it’s important to know ahead of your trip if it’s permitted and, if so, what documentation may be needed. You can call your consulate or embassy in your destination country to help get answers and to find out if any special documentation is necessary. It can be expected that you will at least need to provide a Cremation Certificate and a Certificate of Death, and potentially other paperwork required by the destination country.

If after checking with the airline, airport, and/or destination and still have questions about the transport of your loved one’s remains by plane, a good resource to turn to is your funeral director. Your funeral director can help make the necessary arrangements as well as let you know about TSA compliant urns that are available. 

Driving with Ashes

As long as you’re driving within the United States (even from state to state), there should be no issue taking your loved one’s ashes with you in the car. Just make sure the urn or container you transport the ashes in is secured and placed where it will not fall over.

If you’re driving your loved one’s ashes to Canada or Mexico, it is best to check with the destination country about any documentation needed prior to crossing into their country by car.

Shipping Ashes

Some families who lose a loved one choose to ship some or all of the ashes elsewhere. There are many reasons why a family would do this, and below are a few examples:

  • The person who passed was traveling, then was cremated at that location and the ashes are being returned to the family
  • The decision is made to divide up the ashes of the person who passed so different siblings, other relatives, or friends can have their own memorial of the person who passed nearby where they live
  • A portion or all of the ashes are going to be included in a special memorial, including jewelry or glass, and the manufacturer of the memorial products needs to receive the ashes to incorporate them into the memorial piece
  • The ashes of the person who passed are going to be scattered at different locations of their choosing.

The only shipping service permitted to ship a person’s ashes in the United States is the US Postal Service (USPS). Unfortunately, UPS and FedEx are not permitted and will be forced to refuse the shipment upon receiving knowledge of the contents.

Below is a list of items to review when sending your loved one’s ashes via USPS:

  • The packaging of the cremated remains needs to include an inner box and also an outer box. The U.S. Postal Priority Mail and Priority Mail Express boxes count as outer boxes;
  • You need to include filler in the box to limit the movement of the urn and ashes during shipping. This can include foam, packing paper, etc;
  • On a card inside of the box, write your contact information (or that of the shipper) and also the recipient’s address and contact information. This is a safeguard in case something happens to the label on the outside of the box;
  • Next to the shipping label on the outside of the outer box, attach a USPS Cremated Remains Label (label #139). This can be obtained from your local post office or on the United States Postal Service website;
  • Double check the recipient’s address on the shipping label and make sure it is legible; and
  • Make sure to get a USPS tracking number to keep tabs on the shipment and delivery of the ashes.

In addition to the brief summary provided above, when shipping ashes we suggest checking with your local post office or the USPS website to see about any recent changes or new regulations that may have been put in place related to the shipping of ashes.

In Summary

We understand transporting a loved one’s ashes can be stressful, however, if you plan ahead and comply with all rules and regulations it can be simple and easy. By planning ahead you should have the peace of mind that your loved one’s remains will arrive at the destination safely and as intended.