Do TSA Officers Have Guns & Arrest Powers? [2023]

A lot of travelers get a little bit nervous when going through airport security. They are afraid of something going wrong and having a badged TSA officer give them trouble as they try to make their way through the airport.

But do these TSA officers have the same level of authority as law-enforcement officers? For example, can they arrest you and can they carry guns on them?

In this article, I will take a look at whether or not TSA officers have arrest authority and can legally carry guns.

The answer to this question might make you feel a little bit more at ease when going through security but there are still some things that might surprise you.

Do TSA officers have guns?

Most TSA employees are Transportation Security Officers (TSOs) who do not possess arrest powers and are not permitted to carry weapons, including guns. However, there are some employees under the TSA who are allowed to carry guns with them. Keep reading below to find out more.

Tip: Use the free app WalletFlo to help you travel the world for free by finding the best travel credit cards and promotions!

TSA Overview

The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) is an agency of the DHS with a mission to “protect the nation’s transportation systems to ensure freedom of movement for people and commerce.”

The agency, which now has over 54,000 employees, came into existence following the 9/11 attacks with the goal of improving airport security procedures and centralizing air travel security under one agency.

While TSA is most commonly associated with air travel, the agency also develops policies to help protect the U.S. highways, railroads, buses, mass transit systems, ports, and pipelines.

Although most people think of TSA employees as coming in one universal form, there actually are several different types of TSA employees.

Most of these employees do not have arrest powers or permission to possess firearms but that is not always the case….

Below, I’ll give you a breakdown of some of the TSA departments and explain which ones may have authority to carry guns and arrest people.


Most TSA employees are Transportation Security Officers (TSOs).

TSO’s are those officers that greet you (with varying levels of friendliness) at airport security checkpoints and usher you through to those wonderful full body scanners.

When people think of TSA officers, TSO’s are usually what they are thinking of.

While most of the time they are concerned with facilitating the standard security screening process, some TSOs may have additional responsibilities.

For example, some TSOs are also Behavior Detection Officers (BDOs).

These are TSA agents tasked with observing passengers as they go through security checkpoints, looking for certain types of behaviors that might indicate the person is up to no good.

It’s important to note that TSO’s do not carry weapons, are not allowed to use force, and they also lack the authority to arrest individuals.

So the vast majority of TSA employees cannot lawfully carry guns.

Federal Air Marshalls

The Federal Air Marshal Service is the law enforcement arm of the TSA.

These are TSA employees who usually work undercover and are the TSA personell known for carrying guns on them.

In order to be a Federal Air Marshal, you have to have exceptional marksman abilities which makes sense since firing a gun in a plane is not exactly low-risk.

Federal Air Marshals also need to be well versed in close quarter combat since they may be tasked with disarming and disabling threats.

These agents are adept at blending into the crowd so in a lot of instances it could be very difficult to point them out. However, if you know what to look for sometimes it’s not so hard to spot them.

Federal Air Marshals are not on every plane since that would take an incredible amount of resources. Instead, they could be assigned to flights randomly or based on a destination or suspected threat level.

For example, if someone is on a government watch list and flying on a plane, there’s a good chance at least one Air Marshal will be on board.

Air Marshals are known to closely observe passengers and travelers in airports, looking for odd behaviors and movements.

The types of behavior they could be looking for are almost infinite but could include things like an abrupt change in direction when walking through the airport, constant fidgeting, changing clothes, etc.

Basically, anything remotely suspicious.

Related to the Air Marshals are the Federal Flight Deck Officers (FFDOs). Many people have no idea about these volunteer officers but it’s actually a pretty interesting program.

These are mostly pilots who are former military and they are officially deputized by the TSA.

Their jurisdiction is limited to the flight deck but these are pilots who are allowed to carry a weapon and know how to use it.

Like the Air Marshals, they undergo similar training focusing on constitutional law, marksmanship, physical fitness, behavioral observation, defensive tactics, and emergency medical assistance.

One of the big differences is that these are just volunteers and don’t earn extra wages for taking on this additional responsibility.

Related: Do Airline Pilots Carry Guns in the Cockpit?

TSA Canine handlers

If you’ve traveled enough you’ve certainly seen canine handlers and the airport.

These are people who take care of the dogs that go around patrolling for explosives and other dangerous items. Some dogs might be sniffing out drugs but typically it is the bombs and explosives that are a primary concern in the US.

These canine teams are made up of TSA inspectors and local law-enforcement officers.

Law enforcement officers make up roughly 65 percent and the other 35 percent are transportation security inspectors.

This means that most of these canine handlers should have arrest powers and also likely have guns.

You can usually tell the TSA canine agents apart because they wear khaki pants and the law enforcement officers are usually dressed in all black or something else. I believe the TSA agents who handle the canines are also unarmed.

Visible Intermodal Protection and Response (VIPR)

Visible Intermodal Protection and Response (VIPR) is a program designed to “augment the security of any mode of transportation at any location within the United States.”

Officers enrolled in this program are part of the TSA’s Office of Law Enforcement/Federal Air Marshal Service, which allows some of them to have arrest powers and to carry weapons.

While you could find members of VIPR at an airport, you wont typically find them at airports.

Instead, you would usually find these at pretty much any other place of transportation including: railroad stations, bus stations, ferries, car tunnels, ports, subways, truck weigh stations, and rest areas.


United States Customs and Border Protection (CBP) is the largest federal law enforcement agency of the United States Department of Homeland Security.

They are charged with “keeping terrorists and their weapons out of the U.S. while facilitating lawful international travel and trade.

CBP officers do have arrest powers and also are allowed to carry weapons. They are distinct from TSA but sometimes there is overlap between personnel in certain types of departments (e.g., VIPR).

Related: Is Customs the Same as TSA? (Key Differences)

Should TSA officers have guns?

In 2013, TSA agent Gerardo Hernandez was gunned down at LAX airport. He was the first TSA officer killed in the line of duty in the agency’s history.

This raised the question of whether or not TSA agents (TSOs) should have guns while on duty.

Opponents point to the fact that there are over 40,000 TSO’s and that arming all of them with guns would inevitably lead to a lot of mishaps and unnecessary deaths.

They question the training that TSOs would receive with respect to using a weapon and how qualified those agents would be to fire in an airport with hundreds of bystanders often in close proximity.

It’s very difficult to disagree with these concerns.

A more practical solution might be creating a smaller unit of law enforcement within the TSA that trains TSO agents to use firearms. Essentially, these would be similar to the Federal Air Marshals except their domain would be the security checkpoint stations.

However, opponents think this is still “mission creep” and think that there are better solutions. For example, there could be a more reliable presence from law enforcement officers in airports, panic buttons installed for TSA agents, etc.

Unfortunately, we don’t typically see major changes in security procedures until after some type of attack or attempted attack. So my guess would be that until we experience another incident at airport security, things will probably remain the same.

Bringing firearms through the airport

If you are interested in legally transporting a firearm yourself then you should be well aware of the TSA firearm rules.

Basically, under no circumstances can you ever bring a firearm through airport security as a carry-on.

However, you are allowed to bring certain types of firearms in your checked baggage.

When doing so, you need to make sure that you comply with some of the rules like making sure the weapon is not loaded and having the weapon in a secured luggage bag.

We’ve put together an in-depth guide on traveling with firearms and you can check it out here.

Final word

Most TSA employees are TSO’s who do not have arrest powers and do not carry weapons of any kind, including guns.

However, there are some individuals under the TSA such as Federal Air Marshals who do have law enforcement powers and are allowed to carry guns through the airport and even on planes.

In addition to them, some pilots may also be armed if they are in the FFDO program.

Can TSA Check Your Phone & Electronic Devices? What About CBP? [2023]

Millions of travelers store extremely private information on their cell phones and laptops these days.

One worry when traveling through airports is the thought of other people getting access to that information.

Specifically, people worry about TSA agents and US Customs and Border Protection (CBP) agents checking their phones and computers when going through security and immigration/customs.

But what authority do these agencies really have when it comes to your personal phone, laptop, and other electronic devices?

In this article, I’ll break down whether or not TSA and CBP actually have authority to inspect and even detain your devices.

The results may surprise you a little bit but it definitely helps to be informed on this topic!

Can the TSA check your electronic devices?

TSA is not a law enforcement agency and therefore lacks certain types of search and seizure authority.

According to communications from the TSA, the agency, “does not search electronic devices for electronic content that may be contained on the device, and does not extract data from passenger electronic devices.”

Electronic devices would mean things like phones, laptops, cameras, tapes, external hard drives, etc.

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TSA’s stated purpose

TSA stands for “Transportation Security Administration” and the purpose is to “strengthen the security of the nation’s transportation systems while ensuring the freedom of movement for people and commerce.”

TSA is not looking for drugs like marijuana, trying to track down your arrest warrants, or engage in other types of law-enforcement duties.

Instead, they are focused on preventing people from bringing dangerous items like explosives on planes.

