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.

Can You Bring Cologne or Perfume on a Plane? TSA’s Rules [2023]

Nobody wants to be the stinky passenger on a plane. And most people prefer to smell good when traveling to different places.

So it’s no wonder that a lot of travelers want to bring cologne or perfume with them when heading to the airport.

But are you allowed to bring cologne through airport security and is it a good idea to wear cologne when on a plane?

In this article, I’ll tell you everything you need to know about bringing cologne or perfume on a plane including what TSA rules apply and a special trick that will make your life easier.

I’ll also give you some things to consider about wearing cologne and flying so that you can make life less miserable for other passengers around you.

Can you bring cologne or perfume on a plane?

Yes, you can bring cologne or perfume in your carry-on or checked baggage but there are some restrictions that you need to be aware of such as the TSA liquids 3-1-1 Rule and FAA regulations.

In addition, there are some travel etiquette considerations you need to think about when traveling on a plane. Keep reading below to find out everything you need to know.

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perfume bottle

Bringing cologne as a carry-on (TSA liquids rule)

TSA allows you to bring liquids like cologne and perfume on board as long as they are stored within a container no larger than 3.4 fluid ounces or (100 mL) and all of those containers can fit comfortably inside of one clear quart sized bag.

You will need to remove this bag from your carry-on bag when going through the security checkpoint unless you have TSA Pre-Check.

This procedure for dealing with your liquids is known as the TSA Liquids 3-1-1 Rule

Something super important to know about cologne and perfume is that the focus on the 3.4 ounces is on the size of the container and NOT the amount of liquid inside the container.

So let’s say you had a 6 ounce bottle of perfume and only about 25% of that bottle is full. That means your container has under 3.4 ounces of liquid but the container itself is 6 ounces.

There’s a good chance that a TSA agent will not allow you to bring that on board and you might be forced to throw it away!

The other thing to be aware of is that your cologne or perfume bottle needs to fit comfortably inside the quart size bag. This basically just means that the bag needs to be able to close and not be bursting at the seams.

Some people prefer to pour their cologne or perfume into a smaller clear container when traveling through the airport. This is what people do whenever their cologne bottle is larger than 3.4 ounces.

You are allowed to do this just like you are allowed to do this with alcohol but there is a better alternative for cologne and perfume.

The better alternative is to use something like a Mini Refillable Perfume Atomizer.

This allows you to fill up a small atomizer container with your perfume or cologne and easily travel with it anywhere. You might be limited to something like 50 squirts per container but you can always take a few of these with you if needed.

They are very easy to use and you can see how it works in the video below:

In the past, there have been isolated reports of TSA agents confiscating unmarked bottles with liquids such as perfume.

However, I think that is extremely uncommon and as long as your container is under 3.4 ounces you should not have anything to worry about.

Related: Can You Bring Hair Spray on a Plane?

perfume atomizer

Duty-free/airport stores

A lot of airports are packed with stores selling beauty products including perfume and cologne. At these stores, you’ll often find containers that are much larger than 3.4 ounces.

If you are already passed TSA security and all you need to do is board your flight for domestic travel you should not have any issues bringing these larger bottles on a plane.

If you are coming from an international destination, you may still be able to bring the larger fragrance bottles with you but if you have a connecting flight make sure that you comply with these special requirements:

  • The duty free liquids were purchased internationally and you are traveling to the United States with a connecting flight.
  • The liquids are packed in a transparent, secure, tamper-evident bag by the retailer and do not show signs of tampering when presented to TSA for screening.
  • The original receipt for the liquids is present and the purchase was made within 48 hours.

Read more about this rule here.

Bringing cologne in your checked baggage

If your perfume bottle is larger than 3.4 ounces then another option you have is to put it in your checked baggage. There are two things you need to consider when bringing cologne or perfume in your checked baggage.

Related: Can You Bring Makeup on a Plane?

Cologne and perfume checked baggage size requirements

The first consideration is making sure you are not bringing more liquid fragrance than you are allowed by law.

Some people believe that you can bring as much cologne or perfume as you like as long as it is in your checked baggage but this is not true!

The perfume and cologne requirements are spelled out by the FAA and they state the following:

The total aggregate quantity per person cannot exceed 2 kg (70 ounces) or 2 L (68 fluid ounces). The capacity of each container must not exceed 0.5 kg (18 ounces) or 500 ml (17 fluid ounces).*

Individual airlines also abide by these same requirements and you can often find them on the website. For example, United Airlines states:

Personal items such as deodorant, hairspray, nail polish, perfume and certain medicines have some restrictions… If you’re packing these items in your checked bag, each container can’t be more than 16 ounces. There’s a limit of 70 ounces total for each traveler.

Delta Airlines states:

Other personal items like cologne or hairspray are allowed in checked baggage, as long as there is less than 16 ounces of each item and less than 70 ounces total.

A 17 ounce container of cologne or perfume would be pretty gigantic but I have seen some pretty strange things so it’s probably not completely unrealistic for someone to try to bring something like that aboard.

Also, a fragrance lover relocating or someone trying to transport fragrances for sale could easily exceed that 68 fluid ounce requirement.

So while the average person will probably never come close to violating these size limitations, if you are heavy into fragrances then you should be aware of them.

Packing cologne and perfume in checked baggage

The second main consideration here is to avoid your bottle getting broken during the transport process.

I don’t care how much you might love your cologne, you probably don’t want your entire wardrobe drenched in that fragrance when you arrive at your destination.

Plus, that’s a great way for your money to go to waste.

I’ve traveled with cologne bottles many times in my checked baggage and never had an issue.

What I always do is first put the bottle of cologne inside of a Ziploc bag. This will prevent leakage in the event that your bottle is broken.

Some people use tape to cover the nozzle but that has always felt like overkill to me.

To be super safe you could double bag but I usually only double bag containers like shampoo or conditioner bottles which are more prone to leaking.

Next, you need to place the bag with your bottle somewhere in your luggage where it will not be bouncing around and potentially colliding with other hard objects.

If you have bubble wrap on hand you can wrap your bottle with that but that’s not always necessary.

Instead, you could just roll your bottle up in a shirt or stuff it snuggly between clothing items.

You could also put it in one of the zipper compartments if your luggage is full of soft contents.

Be careful about putting your perfume bottle in your toiletry bag. You might not think that anything could happen to your bottle but others have had bad luck.

If you do stick your cologne bottle in your toiletry bag consider wrapping it in something like a sock first. Fragrance bottles are often not as robust as they feel.

For more packing tips, check out our guide on bringing glass on a plane.

cologne bottle broken

Key considerations when traveling with cologne or perfume

Don’t wear cologne or perfume on the plane

Even though you might not be aware of it, it’s actually pretty inconsiderate to wear a fragrance on a plane.

About 30% of the general population find scented products on others irritating.

A certain percentage of the population also has extreme sensitivities to fragrances and if you are seated in an enclosed area like a plane, there is no escape for them.

It isn’t just that they have to deal with the intensity of your fragrance, some of these people suffer some pretty serious health complications from exposure to fragrances.

For example, you could trigger a massive 24 hour migraine headache for someone. In a worse situation, you could even trigger a severe asthma attack.

It’s just not worth it.

If you’re worried about smelling bad then try to take a shower right before your flight and if you are dealing with long-haul flights and connections then maybe consider getting access to an airport lounge with a shower.

Remember, you are allowed to bring deodorant on planes.

If you are flying in a business class or first class product where you have your own suite or where you are spaced out from others, you can probably get by with wearing cologne or perfume without as many issues.

But wearing a fragrance in economy class is often NOT a great idea.

plane with shower
Not every plane has a shower like Emirates.

Don’t spray cologne on the plane

Wearing cologne to the airport and on the plane is one thing.

Spraying yourself with cologne or perfume while inside of the plane’s cabin is quite another (especially in economy).

The intensity of the fragrance will be amplified and there is a much stronger chance that other passengers will get a strong whiff of it.

It’s just not a good idea to ever spray anything while in an air cabin, especially pepper spray.

Avoid bringing gimmicky cologne and perfume bottles

Sometimes perfume and cologne makers get a little too creative with their bottles.

For example, there was the Spicebomb cologne that came in a grenade shaped bottle which obviously did not go very well when taken through airport security.

Other types of cologne or aftershave have come in shapes like a revolver and so it is best to just avoid anything resembling a weapon or explosive regardless of how benign the contents are.

cologne shaped like grenade

Final word

Bringing cologne or perfume through airport security and on a plane is a pretty straightforward process.

As long as you comply with the liquid rule, you should not have any issues going through security and if your bottle is bigger than 3.4 ounces simply bring it in your checked bag if possible.

If going to checked bag route, make sure you abide by the FAA requirements and that you make an extra effort to wrap your bottles in soft clothing items.

My recommendation is to avoid wearing cologne or perfume while traveling on a plane and to definitely never spray it on while seated inside of the cabin. The strong scent can be jarring to other passengers and could even trigger medical issues for some.

Can You Bring Knives on a Plane? TSA’s Rules [2023]

Are you wondering whether or not you can bring knives through TSA security and on to a plane?

The answer isn’t so clear to a lot of people due to past policies that were implemented and then later reversed.

But in this article, I’ll tell you everything you need to know about bringing knives through airport security and on board your plane.

I’ll cover the TSA rules for both carry-ons and checked baggage and also talk about some other sharp objects. 

Can you bring knives on a plane? 

You cannot bring any knives in your carry-on or personal item, except for “plastic or round-bladed butter knives.” However, many types of knives are allowed in your checked baggage.

While TSA may allow you to transport various knives in your checked baggage keep in mind that many states and countries outlaw certain types of knives so traveling with them could still be illegal.

Keep reading below for more details on the TSA rules for knives.

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Pocket knife

The 2013 “changes” on knives 

You might be a little bit confused about the ban on small knives since at one point it looked like TSA was going to allow those knives on board. In 2013, TSA decided to allow small pocket knives to be brought aboard aircraft.

There were certain size regulations, such as requiring the blades to be no longer than 2.36 inches long and no wider than 1/2 inch. The knives also could not have certain features such as a molded grip or a locked or fixed blade.

An example of the old TSA knives regulations. These rules do NOT apply today since all knives are prohibited.

Why on Earth would they think this was a good idea?

Well, according to the TSA they believed that doing so would allow the airport screeners extra time so that they could focus on finding more dangerous objects like bombs, IEDs, etc. They also stated that due to reinforced cockpit doors, small knives were not a major threat to hijackings. 

