In 2015, more people chose cremation over burial for the first time ever. The National Funeral Directors Association predicts that twenty years from now, as many as 80 percent of Americans will opt to be cremated. It also used to be that cremains were usually held together in a single urn.
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Now, many families are dividing and sending ashes so that many people in a family can hold onto a piece of their loved one. A lot of people will also send portions of cremation ash to artisans to incorporate into a special keepsake.
But what people don’t always realize is that there are strict rules for shipping human remains, even in ash form. You might just assume that you can package them up and send them via FedEx easily enough. Here, we’ll explore how to ship cremated remains.
Tip: If you find out you can't ship your remains, you may want to consider flying or traveling with the cremated ashes instead.
FedEx’s Policy For Shipping Cremated Remains
FedEx does not allow people to ship cremated remains. Their Terms and Conditions section contains an entire section on prohibited items. Here’s one specific excerpt from their prohibited items category:
“Human corpses, human organs or body parts, human or animal embryos, cremated or disinterred human remains.”
Cremation ashes are encapsulated with this policy. FedEx isn’t the only courier service that bans the transportation of ashes. In fact, all other courier services, including UPS and DHL, have policies against transport human remains even in ash form.
Note that this is different when it comes to memorial jewelry or memorial diamonds. For example, Eterneva specializes in memorial diamonds that are easy to ship using their guidelines and packaging.
Alternatives to Shipping Cremated Remains Via Fedex
With FedEx, UPS, and DHL off the table, you may feel like you’re at a loss when it comes to figuring out what to do with cremated remains. However, there are some options available to you. Here, we break those down in further detail:
Send them via the United States Postal Service
The United States Postal Service (USPS) is the only service that will allow you to legally ship cremation ashes. However, there are very specific rules you need to follow when it comes to packaging them and labeling them. It is important to understand and follow all these rules and regulations. The USPS website breaks this process down in their FAQs, but we’ll also discuss it here.
First, you should contact the USPS and request their Cremated Remains Kit. They offer two different ones that will enable you to ship pet or human ashes both domestically and internationally. Please note that if you’re sending it internationally, check the rules of the country you're shipping it to so you can ensure it is legal to send ashes there.
The first kit includes a certain box and a roll of Priority Mail packing tape (cremated ashes can only be sent via Priority Mail). The second kit includes those same items, along with bubble wrap, a self-sealing bag, and a document called How to Package and Ship Cremated Remains. You can’t pick this up from your local post office: you will need to visit the USPS website and order it for delivery.
You can also request copies of Label 139, which is the specific label required for denoting that a package contains human cremains. Label 139 is available at post office locations, too. If you’re shipping internationally, you should also fill out a customs form.
While you wait for the Cremated Remains Kit to arrive, you should also make sure you have a secondary container to hold the ashes. You can’t just put the ashes in a box loose, as they also need to be sealed into a secondary inner container. This inner container should be strong and leak-proof so that the ashes can’t spill.
Look into temporary urns for ashes made out of lightweight materials like plastic or cardboard. They will keep the cremains secure but won’t make the shipping weight prohibitively expensive. The urn can then be placed in a sealed plastic bag to catch any ashes that may somehow still spill out.
Whenever you package a smaller container inside of a bigger container, it’s important to pad it. This can help keep the inner container from shifting and potentially being damaged or spilling. Bubble wrap, packing peanuts, and other packing materials can help with this.
You should also include a note inside the box with the shipper and the sender’s contact information. This includes names, addresses, and phone numbers. That way if the outer label is somehow damaged, there is a chance that someone could open the box and reach out.
Finally, close the box and seal it shut with the Priority Mail packing tape. Once it is securely sealed, place Label 139 (which is a red sticker reading Cremated Remains) on the outside of the box. You need to place this label on each side of the box as well as the top and bottom, so you will need six of them altogether.
Lastly, apply your shipping label, intelligent barcode, and customs form if necessary to the outside of the box. While a properly packed and labeled box can be picked up by a mail carrier, the USPS urges people to bring it into the post office for mailing. This way you can make sure everything is correct before you send it off.
Fly with them on an airplane
If you’re sending a small portion of ashes to a company to use in a piece of cremation art, using the United States Postal Service is the way to go. It may also be the right choice if you’re sending ashes to several family members. But you can also personally transport ashes with you on most airlines. Again, there are some rules you’ll need to follow when flying with cremated remains.
The first thing you need to do is look at the rules for the specific carrier you’re flying on. Every airline has their own rules and regulations when it comes to transporting ashes. Some airlines will allow you to carry ashes in carry-on luggage. If you’re flying internationally, you should also look up the rules and regulations of the country to see if it’s appropriate to bring cremains with you. Consulting the embassy website for that country will often give you the information you need, or you can call them directly.
Next, you need to make sure your ashes are kept in an appropriate container. Specifically, you’ll need a travel urn that is approved by the TSA. A lightweight urn in a sturdy material is the best. An urn made from a material like ceramic or glass could break. Security personnel also need to be able to see inside the urn when it goes through the x-ray machine.
If your urn is lined or contains lead, it won’t pass inspection. TSA agents won’t open the urn, nor will they inspect the ashes visually if you choose to open it, so it must be visible on x-ray if you want to travel with it. Lightweight urns made from materials like wood, cardboard, or plastic are the best. It’s also a good idea to keep the ashes inside a sealed plastic bag before placing it in the urn. That way if the urn is somehow damaged, the ashes will still be contained.
Finally, you need to make sure you have your paperwork in order. You’ll need to present both a death certificate and a certificate of cremation to TSA and possibly to airline employees as well. If you’re traveling internationally, you may need to fill out additional documentation.
Shipping Cremated Remains: How Do You Do It?
In today’s modern world, it’s relatively easy to ship things all over the world. So it would be easy to think that shipping ashes is just as simple to do as any other object. But cremation ash is a form of human remains, and so they need to be handled in a very specific way.
Whether you choose a custom urn from Foreverence or you opt for something more standard, transportation is something to consider when making your decision.
There are ways that you can send or travel with cremation ash. It may take a little extra effort, but this guide can help you find the right way to do it.
- “Cremation on the Rise: NFDA Predicts the National Cremation Rate Will Climb by a Third Within 20 Years.” Nfda.org, National Funeral Directors Association, 12 July 2018, nfda.org/news/media-center/nfda-news-releases/id/3526/cremation-on-the-rise-nfda-predicts-the-national-cremation-rate-will-climb-by-a-third-within-20-years.