They also are not responsible for controlling our international borders, which means that they have not been granted special authority by the US government to engage in certain types of searches and seizures.

TSA screening and your electronic devices

Typically, whenever you head through TSA security you will place your phone in your carry-on/personal item or in one of the small bowls given to you at the x-ray conveyor belt.

If you don’t have TSA Pre-Check, you will take out your laptop and put it through the x-ray scanner separate from your luggage.

You’ll then head through a metal detector scanner or a full-body scanner with no electronic devices attached to your person.

While you are doing that, your electronic devices will go through the x-ray machine and be scanned by an agent.

At no time during this process should you be asked about the digital contents of your phone or other electronic devices.

In some cases, you could be asked to power on your electronic device to determine if it functions.

Your device also could be inspected to ensure that nothing is hidden inside of it such as contraband.

Also, you may need to show your device’s screen in order to show your boarding pass to a TSA agent.

But these type of interactions should be the furthest extent of any request related to your devices.

If they ask you to log-in to your device or unlock it, they are overstepping boundaries and you should feel okay with challenging their authority.

Basically, you should just ask for a TSA supervisor and tell them that you want 100% clarity as to their authority under the law for accessing the content on your electronic device.

Hint: They won’t be able to provide you with any.

Even if you are subject to SSSS, which is a heightened security screening that can be applied randomly, the contents of your phone and or laptop should still not be something that gets inspected.

The device might get swabbed for traces of explosives but a heightened security search should not involve you sharing the contents of your phone.

So if you are traveling domestically, that should give you a little bit of comfort knowing that the contents of your devices (e.g., files, photos, videos, etc.) cannot be searched by TSA.

But if you are traveling internationally, it is a much different story.

Related: TSA Approved Locks Guide (Worth It?)

CBP’s authority to inspect your devices

Unlike TSA, CBP has law-enforcement authority.

Not only that but they have authority to inspect the digital contents of your electronic devices when you are entering the United States as spelled out in their guidelines.

So CBP can definitely check your phone, camera, laptop, tablet, external hard drive, etc.

Where does this authority come from?

CBP is charged with “keeping terrorists and their weapons out of the U.S. while facilitating lawful international travel and trade.”

In order to carry out these duties, CBP must:

“determine the identity and citizenship of all persons seeking entry into the United States, determine the admissibility of foreign nationals, and deter the entry of possible terrorists, terrorist weapons, controlled substances, and a wide variety of other prohibited and restricted items.”

Various laws give CBP authority to enforce searches and detentions including: 8 U.S.C. § 1357 and 19 U.S.C. §§ 1499, 1581, 1582.

US Supreme Court cases also have previously held that routine searches that take place at the border do not require reasonable suspicion, probable cause, or even warrants.

That’s because according to the law, you have a reduced expectation of privacy at a border crossing, whether you are coming in or going out.

How effective are these laws at helping CBP carry out their duties when it comes to devices?

According to the CBP, these border searches for electronic devices have:

“resulted in evidence helpful in combating terrorist activity, child pornography, drug smuggling, human smuggling, bulk cash smuggling, human trafficking, export control violations, intellectual property rights violations and visa fraud.”

So CBP agents have a much higher level of search and seizure authority than TSA agents and they may also be actively looking for specific types of digital content located in electronic devices to further their mission.

The case law is still evolving on how exactly electronic devices should be handled at borders but it’s prudent to assume that CBP will err on the side of having access to your devices for now.

Related: How Much Cash Can You Travel With? (TSA & International Rules)

How often does CBP make these searches?

It’s actually pretty rare for CBP to inspect electronic devices.

Consider that in the fiscal year of 2019, CBP processed more than 414 million travelers at ports of entry and only conducted 40,913 searches of electronic devices.

That means that they only searched .01% of international travelers.

Here is a look at the month-by-month numbers of electronic device searches from 2017 to 2019.

Why do people get chosen for an inspection of their electronic devices?

Anybody leaving or entering the US is subject to inspection, search, and detention.

So anytime you’re traveling internationally you are fair game for an inspection.

However, there are quite a few specific reasons why you might be selected for an inspection and these include:

  • Incomplete travel documents
  • Improper visa
  • Prior violations of CBP enforced laws
  • Name matches name on government watch list
  • Selected for a random search

What type of searches are done?

When it comes to searching your devices, CBP agents will typically engage in either a “basic search” or an “advanced search.”

When engaging in a basic search, the agent does not need to have any suspicion.

That’s right, they can simply pick you out of a crowd and say, “Hey you, let me see your phone” with zero suspicion about what you’re doing.

And once you hand your phone over, they can start inspecting the contents of your phone, looking at things like social media apps, pictures, notes, etc.

An advanced search is a bit different.

This is when a CBP agent hooks up your phone to some type of external device with the intention to review, copy, or analyze contents.

Under most circumstances, these should take place only with the approval of a supervisor.

For these type of searches, there needs to be “reasonable suspicion” or some type of a national security concern.

What exactly creates a reasonable suspicion is a little unclear but it could be the presence of someone’s name on a watch list or other factors.

One thing is clear, probable cause is not needed nor is a warrant needed to inspect your phone.

Keep in mind, these searches can sometimes take hours. If you are flying back into the US and have a connecting flight, it’s possible that a search of your electronic device could force you to miss your connecting flight.

Cloud-based contents

The CBP search is not supposed to allow agents to access information that is only stored remotely.

That is a pretty important factor to know.

If the contents purely exist on the cloud the agent should not have the authority to force you to login and show them.

One way that they ensure this is to disable data connections on the phone (airplane mode) so that they can only access content stored locally on the device.

The search of your device should be conducted in your presence unless there is some type of national security or law-enforcement risk.

This doesn’t mean that you will be able to watch the screen as they search your device, it just means you will be nearby as they explore your contents.

Worth noting, there are special rules in place to protect things like attorney-client privilege communications, medical information, and other sensitive content.

Password protected devices

A major question that people have is what happens whenever you have a laptop or phone password-protected?

Can they force you to give them your password?

The answer looks like no, they cannot force you but they can certainly make it very difficult (and futile) for you if you refuse to provide your password.

First, the guidelines say “travelers are obligated to present electronic devices and the information contained therein in a condition that allows inspection of the device and its contents.”

It says that if an officer is presented with a password-protected device, an officer “may request” your assistance in presenting the information in a condition that allows inspection of the device.

How exactly that request would play out in practice is something I’m very curious about.

The CBP agents I’ve encountered have been very friendly over the years in the vast majority of cases.

But if they are on the hunt for information they believe is relevant to national security, I’m sure they would have a different demeanor.

Their request for your assistance and giving them your password may come off as more of a demand but that’s just my speculation.

CBP agents are not limited to just requesting the password to unlock your device either.

They can also request/demand passwords to access information on the device that is accessible through apps.

I interpret this to mean that they could get you to log in to communication apps like WhatsApp to see who you have been messaging if that information is available off-line.

It’s reported that your password will be deleted or destroyed when there is no longer a need for the search.

What if you don’t give them your password?

The guidelines state that an officer can detain electronic devices for a reasonable period of time to perform a thorough border search and the search can take place off-site.

So basically, if you refuse to give them access to your phone or electronic device they can simply confiscate it and figure out a way to get in on their own.

Typically, the detention of your device should not exceed five days.

You should be given a form that notifies you about the devices approved for detention and that gives you a point of contact.

Once the inspection is complete you will be able to pick up your device at the location it was taken or you can pay to have it shipped to you.

However, if they find probable cause they can retain your device.

For example, if they find evidence of you engaged in crime you most likely will not be getting your phone back as it will be subject to seizure under federal law.

Thoughts and concerns

The guidelines do offer a decent amount of clarity on how this process works.

I appreciate that they are straightforward with telling you that they do not need any suspicion to check your phone and that probable cause is not needed as well.

The biggest concern I would have is that it seems like if you don’t provide the agent with the passwords they are requesting, there’s potential for you to go through a pretty big mess with getting your device back.

It will likely be retained for several days and in some cases even a couple of weeks.

If you are US citizen you should still be able to enter the country but if you are a foreign citizen you may be denied entry.

Final word

When traveling domestically, you don’t need to worry about TSA searching the contents of your electronic devices such as your phone or your laptop.

However, when traveling internationally CBP has a lot of authority to inspect the contents of all of your electronic devices, even if they are password-protected.

TSA Approved Locks Guide (Worth It?) [2023]

Nobody wants potential criminals or strangers having access to personal items in their travel luggage. One way that people add an extra layer of security to their baggage is to place a TSA approved lock on their bag.

But how exactly do these TSA approved locks work? And can they really be trusted?

In this article, I’ll break down everything you need to know about TSA approved locks including the pros and cons of using them.

You’ll see exactly when it’s worth it to use them and also get some recommendations for finding the best locks. But most of all, you will see why they might be a security risk in some cases.

What are TSA approved locks?