But after TSA announced this, there was major pushback from the airlines, unions, and government officials. Many flight attendants didn’t feel safe knowing that passengers could be equipped with knives (even if they were very small knives).

Three days before the new changes were to go into effect, TSA decided to do more consulting regarding the changes and they eventually scrapped the changes altogether.

So to this day even small knives such as pocket knives are not allowed on a plane. And unfortunately, many people do not get that memo so pocket knives remain one of the most confiscated items by TSA.

Pocket knife

Bringing knives in your carry-on 

Knives in your carry-on are never allowed, except for “plastic or round-bladed butter knives.”

Round-bladed means that they are not serrated, as some butter knives do have grooves and ridges along the blade.

Besides these exceptions, there are no “TSA Approved” knives that you can bring on to a plane in your carry-on. This would include lightweight knives, non-locking knives, and compact knives.

Remember that in general, you are prohibited from traveling with any sharp objects in your carry-on baggage

The penalties for bringing a knife in your carry-on can be quite stiff.

For example, according to TSA, you could get hit with up to a $2,050 fine if you’re caught with some knives in your carry-on since they could fall in the banned category below: 

Axes and hatchets; bows and/or arrows; ice axes and ice picks; knives with blades that open automatically (such as switchblades); knives with blades that open via gravity (such as butterfly knives); any double-edge knives or daggers; meat cleavers; sabers; swords; machetes; throwing stars

There are countless stories out there of TSA confiscating knives and other sharp objects so they will not hesitate to take these items if they are discovered in the x-ray machine.

If you want to find out more about how TSA fines passengers when they bring dangerous items through security be sure to read our complete guide here.

TSA knife fines policy

One more thing to consider about going through security checkpoints with your knives.

“TSA officers have the discretion to prohibit any item through the screening checkpoint if they believe it poses a security threat.”

This means that even if an item is not prohibited and is allowed, an agent could still see it as a threat and not allow it to go through.

We once were going to transport some real silver butter knives through TSA but decided otherwise because we recognized that a TSA officer could utilize discretion and confiscate them.

That’s why I recommend you to store your sharp objects in your checked baggage if possible. 

Bringing knives in checked baggage 

You may pack just about any type of knife in your checked baggage.

So your checked luggage would be the way to bring the following knives:

  • Bread knife
  • Butcher knife
  • Carving knife
  • Pocket knives
  • Hunter’s knives
  • Kitchen (or chef) knives
  • Paring knife
  • Santoku knives
  • Swiss Army Knife
  • Swords and sabers
  • Utility knife

But you still need to comply with the rules that relate to properly covering your knife.

TSA states that “[a]ny sharp objects in checked bags should be sheathed or securely wrapped to prevent injury to baggage handlers and inspectors.”

So you don’t want to have a knife sitting loosely in your checked baggage.

That’s because TSA may need to inspect your checked baggage and if you have an exposed knife sitting in your luggage they may not see it and could sliced her hand open.

Instead of creating that hazard, ensure that your knife is packed in such a way so that it is securely covered or wrapped just in case an inspector were start digging through your belongings.

Consider using covering the knife with a sheath, blade cover, or wrap the knife in cloth or bubble wrap. Even better if you can place the knife inside of a hard-shell case, perhaps with a label on it so that an inspector would know there is a knife inside.

Another easy way to protect your knife is to simply wrap it in paper.

Check out the video below which can be really useful, especially for people trying to bring multiple knives in their checked baggage.

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What about other sharp items?

When in doubt about bringing a sharp item as a carry-on, just don’t bring it.

But if you’re trying to bring along a common sharp items like scissors then make sure you’re in compliance with the TSA rules. For example, you can bring scissors but only if they are less than 4 inches from the pivot point. 

Here’s a list of common sharp objects that you might want to bring.

Below is a breakdown on whether or not they are allowed as carry-on items. Generally, you’ll notice that many small, common household items like safety pins and nail clippers are allowed.  

  • Box Cutters = No
  • Cigar Cutters = Yes but not recommended
  • Corkscrews (with blade) = No
  • Crochet Hooks = Yes
  • Darts = No
  • Disposable Razor = Yes
  • Ice Axes/Ice Picks = No
  • Kirpans = No
  • Knitting Needles = Yes
  • Lock Picks = Yes
  • Meat Cleavers = No
  • Nail Clippers = Yes
  • Pencil Sharpeners = Yes
  • Razor-Type Blades = No
  • Sabers = No
  • Safety pin = Yes
  • Safety Razor With Blades (allowed without blade) = No
  • Saws = No
  • Sewing Needles = Yes
  • Swiss Army Knife = No
  • Swords = No
  • Throwing Stars = No
  • Tweezers = Yes 

Relate: Can You Bring Pepper Spray on a Plane?

Knives and state laws

As a former attorney, I’m always thinking about the law and you should too if you are traveling with knives.

You have to remember that just because something is permissible through TSA, that does not mean that it is legal where you are or where you are going.

TSA is not a law enforcement agency so they are not actively trying to find out if you are breaking the law. Instead, they are primarily concerned with safety and preventing terrorist attacks via explosives and other dangerous items.

With that said, if they did find something illegal such as a type of knife that is not allowed in your state, they could refer you to law-enforcement.

That’s why you need to make sure that your knives are not going to get you into trouble wherever you’re going.

While all of the information in this article does not constitute legal advice, I provide some guidance that will help you in your own research. If you have any specific questions, be sure to get advice from an attorney before you risk breaking the law.

Each state will have its own laws that will determine if it is legal for you to possess or carry a knife. So it will be your responsibility to look up the latest laws to wherever you were traveling to.

So with all of that out of the way, here are some common restrictions that you can look out for and a few examples to help you along the way.

Blade length

A lot of states impose restrictions based on the length of a knife blade.

Typically, the limit is around 3 inches to 4 inches but some states go higher or lower.

Sometimes these apply to fixed blade knives but other times they only apply to switchblades. Some states also don’t publish any specific length limitations.

Carry open or concealed

Just like firearms, there can be laws pertaining to carrying knives open or concealed. And often these laws are tied to special blade length restrictions.

For example, states like Georgia, North Dakota, and Texas may permit pocket knives to be concealed if the blades are shorter than 5 inches. Other states have limitations at 4 inches or 3 inches.

Switchblades or automatic knives

Switchblades or automatic knives are those knives that pop out in an instant with the push of a button or the flip of a lever.

States often publish specific descriptions of what constitutes a switchblade and they usually refer to language like spring-loaded, relying on a throwing motion, gravity, etc.

These are outlawed at least in some degree in certain states like: California, Delaware, Hawaii, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, North Dakota, Pennsylvania and others.

Single-edged or double-edged blades

Some states put special restrictions on knives that have double-edged blades. It’s not uncommon to see a ban on double sided daggers, for example.

Disguised knives

Some knives are made to be concealed by looking like other objects such as pens or lipstick. These type of knives may be outlawed in certain states.

Also, if you get caught bringing these through TSA they can hit you with a bigger fine because of the concealment.

Special use laws

When it comes to carrying knives, context really matters.

For example, if you are out in the wilderness and with a knife the purpose of your use is probably survival, defense from wild animals, etc.

If you are wielding a knife in a packed subway station, that’s a very different matter.

Related to this, certain establishments like schools or bars have strict laws about carrying knives.

International travel with knives

When going through airport security in other countries you will face similar restrictions on bringing knives that you face with TSA.

Some may allow knives as long as they are no longer than 6 cm but others outlaw them entirely in carry on bags. At the end of the day, when flying international, it’s just a good idea to check with the airline you’re flying with.

With that said, here are some of the policies that I found.

In the UK, they state that “knives with a sharp or pointed blade and/or blade longer than 6cm” (2.3 inches) are not allowed in your carry-on (or what they call hand luggage).

The EU states, “Any sharp objects that might be used as weapons are not allowed in the aircraft cabin.” They go on to specify that “knives with blades of more than 6 cm” are outlawed.

So it’s basically the same policy as the UK.

In Canada, the CATSA states that knives over 6 cm must be packed in checked baggage when flying within Canada or to an international (non-U.S.) destination and that no knives are permitted in your carry-on on flights to the U.S.

Just like with laws in the US, different countries will have different policies on what type of knives are legally allowed. Here are some resources for you to check out when doing your research:

TSA Knives Rules FAQ

Can I bring a knife in my carry-on?

You are NOT allowed to bring a knife in your carry-on except for “plastic or round-bladed butter knives.”

What is a TSA approved knife?

There are no TSA approved knives except for “plastic or round-bladed butter knives.”

What is the fine for bringing a knife through airport security?

You could be charged a fine of over $2,000 if you are caught with a knife.

Can I bring a knife in my checked baggage?

Yes, You may pack knives in your checked baggage but you still need to comply with the rules of packing them safely.

TSA states that “[a]ny sharp objects in checked bags should be sheathed or securely wrapped to prevent injury to baggage handlers and inspectors.”

What if the knife is shorter than 2.36 inches?

Knives are no longer allowed even if they are shorter than 2.36 inches.

Can I bring a pocket knife on a plane?

You can only bring a pocket knife in your checked baggage.

Final word

Traveling with knives through airports is generally something I try to avoid. But when dealing with TSA you absolutely want to make sure that your knives are not in your carry-on so that you don’t get hit with a massive fine. Also, be aware that other sharp objects might not be allowed in your carry-on so always be on the lookout for restrictions. 

Can You Take Cigarettes on a Plane? (TSA & Customs Rules) [2023]

Are you thinking about bringing cigarettes on a plane during your next trip? Are you aware of the potential restrictions you might be facing?

In this article, I will break down everything you need to know about bringing cigarettes on a plane and getting through TSA security.

I’ll also give you some insight on flying internationally and going through customs and when bringing related products like lighters, vapes, etc.

Can you take cigarettes on a plane?

Yes, you can take cigarettes on a plane as both a carry-on or a checked baggage item. However, you are not permitted to smoke them at any time while on the plane.

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TSA rules on cigarettes

TSA is very straightforward that you can bring cigarettes through airport security as a carry-on/personal item and that you can also place them in your checked baggage.

They don’t specify any size or quantity limit so theoretically you could probably bring as much as you can reasonably fit in your bag.

However, bringing mass quantities of almost anything can sometimes look suspicious.

It could result in you undergoing an enhanced screening which could take longer for you to get through security. However, if you have nothing to hide then there should not be an issue even if you have multiple cartons of cigarettes.

