Traveling with Ashes: Is it Legal?

With cremation rates on the rise, funeral directors are receiving more questions around traveling with ashes and shipping ashes. Some common questions related to this topic include:

  • Is it legal to bring ashes with me on an airplane?
  • Are there TSA approved urns
  • Can ashes be driven to a different state?
  • Can I mail my loved one’s or pets ashes?

In this blog, we help answer these questions and others.

Taking Ashes on an Airplane

flying with ashes

It is legal to take ashes on an airplane, and actually quite common. However, you should plan ahead and be sure to understand and follow all of the rules and regulations associate with this. First, check with the airline you’re booked on to see if they have any specific rules related to including ashes in carry-on or checked baggage. Almost all airlines allow you to bring ashes with you, however some have certain requirements and documents that must be completed ahead of time. A good place to check is on the website of the airline or you can give their customer service a call. If you’re flying within the United States, you will almost always be required to provide a copy of the Death Certificate and Certificate of Cremation. We also recommend attaching another copy of both documents to the outside of the urn.

In addition to airline-specific regulations, there are also rules put in place by the Transportation Security Administration (TSA). Before 2001, a family would simply need to show proof to a TSA officer that they were carrying an urn and they were let through security. However, after 9/11, the TSA officer must visibly see the contents inside of the urn with an x-ray machine (they are not permitted to open up the urn and look inside). If the contents inside of the urn cannot be seen with an x-ray, you will not be able to pass through security with the urn. Therefore, it is extremely important that you have a TSA compliant urn if you plan on flying with your loved one’s ashes.

TSA Approved Urns

There are many TSA approved urns available that allow TSA agents to screen the inner contents with an x-ray. This includes biodegradable urns such as ones made from bamboo, wood, paper and plant materials (The Living Urn's bio urn, Eco Water Urn and Eco Scattering Urns which are designed for scattering ashes, and the Eco Burial Urn are all TSA compliant). In addition, plastic urns can also be TSA complaint. Urns to avoid would be ones made out of metal or stone. If you want a metal or stone urn (or another urn that is not TSA compliant), you can simply use a TSA compliant urn for the flight and transfer the ashes into another urn after you arrive.

Flying with Ashes Internationally

If you are flying somewhere outside of the United States, it’s important that you check with the country-specific rules and regulations of your destination. Each country has their own rules related to transporting ashes and it’s highly recommended to do your research and have the necessary documentation available before your flight. To find out if there’s any country-specific rules at your destination, it’s recommended to contact your embassy or consulate in the destination country to learn about any rules there and if any additional documentation will be required. At minimum, most countries will require a Certificate of Death and Cremation Certificate to bring ashes in.

Additional Questions Related to Flying with Ashes?

If, after doing your research, you still have questions about flying with your loved one’s ashes, a great person to ask is your funeral director. Funeral directors work with families every day and you’re probably not the first one to ask them questions about flying with ashes. Your funeral director can also be helpful to let you know about TSA compliant urns that they have available. 

Driving with Ashes

If you plan on driving your loved one’s ashes within the U.S., there should be no issues (even if you’re driving to a different state). Be sure that the urn holding your loved one’s ashes is secure and put in a place where it won’t tip over.

If you plan on driving the ashes to Canada, Mexico, or another country, it is recommended to first check with the destination country about any documentation or requirements that need to be met prior to your trip.

Mailing Ashes

After a loved one passes, some families will need to mail some or all of the ashes. There are a lot of different reasons why people mail ashes, and below are a few examples:

  • The person who passed was traveling at the time of death and their ashes are being returned to family
  • The family decides to divide up the ashes so siblings, relatives, or friends can have their own personal memorial of the person who passed nearby where they live
  • The family decides to include some or all of the cremated ashes in a special memorial, such as jewelry or glass piece, and the producer of this piece needs to receive the ashes
  • The ashes are going to be scattered or buried at different locations.

The only shipping service in the U.S. permitted to mail ashes is the United States Postal Service (USPS). Other shipping services, such as UPS and FedEx, are not permitted and cannot accept the shipment once they receive knowledge of the contents.

Below is a helpful list of items to review prior to mailing ashes via USPS:

  • The packaging must consist of 2 boxes – an outer box and an inner box. The ashes need to be placed in the inner box then the second box will be the one that the shipping label is attached to. USPS Priority Mail and Priority Mail Express boxes are acceptable to use as outer boxes;
  • Include some kind of filler inside of the box to help secure the urn and ashes within the box and limit movement during transport. Filler can consist of foam, paper, etc.;
  • Write out your contact information and also the recipient’s address and contact information on a card inside of the box. This can serve as a safeguard in the event the label on the outside of the box falls off or gets damaged;
  • To the side of the shipping label on the top of the outer box, attach a United States Postal Service Cremated Remains Label (USPS label 139). You can get this label from your local post office or on the United States Postal Service website;
  • Make sure that the recipient’s address on the shipping label is legible and correct;
  • Get the packaged scanned in at your local post office or USPS authorized ship center and make sure they provide you with a USPS tracking number (or you received the tracking number when creating the label); and
  • Visit the USPS website to keep tabs on the shipment and delivery of the package containing your loved one’s ashes - if you notice any issues or delays, call the USPS customer service line and ask questions.

In addition to the information provided above, if you plan on mailing ashes with USPS, we suggest checking with your local post office or the USPS website prior to shipping to find out if there’s been any recent changes or new requirements put in place.

Plan Ahead

Transporting your loved one’s cremated ashes by air, car or mail can be stressful, however, if you plan ahead and comply with all rules and regulations it should be a simple and easy process. By planning ahead and doing your research before the trip, you should have the peace-of-mind knowing that your loved one’s ashes will arrive at the intended destination safely.