TSA approved locks are special locks designed by Travel Sentry and Safe Skies that TSA agents can easily unlock with a master key. They provide travelers with an additional layer of security while also allowing TSA agents to inspect bags when necessary.

However, there are some major security concerns with these locks. Keep reading below to see when you should and should NOT use TSA approved locks.

Tip: Use the free app WalletFlo to help you travel the world for free by finding the best travel credit cards and promotions!

How to know if a lock is TSA approved

It’s very easy to quickly identify a TSA approved lock because they will have a red diamond (Travel Sentry logo) on the lock that is pretty hard to miss.

Check out the four locks below. Notice how they each have a red diamond icon in the top right for easy recognition.

In addition to the red icon, you can also often find etched lettering indicating the type of TSA lock such as “TSA-007” (but more on that below).

TSA approved locks can come in a lot of different forms including:

  • Three number combination
  • Four number combination
  • Cable Locks
  • Pad Locks
  • Built-in luggage locks

These locks, which can come in all sorts of different colors, shapes, and sizes, can also come from quite a few different brands including:

  • Anvil
  • Forge
  • Master Lock
  • Sure Lock
  • Samsonite

In total, the Sentry Lock system is licensed to over 500 companies worldwide!

So don’t be surprised if you encounter a lot of locks from brands you have never heard of — they may very well be legitimate companies.

It’s worth noting that there are also TSA approved locks designed by Safe Skies. Their website is a bit more old school so I think they are a smaller player in the space but as far as I can tell, you can still order their locks.

Why should you use TSA approved locks?

You should use TSA approved locks so that you can keep your belongings a little bit more secure while not wasting money on travel locks.

Keep your belongings a little bit more secure

One use for TSA approved locks is that these locks provide one extra hurdle for thieves.

Even if the locks could be easily picked or removed, the fact that a thief would have to take one extra step to get into your bag could deter them and cause them to choose a different bag.

It’s similar to using a hotel safe — they are not full-proof but could force a thief to look elsewhere.

This probably works best against pick pockets that you could encounter around the airport, on shuttle buses, trains, and in hotels.

But consider that some thieves may be attracted to a suitcase that has a lock on it because they could view it as a sign that there is something extra valuable on the inside!

Keep your luggage zippers from coming open

Personally, I think TSA approved locks are most useful for making sure that their luggage zippers do not come undone while traveling.

Cheaper bags and bags that have been used a lot could be more prone to this because they lack sufficient tension in the zipper slider to keep the teeth connected.

The result could be a disaster where your wardrobe and luggage contents are spilled all over the place! So placing a lock on your luggage can help you avoid worrying about this scenario.

Avoid wasting money on travel locks

To understand how you might be wasting money, it helps to first understand how the screening process works for checked bags and what TSA’s liability policy is for damaged locks.

TSA screening process

TSA screens about approximately 1.4 million checked bags per day.

Contrary to what many believe, during the screening process, TSA is not actively looking for drugs. So if you have marijuana in your checked baggage it’s not like TSA agents are trying to catch you with some bud.

Instead, TSA is much more concerned with things like explosives and other dangerous items.

The exact screening process that your bag undergoes can vary based on the airport since TSA and airports are constantly testing out new technologies.

But typically, your checked bag will go through an x-ray machine after it is checked in with the airline.

There could be someone watching the x-rays in real time or more likely the x-ray machine could be utilizing some kind of algorithm that detects prohibited items.

If the algorithm is tripped then your bag may go to a TSA inspection room where an agent will perform a physical inspection of your luggage (only about 5% to 10% of checked bags are physically inspected).

In this room, all of the contents of your bag could be removed and swabbed for traces of explosives.

The good news is they do keep cameras in these inspection rooms so if something goes missing, there should be a proper investigation to check the footage.

Your bag could also be inspected if an airport sniffing dog alerts a TSA agent to your bag or perhaps agents see something suspicious on CCTV.

Finally, there are also random inspections.

The bottom line is you never know if your checked bag will be inspected by a TSA officer and will need to be opened. So you should always prepare for the possibility.

No liability if damaged

If your bag needs to be inspected and you have a non-TSA approved lock on it, then agents will cut away that lock in order to inspect your baggage.

They will not be responsible for the damage to the lock, so you’ll be out of luck on having a lock for your luggage.

This is one of the major reasons why you would want to use a TSA approved lock — you can avoid the risk of wasting money on a lock.

Something else to be aware of is that many times locks get stuck in the conveyor belts and break.

So just because your bag comes back missing its lock, that does not mean that your bag was physically inspected. It could have just been bad luck.

Some TSA approved locks have lifetime warranties so you could always file a claim and potentially get a free lock replacement.

Notice of baggage inspection

If your checked baggage is opened and physically inspected, TSA will place a notice of baggage inspection inside your bag (which you can view below).

If this happens to you, you should check your bag to see if you are missing anything.

It’s possible that you could be missing prohibited items that were removed from your baggage. For example, if you had excessive cans of hairspray or vape batteries, a TSA agent could find those and remove them.

If that’s the case, then you should just be grateful that you were not tracked down for a violation of bringing prohibited items in your luggage. Many prohibited items could land you with a big fine!

In some cases, you might find that you’re missing a valuable item.

It’s recommended to put your electronics and other valuable items in your carry-on bag so that they don’t leave your side but that is not always possible.

If you find that some of your items are missing or maybe even just damaged, you can file a complaint with the TSA.

Note that you need to file your complaint within 180 days of the events in order to get the matter properly looked at.

TSA Notice of baggage inspection

Why should you NOT use TSA approved locks?

There are a couple of reasons why you do not want to use TSA approved locks in certain instances and they both come down to a lack of security.

Universal master keys are widely available

Something that a lot of people don’t know is that it’s very easy for people to get access to a TSA master key.

TSA approved locks come in different versions.

You can usually see which version the lock is by looking for a number etched on the lock ranging from: TSA001 to TSA008.

These numbers tell the TSA agent inspecting your bag which TSA master key to use in order to unlock the lock.

The problem is that master keys have been available to the public for quite some time.

One can easily go online and purchase a TSA master key for under $20.

There’s no guarantee that the key will work but I’ve seen instances online of people successfully using these master keys for their own TSA locks.

Then there is the 3-D printer issue. In 2014, the Washington Post published an article with photos of the TSA master keys.

It did not take very long for people to create templates for the TSA master keys and start 3-D printing their own TSA master keys that also successfully unlock the locks.

This has been going on for over almost a decade. And even before that, it’s speculated that people were able to reverse engineer the keys starting back in 2011.

What does this mean?

This means that TSA approved locks offer a minimal level of security and should never be seriously relied upon outside of the context of an airport.

Remember, TSA approved locks also come with bright red diamond indicators on them that basically scream, “Hey I’m easy to open!”

If you were a thief with a master key, you could easily spot them and target them for your next criminal act.

TSA Master Keys
Image via Reddit.

TSA approved locks can be picked

TSA approved locks can easily be picked.

One quick YouTube search will yield several videos showing how easily these locks can be picked.

But even if someone does not have a master key or the ability to pick a lock, they could easily just use a writing pen to pop open the teeth of the zipper.

The zipper could still be used and the bag won’t even be ruined if done properly. See this video for how it could be done. This means that baggage handlers could still easily get into your bag and potentially even use your bag to transport illegal substances like drugs.

At lots of airports, the baggage handlers don’t have to go through normal security.

So they could easily bring drugs into the baggage loading area and slip them into luggage. If they have connections where the airport is landing, those people could then pick up the drugs. Or, there could be passengers who are in on it and simply pick up their checked baggage at the destination.

What does TSA think about all of this?

TSA doesn’t really seem to care about the ability of others to open these locks judging by the statements they made to The Intercept that:

“The reported ability to create keys for TSA-approved suitcase locks from a digital image does not create a threat to aviation security. These consumer products are ‘peace of mind’ devices, not part of TSA’s aviation security regime.”

And that makes sense.

The primary concern of TSA is to ensure dangerous items are not getting through security screening.

The fact that members of the public could open up these locks does not really change anything about what TSA is doing — the screening process remains the same.

Not really needed for carry-ons

If you never check your bag, there’s a good chance you will never need a TSA approved lock.

The reason is that your bag is always within reach and you should be able to keep a close eye on it at all times.

If you are worried about your zippers busting open then a cable lock might make sense but even in that case you can often get away with using something else.

Some people like to put locks on their smaller bags to prevent pick pockets.

This might work but as mentioned placing locks on backpacks and other small bags can also make your item more of a target for some thieves. And we’ve already shown how easy it is to bust through a zipper.

Are TSA approved locks just not that useful?

Considering that just about any member of the public could get their hands on a master key and that these locks can be picked with relative ease, what use do these TSA approved locks really have?

You can narrow down the benefits of these locks to a few things:

  • Helps you avoid wasting money on locks for your travel luggage
  • Helps you keep your zippers closed so contents don’t spill out your bag
  • Helps create an extra barrier for thieves

International travel

TSA rules apply when traveling in the US so TSA approved locks naturally are well-suited for travel within the US.