Smoking on a plane (a brief history)

Believe it or not, passengers used to be allowed to smoke on a plane while in the air.

In fact, some airlines even gave out complimentary cigars.

In the 1960s, momentum started to grow in opposition to allowing smoking on planes.

People were getting tired of having to breathe in exhaled smoke, especially flight attendants who spent so much time in the cabin.

It wasn’t just a matter of being annoyed, either. Flight attendants and crew were coming down with illnesses not to mention going home every day smelling like a giant burning cigarette.

There was also the lingering worry about starting a fire in the sky.

But as you would imagine, there was a lot of resistance by the tobacco industry.

Because smoking was so wildly accepted, a lot of people just considered dealing with second-hand smoke as a way of life.

Consider the statement made in the 1980s by US Civil Aeronautics Board chairman Dan McKinnon: “Philosophically, I think nonsmokers have rights, but it comes into marked conflict with practicalities and the realities of life.”

Eventually, the opposition grew strong enough that changes were made. However, the ban on smoking in a plane did not happen overnight.

Instead, there were a lot of incremental changes.

For example, first there were airlines like United that created smoke-free areas of the cabin.

Then, in 1988, airlines based in the US submitted to an official ban on smoking on domestic flights of under two hours.

A couple of years later this was extended to domestic flights of less than six hours, which effectively banned smoking on most US flights and was a major victory for The Association of Flight Attendants-CWA (AFA).

And then eventually, the ban was extended to all domestic and international flights as late as the year 2000.

During the time leading up to the year 2000, some airlines took initiative to ban smoking like Delta which became the first US airline to ban it on all flights in 1994.

Today, while smoking is not allowed in an aircraft cabin or bathroom, there still is an interesting remnant of the old smoker days.

If you go into a lavatory in an airplane, you might still see an ashtray attached to the door.

It’s always confused me because just above that ashtray you usually find a no smoking sign.

So what exactly is going on?

These are reportedly still placed there so that if someone does violate a no smoking rule, they have the ability to put out the cigarette in a way that will not be harmful to the plane (e.g., cause a fire).

Airline bathroom ashtray

What happens if you get caught smoking on a plane?

If you get caught smoking on a plane, you could be fined or something more severe could happen. For example, you could cause the plane to be diverted to a different destination.

Not only would that draw the ire of every other passenger in the aircraft and potentially make national news, but you could also be arrested and even imprisoned when you land. The airline might even sue you.

Smoking on a plane is just not worth it no matter how big of a craving that you get.

And just in case you were wondering, there are smoke alarms in the plane bathrooms.

This is why if you are a smoker, it’s a good idea to look into the designated smoking areas at airports, so that you might be able to reduce your craving on the flight.

International flights and cigarettes

Like most policies, things can be a little different when you travel internationally with cigarettes.

Here are a few things you need to consider when traveling with cigarettes internationally.

Laws in foreign countries

When heading out to a different country from the US, your first concern should be whether or not the country has a strict policy against tobacco products.

For example, a small number of countries have strict laws and some like Bhutan have even completely outlawed tobacco.

Showing up to Customs with a carton of cigs in a country like Bhutan could be bad news and mean serious jail time.

Even if you can bring tobacco into a country, you should also be well-versed in all of the smoking laws since more spaces are becoming smoke-free and the penalties seem to be getting stiffer.

Countries like Costa Rica are known for strict anti-smoking policies. In places like that, smoking near bus stops and taxi stands can get you in trouble.

US Customs rules

One of the biggest considerations you need to think about when flying back into the US with cigarettes is the quantity that you are going to be bringing in.

You’ll need to make sure you’re up on the latest US Customs rules.

If you are over the age of 21, you can bring in tobacco products but only quantities that don’t exceed the amounts in the personal exemption that you qualify for.

For example, the limits might be “not more than 200 cigarettes and 100 cigars if arriving from other than a beneficiary country and insular possession.” 

If you are returning from certain territories then every 31 days, you can return with higher amounts.

For example, a resident returning from travel from American Samoa, Guam, the Northern Mariana Islands, or US Virgin may import 1,000 cigarettes (5 cartons) subject to restrictions.

When bringing in tobacco/cigarettes you might also have to pay a Federal excise tax.

The tax will be based on your circumstances but here is a look at some of the rates:

cigarette tax rates

Cuban cigars

If you have got your hands on Cuban cigars you might be wondering about flying with those back into the US.

During the last six years the policies have shifted dramatically.

In 2016, things opened up with Cuba and cigars were allowed to come in as the CBP stated:

On October 17, 2016, the Office of Foreign Asset Control relaxed restrictions so authorized travelers, arriving direct from Cuba, are now able to bring Cuban merchandise for personal use back to the United States and qualify for the U.S. Resident exemption (HTSUS 9804.00.65, which allows up to $800 total in goods, and adults 21 and older may include 1 liter of alcohol, 200 cigarettes, and 100 cigars). 

Former President Trump changed things when he was in office and in 2020 a ban resumed on Cuban cigars.

With a different president in office these policies might change but for now it appears that you are not allowed to bring in Cuban cigars back into the US.

Related: Can You Take Cigars on a Plane?


If you’re thinking about traveling with e-cigarettes or vapes, you want to put a special focus on two things: batteries and the liquids rule.

You never want to carry loose lithium-ion batteries in your checked baggage and you may be limited to just two vape batteries for your carry-on.

If you go overboard with vapes or batteries you may be calling attention to yourself which could lead to a closer inspection of your items.

Finally, consider that if you are bringing special pods or packs that contain liquid vape you need to comply with the liquids rule.

We’ve created a detailed guide for flying with e-cigarettes that you should check out if you have any lingering questions.


If you are a marijuana smoker things are a lot different since you need to consider the legality of marijuana. Flying with marijuana is not so straightforward even in areas that have legalized it.

Luckily, we have also put together a very detailed and thorough guide on how to get to the airport with marijuana.

You can see a checklist to look at in order to avoid trouble at the airport and also get tips and suggestions on how to best travel with marijuana through airport security and in your luggage.

Lighters and matches

Lighters are also allowed on planes but there are some specific rules on bringing them as well.

According to the FAA, when traveling on a commercial airline you can bring one lighter that uses a flammable gas (butane) or that uses a flammable liquid that is absorbed in a lining (Zippo-type of lighter).

You are allowed to bring disposable and Zippo lighters without fuel in checked bags but there must be no traces of fuel or vapor inside the lighters. 

Those are the rules in a nutshell but you might want to read the guide below for more details.

Related: TSA Rules for Bringing Lighters on Planes

lighter getting lit

Chewing tobacco

Chewing tobacco, snuff, or “smokeless tobacco” is also allowed by TSA.

You are also allowed to bring in tobacco pipes in your carry-on and check-in bags. Just be aware that paraphernalia such as weed pipes could be detected by TSA and confiscated although that is not a focus of TSA.

Final word

As you can tell when flying on a typical domestic flight you can bring cigarettes with you in your carry-on or checked baggage without any problems.

However, you need to be careful when flying internationally because there are quantity limits you will need to consider and some countries have very strict policies against tobacco.

If you were thinking about bringing in other types of tobacco such as e-cigarettes or vapes then you need to brush up on the rules for those as well.

TSA Body Scanners: Images & Machines Explained [2023]

If you have ever gone through a TSA body scanner there’s a good chance that you’ve wondered if your naked body is on display for someone in a mysterious back room.

It’s a valid worry but I think you’ll be happy to realize that you don’t have that much to worry about in today’s screening world.

Below, I will go into detail about TSA body scanners, the images that they display, and what it all means for your privacy, security, and health.

TSA body scanners used today

There are multiple different types of full body scan machines used by various security checkpoints but the two most relevant to TSA are Backscatter X-rays and Millimeter Wave AIT scanners.

Backscatter machines are the original body scanners used by TSA and those machines utilized X-rays which contained ionizing radiation.

However, the Millimeter Wave AIT scanners utilize microwaves which contain non-ionizing electromagnetic radiation.

Sounds scary, right?

But it’s not too far from that utilized by cellular data transmitters.

Check out the diagram below that shows off the electromagnetic spectrum with mircowaves on the left and X-rays on the right.

TSA currently uses Millimeter Wave AIT scanners exclusively, which are designed to peer through clothing to look for both metal and non-metal objects.

electromagnetic spectrum
Image via CDC.

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Brief history of TSA body scanners

TSA began deploying body scanners in 2010 and by the end of the year, the TSA had introduced 500 whole-body scanners at airports all across the US. 

Why exactly were these “nudie scanners” added?

It had a lot to do with the 2009 underwear bomber attempt by Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab.

He was a Nigerian citizen who tried to blow up a Detroit-bound Northwest Airlines flight (on Christmas Day) by setting off explosives hidden in his underwear.

(It did not end well for him and he is currently serving four life sentences in a super max).

After this attempt, it became apparent to TSA that threats could be concealed beneath clothing and so they decided to introduce full body X-ray scanners.

These scans would presumably be more capable of detecting concealed metal, plastics, ceramics, chemical materials, and importantly, explosives.

The initial body scanners were very invasive and basically showed passengers near nude.

TSA tried to make up for this fact by allowing the agent who was doing the viewing to be seated about 50 to 100 feet away from the scanner.

That officer would then radio to another TSA officer who would actually do the follow up search if needed.

The thinking was that the officer who essentially saw you nude would never have any interaction with you.

TSA also stressed that the images were not saved or printed (although some images were saved and leaked in 2010).

You can see just how much detail they revealed in the images below. I edited one of the photos because they do show quite a bit of full frontal detail and my blog is (mostly) PG-13.

TSA body scan image man
The old body scanners showed near naked images of travelers.

You can see the unedited image here (partial male nudity).

Here is another image of a man and a woman and you can really see how something like a firearm and a knife would stand out.

This type of scanner did have some major concerns about its ability to detect objects but more on that below.

TSA full body scan image female and male gun

The images above may freak you out but you will be happy to know that TSA no longer uses the Backscatter X-ray scanners that produced these detailed images.

That is because in 2012 Section 739 of the FAA Modernization and Reform Act required that all full-body scanners operated in airports by the TSA use “Automated Target Recognition” software.

This replaced the picture of a near-nude body with a funny looking, avatar-like image.

The vendor of these machines initially was going to implement a software update on the Backscatter machines but they failed to do so.

