Following the rules...
Use of the term CREMATED REMAINS here refers to both human and pet cremated remains. Considerations listed also apply to either the entire collected remains or smaller, divided portions thereof.
There are a number of issues involved in transporting cremated human remains that require advance planning and informed decisions. You may need a variety of documents (death certificate, certificate of cremation, various authorization forms, etc.) and the assistance of a licensed funeral director to send and/or receive the cremated remains.
The following is intended only as an overview of the process and not as a comprehensive documentation of all requirements.
Shipping by U.S. Postal Service...
Effective December 26, 2013, the Postal Service revised its Mailing Standards of the United States Postal Service, Domestic Mail Manual (DMM) 601.12 to require mailers to use only Priority Mail Express service when shipping cremated remains. The Postal Service will no longer authorize cremated remains to be sent using Registered Mail service. The revision to the manual reads as follows:
12.9.3 Cremated Remains
Mail pieces sent to domestic addresses must be sent using Priority Mail Express service.
- Is shipping permitted to the intended country?
- What paperwork is needed?
- Are the costs and risks clear?
Prepare the Packaging
- Domestic - Priority Express Mail
- International - Priority Express Mail International
- Optional Cremated Remains sticker
- Be sure to check the "Signature Required" box on the shipping form
Label 139 (indicating CREMATED REMAINS) is not required but it is highly recommended to increase visibility during USPS processing and transportation. Previously, cremated remains were not identifiable in the mail stream. Label 139 will allow USPS to identify these packages during processing and transportation and ensure they are handled with care. The label is available through the USPS store here.
At the Post Office
A benefit of the new Priority Mail Express service requirement is the assurance that the package is tracked online via the USPS website.
To read or download the USPS pamphlet on shipping cremated remains, click here.
If you have any questions, visit your local post office location, contact the USPS at 800-ASK-USPS® (800-275-8777) or CANA at 312-245-1077.
Transporting by Air...
Most airlines will allow you to transport cremated remains, either as air cargo, or as carry-on or checked luggage (traveling with you). Whether shipping as air cargo or as carry-on/checked luggage, consider all of the following steps:
- Check with the airline to determine their exact policies on either shipping or handling as luggage. Some airlines will not accept cremated remains in checked luggage while others may only accept it as checked luggage. Some airlines require seven days notice before shipping if handled as air cargo. In all cases the contents should be identified as cremated human remains.
- Review the Transportation Security Administration requirements and additional guidelines which require that the container must be scannable (a container returning an opaque image will not be permitted through security, either for checked luggage or for carry-on luggage). See their related blog post here.
- Arrive early to ensure adequate time for security clearance.
- Carry the Death certificate, Certificate of Cremation or other appropriate documentation with you (and consider attaching copies to the container), and
- Make sure to check with a licensed funeral director both at your origin of travel and destination to determine if there are local laws to be considered.
There are even more issues involved in bringing cremated remains from...or taking them to...another country. For example, Germany requires that a licensed cemetery receive cremated remains sent to Germany...and that a licensed funeral director be involved in sending them to Germany. In addition to the steps outlined above, you should start by:
- Contacting the Consulate(s) for the country you are taking cremated remains to or from; identify their specific rules and legal requirements. Note: you can often find this information on the website for the country... but it may also require a call.
- Some countries will have additional authorizations that are required. Your contact with the Embassy should be able to provide you with the forms, although you may need to involve a licensed funeral director or even legal counsel in order to complete the information required.
- Allow even more time for this process — two weeks at a minimum — as there can be a number of steps involved.
We hope this guide has been useful to you. It can be a frustrating process to try to transport the cremated remains of a loved one, but it is useful to understand that the rules and requirements often have a basis in ensuring proper care for your loved ones remains as well as abiding by local customs and traditions. Be patient, and your patience can be rewarded by a positive experience in getting your loved one to the proper destination.
Find a CANA Member
Your best resource may be a company devoted to shipping remains internationally. Find a CANA member who specializes in navigating the regulations and customs of transporting remains around the world in the CANA Directory under "Transportation Services."