But what happens whenever you are traveling internationally? Can you still use TSA approved locks and expect the security screening agents to not cut off your lock?

It’s a good question and the answer is: it depends.

Currently, there are over 500 million Travel Sentry locks and luggage in circulation.

As a result, a lot of airports around the world will recognize TSA approved locks and have the ability to use a master key to open them.

If you are traveling internationally, a good idea is to check ahead of time to see if the countries you are traveling through will recognize these locks. You can search for the country of your airport here.

If you have a Safe Skies lock, those also I recognized in different countries but the network seems to be smaller.

TSA approved locks

TSA approved locks are not very expensive and are not hard to find. Whether you were shopping at Amazon, Walmart or Target, you can often buy them in packages so that you can purchase a handful of them at once.

Here are some of the recommended TSA approved locks:

SURE LOCK TSA Compatible Travel Luggage Locks

These type of locks are nice because they have a special indicator that will let you know if your luggage has been opened. If you see your bag has been opened and you don’t have a notice of inspection, something is not quite right. You can get a two pack of them for only $13 which is a great price.

Forge TSA Approved Cable Luggage Locks

With the Forge TSA luggage lock, the TSA agent has to re-lock your suitcase to remove their key so it’s a great way to reduce the chances of your lock being left unlocked. These locks also have the indicator to show if your lock has been opened. Forge is also reportedly one of the more durable brands.

Master Lock 4697D

The Master Lock offers you the ability to input a four digit combination code, which offers a better level of security than the three wheel combination codes.

The three combination code means a bored thief need only make 1,000 guesses to unlock your bag but with four digits, that number jumps up to 10,000. It only requires you to memorize one more digit so you may as well make it harder on the thief.

Anvil TSA Approved Luggage Lock

The Anvil TSA Approved Luggage Lock is another four digit combination code but this type of lock comes with a hardened steel shackle. These should be more durable than a cable lock. They also offer you a comprehensive lifetime warranty.

Lewis N. Clark Mini Brass Square TSA Lock

If you are someone that likes to use a key to unlock your locks rather than being forced to remember a combination, then you also have some options.

Personally, keeping up with a luggage key lock is just one more thing to keep up with when traveling and I’d rather stick with a combination. Still, these are very durable locks with brass and steel construction. 

A word about luggage with built-in locks….

I’m not a huge fan of using the locks built in to luggage bags.

The reason is that if they malfunction and cannot be opened, agents at the airport may cause damage to the lock or your bag in order to open it.

This would likely be more common when traveling internationally if the airport you were at does not have the appropriate master key.

However, if you stick to using external locks, those can always be cut away without the risk of damaging your bag. Therefore, at least when flying internationally, I would try to avoid the built-in locks.

TSA approved locks FAQ

How much do TSA approved locks cost?

TSA approved locks are not expensive and can be purchased for under $10.

Can I use TSA approved locks when I travel to other countries?

Yes, many countries around the world accept TSA approved locks. You can search for the country of your airport here.

Can TSA approved locks be picked?

Yes, TSA approved locks can be picked with relative ease according to many lock pickers.

Are TSA approved locks safe?

TSA approved locks are not very safe when used outside of the airport because they can be picked and virtually anyone in the public can obtain a TSA master key capable of unlocking the lock.

Do you have to use a TSA approved lock?

No, you are not required to use a TSA approved lock. However, there is roughly a 5% chance your bag will be physically inspected and in that case your non-TSA lock will likely be destroyed.

Where can I purchase a TSA approved lock?

TSA approved locks can be found online at and at stores like Wal-Mart.

Final word

TSA approved locks can help add a layer of security to your luggage without causing you to waste money on locks that could be destroyed by TSA. They can also help keep your zippers from coming undone and allowing the contents of your luggage to spill out.

But beyond that, they have limited utility due to the fact that the master keys can easily be reproduced and because it’s so easy to access a zippered bag.

So feel free to use these locks when going through the airport and flying but my advice would be to stray away from using them when in the real world.

Is It Safe to Use a Hotel Room Safe? [2022]

Should you use a hotel safe or are you better off hiding your valuables somewhere else?

In this article, I’ll give a breakdown of just how secure hotel safes are (or aren’t) and give you some tips and considerations to think about.

Is it safe to use a hotel safe?

Generally, a hotel safe is a safer place to store your belongings than open areas in the hotel room but they are not 100% secure.

Below, I’ll cover a lot of the risks and other considerations you will want to think about when storing your belongings.

Tip: Use the free app WalletFlo to help you travel the world for free by finding the best travel credit cards and promotions!

hotel room safe
Hotel safes are not 100% secure but they do help protect your personal items.

Are hotel safes really needed?

You might first be wondering if hotel safes are really needed?

Well, I would say yes they are needed based on some of the data.

There are studies out there that show that one in three housekeeping workers confessed to seeing a coworker steal cash on the job.

The study also shows that 16% said they were guilty of taking jewelry out of a guest’s room during or after their stay and “more than 27% witnessed a co-worker pick up jewelry they ‘found while cleaning.'”

Those statistics are much higher than I imagined which means that getting your items stolen or “found” by housekeeping is not an anomaly.

Hotel housekeepers should not have direct access to your safe (that should be reserved for management) so this means that placing items in your safe should at the very least make your items harder to steal from housekeeping.

The other threat comes from “door pushers.” These are thieves known to frequent places like Las Vegas and they walk through hallways trying to find doors that are not locked or shut.

So your first line of protection against these people will be locking your door and putting your valuables in a safe will be another level of protection.

Related: 11 Ways to Get a Free Night Stay at a Hotel

No hotel safe is 100% reliable

Master codes/keys

Just about every hotel has a master code or a master key that allows the hotel staff to open up a locked safe. This is because many guests will inevitably forget or lose their combinations to unlock the safe.

Hotel staff employees may have access to this code and also can probably easily get into your hotel room.

What is even scarier is that sometimes hotels will not change the default override code, even though such codes can often be found on the web, on forums, etc.

This means that any random person or someone knowledgeable about lock picking could find the default code and potentially access your safe if they enter your room.

So it is really important to always operate with the mindset that somebody could get to your belongings, even if they are located in a safe.


It does not take long when researching to find multiple ways to crack or hack hotel safes.

Some of these methods require a bit more sophistication but others are pretty simple like using a pinhole to access a safe. Some experts have shown how to crack a safe with just a paperclip and pocket knife and it’s probably easier than you imagine.

It would be impossible to cover all of the different ways to crack a hotel safe in this article but the key take away is that many hotel safes can probably be hacked with minimal effort/resources.

Low batteries

Another risk that could occur is that the hotel safe is running on low batteries.

A low battery safe could be disastrous because if it dies it could prevent you from accessing the safe which could be a major inconvenience, especially if you are on a time crunch.

You will likely have to contact the hotel maintenance staff to assist you with opening up the safe and depending on the aptitude and familiarity of the maintenance staff, that could prove to be a very time-consuming ordeal.

Even if they have a master code, a dead safe could present unexpected issues so one drawback to using a hotel safe is that they could introduce additional headache.

Related: Ultimate Late Check-Out Guide for Hotel Stays

Testing the password strength of your safe

Before you ever place any object in a hotel safe, you might want to check to see if the default password has been changed.

On some popular safes such as Saflok safes, the default password might be “999999.”

So if you created a pass code of something like “312879,” you could then test to see if the safe will open with default passwords like 999999, 111111, 222222, etc.

Sometimes you might have to hold the lock button or hit a button before inputting the master password such as the “#” or “*”button twice.

For illustration, here’s an example of someone hacking a Safemark hotel safe.

To test this, you can simply find the manufacturer/model of the safe in your hotel room and then a quick Google search might yield results for the default password.

Belongings to put into the safe

There are a lot of common items that people like to put into hotel safes. I’ll cover a few of these below and present you with some alternative ways of carrying or storing these goods.

How to think about a hotel safe

Before jumping into the items that you would use in a safe, it’s a good idea to think about the reasoning for using or not using a safe.

Some people think of a safe as just a way of making it harder to access your valuables rather than a sure fire method of preventing anybody from getting to them.

To them, putting valuables like a passport or cash in the safe is just making it one step harder for housekeeping/common intruders to take their goods.

On the other hand, a safe is also a place where sophisticated thieves will know to look when it comes to taking valuables.

If they know the master codes, chances are they could get into your safe and out in seconds and may not want to mess around with searching other random areas of the room.

This means that you could be better off finding a really good hiding place for your valuables and relying on stealth for your security.

If you want to really take your security to the next level, you could always put “lesser” valuables in the safe to throw off a potential thief and have your true valuables hidden elsewhere in the room or on your person.

For example, if you had $10,000 in cash on you, you might put a few hundred bucks in the safe and the rest of the cash in some type of hidden compartment within your luggage or belongings.