Thus, the TSA removed Backscatter X-ray machines by May 2013.

That is pretty much the summary although there are new scanners that use passive terahertz technology which are being tested.

These can view travelers from far away as much is 25 feet. For now, we will just focus on the Millimeter Wave AIT scanners.

How the body scan process works

If you are in the standard security checkpoint line you will first be asked to remove some clothing items including your shoes, belt, jackets, and also accessories like watches, phones, etc.

You want to make sure your pockets are completely empty because the scanners can pick up even the smallest items, including small drugs.

You will then be waived through so that you are standing inside of what feels like an oversized phone booth.

Your legs should be spread apart a bit and then you will lift both of your arms and slightly bend your elbows.

Basically, you’ll look like you’ve been frozen mid jumping jack.

The antennas will then scan you within a couple of seconds and depending on the type of message that the TSA agent sees you will then be directed to proceed through security or undergo more screening.

If you have TSA Pre-Check, you can usually avoid the full body scanners.

In addition to offering you access to an expedited security line, TSA Pre-Check also provides you with the following perks:

  • 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

What does a TSA agent see from the body scanners?

Unlike back in the day where a TSA agent might see a near-nude image of your body, now a TSA agent will see one of two things after you are scanned.

If the scanner does not detect anything suspicious the screen will display the word “OK” with no image.

However, if the scanner detects something out of the ordinary there will be an avatar like outline of a human body (not your actual body) and wherever the suspicious item is detected, a yellow box will appear.

This is presumably where a TSA agent will want to search you to verify that the item is not a threat.

Image via LA Times.

Declining the body image scanner

More than 99% of passengers choose to be screened by the full body scanners over alternative screening procedures.

If you are part of the one percent that would prefer not to go through the body image scanner you can avoid it but you will likely be subject to a type of physical screening such as a pat down.

This could be similar to a special SSSS search or a search you’d get if you didn’t have your ID.

There reportedly are some passengers who are not allowed to get by with just a pat down and have to go through the body image scanner but it seems like this is rare.

It could be random or in some cases you might be subject to secondary screening and need to consider a redress number.

Privacy issues

The big privacy issue that most people think about is the nakedness factor. Most people don’t like the thought of being gawked at by mysterious TSA workers behind a curtain.

But with the new software that TSA uses which doesn’t actually show bodily details that is not really a major concern for most.

I think a bigger issue is that the scanners could be tripped when they detect sensitive things like colostomy appliances, penile implants, and catheter tubes.

Related: TSA Medication Rules for Flying on Planes

Another issue with these scanners is that I have heard they can pick up scar tissue very well.

So for example if you had had a mastectomy or some other type of major surgery it’s possible that your scar tissue could trigger the scanner and force you to undergo an additional search in a sensitive region.

There’s also the issue of gender identity.

At least at one point the scanners were set to trip if they detected certain body parts that did not align with the gender they were programmed to be reviewing.

You could imagine how that could cause major issues for a lot of transgender people and inexperienced TSA agents who may not know how to properly handle the situation.

As more state IDs allow for non-binary people to select gender neutral or “X,” I would think these problems would decrease, but I’m not exactly sure how the gender selection process works with TSA’s software.

The good side of TSA scanning technology is that some believe that some of the scanners could be used as a potential to be a skin cancer diagnostic tool for finding early signs of malignant melanoma — a very serious type of skin cancer.

Safety & health concerns

Anytime you are dealing with waves being sent to or through your body there are always going to be questions about the safety of it all.

The Backscatter machines used X-rays which are ionizing radiation, and “more energetic than millimeter waves by more than five orders of magnitude.”

In short, the old machines were much more dangerous than the new ones.

But what about the radiation potential of the Millimeter Wave AIT scanners?

One major authority on this topic, Thomas S. Tenforde, president of the National Council on Radiation Protection and Measurements, said in 2010 that the scanners were probably within bounds [of standards for safe operation].

But he also emphasized that there should be an effort to verify that they are safe for frequent use.

A more recent study allegedly called the safety of these AIT scanners into question but other fact checkers have refuted/de-bunked these claims and clarified that there is no risk of DNA damage.

(The main study relied upon to call the safety of these scanners into question did not even focus on airport scanners.)

The reason why these millimeter waves are not viewed as very dangerous is that they are much larger than x-rays and do not involve ionizing radiation.

Ionizing radiation is the type of radiation that can alter the structure of molecules but this scanner does not emit that type.

Instead, it emits a type of microwave that is “thousands of times less than that of a cell phone transmission.”


Many people question whether or not these full body scanners are actually effective.

Actually, the backscatter scanners were shown to be at least somewhat suspect at detecting weapons. They also were potentially subject to getting hacked with malware.

I also read that there were some tests done that showed the scanners did not detect a handgun hidden under an undercover agents undergarments.

However, this could be say more about the people monitoring the images than the machines.

I know from my personal experience that even the slightest object can trigger the scans. I once left a small painkiller tablet in my pocket and the agent was instantly notified and asked me to empty the pocket.

If anything the scanners might be overly sensitive.

One issue with the scanners is that there are some types of materials that make false positives more common such as folds in clothing and buttons.

Also, beads of sweat can trigger false positives on the scanners.

Just how common are false positives? Some countries, such as Germany, have reported a false-positive rate of 54%.

I don’t believe that the TSA body scanners can penetrate through your skin like other X-ray machines do.

So for example they would not detect things like tampons or menstrual cups inside your body from what I can tell.

However, please don’t try to sneak through TSA by sticking items in your bodily cavities.

If you are trying to smuggle drugs that way there are dogs that are trained to sniff drugs including those located in your bum or elsewhere.

Also, I’m pretty sure that if authorities suspect that you might be holding something inside your body they can order you to take a type of X-ray that will reveal items in your body cavities.

TSA Body Scan FAQ

What type of body scanner does TSA use?

TSA currently uses Millimeter Wave AIT scanners which use a form of electromagnetic radiation known as microwaves. These type of body scanners do not use X-rays.

Are the TSA body scanners harmful to pregnant women?

Millimeter Wave AIT scanners emit a type of microwave which is non-ionizing radiation. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), “common exposures to non-ionizing radiation are not considered hazardous to you or your unborn baby.” 

Do the TSA full body scanners emit harmful radiation?

Millimeter wavelength radiation is used in the TSA full body scanners but it is non-ionizing and therefore incapable of causing cancers by radiolytic DNA bond cleavage. To date, there is not any evidence of harmful effects other than those caused by localised heating.

Can TSA seen you naked?

No, TSA cannot see you naked when they view the display screen from the full body scanner. Instead, they see a cartoon like representation of a human with highlighted sections if a suspicious item is detected.

Why does TSA use the body scanners?

After the underwear bomber’s attempt in 2009, it became more apparent that threats could be hidden beneath clothing, so TSA wanted a way wait to view potential explosives hidden under cloth.

Can I avoid the TSA full body scanners?

Yes, most passengers can opt to avoid the full body scanner but they will likely be subject to a pat down. Also, those with TSA Pre-Check can avoid the body scanner.

Does TSA save the body scan images?

No, in fact the scanning devices are not supposed to allow TSA to store any of the images. However, in the past some images (35,000) were being saved and some even got leaked.

Final word

Hopefully after reading this article you are a little bit relieved and you learned something about the evolution of the TSA full body scanner.

If you are at all bothered by the scanner I would highly recommend getting TSA Pre-Check so that you can avoid the scanner for the most part.

And just remember the privacy concerns are not nearly as bad as they once were and there is no evidence that you are subject to dangerous radiation.

Can You Bring Books on a Plane? TSA’s Rules Explained

Lots of travelers like to bring books with them when they fly.

The question is: will you run into any problems with TSA if you bring books with you in your carry-on or checked bag?

In this article, we will take a look at some of the policies that were tested out (and luckily abandoned) and what the current TSA policy for bringing books on a plane looks like today.

Can you bring books on a plane?

Yes, you can bring books through TSA in your carry-on or in your checked bags.

When traveling with stacks of books or other literature, it might be better to bring books in your carry-on so that you can avoid having your literature damaged or bag delayed when it goes through checked baggage security inspections.

However, be prepared to potentially deal with enhanced screening when bringing books in your carry-on bag as we will explain below!

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What does TSA say about traveling with books?

TSA began a pilot program in 2017 that required passengers to remove books and other paper products along with other items like food and place them in individual security bins for screening.

This caused a lot of uproar among those travelers who carry around lots of books, such as academics, students, and others. In addition to just being a burden to getting through security, this program introduced privacy concerns.

For example, people were worried that if they had a book in a particular language, such as Arabic, they could be deemed more likely to be a terroristic threat.

And then there were concerns that if people had books representing a particular type of political view, they would could be subjected to unjustified targeting.

Perhaps due in part to these concerns (and for other reasons), the program didn’t last long and it was eventually abandoned with no plan to “restore the pilot or to expand it.”

This means that you should not always be required to remove books from your carry-on baggage.

However, you could still be forced to deal with additional screening when bringing books in your carry-on.

TSA states:

“Books often require additional screening. The TSA officer may ask you to remove them from your carrying case to conduct a physical inspection.”

This physical inspection could mean having to take your books out your bag and allowing a TSA agent to flip through them.

Sometimes it could also involve getting swabbed depending on the circumstances.

That means agents will be looking for traces of explosives on your books. This swab testing usually only takes a few minutes (unless they detect something on your books).

Because of the risk pf physical inspection, having easy access to your books will generally be helpful, so keep that in mind when packing your bag.

Also, carrying around huge stacks of books (or ultra large books) may increase the odds of you getting additional screening so keep that in mind.

Carry on or checked bags?

For some people, it might be better to put books in your carry-on baggage. This is particularly true if you have delicate literature. For example, you could have a lot of precious comics or old books that could easily be damages.

In the past, there was confusion about whether or not TSA was requiring books, such as comic books to go into your checked bag or carry-on bag. This was based on a prior TSA blog post. As documented by the NYT, this post stated:

 “Pack items such as stacks of brochures and assorted comic books in your carry-on bag… Packing these items in checked bags often causes alarms leading to bag searches which can cause a significant slowdown in the screening process leading to delays and bags possibly missing their flights.”

This led airlines like United to erroneously claim that comic books had to transported in carry on bags but they later clarified, “While T.S.A. is recommending that customers keep their comic books in their carry-on bags, there are no restrictions on packing them in checked luggage. We misunderstood T.S.A.’s instructions and regret any inconvenience this may have caused our customers.”

