With an increasingly global society, it is unsurprising for families to be spread out across the world. You may have family living overseas, a loved one living across the country, or even just a few hours away by car or public transportation.
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In much the same way, many may encounter a situation where cremation takes place prior to a funeral or memorial service, which can leave some family members bereft if they were unable to attend in-person.
Some people choose to share the ashes of a loved one with other family members or close loved ones and may be unsure of how to do so. You may also be wondering how to ship cremated remains to another loved one living far away.
Thankfully, the United States Postal Service has made the process as simple and straightforward as possible to help grieving families. With just a few step-by-step instructions, you can ship cremated remains from one part of the world to another, assured that such precious cargo will reach its destination intact and unharmed.
Steps for Shipping Cremains With USPS
Whether you need to ship cremains from one state to another or to a location overseas, the United States Postal Service has attempted to simplify the process.
It’s important to follow each step closely. Failure to adhere to any guideline provided could result in your package being returned to sender with a request to repackage and resend.
Unless your package meets all USPS guidelines, they will not be able to ship the cremains. Postal workers will inform you as to the missed guidelines and provide further guidance regarding how to fulfill requirements in order to send your package.
If you're shipping remains for a memorial diamond or other memorial artwork, you'll need to follow specific instructions from the provider. For example, memorial diamond creator Eterneva sends each customer a special shipping kit to ensure the ashes arrive at the lab safely.
Step 1: Choose international or domestic shipping
You first need to decide whether you’re mailing cremains internationally or domestically within the United States.
The USPS handles both types of mail, but shipping cremains internationally is a different process requiring more information to determine whether shipping is even possible.
If you’re shipping internationally, you’ll need to do some research on the front-end to make sure you can ship cremated remains.
- Determine whether the country in question permits cremated remains to be sent. You can do this by checking on the country’s embassy website or calling the embassy directly.
- You will also want to find out if USPS sends “Priority Mail Express International” to the country in question. You can find this out by looking through the “Individual Country Listing” in the USPS International Mail Manual Mailing Standards.
- Once you’ve determined whether the country you want to ship to can receive cremated remains, you can proceed to the next steps in getting your package ready to ship.
Shipping cremains for both animals and humans within the United States is always permitted with USPS as long as the proper packaging and sending guidelines are followed.
Step 2: Find what packaging and shipping materials are needed
For proper packaging, you will need three pieces: an inner “sift-proof” container, cushioning material, and an outer package for shipping.
What's a sift-proof container? This qualifies as any vessel that will not allow ashes or cremains to sift through the inner packaging into the outer shipping box. The type of container will vary depending on whether you are shipping cremains internationally or domestically, so be sure the package adheres to your specific shipping needs.
Step 3: Find an inner sift-proof container
As mentioned above, the inner package must be a sift-proof container for both domestic and international shipping. If you are unsure what to use, consult a licensed funeral director to help you choose the correct type of urn for shipping.
To ship cremated remains internationally, the inner container must be an urn for ashes. In addition, it must be properly sealed and absolutely sift-proof. Place ashes in an airtight bag within the sealed urn for extra protection during the shipping process.
Ensure that the funeral urn used is strong and durable enough to withstand the rigors of shipping internationally. Though the package will be marked and identified as containing cremated remains, international shipping can be a rough process and delicate urns such as those made out of fine china or glass are not guaranteed to arrive undamaged.
When shipping domestically, the inner container must only be durable and sift-proof. It does not have to specifically be a funerary urn but must be able to contain the ashes with no risk of opening or spilling.
Step 4: Secure the inner packaging
In order to provide extra security for your package, the USPS recommends sealing and labeling the inner package, in addition to labeling the outer package. Should the outer packaging label come off or become illegible for some reason, the inner package label will provide the address so the postal service can make sure it arrives at its final destination.
You do not need to label the urn or inner package itself. Instead, place the package inside a clear, sealed plastic bag. Place a label with both return and delivery address on the plastic bag. Finally, place a label with the words, “cremated remains” on the plastic bag.
Once you’ve done this, the inner packaging is secure and ready to be placed in the shipping box.