A point of debate is whether or not you should place your passport in the hotel safe.

Some travelers prefer to keep their passport on them at all times. This allows them to know without a doubt where their passport is located and if they ever need to use it when out and about they can easily do so.

The drawback is that you could misplace it of course or it could get stolen if it is contained within a bag that gets taken from you.

If you’re not sure the best place for your passport, you can always consider getting a (legal) duplicate passport and keep one passport in each location when traveling.

Duplicate passports usually are only valid for a couple of years so this is something you would have to do on a recurring basis.


Jewelry is another common item that people think about putting in the safe.

It is not recommended to wear expensive or flashy jewelry when visiting certain destinations known for petty theft so the hotel safe is a logical place to put those belongings.

But my recommendation would be to just always avoid wearing your fancy jewelry while traveling.


Cash might be one of the most common items that travelers will put into a hotel safe. It’s also the most commonly stolen item by housekeeping according to the survey above.

For that reason, putting your cash in the hotel safe is usually a way to decrease the odds of someone stealing your cash.

I would generally avoid traveling with large amounts of cash because it is so much of a security risk and it is so easy to just rely on a credit/debit card.

With that said, cash can be hidden on your person pretty easily with certain types of lanyards or belts.

It might be a good idea to diversify where you store your cash so that you could have cash in the safe, hidden in your luggage, and on your person.

Laptops and electronics

A lot of people traveling with expensive laptops such as MacBook Pros or electronics like fancy Canon cameras, tablets, headphones, etc. might consider putting them into a hotel safe.

These are all worthwhile items to put in a safe but some of them will not always fit.

If you are not able to carry these with you in a backpack as you travel then you might also consider hiding them in your luggage bag.

Just make sure that you also hide the charger and cords so that you do not give thieves any hints as to what type of electronics might be in your room.

Reception area safe

Some hotels have hotel safes located in the lobby area or perhaps behind the check-in desk.

These might appear to be safer but the same risks might be involved when using these safes since hotel management and others will likely have access to these safes.

Hotel liability

Hotels are generally not liable for your lost goods.

Typically, they will have some sort of disclaimer posted somewhere that explains that they are not liable for items left in hotel rooms.

In some cases, this disclaimer could exclude objects stored in a hotel room safe but generally the disclaimer covers objects not placed in the safe.

If a hotel has a broad disclaimer then one of your only routes for getting a hotel to be liable is to prove some type of negligence. For example, you might be able to prove that a hotel room safe was defective.

There is often a lot of difficulty with proving that a hotel staff member stole an item so sometimes these cases can be uphill battles that may not be worth the time and energy required to pursue them, especially if you were talking about a lower amount of money or valuables.

For that reason, I would not rely on a hotel liability policy to get reinstated for your lost items. You are much better off being proactive and trying to wisely choose what items you bring with you and how you store them.

Remembering to check the hotel safe at check-out

A lot of travelers don’t like to use hotel safes because they forget to check the safe before they check out.

They may not remember that they placed valuables in the safe until they are boarding their plane at which point it is too late to run back to the hotel.

You can always set reminders on your smart phone to remind you to check the hotel safe around the time you were checking out but sometimes your checkout time might change or your reminders may not trigger properly.

So my favorite low-tech method for remembering to check the hotel safe is to tie a piece of string to the safe from your luggage bag.

This serves two valuable functions.

First, unless you completely forget to take your baggage with you, you will always be reminded to check the safe before you depart and pack up your bag.

Second, if you pay close attention to the placement of the string and even snap a photo, you will be able to tell if someone has entered your room and perhaps tampered with your safe.

My (anecdotal) personal experience

I have done extensive traveling over the past seven years and stayed in a lot of hotels in different types of countries (first world and not so first world).

I’ve used hotel safes on occasion and other times just placed my belongings in my luggage bags while I am away from the hotel room.

Other times, I have left items in plain sight on the nightstand or some other type of hotel room furniture.

I’ve never had an item stolen from a hotel.

Obviously, my experience is anecdotal but I just wanted to share that it is perfectly possible to do a lot of traveling and never encounter any issues with theft from your hotel room.

Of course, I should probably knock on wood now.

Hotel room safe FAQs

Can a hotel access your hotel room safe?

Yes, hotel staff members likely can access your hotel room safe by using a master code/key that can override your personal code.

Should I put cash in the hotel room safe?

Traveling with large amounts of cash is generally not a good idea and should be avoided. However, cash is one of the most commonly taken items by housekeeping so placing it in a safe could be a good idea.

Does housekeeping steal items from hotel rooms?

On occasion, yes. One survey revealed that 43% of housekeepers reported stealing personal items from hotel guests.

Can you have money stolen from a hotel safe?

Although it is not a likely occurrence, there are reports online of people having money stolen from the hotel safe.

Is my passport safe in the hotel room safe?

Your passport is usually safer in the hotel room safe than it would be just lying around the room. However, some people prefer to always keep their passport on their person when traveling.

Final word

A key take away here is that hotel safes can make it one step harder for people like housekeeping or intruders to take your items.

However, if someone has access to the default/master codes they will be able to access your safe and many hotel safes are not that difficult to hack.

So you should never think of a hotel safe as a 100% secure way of storing your goods.

Instead, you should put a lot of thought into what type of objects you need to travel with and what type of alternative storage methods you can use that might be more secure.

Is Customs the Same as TSA? (Key Differences) [2022]

Lots of travelers don’t quite realize the difference between Customs and TSA.

While you can successfully navigate through an airport without knowing the differences between Customs and TSA it really does help to understand how different these agencies are.

That’s because you’ll be better equipped to handle certain situations that may arise during your travels.

In this article, I’ll explain all of the key differences between Customs and TSA.

Is Customs the same as TSA?

No, Customs is different from TSA. While both are agencies of the United States Department of Homeland Security (DHS), they are tasked with very different duties to carry out related to travel and commerce.

Keep reading below to learn more about these two agencies and the key differences between them.

Tip: Use the free app WalletFlo to help you travel the world for free by finding the best travel credit cards and promotions!

What is Customs?

Customs is another name for United States Customs and Border Protection (CBP), which is the largest federal law enforcement agency of the United States Department of Homeland Security.

They are charged with “keeping terrorists and their weapons out of the U.S. while facilitating lawful international travel and trade.

They have around 60,000 employees and an annual budget of about $16.3 billion.

Customs has basically been around since the formation of the country in the 1700s when it was known as the “United States Customs Service.”

But since then it has bounced around between different government departments.

After the Civil War, this service was incorporated under the United States Department of the Treasury and then later in the early 1900s it became part of the Department of Commerce and Labor.

That lasted for a few decades and then FDR moved Customs to the the Department of Justice in 1940.

It wasn’t until 2003 that Customs fell under the Department of Homeland Security and was given the current CBP name which came as part of a larger re-organization

Typically, you only interact with Customs when coming back in the country at an airport or when traveling near international borders.

CBP carries out duties related to both Immigration and Customs.

For example, when you first arrive at an airport you need to get through Immigration and then after that you will be going to Customs. Both settings will involve CBP officers.

Immigration is mostly concerned about who you are, where you were coming from, and what you are up to.

Meanwhile, Customs is more concerned about what you are bringing with you (i.e., the contents of your luggage).

They want to make sure you are not bringing in harmful plants, banned foods, illegal drugs, and they also want to keep a close eye on how much money you are bringing with you.

Another big role of Customs is to make sure that you are paying any duty you might be owing when you arrive to the country.

Some airports combine Customs and Immigration so that you visit them at the same time. Others have different types of custom experiences with some allowing you to avoid interacting with an officer altogether.

What is TSA?

The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) is an agency of the DHS with a mission to “protect the nation’s transportation systems to ensure freedom of movement for people and commerce.”

TSA was created as a response to the 9/11 attacks under the administration of President George W. Bush with the goal of improving airport security procedures and centralizing air travel security under one agency.

The agency also develops policies to help protect the U.S. highways, railroads, buses, mass transit systems, ports, and pipelines but the primary focus of TSA is definitely on air travel.

Initially an agency under the DOT, TSA was transferred to the DHS in 2003.

Not every airport utilizes TSA agents because they are allowed to privatize their security as long as they abide by TSA procedures. One of the most well-known airports that has private security is SFO in San Francisco, California.

TSA is roughly the same size as the CBP with around 54,000 employees. However, their budget is about half the size coming in at around $7.78 billion.

Most of the TSA employees are Transportation Security Officers (TSOs).

These are the officers that usher you through security checkpoints and check your baggage to make sure you do not have any prohibited items.

Worth noting, TSO’s do not carry weapons, are not allowed to use force, and they also lack the authority to arrest individuals.

There is a subset of TSA employees who do have the power to arrest and they are the Federal Air Marshal Service (FAMS).

Not only do they have the power to arrest, but they have specialized training to make them excellent marksmen and proficient at hand to hand combat in tight quarters — vital skills needed on a plane when things go south.