So while you are NOT required to place books, comic books, or stacks of pamphlets in your carry-on, it might be best to avoid placing them in checked baggage.

Not only can it slow down the screening process but agents rummaging through your bag could cause damage to your more “delicate” literature.

Why does TSA care about books?

TSA cares about books for potentially a few reasons.

They want to make sure that people are not hiding dangerous objects inside of books.

One thing that TSA is looking out for with books is hidden compartments. Books with hidden compartments aren’t banned by TSA but it could be a problem if TSA finds a prohibited items inside them. For example, if you were trying to transport a firearm hidden inside a book you could be subjected to higher fines.

Some say that a book could resemble an explosive such as C4 when viewed through a scanner machine. (This is similar to why fudge is sometimes flagged.)

In other situations, it could just be that the books block the view of the agents trying to monitor the scanners. Essentially, books just make it harder for the agents to view all of the contents in your luggage.

As TSA introduces more advanced screening machines you would hope that books won’t present the security issues that they have in the past.

Does TSA care about what you’re reading?

Some travelers might worry that TSA agents are concerned about the content of their books.

For example, they might determine that you’re reading something too “edgy” or “controversial” and therefore require you to go through more screening.

Perhaps you were doing research on “extremist” groups or Mexican cartels for school and that makes you look suspicious.

I personally haven’t seen any evidence of this.

In the past, TSA was instructed to “fan through” the pages of your book and so they were not necessarily instructed to pay attention to the content, although just a book title could be a give-a-way to the book’s content or message.

It’s not unfathomable that an agent could take a book title into consideration when making judgment calls about the “danger level” of your other items or your need for more screening.

I think that this could also potentially be a concern if you were caught with something that led to a secondary investigation.

For example, if you got caught traveling with lots of unexplained cash and you had a book potentially related to criminal activity that could be associated with that cash. In that case, that could be used as evidence against you.

Final word

It’s very possible to bring your favorite books with you when you travel. In some cases, you might have to deal with enhanced screening so you should be ready for that. Typically, that screening should not take very long, so it’s usually not a very big deal.

TSA Liquid Rules Ultimate Guide (3-1-1 Explained) [2023]

Bringing your liquids through airport security is not always as straightforward as you might think.

There are several rules that apply when bringing your liquids through airport security checkpoints and, yes, many are obvious to those of us blessed with a shred of common sense.

But in some cases there are some less obvious restrictions that could apply to your liquids.

And when you start talking about things like baby essentials, medications, and liquids like alcohol, there are many lesser-known rules and exceptions that come into play.

Violating these rules can sometimes mean slowing down the flow of the screening checkpoint (something we all should want to avoid) but in other cases it could mean violating the law and you basically becoming an airport criminal.

And nobody wants that.

So it’s a good idea to get acquainted with how these rules work and in this article, I’ll give you a detailed breakdown of the 3-1-1 rule and also talk about the many different types of exceptions and additional rules that apply to different types of liquids such as medications and alcohol.

What is the TSA Liquids “3-1-1 Rule?”

The TSA Liquids 3-1-1 Rule states that you can only bring liquids in containers no larger than 3.4 liquid ounces (100 milliliters) and that all of your liquid containers must fit “comfortably” into one clear, quart-size bag.

Where does the 3-1-1 come from?

It’s just an easy way to memorize the different requirements that make up the rule and I’ll hit on those below.

3.4 fluid ounces or (100 mL)

The “three” indicates that your liquids must be contained within a container no larger than 3.4 fluid ounces or (100 ml).

(TSA uses 3.4 ounces because it’s easier to remember but really 100 ml comes out to 3.3814 fluid ounces.)

One of the biggest things that people get confused about is that the 3.4 ounce requirement applies to the size of the container and not the liquid within the container.

So let’s say that you have a 6 ounce container with only 2 ounces of fluid inside.

You may think that because you have under 3.4 fluid ounces of liquid, you are good to go but because your container is larger than 3.4 ounces, you cannot bring that through TSA.

The other big thing to know is that this refers to fluid ounces which relates to volume and is very different from ounces used for weight.

Some products like honey could weigh 4 ounces but still fit inside of a 3.4 fluid ounce container. It helps to know how to convert ounces/grams to fluid ounces.

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1 quart-sized resealable bag

The first “one” means that your liquids must fit within 1 quart-sized resealable bag. Typically, this will be a clear Ziploc bag which just makes things easy for everybody.

The key thing to note here is that the containers must fit “comfortably” inside this resealable bag.

What does “comfortably” mean?

It basically just means that the bag is not bursting at the seams. (Think about how a pair of jeans should fit when you’re being honest with yourself about your waist size.)

If you are not able to easily reseal your bag, then your contents may not be fitting comfortably inside.

In such a scenario, it’s possible that a TSA agent could ask you to throw something out in order to allow your bag to comply with the rules.

In my personal experience, I have not seen a lot of TSA agents enforce the “comfortable” requirement very strictly but if you have bottles poking out of your liquids bag, I could see that being an issue.

1 quart size bag per person

The last requirement is that you are allowed 1 quart size bag per person.

The easiest way to comply with this is to simply separate your liquids bag from your carry-on and have one liquids bag in your bin when going through security.

Otherwise, it could look like you are trying to bring through two bags of liquids.

The best packing tip I have for this is to keep your liquids bag at the top of your carry-on so that you can easily retrieve it.

There’s nothing worse than scrambling to find that liquids bag while trying to get ready to go through a screening checkpoint.

TSA Pre-Check liquids rule

TSA Pre-Check allows you to bypass the main security line and pass through a screening line that is usually much shorter and quicker. This also means avoiding the full body scanner in many cases. It basically makes you a VIP when it comes to airport security checkpoints.

If you have TSA Pre-Check, you can take advantage of several benefits including things like:

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

That last perk is the most relevant to the liquids rule as you will not have to remove your liquids bag and place them in one of the bins when going through security. You can simply leave them in your carry-on and pass through the metal detector without any issue.

I highly recommend that you look into getting Pre-Check in order to expedite your security screening. It will only cost $78 for five years and all you have to do is pass a background check. You can also get it if you are approved for Global Entry (read how to get approved here).

New hand sanitizer liquids rule

Due to the ongoing threat of coronavirus and the potential threat of spreading germs throughout airports and aircraft, TSA recently implemented a change with respect to hand sanitizer.

Passengers will now be allowed to bring one hand sanitizer bottle up to 12 ounces. These larger bottles will be screened separately so just be aware that it could add some extra time.

What exactly is a “liquid?”

In some cases, what constitutes a liquid will be very clear.

For example, it’s pretty much common sense that water inside of a water bottle is a liquid. The same applies for cologne, mouthwash, etc.

But liquids also can include less-obvious forms like aerosols, gels, creams, or pastes.

This means that several common items you would be bringing along for your trip could be considered a liquid like: toothpaste, lotion, sunscreen, shaving cream, shampoo, conditioner, and others.

You can find travel-sized products for most of these so it’s usually pretty easy to bring along items that comply with the TSA liquids rule.

Other items

You need to be mindful of other items that could be considered liquids like deodorant. For example, the following types of deodorants will be subject to the 3-1-1 rule:

  • Spray
  • Gel
  • Liquid
  • Cream
  • Pastes
  • and Roll-On deodorants

Prohibited items

Just because you have something like an aerosol and it is in a container no larger than 3.4 ounces, that does not mean that you can bring it as a carry-on.

There are quite a few prohibited items like aerosol insecticide, bear spray, etc. that are not allowed as carry-ons. In fact, some of those items may not even be allowed on the plane at all. This is a good place to search if you are in doubt about whether or not you can bring a particular item.

Be aware that some items like hairspray may even have size restrictions when packed in your checked baggage.

Picture of shaving cream going into hand
Liquids can come in many different forms.

Foods can also be liquids

One aspect of the TSA liquids rule that throws a lot of people off is that they forget many foods also qualify as liquids.

Here is a non-exhaustive list of food items that will fall under the liquids rule:

  • Liquid chocolate
  • Creamy dips and spreads
  • Mashed fruits such as applesauce
  • Gravy
  • Honey
  • Jam and jelly
  • Maple syrup
  • Oils and vinegars
  • Peanut butter
  • Wet pet food
  • Salad dressing
  • Salsa and sauces
  • Soups
  • Yogurt

Basically anything that is usually poured, scooped, squeezed, slurped, or mashed will be considered a liquid for TSA purposes.

If your food is solid on the other hand, chances are you can bring it through.

Picture of a bowl of hummus
Hummus is a liquid in the eyes of TSA.

TSA rules for liquid medications

The liquids rule provides exceptions for medical supplies and medications.

TSA allows larger amounts of medically necessary liquids, gels, and aerosols in “reasonable quantities” than your 3-1-1 allowance.

You do not have to have a prescription for these items but keep in mind that you need to comply with state laws regarding prescriptions and controlled substances.

This leaves two questions often to be asked and answered.

The first is what is considered “medically necessary?”

For example, is contact lens solution medically necessary?

It seems the answer to that is probably yes given the TSA states, they allow “larger amounts of medically necessary liquids, gels, and aerosols in reasonable quantities for your trip” on the page regarding contact lenses.

So if in doubt check the website and then inquire with AskTSA if you still don’t know.

The second question is what is considered a “reasonable quantity?”

What is deemed as a reasonable quantity is a subjective determination.

According to the TSA, you should bring what’s necessary for the duration of your trip (e.g., seven days) plus a day or two just in case things get delayed or canceled.

If you stick to what you think will be necessary for the duration of your trip, I don’t think you will often run into trouble. But if you’re bringing a six month supply of medication on a four day getaway, that’s when you might start to run into trouble if questioned.

TSA states that you must declare them to TSA officers at the checkpoint for inspection.

You also want to remove these from your carry-on so that they can be screened separately from your belongings. (You do not have to put your liquid medication in a plastic Ziploc bag.)

Just be aware that if one of your liquid items declared as medically necessary sets off the alarm, it may require additional screening and may not be allowed.

Baby essentials

You are allowed to bring formula, breastmilk, and juice for infants or toddlers in “reasonable quantities” through airport security. According to the TSA, reasonable quantities for baby essentials typically means the duration of the flight.

When bringing these items through security, be sure to separate these from your carry-on bag so that they can be screened separately from the rest of your items.

If you are carrying liquids in excess of 3.4 ounces, you are advised to inform the TSA officer at the beginning of the screening process that you have excess liquids. You can do this when you are unloading your items into the bin.

