How to Travel with & Transport Cremated Ashes

by Maggie Thompson


*Free image on Pixabay

If you're planning on traveling with ashes or mailing them to another location, there are a number of issues to consider to make sure your trip is a success. The key to transporting cremated remains is advance planning and information. Plan ahead by knowing common rules regarding transporting created remains, but always default to contacting airlines, embassies, or other appropriate officials pursuant to your travel or shipping situation. OneWorld Memorials has gathered answers and information regarding common questions customers have about transporting or traveling with their loved ones' remains.

How do I ship cremated remains domestically?

  • The United States Postal Service (USPS) is the only carrier authorized to ship cremated remains. No other carrier (UPS, Fed-Ex, DHL, etc.) will accept cremated remains.
  • Packages must be sent using Priority Mail Express, which includes online tracking. That way, your package can't get lost.
  • Cremated remains must be packaged in two containers: an inner, leak-proof container that is well padded for protection to prevent shifting, and an outer secure shipping container. You can pack the box yourself using standard packaging supplies.
  • The USPS website states that the inner container (a temporary or permanent urn for ashes) “must be strong and durable and be constructed in such a manner as to protect and securely contain the contents inside, and it must be properly sealed so that it is siftproof. A siftproof container is any vessel that does not leak or sift out during transit.” Some scattering tubes for human ashes are also suitable containers for transport when the ashes are in the plastic bag supplied by the funeral home or crematory.
  • The USPS optional“Cremated Remains” label is highly recommended to increase visibility during processing and transportation. The label allows USPS to ensure the package is handled with even more care to prevent breaking or spillage.
  • It is recommended that there be identification of the remains and the sender’s contact information inside the package in the unlikely event that something does happen to the package.

How do I ship cremated remains overseas?

  • USPS Priority Express Mail International, is the only authorized carrier that can ship cremated remains overseas.
  • Cremated remains should be packaged in siftproof containers as detailed above, with the additional requirement from the Universal Postal Union, per the International Mail Manual, that the inner container must be a sealed funeral urn. You can buy sealed funeral urns in a variety of shapes, sizes and styles.
  • Consider the following questions:
    • Is the shipping of cremains permitted to the intended country? Not all countries allow for cremated ashes to be imported.
    • What documentation is needed? You can find each country’s required documentation on the National Funeral Directors Association website via their link to International Shipping Regulations. If a country has not specified their requirements, it is recommended that you include the Death Certificate, the Cremation Certificate and the Passport of the deceased (if obtainable). A letter on funeral home letterhead stating that the funeral urn for ashesholds only the cremated remains of the individual is also recommended. You should also check with the consulate or embassy of the foreign country to verify whether any additional documentation is required. Some countries require that documents accompanying cremated remains be translated into the official language of the receiving country.
  • Per TSA (Transportation Security Administration) Guidelines, airlines will not accept packages weighing more than one pound (cremated remains exceed this limit) from unknown shippers. A “Known Shipper” is an individual or business that has gone through an approval process mandated by the TSA that permits the shipping of goods for air transport on a passenger or cargo plane. Application to be a Known Shipper must be made for each airline that will be transporting cremated remains. Follow your chosen airline’s procedure for this application. Many funeral homes are Known Shippers and may be able to expedite shipping for you.

How do I travel with ashes domestically?

Female TSA employee puts a bag through an x-ray machine while two men wait on the side.

Traveling with cremated remains domestically is not difficult and is done quite often. TSA Guidelines require that the container holding the ashes must be able to pass through the x-ray machine, verifying identification of the contents. A container showing an opaque image will not be permitted through security, either for checked luggage or for carry-on luggage. TSA recommends consumers purchase temporary “security friendly” urns. Individuals carrying ashes in a plastic container generally experience no issues going through security. Almost all funeral homes and crematories provide a plastic box to hold a plastic bag with the cremains. The cost of plastic box urns runs about $20. Most wooden cremation urns and non-lead lined ceramic urns will also work. Many airlines will allow transport of cremated remains to be transported in carry-on or checked luggage traveling with you.

  • It's always a good idea to double-check with the airline prior to departure to determine their most up-to-date Some airlines will not accept cremated remains in checked luggage while others may only accept it as checked luggage. In all cases, the contents should be identified as cremated human remains.
  • Arrive to the airport early to ensure adequate time for security clearance.
  • Carry the Death Certificate, Certificate of Cremation or other appropriate documentation with you at all times, and consider attaching copies to the container that holds the human ashes.
  • Check with a licensed funeral director at your origin of travel and at your destination to determine if there are local laws to be considered.

By car, there are no rules other than common sense, ensuring that the container is well sealed to prevent accidental spills, and is made of an unbreakable material such as wood, cardboard, plastic or metal. Most commercially available urns meet these requirements and are suitable for car travel. Crossing state lines with cremains is not an issue.

How do I travel with ashes internationally?

There are even more issues involved in bringing cremated remains from or taking them to another country.

  • Standard documentation for international travel includes the Death Certificate, Cremation Certificate, Passport of the deceased (if available) and a letter on funeral home or cremation provider letterhead stating that the container holds only cremated remains of the deceased individual.
  • Contact the embassy for the country you are taking cremated remains to or from, and find out their specific rules and legal requirements. You can often find this information on the website for the country.
  • Some countries require additional authorizations. Someone at the embassy should be able to provide you with the forms you need, although in some instances you might have to involve a licensed funeral director or legal counsel to complete the information required.
  • Allow plenty of time for the process – 2 weeks at a minimum – as there can be a number of steps involved.

The process of transporting, shipping or mailing cremated remains of a loved one can seem complicated due to the very specific list of procedures required. But it is heartening to understand that the rules and requirements often have their basis in ensuring proper, respectful care for your loved one’s ashes. Your patience will be rewarded by a positive experience in getting your loved one to the chosen meaningful destination.

Maggie Shopen Thompson, MFA, is a freelance writer and writing workshop facilitator in Montpelier, Vermont. She has had experience as a caregiver for her mother many years ago, and for her husband and daughter during their recent cancer treatments and recoveries. She is a contributing author/artist in Healing Art & Writing – using creativity to meet illness, curated and edited by Patricia Fontaine, published in August 2016.

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