It’s estimated that there are about 3,000 to 4,000 Federal Air Marshals today, a number that has grown significantly since the attacks of 9/11 when they were only 33.

Air Marshals had been around since the Kennedy administration of the 1960s (in some form) but it was not until 2005 that they were transferred from U.S. Immigration & Customs Enforcement (ICE) to TSA.

3 Key differences between Customs and TSA

Where you have encounters with them

In most cases, when you’re departing, one of your first interactions at an airport will be with TSA.

That is because they (usually) run the airport security checkpoints located in different airport terminals.

Usually, you will head directly to these checkpoints right after you check in or check your baggage.

You could also have an interaction with TSA when waiting in line to check in or when waiting to pick up your baggage at the baggage carousel.

In those instances, it will probably be with an agent patrolling with a bomb sniffing dog.

Customs and Immigration is usually encountered when you come back into the country.

You’ll usually go through Immigration before you head to baggage claim and then go through Customs after you retrieve your luggage.

It’s worth pointing out that some airports have pre-clearance which means that you take care of your Customs and Immigration visit while on foreign soil.

Pre-Check & Global Entry

Both TSA and Customs and Immigration have special programs that you can enroll in to make your experience with them more expedited and smoother.

TSA has TSA Pre-Check which is a program that costs $85 to join and allows approved passengers to go through a separate security screening process that is less demanding than the security screening open to the public.

There are quite a few benefits to the program that allow for more convenient travel through airports.

First, you often only have to pass through a traditional metal detector (as opposed to the invasive full-body scanners) and you also get to enjoy the following benefits:

  • Shoes can stay on
  • Belt can stay on
  • Light jackets can stay on
  • Laptops allowed to stay in bag
  • Liquids (3-1-1 Rule) can stay in bag

Global Entry is a U.S. Customs and Border Protection service that allows pre-approved, low-risk travelers expedited entry at select airports when passing through immigration and customs checkpoints.

This can help you avoid those super long lines at immigration and save you a lot of time and frustration when arriving back into the US. It costs $100 to apply.

If you get approved for Global Entry then you automatically get enrolled in TSA Pre-Check so that is the route that I recommend most people to go.

That is especially true because many credit cards offer Global Entry credits so you can get enrolled in both of these programs for free as long as you can pass the background checks and interview.

Search authority

Customs and Immigration has significantly more authority than TSA when searching and seizing.

For TSA, the TSOs are authorized to scan you and your belongings to try to detect dangerous items such as weapons and explosives.

Typically, they will put you through a metal detector or full body scanner and if something is triggered they will then ask to search you or for you to hand something over.

You could also be subject to SSSS, which is an enhanced screening method that can sometimes be issued to you randomly.

Worth noting, TSA is not there to find drugs in your luggage.

In fact, in many cases if they were to come across something like marijuana they may just throw it out or not bother with it at all.

If TSA were to find something that did not look right or that was illegal (and dangerous), they would likely contact law-enforcement to get them to come in and take care of the matter since they don’t have authority to arrest and do not carry weapons to subdue travelers.

Things are very different with CBP.

First of all, they do have authority to arrest you since they are federal law enforcement officers.

So if they found out that you had an outstanding arrest warrant, or they caught you bringing drugs back into the country, they could absolutely arrest you on the spot.

More importantly, because they work at international ports/borders or their equivalent, they have more authority granted to them by the government to search your belongings and seize them.

This could have profound consequences for your travels.

For example, did you know that a CBP agent could simply search your phone when you arrive back in the US even if they don’t have any suspicion that you have done anything wrong.

And not just that, even if you had a device that was password-protected, the officer could get you to input your password and detain the item if you choose to not provide the password.

That is a dramatic difference from TSA who would never have authority to inspect the digital contents of your phone.

Going through Customs and Immigration is sort of like the Wild West when it comes to your constitutional rights to avoid searches — there is no need for probable cause or reasonable suspicion.

There are lawsuits always popping up that are challenging the authority of customers to make certain types of searches so these things are always evolving on some level.

Final word

TSA and Customs are two very different agencies that carry out very different responsibilities.

TSA mostly wants to make sure that you are not bringing dangerous items or explosives on to a plane and the TSO officers ushering you through security do not have law-enforcement powers.

On the other hand, Customs and Immigration wants to make sure that you are entering the country legally and that anything you are bringing with you or taking out with you is legally permitted.

CBP officers also have full law-enforcement powers and even authority to go further than a typical law enforcement officer does when it comes to searches and seizures.

Hidden Cameras In Hotel Rooms!? Tools To Find Them & Where To Look [2022]

For most people, the idea of finding a hidden camera in your hotel room or Airbnb room is pretty horrifying.

Upon finding one, a million anxiety-inducing questions would fly through your head like who placed this camera here, where is the footage streaming, and what should I do?

The good news is there are several steps you can take to minimize the odds of you getting spied on by a hidden camera in a hotel room.

Below, I’ll talk about how common it is to have hidden cameras in hotel rooms, and give you some specific tools for how to detect hidden cameras along with the best places to look .

You’ll also see some real life examples of what these hidden cameras can look like.

Have cameras actually been found in hotel rooms?

Yes, although not a regular occurrence, there are quite a few reports of guests finding hidden cameras in hotel rooms and also in Airbnb lodging over the years.

Tip: Use the free app WalletFlo to help you travel the world for free by finding the best travel credit cards and promotions!

Who would put a camera inside a hotel room?

If a camera was ever placed in your hotel room odds are it was not by the hotel. Hotels in the US would typically shudder at the idea of monitoring their guests in their rooms due to liability concerns.

Most likely if a camera is found in your hotel room it was placed by a rogue employee, guest, contractor, or by someone who gained access via some back door method just sneaking around. But bugs could also be placed by government agencies, militaries, or investigators depending on the country.

Is it common to have hidden cameras in hotel rooms?

Your average traveler probably does not have too much to worry about in terms of getting recorded in a hotel room. Could it happen? Sure, but it would probably be pretty rare.

The odds of someone trying to record you likely increase as the leverage against you increases.

If you are someone in the public eye someone might be more likely to record you in a hotel room. They may have the intention to sell the footage and make a buck or perhaps even blackmail you.

Tip: If you suspect someone might be tracking your travels one trick is to immediately request a room change when you are assigned your room at check-in.

For Airbnb, it seems the concern for cameras would be heightened because the hosts would have so much more access and time to install hidden cameras. They also wouldn’t be subject to the same inspections that some hotels have to go through.

For those reasons it’s not terribly surprising that 1 in 10 survey respondents indicated they have found a hidden camera in an Airbnb.

Airbnb does have a policy that allows cameras in certain areas of the lodging but they have to be disclosed and visible:

Their policy states:

You should not spy on other people; cameras are not allowed in your listing unless they are previously disclosed and visible, and they are never permitted in private spaces (such as bathrooms or sleeping areas). You should not access others’ accounts without authorization or violate others’ privacy, copyrights, or trademarks.

According to the Washington Post, Airbnb claims that incidents with hidden cameras in vacation rentals are rare.

How to tell if there is a hidden camera in your hotel room

If a truly experienced and sophisticated professional criminal is trying to record you with a hidden camera, trying to find that camera could be extremely difficult (at least it would be for your average traveler).

But if your “average creeper” is trying to set something up to record you in a hotel room or Airbnb, there are a few methods that could detect a camera pretty easily.

These include:

  • Using a flashlight to look for camera lens reflections
  • Using a camera phone and/or app to look for infrared light
  • Scanning your wifi network for suspicious devices
  • Using camera lens detectors
  • Using thermal imaging cameras
  • Sweeping the room with an RF detector
  • Making a phone call and looking for interference

Use a flashlight to look for camera lens reflections

One of the easiest ways to search for hidden cameras would be to use the flashlight from your cell phone.

You can turn all of the lights off in the room and then use your flashlight to scan electronic items like alarm clocks and the items mentioned in the list below to see if you can detect any type of suspicious lens reflections.

The reflections may differ based on the type of camera used but it may look something like a bluish or purpleish tint. Check out the picture found in this article for an example of what the reflection would look like.

A couple of tips when doing this:

  • If you can enable a flash or strobe mode that might make it easier to see reflections but it kind of depends on how best your eyes work.
  • Make sure to view the object from multiple angles to get the right reflection (scanning for hidden cameras can be very time-consuming).
  • Some people use a toilet paper tube to focus the light in order to better make out the reflections.

Use your phone’s camera

Depending on the type of phone that you have, you can use your phone’s camera to help you detect hidden cameras.

One way to do this is to use it to detect infrared light. Some cameras rely on infrared light to record in the dark. The naked eye will not pick up on infrared light but your smart phone camera usually can.

So you can turn off all the lights (trigger the infrared light) and then scan suspicious items with your phone while looking for IR LED lights. 

Sometimes you might have to use the front facing camera to get it to work, but I used my iPhone 13 Pro Max and tested its ability to pick up infrared light on a remote control and both cameras picked it up easily. You could also use an app like Hidden Camera Detector to help you.