In many cases, excess liquids will be screened by x-ray.

It’s also possible that an officer may ask you to open up the container and potentially even transfer a small quantity of the liquid for testing.

If you are worried about the effects of an x-ray machine on your liquids, The Food and Drug Administration states that there are no known adverse effects from eating food, drinking beverages and using medicine screened by X-ray.

If that is not good enough assurance for you, you can ask to avoid the x-ray machine.

Additional steps may be able to be taken to clear the liquid but the traveler will likely have to undergo additional screening procedures which could include a pat down and a thorough screening of all of your carry-on property.

You will also be allowed to bring along ice packs, freezer packs, frozen gel packs and other accessories required to cool formula, breast milk and juice.

If these are in a partially frozen state or perhaps appear like a slushy they will be subject to the same screening as described above.

Other permitted baby items include gel or liquid-filled teethers, canned, jarred and processed baby food.

Just always be aware that these items may have to undergo additional screening.

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TSA liquid rules for alcohol

Bringing alcohol through TSA presents a number of different challenges.

First, your alcohol in most cases will have to comply with the liquids 3-1-1 rule. This means that you won’t be able to bring in regular bottles of liquor or beer.

It is possible to find small bottles that are under 3.4 ounces (mini-liquor bottles are often around 1.7 ounces, so this means that they are small enough to be brought on the plane as a liquid).

But contrary to what many people think, it’s also permitted to bring your own alcohol in one of your own containers.

The catch is that there are specific restrictions about what type of alcohol is allowed on board and that can be allowed as a carry-on. You really need to make sure that you are abiding by these rules because you could be violating federal law otherwise.

The first regulation to know is that alcohol beverages with an alcoholic percentage above 70% (140 proof) is never allowed on the plane. In fact, alcohol with such a high alcohol percentage is considered a hazardous material.

If the alcohol content is above 24% but not above 70% then the alcoholic beverage must be in its retail packaging. A lot of popular alcoholic beverages for within this range. Here are some ranges for the alcoholic content of some common beverages:

Alcohol Percentage Content

  • Vodka | ABV: 40-95%
  • Gin | ABV: 36-50%
  • Rum | ABV: 36-50%
  • Whiskey | ABV: 36-50%
  • Tequila | ABV: 50-51%
  • Liqueurs | ABV: 15%
  • Fortified Wine | ABV: 16-24%
  • Unfortified Wine | ABV: 14-16%
  • Beer | ABV: 4-8%
  • Malt Beverage | ABV: 15%

And finally, one of the most important things to remember is that you are not allowed to serve yourself your own alcohol when flying.

Instead, you must request a flight attendant to serve you the alcohol or else you will be violating FAA regulations. Some flight attendants will happily serve you your own beverage but others will not be so inclined.

If you purchased alcohol at duty free store, different rules apply in that scenario. Basically, you can bring your duty free alcohol through TSA security but you have to comply with three separate requirements:

  • The duty free liquids were purchased internationally and you are traveling to the United States with a connecting flight.
  • The liquids are packed in a transparent, secure, tamper-evident bag by the retailer and do not show signs of tampering when presented to TSA for screening.
  • The original receipt for the liquids is present and the purchase was made within 48 hours.

Read more about this rule here.

bottles of mini alcohol

Checked baggage liquid rules

Many times, you can simply place your liquids in your checked baggage and not have to worry about that pesky 3-1-1 rule.

This is usually the way to go on longer trips when you might be bringing large quantities of things like shampoo or shaving cream.

But as mentioned above, you still need to make sure that the type of liquid is allowed on a plane. Certain materials may be considered hazardous and you could be violating the law by bringing those on board.

If you are loading up your checked baggage with a bunch of liquids, make sure that you double bag if there is potential for the liquids to spill!

TSA Liquid Rules FAQ

Does the TSA liquid rule apply to checked baggage?

The TSA 3-1-1 rule does not apply to checked baggage. However, there are some restrictions on what liquids can be transported in your checked baggage. There may also be limitations on the quantity of liquids when it comes to importing large quantities of things like alcohol. At some point, you might have to obtain a license for certain goods.

Does TSA enforce the liquid rule?

TSA definitely enforces the liquids rule and I would recommend not trying to circumvent the rule. It’s possible that an agent may be more lenient than another in certain circumstances but I would always assume that an agent will be enforcing strictly so that I don’t run into any unexpected issues.

Why does TSA have liquid rules?

TSA has the rules in order to detect potential explosives and other harmful materials that exist in liquid state.

Does TSA have special liquid rules for international travel?

The same liquid rules apply for both domestic flights and international flights.

One difference that you might encounter is when you purchase duty free goods before an international flight. See the duty-free section above for more details.

Also, when flying internationally it is recommended that you get to the airport extra early. It is possible that you could get hit with SSSS and be forced to undergo a heightened security screening, so always plan out extra time.

What are the TSA liquid rules for makeup?

While you might view your makeup as special, there are no special rules for your makeup when it comes to TSA. They must abide by the same 3-1-1 rule explained above. Read more about makeup rules here.

Do you have to remove liquids for TSA Pre-Check?

No, you do not have to take out your liquids if you have TSA Pre-Check.

Do airlines have different rules for liquids?

The same TSA liquids rule will apply to all airlines. So if you’re flying American or Delta, the rules will be the same as if you were flying Southwest or United.

With that said, some airlines do have some differences in how they handle acceptable baggage so you should make sure to read up on the latest baggage policies for the airlines.

What rules apply to powders?

If you are traveling from an “international last-point-of-departure” to the U.S., powder-based substances in carry-on baggage greater than 350mL or 12 oz. may require additional screening. If your substance is over 12 ounces and cannot be cleared it will not be allowed onto the aircraft cabin.
TSA recommends that you transport powders in your checked baggage.

Final word

TSA has several rules you need to follow when it comes to drinking liquids through airport security. The most well-known is the 3-1-1 rule but there are other considerations you need to think about like foods that might trigger the rule and exceptions for medical and baby essentials. In the end, try to be as reasonable as possible with what you are bringing through and you will run into few problems.

tsa liquids rule 3-1-1 infographic

Can You Bring CBD on a Plane? (TSA Rules) [2023]

Cannabidiol (CBD) is an absolute lifesaver for many people facing serious medical conditions but can you actually bring it on a plane legally or will TSA confiscate it and potentially arrest you?

In this article, we’ll take a look at whether or not you can bring CBD on a plane and I’ll give you some tips and insight into bringing the different types (oils, creams, tinctures, etc.) with you so that you’ll know exactly what to expect.

Can You Bring CBD on a Plane?

Cannabidiol (CBD) products containing less than .3% THC are legal on the federal level but several states have specific laws regarding CBD that might be more strict. This means that bringing CBD on a plane could require you to break the law in some states and risk getting fined or arrested.

With that said, TSA is not actively looking for CBD and so many people are able to bring CBD on a plane with no issues.

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cbd tincture

TSA’s 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 concerned about dangerous threats such as explosives and not with enforcing laws and penal codes. This is why they do not check for arrest warrants.

So TSA agents are not actively going to search your carry-on bag or personal item for CBD. Plus, because CBD is not psychoactive like marijuana containing THC, it’s considered less of a “drug” to many.

Therefore, individuals may have more leeway when it comes to CBD even if they are operating in somewhat of a gray area of the law.

Related: Do TSA Officers Have Guns & Arrest Powers?

The federal status of CBD

Thanks to the 2018 federal Farm Bill, hemp-derived CBD is legal at the federal level. However, these CBD products must contain less than 0.3% of THC.

Keep in mind that the law applies to hemp-derived CBD and not marijuana-derived CBD. According to the USDA:

“Marijuana and industrial hemp are different varieties of the same plant species, Cannabis sativa L. Marijuana typically contains 3 to 15 percent THC on a dry-weight basis, while industrial hemp contains less than 1 percent (Blade, 1998; Vantreese, 1998). Most developed countries that permit hemp cultivation require use of varieties with less than 0.3 percent THC. However, the two varieties are indistinguishable by appearance. DeMeijer et al. (1992), in a study of 97 Cannabis strains, concluded that short of chemical analysis of the THC content, there was no way to distinguish between marijuana and hemp varieties”.

So the bottom line is that if your CBD is extracted from a cannabis plant that has more than .3% THC, then the DEA will consider it to be a federally restricted Schedule I substance.

Since you are in a quasi federal jurisdiction when going through airport security, you should be aware you’re violating federal law with CBD containing over .3% THC.

With that said, unless your packaging explicitly indicates that the CBD contains more than .3% THC, it doesn’t seem that TSA or law-enforcement would have the ability to know the THC percentage without conducting some type of testing.

And because TSA is not primarily concerned with finding drugs, from a federal perspective, traveling domestically with CBD is usually not very risky.

Related: TSA Marijuana Rules Explained (Flying with Weed)

State laws

Just like with marijuana, state laws can differ widely when it comes to CBD. The good news is that compared to marijuana, more states have legalized CBD in at least some forms.

The trick is to be aware of what type of forms are legal and any conditions attached to the legality.

For example, some states may not allow CBD in edible forms such as in gummies or in drinks. Sometimes these laws are directed more towards restaurants and cafés but they could still apply to individuals.

States that are strict on CBD legality may require some type of diagnosis such as epilepsy in order to legally carry CBD.

They also might limit the type of CBD to hemp-derived CBD and to CBD that has a THC content no higher than 0.3% (i.e., the federal standard).

If a state has fully legalized marijuana for adult consumption, you can probably bring CBD products with any % of THC with you, subject to any limitations placed on quantity/age/etc.

You can use this map to help you check on the different laws for different states.

Just be aware that these laws can change rapidly so I would always advise to do a state specific search before traveling to see what the latest developments are.

Airport rules

Some airports have specific rules that prohibit marijuana within an airport. However, I’m not aware of airports that have CBD-specific rules.

Bringing different types of CBD on a plane

Since CBD can come in so many different forms you have a lot of different options when transporting it through airport security and on to a plane.

CBD oil

If you want to bring CBD oil to through airport security and onto a plane it’s going to be considered a liquid and be subject to the TSA liquids rule.

This means that your container can be no larger than 3.4 ounces and technically you should place it into a clear, quart size bag.

Because CBD oil could be medically prescribed, you might be able to utilize an exception to the liquids rule which allows liquid medication containers to be larger than 3.4 ounces.

