For those of you who are considering mailing or traveling with cremated remains, commonly referred to as “cremains”, this blog will give you an overview of how to properly mail the cremated remains of your loved one to ensure they make it to their destination as smooth as possible.
In the USA, there is only one way to properly mail cremated remains and that is via the United States Postal Service (USPS). They are the only shipper that will knowingly ship cremated remains domestically or internationally. This may seem counter-intuitive to those who regularly rely on other shipping companies like FedEx and UPS, but the reasoning behind this, so we hear, is that FedEx and UPS will only ship items they can guarantee to replace if something goes wrong. Since it is impossible to replace the missing remains of your loved one, they politely decline taking up this task, while the USPS has put some measures in place to safeguard your extra special shipment.
In August and December 2013, the USPS issued two press releases outlining new protocols and requirements for shipping cremains. We have provided them below as well as some suggestions from the Cremation Association of North America (CANA) on how to travel by air with cremated remains.
Shipping Cremated Remains By Mail
Effective December 26, 2013, the Postal Service revised 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. Although these revisions will not be published in the DMM until January 26, 2014, these standards are effective immediately.”
This change is in addition to the August 26, 2013 announcement by the United States Postal Service (USPS) that they will now place a special sticker on any cremated remains being mailed domestically or internationally (like the one seen in this article). According to the USPS, the label will not be required but it is highly recommended to increase visibility during USPS processing and transportation.
Previously cremated remains were not identifiable in the mail stream. The Label 139, Cremated Remains, will allow USPS to identify these packages during processing and transportation and ensure they are handled with care. The label will only be applied by a USPS employee when a postal customer indicates the package contains cremated remains.
If you have any questions, you should contact your local post office.
Transporting Cremated Remains by Air Domestically
According to the Cremation Association of North America (CANA) 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, CANA advises you to consider all of the following steps*:
- Check with the airline to determine their exact policies on either shipping or handling as luggage. You can find this information by searching the airline website for “cremated remains.” To see two policies, click Southwest or American. NOTE: 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, and in all cases the contents should be identified as cremated human remains.
- Review the Transportation Security Administration requirements — click here (and use their “Can I Bring” app to search cremated human remains)– 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).
- 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.
Transporting Cremated Remains by Air Internationally
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 Embassy(ies) 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 the 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.