Infrared light picked up by an iPhone but not visible to the naked eye.

Scanning your wifi network for suspicious devices

You can use an app like Fing to scan your Wi-Fi network and potentially discover hidden camera devices on the network. Hidden cameras won’t always show up but this can be a way to go after the low hanging fruit as a first line of defense.

If you come across a device on your Wi-Fi network with a strong signal that you can’t identify, there’s a chance that that could be something worth looking into.

Download the Fing app on the App Store or Google Play.

Camera Lens Detectors

There are special devices that you can look through to find camera lenses. Instead of using your flashlight, you can use these devices and you’ll be able to pick up on green or red dots where these camera lenses are.

A quick (but important) word about these devices and all of the other devices mentioned in this article.

There are a lot of products being sold online, including on marketplaces like Amazon, that don’t necessarily scream high-quality. Also, some of these counter-surveillance gadgets require some training and specialized knowledge to use them properly.

I would be careful about investing lots of money for these devices unless you are able to get some high level of assurance that they work and that you will know how to use them. (Look for lots of solid real customer reviews.)

Thermal Imaging Cameras

Thermal imaging cameras can also be used to pick up on hidden cameras and other electronics.

Hidden electronics may emit extra heat and the idea is that a thermal imaging camera will pick up on that additional heat.

It could be difficult to detect certain items if they are built into larger items that emit a lot of heat. Also, you have to think about how small and energy-efficient these hidden cameras can be, so thermal imaging might not be the best route to go unless you really know what you are doing.

Sweep the room with an RF detector

If there are cameras streaming the recording you can pick up on these with an RF (radio frequency) detector. RF detectors can find bugs, GPS trackers, hidden cameras, eavesdropping devices, and more.

You will want to turn off all of the electronics in your room that could be sending out radio signals in order for this to work best. False positives can be an issue with an RF detector.

You also have to keep in mind that some hidden cameras store the video on a local drive and do not stream.

If you go on Amazon or shop online you will see a lot of RF detectors. Unfortunately, a lot of them do seem like BS or at least pretty faulty so use your best judgment before buying one of these devices.

There are some phone apps that reportedly do this but if you check the reviews a lot of times you will see a lot of unsatisfied users.

Image via Amazon

Make a phone call and look for interference

Electromagnetic radiation from your cell phone could be interfered with by electromagnetic activity from hidden cameras.

So something that you can do is to make a phone call from your cell phone in your hotel room and walk around your room to see if there are any areas that cause interference. If that does happen then you may want to inspect that area closer for hidden cameras.

Just be sure that all electronics are turned off like laptops, TVs, etc. when doing this.

Hidden cameras can come in very tiny sizes and be easily hidden almost anywhere.

Where to look for hidden cameras

Unfortunately, after doing a ton of research on hidden cameras in hotel rooms, it occurred to me that hidden cameras could be placed virtually anywhere.

Essentially, any object that could conceal a tiny black dot and that has a line of sight from that location is an ideal candidate for a hidden camera.

And if you think about all of the items in a hotel room, there are seemingly infinite objects that could fit that description.

Still, it helps to have an idea of the common places to look and what these hidden cameras might look like in practice.


The peephole to your hotel room door could be used as a way to spy on you. This is known as a “reverse peephole” and this is the way that Erin Andrews was filmed with a cell phone through a peephole by a stalker while staying at the Nashville Marriott in 2008.

To give you a sense of the magnitude of these cases, she ended up receiving a $55 million judgment with about half of the blame being apportioned to the hotel, and the perpetrator had to serve 2.5 years in federal prison for the offense.

Alarm clock

Alarm clocks are perfect devices for hiding cameras because they have a dark screen panel that could easily conceal a camera. This is the type of screen that you could use a flashlight on to detect a reflection from the camera lens.

Smoke detector

Another one of the most common devices for a hidden camera is a smoke detector.

These are ideal because they have a wide field of view from the ceiling and are far enough away from most guests that the camera lens will not easily stick out.

Also, a lot of smoke detectors have little spaces and holes in them that would not cause someone to give them a second look. The infrared reflection test would be a good way to find cameras in smoke alarms.


The fan in a hotel room is another optimal spot for a hidden camera in terms of the vantage point. This could be really difficult to detect because the small black dot of the camera lens could be tucked away into the crevices of the fan, up high on the ceiling.

Hidden camera in ceiling fan
Image via hiddencameramiami


Hidden cameras in wall clocks also have good vantage points and can easily be hidden. The small dot for the camera lens could be found in one of the numbers on the clock or in one of the graduations.

Hidden camera in clock
Image via Amazon

Tissue boxes

If you see anything other than a standard cardboard tissue box there could be a hidden camera lurking inside. This is especially true if the tissue box is a darker color that could easily conceal a black dot.

Hidden camera in tissue box
Image via Brinks

Hair dryer

Hidden cameras have been used in hairdryers in places like South Korea. Their location in the bathroom make them an ideal candidate for those perpetrators looking for maximum violation of privacy. Vents above the shower could also be an area of concern.

Power outlets

A common location for hidden cameras is in power outlets. You could look for a little dot in the middle of the outlet but the cameras could also be placed in screws/nails or even in the outlet hole.

In addition, power adapters or power strips also could contain hidden cameras. If you enter a hotel room with a dark power adapter or power strip already plugged in that might be something to look into.

Hidden camera in outlet
Image via Amazon

TV screens/consoles

If there are consoles attached to the TV these are advantageous spots for hidden cameras. They are often dark and tucked away, making it difficult for the camera to be visible. Some of these are also placed at good heights for optimal viewing.


Some hidden cameras are placed to retrieve sensitive data or information such as login credentials or browsing history.

These would likely be placed in a position facing a desk or workstation in a hotel room so you could look for places that would be optimal for that.

These type of cameras might be more common in countries known for surveillance such as China and Russia.

Coffee pots

Hopefully, you are not someone who uses hotel coffee makers on a regular due to the potential buildup of bacteria and other harmful germs that they can have.

But regardless of whether you are or not, coffee makers could be another great spot for a hidden camera.

They generally are dark and have different crevices and buttons that could conceal a small camera.

Hotel safe

A hotel safe would not be the ideal spot for a hidden camera because they are often talked away in closets or drawers.

But there could be savvy criminals who rely on cameras in order to capture your safe combination or to simply see what valuable contents are being deposited into the safe.

Air conditioning vents

A lot of people never look twice at an air conditioning vent and given their high vantage point, they are another perfect location. The hidden camera could be located in one of the “screws” or perhaps even stuck behind the vent.

Hidden camera in air vent
Image via hiddencameramiami


You’ve probably heard of two-way mirrors before. These are mirrors that allow you to view your reflection but also allow someone on the other side (or a camera) to view you from behind the mirror.

One of the most common ways to detect these is to do the “reflection test.” Some people also call it the fingernail test. Basically, you put your finger up to the mirror and if it is a regular mirror there should be a gap between your finger and the reflection of your finger. If there is no gap then this could be a two way mirror.

The thing to note is that there are different types of two-way mirrors that use different substances (e.g., glass vs acrylic) and this test may not always be super reliable.

Another method for checking for two way mirrors is to use the flashlight method. Basically you put a flashlight such as one from your phone up to the mirror and if you can start to see through it that could be a two way mirror.

And finally, you can use the mirror method where you compare the color of a real mirror like one from your purse with the color of the wall mirror. If the color or tone looks off that could be another sign of a two-way mirror.

You can check out how these methods actually work in this video.

Picture frame

Hidden cameras may also be hidden in picture frames. If you see or any designs on a picture frame, especially with little dots, that could be a good spot for a camera to be hiding. Others may just be stuck in a black frame.

You can also look to see how the frame is being positioned and if it looks like it is being displayed in a particular way to capture the room that could be a sign of a hidden camera.

Hidden camera in picture frame
Image via Amazon


Plants are good spots for hidden cameras because they usually have bushy, dark areas where something could be tucked away and easily hidden.

Objects that look out of place

If you notice objects that look out of place, that could be a sign of a hidden camera.

Knowing what feels “out of place” could take a lot of experience in counter-surveillance. But in some instances it could just be something like a large adapter or small piece of decoration that just doesn’t look quite like it belongs.

Also, if you were to spot blinking lights that could be a sign.

Airbnb tip

If you are staying in an Airbnb one tip is to consider turning off the Wi-Fi as soon as you arrive.

If you were to get a text message or call from the owner about the Wi-Fi being out, that could be a sign that they have cameras set up. And if those cameras were not disclosed to you during your booking that would be a major problem.

The danger of checking for security cameras

When visiting some countries you may actually not want to go snooping around your room for hidden cameras.

In countries known for business espionage and/or surveillance like Russia and China it could end up bad for you if you were caught trying to detect hidden devices. The government in those countries could suspect you of being a spy or up to some other type of shady activity.