Step 5: Use the right packaging material
After you place your inner package in the shipping box, you may notice that there is naturally more room than your inner package needs. To prevent your urn from moving around and getting disrupted during the shipping process, insert packaging material into the box all around the urn. Recommended materials include:
- Packaging peanuts: Use these styrofoam shaped pieces to help fill up cracks and open areas in boxes. Peanuts are prone to moving during shipment but can absorb shock and prevent items from moving around excessively. You may want to combine these with other materials if the urn is fragile.
- Shipping paper: Crushed and wadded up paper placed all around the inner package helps to prevent it from moving. Bulky wadded up paper is beneficial for use with slightly fragile items since the paper keeps the item in place and also helps to absorb some shock during transit.
- Bubblewrap: These sheets of plastic and air-filled pockets are best to use with fragile items, as the air bubbles will absorb any shock received during transit and the padding will prevent the item from moving around in the box.
Oftentimes, a combination of the above packaging materials works the best. For example, wrap a fragile urn in bubble wrap, then place wadded-up shipping paper in all the empty spaces in the box. Finally, add in some packaging peanuts to fill up any remaining space in the box.
Step 6: Get the right outer package for shipping
When shipping cremated remains through USPS, you have one primary option to ship either domestically or internationally. For domestic, you can ship USPS Priority Mail Express and for international packages you may want to ship Priority Mail Express International Service. Regardless, you must choose USPS’s priority mail express service.
There are special boxes for priority mail express that can be obtained for free directly through the USPS website, or you can choose your own outer box to use.
If you decide to supply your own box instead of obtaining one from the postal service, it’s essential that you use a box that is thick, tough, and durable enough to make the journey. If using a USPS box, you will need to ask for the “Priority Mail Express Cremated Remains” kit that comes with the box and other needed supplies. This box can be used for both domestic and international shipping.
Step 7: Add any extra identification
Once you have the urn inside the proper box with plenty of packaging material, you’ll be just about ready to close and seal it. Before you do, however, USPS recommends enclosing a slip of paper with both a return address and the delivery address. This ensures that there is plenty of identification for your package in case a label goes missing.
At this point, you’re ready to seal up your box. Use plenty of packaging tape to ensure the top, bottom, and sides are taped up and secured.
Step 8: Label your package
In order to help package handlers quickly identify that your package contains cremated remains, the outer shipping box must have USPS Label 139 adhered to all sides, top, and bottom.
This label is orange and has the words, “Cremated Remains” in white. Label 139 can be obtained from any USPS post office or online.
Step 9: Addressing domestic packages
Place both a return and a delivery address on the package. Write clearly in ink that will not smudge or fade. For extra protection in case of rain, place clear tape over top to prevent the ink from running.
Step 10: Addressing international packages
Clearly write a return and delivery address on the package. As mentioned above, you will want to cover the address information with tape to prevent the ink from running.
In addition to an address, you will need to include a customs declaration form, disclosing that the package contains cremated remains. Finally, if you have it, a cremation certificate should be attached to the outside of the box or placed just under the lid for easy access.
Shipping Cremated Remains With USPS: FAQs
Here are three commonly asked questions you may be wondering about.
How much does it cost to ship cremated remains?
The cost for Priority Mail Express, domestic and international, is largely determined according to weight. For an accurate price, weigh your package at home and call your local post office to enquire about current pricing.
What happens if you want to ship them to a different country?
See Step 1 for instructions on determining whether the destination country can receive cremated remains. The best place to find out is through that country’s embassy website or by calling their U.S. embassy directly. If you are able to ship to that country, follow the remaining instructions above for international shipping.
What if you can’t or don’t want to use USPS?
Only USPS is permitted to ship cremated remains within the United States or from the United States to another country.
Send Remains Securely
Thanks to the U.S. Postal Service, it’s possible to send cremated remains across the U.S. and internationally. Follow each of the steps above to give yourself peace of mind and ensure your package is sent securely.
Whether you're sending your loved one's remains with a custom urn from Foreverence or by themselves, you want to feel confident that they'll arrive safe and sound. When in doubt, talk to a service representative at your local post office for help.
- “How to Package and Ship Cremated Remains.” Publication 139, USPS, September 2019, about.usps.com/publications/pub139.pdf