It is not at all uncommon that cremated remains need to be transported across the country. Transporting ashes is not a complicated process, but some things must be arranged in advance to ensure the process goes smoothly.
Transporting Ashes by Air
You should ALWAYS check with your airline to verify specific policies for transporting cremated remains. Policies on transporting ashes vary by carrier, and they can change from time-to-time.
As a general rule, you can transport ashes as cargo or carry them on the plane with you. Some carriers require advance notice to accept remains as cargo, and documentation, such as the death certificate, is required.
Depending on whether you are traveling domestically or abroad, you may need export paperwork from your embassy. You must check ahead of time, particularly if you are transporting ashes overseas. Your funeral home or crematory can provide you with paperwork, such as an Affidavit of Non-contraband, that may be required. Keep all of your documentation with the container of cremated remains.
The Container or Urn
In 2004, the Transportation Safety Administration (TSA) implemented special procedures for transporting cremated remains. The TSA has precise requirements for the type of containers to use for transporting ashes. TSA agents are not permitted to open urns and containers to verify they contain cremated remains. That means the container must be capable of being X-rayed. Below is an extract from the TSA blog (click here to go to the original document) which addresses the topic:
If carrying on the crematory remains, they are subject to screening and must pass through the X-ray machine. If the X-ray Operator cannot clear the remains, TSA may apply other, non-intrusive means of resolving the alarm. Under no circumstances will an officer open the container, even if the passenger requests this be done. If the officer cannot determine that the container does not contain a prohibited item, the remains will not be permitted, and you could be denied boarding.
If you plan to use a permanent urn for the remains once you reach your final destination, check with your funeral home to see if they can provide you with a temporary urn to use for air travel. There are also special permanent urns for transporting ashes that meet TSA requirements so that they can pass through security.
Transporting Ashes by Shipping
The United States Postal Service (USPS) is the only agency authorized to ship cremated remains in the US. FedEx, UPS, and DHL do not ship cremated remains. Fortunately, the USPS has well-established guidelines for just exactly what you need to do. Instructions are available on the USPS website (click here), or you can download their publication #139, How to Pack and Ship Cremated Remains, for detailed information.
- Cremated remains (both human and animal) must be shipped by Priority Mail Express® or Priory Mail Express International®.
- You may use a box of your choice, but you are required to apply Postal Service Label 139 to all six sides of the box. Label 139 is available through the Postal Store or at a postal retail store. Also, a Priority Mail Express Cremated Remains box is available at no charge.
- USPS requires that your package have padding and both an inner and outer container. The inner container must be siftproof. The outer container must also be siftproof. Use ample padding so that there is no movement between the inner and outer container.
- Both the sender’s name and address and the addressee’s name and address should be included inside the box in case the outer shipping label becomes damaged in transit.
- The USPS recommends that you use the official Postal Service Cremated Remains Kit for packaging your remains. The kit is available through the Postal Store on usps.com.
The USPS will also ship cremated remains internationally unless the country you are shipping to prohibits cremated remains. Priority Mail Express International® must be available for the country to which you want to ship. Be sure to verify this with the Post Office or by consulting the International Mailing Manual. In addition to packing your remains as you would for domestic mailing, you will need to complete the proper customs declaration form.