In fact, some counter-surveillance gadgets could even be illegal so always do your research before bringing those along with you on international trips.

Security cameras

Security cameras are an altogether different matter.

You can often find security cameras in various places in hotels including: the lobby, hallways, elevators, the pool, the gym, and outside areas such as the parking lot. And if you were at a hotel casino you will most definitely find more hidden cameras in places like the casino area.

A lot of times security cameras are not hidden but sometimes they are a bit disguised.

What to do if you find a camera inside your hotel room

If you find a camera in your hotel room there are basically two recommended options.

First, you want to contact the police. Most likely they will arrive and you can file a police report and allow them to launch an investigation and hopefully track down the perpetrator. Try not to tamper with the evidence since you could affect their investigation.

The next option is to contact hotel management. If for some reason you suspected that the hotel/property owner was in on it then you obviously would want to go to the police first. Most likely, the hotel will be stunned to find out that hidden cameras have been placed in the room.

What is the law on cameras inside hotel rooms?

Not every state seems to make it 100% illegal to have cameras in different areas of hotel rooms and sometimes this falls into a bit of a gray area. Of the 50 states, only 16 have created laws surrounding the use of video surveillance. Still, most rules that I’ve seen require consent for people to be recorded when within private spaces.

Final word

At the end of the day, it would probably be a pretty rare occasion for you to encounter a hidden camera in your hotel room or even an Airbnb. If you follow the steps outlined in this article you should be able to detect hidden cameras placed by less professional folks.

But because there are so many different types of devices that can be used and so many different ways to hide them, it’s really difficult to ever fully rule out the possibility of hidden cameras being in a room.

So a good idea is to not engage in certain activities outside of your house that you think could open you up for blackmail, public embarrassment, etc.

Should You Use USB Ports In Hotel Rooms? (Stay Away!?) [2022]

If you stayed in a lot of hotels you’ve probably been tempted to use the convenient USB ports found in common places like your nightstand lamp, the desk area, and also on various outlets around the room.

But is it actually safe to use these outlets or are you exposing yourself to a cyber security risk?

In this article, I will take a close look to see whether or not you should use the USB ports in hotel rooms and also provide you with some safer alternatives if you would like to mitigate your risk as much as possible.

Should you use USB ports in hotel rooms?

Generally, it’s a good idea to avoid plugging in your phone or tablets directly into hotel room USB ports because there is always the potential threat of “juice jacking,” which is a type of cyber attack where hackers can access your data or install malware on to your device and wreak havoc.

Tip: Use the free app WalletFlo to help you travel the world for free by finding the best travel credit cards and promotions!

Hotels Room USB Ports Outlet

What exactly is juice jacking?

Juice jacking sounds like a bully tactic in a K4 classroom but it’s actually a sophisticated hacking technique that could result in your personal data being exposed to the world.

Here’s what the FCC states:

Cybersecurity experts have warned that criminals can load malware onto public USB charging stations to maliciously access electronic devices while they are being charged.  Malware installed through a dirty USB port can lock a device or export personal data and passwords directly to the perpetrator. Criminals can use that information to access online accounts or sell it to other bad actors.

The term “juice jacking” was first used by Brian Krebs in 2011 after a DEF CON event by the Wall of Sheep. At the event, they set up a charging kiosk open to the public as a bit of a proof-of-concept experiment to raise awareness about the dangers of hooking up to these public charging ports.

When the unsuspecting individuals plugged their phone into the kiosk they received a message stating:

“You should not trust public kiosks with your smart phone. Information can be retrieved or downloaded without your consent. Luckily for you, this station has taken the ethical route and your data is safe. Enjoy the free charge!”

The risks of juice jacking are really two fold: getting data taken from your phone and getting malware put into your phone (which could lead to more data being taken from your phone).

Norton states that, “If the perpetrator can transfer that data onto their device, it might be enough personal information to impersonate you or access your financial accounts.”

In addition to capturing personal data currently on your phone, hackers could also use malware to gather future data “such as GPS locations, purchases made, social media interactions, photos, call logs, and other ongoing processes.”

Related: Hidden Cameras In Hotel Rooms!? Tools To Find Them & Where To Look

Hotels Room USB Ports Outlet

How bad is the risk?

Some people speculate that the risk of juice jacking in 2021 is over blown.

They point to a lack of confirmed instances of juice jacking, believe that devices are sophisticated enough to prevent juice jacking, and just generally think that the threat is not as prevalent as others have made it out to be.

I mean, how common do you think it would be for a criminal to infiltrate a hotel and set up “dirty” USB ports to steal data from random hotel guests?

Probably not super common but it could happen.

Beth Anne Steele with the FBI office in Portland states:

“It could be the person who stayed in the hotel room three weeks before you were in there, you just don’t know. It’s best to be safe. No system or set of actions you take are 100% guaranteed to keep you safe, but the more barriers you put up the better.”

Hotels Room USB Ports Outlet

What do you have to lose?

In reality, the true risk probably comes down to what you have to lose, which could be more than you think.

If you are a high-level government employee walking around with confidential data on multiple devices then you obviously want to be extremely careful, especially when traveling internationally.

You can imagine that if the data is valuable enough, people would be willing to go forward with multiple vector attacks.

This could include rigging hotel rooms connected to a major convention center at a time when guests holding valuable data are attending events.

Executives and government officials who walk around with highly sensitive data typically have special training to know how to avoid putting the data at risk.

But what about the average citizen?

If you just have a phone with a bunch of goofy selfies and video game apps, you might be thinking what would be the big risk of someone accessing your phone?

Well, you might have more personal identifying information on your phone than you initially think. Keep in mind 50 percent of users store their personal info on their smartphones.

So the risk for you would probably be related to stealing your personal identifying information and selling it on the dark web for profit. Essentially, your identity could be stolen and you would then be forced to spend money and time trying to get everything sorted out.

Related: Is It Safe to Use a Hotel Room Safe?

Additional risks of USB ports in hotels

Another risk, while probably rare, is that a USB port could be faulty and could potentially damage your device.

You should also be careful about using USB cables that come from unknown parties.

For example, if you were to borrow a USB cable from the hotel front desk, are you confident that this cable is not being used to hack information or that it won’t damage your device?

Safe alternatives to hotel USB ports

Use your AC adapter plus original charging cable

The safest and most ideal way to charge your phone and other mobile devices is to utilize the AC adapter and the original charging cable.

This is typically a small little box that you plug directly into the AC outlet. It will usually have one USB port which will allow you to charge one device at a time, although some may have more.

If you are using the charging cable provided by the manufacturer and the AC adapter, you should have very little to worry about.

Charge only cables

When you plug a USB cable into a laptop your phone can receive battery juice but it can also transmit data back-and-forth between the phone and the laptop.

However, there are some charging cables that only allow you to charge your device and do NOT transmit data.

Basically, USB cables tend to have four wires.

Two of these wires are designed to transfer data in and out and two of the other wires are for transferring power. Charge only cables should be lacking the (D+) and (D-) wires used for data exchange, making them a little bit thinner.

USB “condoms”

USB condoms were introduced around 2012 with the “sole purpose of disallowing data connections to be passed over a USB cable.”

There are now a lot of different varieties that you can choose from and these typically are not very expensive so you can purchase them for around $10.

The drawback of these is that they can greatly increase charging time.

I’ve seen reports online of people saying that it could take up to 15 times longer for your phone to charge when using one of these.

Also, in some cases the mobile device may not charge at all.

So if you want to go to USB condom route, this is something that you may need to test out with your specific mobile device to make sure that will work.

Power strips

You can purchase a USB power station or power strip that has multiple USB ports. This is a great option if you have multiple devices relying on USB for charging.

I would suggest getting one that plugs into an AC outlet and not a USB port just to be on the safe side.

Just make sure that you are purchasing a power strip from a reputable provider because malware could be installed in these.

Battery packs

Another smart option is to simply have a battery pack. This could be an external battery pack that connects to your phone or it could just be a power bank that you can plug into it any moment.

This can help you feel better about utilizing your phone more when traveling and a lot of them are pretty light and easy to carry around.

This type of solution can be especially helpful on Airlines like Southwest that don’t have power outlets or USB ports to charge during your flight. Also, if you do a lot of outdoor activities it can be really nice to have a power bank with you on long hikes.

Avoid using other devices to charge

If you are in a hotel lobby or office area, you may want to avoid plugging your phone into one of the computers in order to charge it. You never know who may have used the machine before you and what they could have planted.

Final word

It’s not clear exactly what the risk level is of juice jacking in hotel rooms but it’s pretty apparent that even if rare, it is definitely a possible way for hackers to access your devices and wreak all kinds of long-lasting havoc.

I would recommend for travelers to avoid using USB ports in hotel rooms and other public places unless they are taking mitigation efforts like USB condoms or charge only cables.

However, I think the ideal situation is to utilize an adapter that plugs into an AC power outlet along with the original charging cable from your manufacture.