How to transport cremated remains

This guide to shipping cremated remains aims to highlight exactly what you need to know to transport cremated remains, either within the United States or to another country.  As the cremation rate increases and families are more dispersed, there is a growing demand for the easy transportation of cremated remains.  In some cases, the family wishes to transport the mortal remains of their loved one back for interment or scattering in their home state.  In other cases, a family move and wish to transport cremains, or simply wish to distribute cremated remains between family members.

Cremated remains are basically sterile, organic matter and therefore pose no threat to health and safety when transported.  Typically, the average cremated remains of an adult weigh between 6 and 10 pounds and are therefore quite easily packaged for transportation.

More stringent security measures imposed on travel and shipping in recent years mean that there are now rules in place that do govern exactly how you can transport cremated remains.

What are my options for transporting cremated remains?

You have a couple of options open to you.  Probably the cheapest and easiest option to transport remains within the United States in the US Postal Service.  Alternatively, you can transport cremated remains by air.  We have outlined your options below.

Shipping cremated remains domestically with the United States

Shipping cremated remains by U.S. Postal Service

Transporting cremated remains within the continental USA is quite easily facilitated by the U.S. Postal Service.  This provides an efficient and inexpensive method to ship remains between states.  

You will need to use registered mail with a return receipt, and can even send by express mail to ensure a speedy delivery.  As you are sending the package by registered mail, it will need to be signed for at the destination address, so do ensure you are sending it to an address where someone can receive it.  You should also mark the outside of the package as containing ‘cremated remains’.  It is also recommended to place a card inside the package with the remains with your contact details, just in case of the event of the outer of a package being damaged.

According to the USPS guidance governing a shipment of human cremated remains:

“452.2 Cremated Remains
Human ashes are permitted to be mailed provided they are packaged as required in 463b. The identity of the contents should be marked on the address side. Mail pieces must be sent registered mail with return receipt service.

453 Packaging and Marking
The following conditions apply:
….b. Powders. Dry materials that could cause damage, discomfort, destruction, or soiling upon escape (i.e., leakage) must be packed in siftproof containers or other containers that are sealed in durable siftproof outer containers.”

Shipping cremated remains by Courier Service

It is not possible to ship cremated remains within the United States by courier service.  DHL, FedEx, and UPS do not transport cremated remains.

Shipping cremated remains by air

You can transport cremated remains by air.  You have the option to ship by an airline carrier using their cargo or freight service, or to transport remains with you when you travel.  Cremated remains are permitted in carry-on luggage if certain guidelines are adhered to.

You do need to check individual airline guidelines for transporting cremated remains by cargo.  Some airlines do require 7 days’ notice for a shipment and will require the production of certain documentation.  The death certificate and cremation permit will be required and further export and embassy paperwork may be required for an international shipment of cremated remains.  It is also advisable to have your funeral home or cremation provider provide you with an Affidavit of non-contraband on their letterhead to accompany you when you travel.  Ensure documents are packaged with the container carrying the cremated remains.

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What type of container can I transport cremated remains in?

The Transportation Security Administration TSA is responsible for ensuring security and safety when we travel, and their guidelines concerning the transporting of cremated remains states that “passengers transport remains in temporary or permanent ‘security-friendly’ containers constructed of light-weight materials such as plastic or wood.”  This means that you need to ensure you are traveling with the ashes in either a temporary container or a cremation urn constructed of x-ray friendly material.  

TSA employees are not permitted to open an urn to check the contents, so if your container will not pass through the x-ray machine, it will not be allowed on the aircraft.

If your cremation provider has provided you with a temporary plastic or cardboard cremation container, this should be suitable for transporting the remains.  If you have a cremation urn, you do need to ensure it is purely wood or plastic and can be x-rayed.

The example temporary container featured above is designed specifically for the purpose of safe shipping.  It is available to purchase online from Perfect Memorials for $24.95 and can safely transport the cremated remains of a person who weighed up to 200 pounds.

Shipping cremated remains internationally from the U.S.

It is quite feasible to ship cremated remains internationally from the U.S. to other countries.  What you need to do is check the specific embassy requirements of the country you are shipping to.  Countries do have different regulations about receiving cremated remains and what additional importation documentation must be completed.  For example, in Germany, a licensed cemetery must receive the cremated remains, and a funeral director must be involved in handling them over to the family.

It can take a little time to make the necessary arrangements to send cremated remains overseas, so it is advisable to allow at least 2 – 3 weeks.  Although you can contact the embassy concerned and complete the necessary legal paperwork, it can be a help if you have the services of a funeral director to assist you.

Related Articles:


List of Embassies
USPS Mailing of Cremated Remains
NFDA: International Shipping Regulations

Written by

Sara is the Editor in Chief for US Funerals Online and has been researching and writing about the death care industry in the US for the last 15 years.