Due to the somewhat gray area of CBD in certain states, this could be something that is YMMV. In other words, it may not be enforced consistently.

Although TSA does not require you to carry prescriptions with your medications, I would probably bring any supporting documentation such as a prescription, doctor’s recommendation letter, and medical marijuana license if I was worried about my CBD getting through.

CBD tinctures

Tinctures are one of the most common ways to take CBD since it only involves taking a couple of drops in the mouth.

These will also be subject to the liquids rule but typically tinctures come in small containers no larger than 3.4 ounces. Therefore, a lot of the containers will comply with the liquids rule by default.

The packaging on tinctures is usually pretty descriptive and specific so it will often clearly spell out that it contains CBD and perhaps even a percentage of THC.

CBD creams

CBD creams would also fall into the liquid category so the same 3.4 ounce rule would apply and medical exceptions could also apply.

Lots of CBD creams will explicitly state CBD on the label so there’s a good chance that if someone inspected your cream they would see that you are transporting CBD.

Because it is considered a liquid it’s possible that that could cause the cream to be given a closer look although the vast majority of TSA agents probably could not care less that you are traveling with CBD.

CBD vapes

You are allowed to bring vapes on a plane and CBD vapes can look like any other type of vaping instrument so you may not have any problems bringing a CBD vape on a plane.

Just be aware that the batteries used in the vapes may not be allowed in your checked baggage. So while you could place a CBD cartridge in your checked baggage, you may need to bring the battery with you in your carry-on.

And in case you were wondering, you cannot vape CBD on a plane.

CBD gummies (edibles)

Lots of people rely on gummies or some other type of edible to take their CBD.

This is probably one of the easiest ways to transport your CBD because gummies and edibles can look like any other type of food or snack.

They can also easily be placed in either a carry-on or checked bag. And if you need to take some on the plane, it’s one of the easiest ways to discreetly consume your CBD.

Unless there is labeling on the food or packaging, somebody would have to test your edibles to verify that they contained CBD. That would be extremely unlikely when flying in the US as that is not a top concern for TSA.

CBD drinks

CBD drinks are obviously going to be subject to the liquids rule. Drinks in the original packaging will probably display the CBD content.

Because of that and the liquids rule, it might be easier to transport CBD drinks in your checked baggage.

CBD flower

You are definitely allowed to bring plants on a plane so CBD in flower form is not off-limits.

The problem is that hemp-derived CBD flower can look just like marijuana which is 100% illegal in many states and airports.

Because it can be easily detected by the look and potentially the smell, you could run into issues with someone thinking that you are bringing marijuana illegally.

As the statement by the USDA states, it could require a chemical analysis to distinguish the two.

For that reason, I would probably try to avoid transporting CBD flower right now unless you are flying between two states that have completely legalized marijuana. And even then you need to be aware that some airports may restrict marijuana, not to mention the federal status of MJ.

cbd tincture and seeds

Knowing what is in your CBD

Unfortunately, not every manufacturer abides by the highest standards when producing CBD products. This means that in some cases your CBD may contain more or less THC than the label states or that you were led to believe.

In some cases, it might even contain enough THC to be tracked down by a drug dog (although that seems unlikely).

But you could imagine an instance where you believe you have legal CBD based on the perceived THC level but a chemical test is done that shows the substance has higher than .3%. After all, that is a very low number.

So the point is just to be extra careful about the type of CBD products you bring through the airport.

How much CBD to bring?

Anytime you’re bringing something through the airport that is potentially problematic you should always seriously consider limiting the quantity you bring with you.

It’s one thing to get through with a couple of CBD vapes and some CBD gummies, but it’s quite another to transport pounds and pounds of CBD through TSA.

It’s just a matter of bringing attention to yourself and getting questioned about why you are taking such a high volume of CBD with you.

When it comes to medication, it’s usually acceptable to bring a quantity needed for the duration of your trip.

This rule of thumb may not apply when you are traveling for extended periods of time such as several months but for your average trip of a few days or maybe a couple of weeks, this rule allows you to offer a reasonable explanation for the quantity of drugs you have with you.

International travel

When traveling internationally, you really have to be careful with any type of drugs.

Some countries have some extremely strict rules for drugs that are otherwise 100% legal in the US. In some countries, getting caught with CBD could land you in jail with a hefty sentence.

For example, there was the soccer coach from the UK who was initially sentenced to 25 years when caught with CBD in Dubai (his sentence was brought down to 10 years, but still… wow).

My recommendation is always to avoid bringing banned substances into other countries.

Also, you need to be equally as careful entering the country as you would be leaving. For example, there were reports as recently as 2019 of people getting arrested at the airport with CBD when coming back into the country.

It seems many of those cases did get dropped eventually but some people have had to spend some time in jail during that process.

A lot of the CBD arrests seemed to be happening in 2019 which was just after the legalization of hemp-derived CBD in late 2018.

Since then, it appears things have potentially gotten better but you still need to remain aware that things might come up, especially if your CBD is confused for marijuana containing THC.

What if you are caught with CBD?

If you are caught with CBD the situation could play out a few different ways.

First, you may be questioned about it and have the opportunity to provide an explanation. Perhaps you could remind a TSA agent or officer that it is legal because you have under .3% THC.

Or maybe you have a prescription or doctor’s note that you can show and you can explain that you use CBD for a specific medical condition.

In another situation, an agent could throw the CBD out (rightly or wrongly) on the basis that it’s an illegal drug.

And there is always the scenario where you get referred to law-enforcement. As mentioned above, it appears law-enforcement is getting better about recognizing the legality of CBD.

However, if you were in a state where you are in possession of a prohibited type of CBD you could get fined, arrested, and taken to jail.

Final word

All forms of CBD are not legal in every state and only forms of CBD containing less than .3% THC are legal on the federal level. This means that you need to be careful when bringing CBD on a plane.

However, TSA is not actively looking to find drugs (including CBD) and there are several ways to transport CBD discreetly. Because of that, many travelers can carry CBD with them on a plane with very little to worry about.

How Much Cash Can You Travel With? (TSA & International Rules) [2023]

So you have a load of cash and you want to transport it across the country or perhaps even internationally. But exactly how much cash are you allowed to travel with?

In this article, I will break down everything you need to know about traveling with cash including important rules and limitations when flying.

I’ll also cover a number of key considerations you will want to think about before taking your cash with you when going through TSA or even traveling internationally.

How much cash can you travel with?

There are no limits on the amount of cash you can travel with but there are some major considerations you need to think about when doing so.

If you are traveling domestically, your primary concern is avoiding forfeiture of your cash.

If you are traveling internationally, forfeiture is a concern but you should also be focused on remembering to declare the value of your currency and monetary instruments totaling above $10,000. Keep reading 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!

Traveling with cash can be problematic. Make sure you are aware of all the challenges.

TSA is concerned about dangerous threats such as explosives and not with enforcing laws and penal codes. (This is why they do not check for arrest warrants.)

Your cash money does not present a dangerous threat and so there should be no legitimate concern about it harming other passengers on the plane.

However, in the past there have been reports of TSA agents initiating the process for seizing cash from passengers under the suspicion that it is money gained from an illegal activity or money that is intended to be used on illegal activity.

Think drugs, weapons, and organized crime activities.

The seizing of cash can be accomplished under a number of different statutes including 21 U.S. Code § 881(a)(6) which governs forfeitures.

It states that you have no property right for:

(6) All moneys, negotiable instruments, securities, or other things of value furnished or intended to be furnished by any person in exchange for a controlled substance or listed chemical in violation of this subchapter, all proceeds traceable to such an exchange, and all moneys, negotiable instruments, and securities used or intended to be used to facilitate any violation of this subchapter.

It’s possible that if a TSA agent spots a lot of cash on you or in your bag (especially a lot of smaller bills like $20 bills) they could refer you to authorities (i.e., DEA) for some type of questioning.

The authorities may check to see if you are on some type of watchlist but even if you are not they may still deem that your cash is subject to civil forfeiture, which means that it will all be taken from you.

This can happen even if you have not been charged or convicted of any crime.

Some dogs that patrol airports have a nose for cash and a lot of cash has come into contact with illegal narcotics.

In fact, a study by Yuegang Zuo of the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth in 2009 found that about 90 percent of banknotes contain traces of cocaine. Traces of other drugs have also been found on cash like codeine, amphetamines and methamphetamines.

That means that “false positives” could be triggered, which could potentially be used as further evidence about your illegal activity (reportedly dogs don’t usually sniff out these faint traces).

If your money is seized you should have the opportunity to petition the process and to retrieve your funds.

It’s an odd legal proceeding where your cash is literally the defendant: “United States of America v. $50,000 in United States currency.”

That’s important because it means that the legal burden of proof is at the civil level which only requires it to be more likely than not that you were up to no good.

This petition process may not be very fun, could last a long time, and could be very costly. For example, you will likely need to hire an attorney which might cost you as much money as you have at stake.

Your success rate could also be very low.

In March 2017, the Justice Department’s Office of Inspector General reported that over the course of 10 years, the DEA only returned money in 8% of cases.

And if you do get your money back, if you owe taxes or judgments, those will likely have to be paid out first.

For these reasons, I would try to limit the cash I take through TSA security to maybe just a couple of thousand dollars (If that).

Personally, the most cash I ever carry on me is a couple of hundred bucks.

This may be problematic for people who want to gamble at their destination or who are looking to do things like purchase a car with cash but you should make alternative arrangements to receive your cash at your destination if possible.

Tips for traveling domestically with cash

If you are thinking about traveling through TSA with cash my advice would be the following:

Keep the amount as small as possible

First, avoid bringing more than $2,000 in cash if possible. That should be well below the level considered to be suspicious, as the lowest amount I saw subject to forfeiture was $6,000.

Also, try to avoid $20 bills since those are customarily used in drug deals.

Notify a TSA agent

If you do bring cash consider notifying a TSA agent when you enter the line and see if you can get some type of private or secondary screening.

If you have TSA Pre-Check, an agent might consider you to be less likely to be engaged in criminal activity but that is not a guarantee.

But note that cash has been seized in cases where people notified a TSA agent themselves so this is not a full proof method.

And it goes without saying but do not attempt to conceal the cash on your body such as strapping it to your chest because the full body scanners will find this quite easily.

Avoid checked baggage

You might be thinking about putting the cash in your checked baggage but that is not a good idea.

For one, if the cash was detected you will not be there to explain the situation and you may be caught off guard later when you are brought in for questioning by the DEA.

Second, if your cash is detected it’s possible that an unethical TSA agent could simply decide to take your cash.

And finally, if your luggage is lost you will not be able to retrieve that cash and cash is almost always an exception to baggage insurance policies.

Bring documentation

If you are traveling with a lot of cash because you want to purchase a vehicle or take care of some other transaction make sure that you have all of the supporting documentation already with you in case you are brought in for questioning.

Presenting anything less than an airtight explanation for transporting cash can mean instant forfeiture.

Avoid transporting suspicious items

It is a good idea to avoid transporting other items such as marijuana along with your cash since that will only reinforce the image that you are up to some type of criminal drug activity.

This is even the case if the state you are flying out of has legalized marijuana.

Consider your criminal history

And finally, if you have any type of criminal history — especially cases related to drug infractions — the odds of you encountering an issue with forfeiture go up.

That’s because it will be that much easier for them to make a case against you. Remember, we are talking about a civil court burden of proof — not criminal court.

So you should really reconsider bringing a lot of cash if that applies to you.

The International cash limit of $10,000 and the need to declare

US Customs and Border Protection is clear that you can transport “any amount of currency or other monetary instruments into or out of the United States.”

The caveat is that if the amount of currency exceeds $10,000 or it’s for an equivalent then you will need to file a FinCEN Form 105 (“Report of International Transportation of Currency or Monetary Instruments”) with U.S. Customs and Border Protection.

This is a pretty simple form to fill out and basically just requires you to input the following information:

  • Contact information including passport number
  • Export/import information
  • Shipping information if applicable
  • Details of the currency or monetary instrument
  • Signature

You can file this form electronically at FinCEN Form 105 CMIR, U.S. Customs and Border Protection ( but you can also file it in paper form.

In addition, if you are entering the United States you must declare if you are carrying currency or any other monetary instruments if they total over $10,000.

You can make this declaration on your Customs Declaration Form (CBP Form 6059B) and then file a FinCEN Form 105.

Do not blow off this requirement because failing to declare could mean forfeiture of your money and some pretty serious criminal penalties.

And remember each country has its own policy regarding traveling with cash so you have to make sure you are in compliance with the country you are headed to.

Monetary instrument

Unless you went to law school for three years you might be wondering what a “monetary instrument” is as it’s found on the FinCEN Form 105.

US Customs and Border Protection defines it as:

  • Currency
  • Traveler’s checks in any form
  • All negotiable instruments (including personal checks, business checks, official bank checks, cashier’s checks, third-party checks, promissory notes, and money orders) that are either, in bearer form, endorsed without restriction, made out to a fictitious payee, or otherwise in such form that title passes upon delivery
  • Incomplete instruments (including personal checks, business checks, official bank checks, cashiers’ checks, third-party checks, promissory notes, and money orders) signed but with the payee’s name omitted
  • securities or stock in bearer form or otherwise, in such form that title passes thereto upon delivery.

In this article we are mostly focused on cash which would most definitely fall under “currency.”

Specifically, 19 CFR § 1010.100(m) defines “currency” as the coin and paper money of the United States or of any other country that:

  • (1) is designated as legal tender, (2) circulates, and (3) is customarily used and accepted as a medium of exchange in the country of issuance. 
  • Currency includes U.S. silver certificates, U.S. notes, and Federal Reserve notes. 
  • Currency also includes official foreign bank notes that are customarily used and accepted as a medium of exchange in a foreign country.

The big take away here is that this restriction applies to cash of the US and also other countries.

The cash of pretty much every developed country is going to meet the requirements for currency listed above so it doesn’t matter if you are transporting Great Britain Pounds, Euros, etc.

Keep in mind that each form of currency and monetary instrument counts separately, as well. So if you have $6,000 in cash and a $5,000 traveler’s check, you are above the limit.

And members of a family residing in one household entering the United States that submit a joint or family declaration must declare if the members are collectively above the $10,000 limit.

So if a husband has $4,000 and the wife has $7,000, that family must declare because they are collectively above the limit.  

Items that don’t count as currency

Some items related to currency do not officially count as currency but you still may have to declare them as “merchandise.”

For example, coins of precious metals, including silver and gold, do not fall into the definition of “monetary instrument” or “currency.” 

However, coins of precious metals must be declared as merchandise if they are acquired abroad.

Other articles of precious metals (including gold bullion, gold bars, and gold jewelry) also do not fall into the definition of “monetary instrument” or “currency.”

However, these articles must also be declared as merchandise if they are acquired abroad.

They also have a list of excluded items which includes:

  • Warehouse receipts and bills of lading
  • Monetary instruments that are made payable to a named person, but are not endorsed or which bear restrictive endorsements
  • Credit cards and prepaid cards
  • Virtual currencies including Bitcoin

So if you are traveling around with credit limits above $50,000 or a nice stash of cryptocurrency you don’t have to worry about declaring those items.

Remember these laws apply to foreign currency as well as US currency.

Factors to consider when traveling with cash

When you are traveling chances are you are going to want to spend some money on various expenses like dining and excursions. It is highly recommended to use a good travel rewards credit card for these expenses for a few reasons.

Getting through security

If you have a bag full of cash money, that bag is going to have to get through security at some point. This may be at the airport, a train station, etc.

As explained in detail above, if a screening agent notices that you have wads of cash in a bag this could potentially raise a red flag and a worst-case scenario of you losing your cash and never getting it back.

The theft risk

Traveling with cash is risky whether you keep that cash on you or you stored in your hotel room.

If you are walking around with cash on you there is always that chance that you could run into a thief. This could be someone who could pick pocket your wallet or cash right out of your clothes or bag.

Or in a more serious case, this could be someone who holds you up with some type of weapon and forces you to handover your cash.

If you are going to travel with cash on your person it’s recommended to have some type of hidden wallet and a dummy wallet in your pocket. Your dummy wallet will have a small amount of cash, perhaps a duplicate credit card and even a duplicate ID to make it look as realistic as possible.

The idea is that if someone were to take that dummy wallet they would only get away with a minimal amount of your valuables. You could then have your real stash of cash hidden beneath your clothing.

If you choose to store your cash in your hotel room you also need to be careful. Putting your cash into a hotel safe is not quite as secure as you might think. In some cases you may actually want to just hide your cash somewhere in the room where a thief would not think to look.

Either way you go, carrying a lot of cash on you is a risk that you need to weigh very carefully.

Travel insurance

You can get travel insurance by paying for your excursions and travels with a good travel credit card.

So if for some reason you purchase a nonrefundable hotel or tour and then you have to cancel because you get sick or for some other covered reason, you can get fully reimbursed for your purchase. In some cases this could put thousands of dollars back in your pocket.

But if you paid for something like your hotel with cash there is a good chance that you will simply be out of luck and get hit with the loss.

Also, you might struggle to even be able to pay cash for certain travel expenses like rental cars.

Foreign conversion fees

When you convert your cash into a foreign currency you will be paying some type of conversion fee and in some cases may be dealing with a subpar rate, especially at those kiosks.

Certain types of ATM cards will allow you to withdraw cash in the local currency with minimal fees but the best way to make purchases abroad is to simply have a credit card with no foreign transaction fees.


Travel credit cards are great about offering rewards on purchases made abroad.

You don’t have to look very far to find a credit card that will earn you extra bonus points on flights, hotels, and even your tours and events. Earning extra points on dining, even when dining abroad, is also easy with cards like the Amex Gold Card.

By paying with cash you are missing out on all of these valuable rewards.

Final word

Traveling with a lot of cash can be problematic because that is often how actors travel who are engaged in criminal activities.

Your best bet is to avoid bringing a lot of cash but if you must, try to bring as much supporting documentation as possible and be prepared for questioning and the possibility of you having to fight against the government to retrieve your money.

What is a Redress Number? (And Do I Need One?) [2023]

If you’ve ever been slowed down at the airport by additional screening measures you know how frustrating (and even anxiety-inducing) it can be. Now imagine this happening just about every single time you make your way through an airport!

That’s what some people experience because the government has mistaken them for a nefarious actor or there has been some other hiccup with checking their background information.

Luckily for these people, there is something that they can do about this. It’s called getting a redress number and it’s actually pretty easy and straightforward to do. In this article, I’ll tell you everything you need to know about getting a redress number, including what the meaning is and when you should consider applying for one.

What is the meaning of a “Redress Number?”

A redress number is a case number issued by the Department of Homeland Security that allows individual agencies like the TSA to properly identify travelers that may have been misidentified as those who require additional screening.

Your name can also end up on a list requiring additional screening if you travel through certain countries, such as those in the Middle East.

The Department of Homeland Security set up a program to remedy these situations called the DHS TRIP and here’s what the DHS states about it:

Traveler Redress Inquiry Program (DHS TRIP) is a single point of contact for individuals who have inquiries or seek resolution regarding difficulties they experienced during their travel screening at transportation hubs—like airports and train stations—or crossing U.S. borders

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

Do I need a redress number?

As you can imagine, not everyone has issues getting through airport security and other ports of entry so not everyone needs a redress number.

One of the most common reasons for getting a redress number is when you’ve been subjected to secondary screening on multiple occasions. For example, you might constantly receive “SSSS” on your boarding pass and be forced to be searched in a special security area (likely receiving a pat down) before boarding.

Here are a few other situations, based on DHS recommendations, when you might need a redress number:

  • You were not able to print a boarding pass online
  • You had issues getting a boarding pass from the ticket kiosk
  • You were denied or delayed boarding
  • A ticket agent called someone before handing you a boarding pass
  • You are on the “No Fly List”
  • You were denied entry back into the US
  • You were told your fingerprints were incorrect or of poor quality

Basically, anything related to getting access to boarding or making your way through an airport or port of entry that happens on a repeated basis may mean that you should look into getting a redress number. But the key here is that it happens on a repeated basis — if it’s an isolated event you probably don’t need a redress number.

SSSS on boarding pass

How to get a redress number

To get a redress number, you need to go through the DHS TRIP process and submit an application form. You can submit an application form online or you can print one out and submit it via mail. You might also print out your application, scan it, and then send it via email.

Filling out these applications is easy and will not require much of your time. 

There are two ways you can fill out the application.

Here’s what filling out the application form will entail.

Travel details

You’ll first be asked to provide details related to your travel issues on your application.

If you had issues with a flight you’ll fill out your flight information, such as:

  • Travel dates
  • