Shipping or Travelling with Cremation Ashes
Cremated ashes can be safely transported domestically or internationally. The United States Postal Service, the airlines, and shipping services will transport ashes, or urns for ashes. Let’s look at details regarding each service.
United States Postal Service
The United States Postal Service (USPS) accepts cremated remains for domestic and international shipping. The USPS is the only legally sanctioned carrier authorized to ship cremated remains. The services are relatively inexpensive.
- Domestically, USPS will send the cremated remains via Priority Mail Express Service.
- International shipments will be sent via Priority Mail Express International Service.
- Cremated remains must be packaged in two containers. First, an inner, leak-proof container is to be wrapped in bubble-wrap or other material for protection. Second, an outer, secure shipping container is used to enclose the leak-proof container. The contents must be clearly identified as cremated remains on the address side of the package. The post office provides identification stickers.
- It is recommended that identification of the remains, along with the sender’s contact information, be put inside the package.
Display urns for ashes, biodegradable urns, and other small urns for ashes approved for domestic or international shipment by USPS are available. Details on the USPS website state that the cremation urn, or the inner container, “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 allow loose powder to leak or sift out during transit.”
For assistance in selecting an appropriate cremation urn for shipping, contact us with specific questions.
USPS Publication 1391 provides details on how to pack and ship cremated remains.
Note that Federal Express, DHL, and UPS will not knowingly accept cremated remains for transport.
Airline Travel with Cremated Remains
Most domestic airlines allow the transport of cremated remains. Options include transport as a carry-on, or as checked luggage. Human remains and cremated remains can also be shipped as cargo (see below for specific requirements).
Travel within the United States:
- The Transportation Safety Administration (TSA)2 has a defined process for screening crematory remains3. Cremation containers must pass through an X-ray machine. Many cremation urns create an opaque image preventing the content's identification, and will not pass through security. Non scan-able containers include metal and stone.
- The TSA recommends that consumers purchase temporary “security friendly” urns for ashes. Most wood cremation urns and non-lead lined ceramic urns will work. It is reported on several travel forums that individuals carrying ashes in a plastic container experienced no issues going through security. If you prefer a cremation urn made of metal, lead lined ceramic, or marble, it’s recommended that the cremains be carried separately in a plastic container.
- Contents should be identified as cremated remains.
- Carry at least one copy of the Death Certificate and Certificate of Cremation with you.
- Allow yourself extra time on the day of travel to pass through security if you are carrying the ashes.
- Specific airline requirements for shipment of human remains or cremated remains are available by contacting the airline. They will provide a list of their policies and procedures. Some require advance notice, and others require special labeling of the container holding the remains. Contact your chosen airline.
Stricter requirements apply when transporting cremated remains internationally by plane. Country-specific requirements are best answered by the receiving country’s embassy. The Electronic Embassy4 lists embassies housed in Washington D.C. with contact information. The US Embassy website 5 provides additional information on your destination country. The National Funeral Directors Association (“NFDA”) also offers assistance by calling 800-228-6332.
Common documentation includes:
- Death Certificate
- Cremation Certificate
- Passport of the deceased, if available
- Letter on funeral home or cremation provider letterhead stating that the urn for ashes, memorial urn, or shipping container holds only the cremated remains of the deceased individual
Find out from your destination country’s embassy if your documents must be translated.
Your cremation service provider is a good resource for information about shipping services. A number of funeral homes and cremation service providers are TSA-Certified Screening Cargo facilities. They can facilitate or recommend expedited and stress-free shipping services.
With planning, you will be able to safely transport your loved one’s remains to a final resting place.
The NFDA’s website states that:
When a United States citizen dies abroad, a consular officer from the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate has the responsibility to report the death to the Department of State and to inform the closest known relative or legal representative. This is normally done by a detailed cable sent directly from the overseas post to the next of kin in the United States. The cable is official notification of the death, and also outlines the options available and the costs involved in the disposition of the remains. Disposition of the remains must be accomplished in accordance with the laws and customs of the host country.
- Preparation and return of the embalmed remains is the most accepted option commonly used by families.
- Cremation is available in most countries. However, local regulations and religious traditions may forbid cremation.
- Local burial in the country where death occurred.
All costs relating to the disposition of human remains are the responsibility of the family. Check the NFDA website for additional details.
3 ICCFA: Transporting Urns as Carry-on Luggage
4 Embassies located in Washington, D.C.
5 Embassies located in foreign countries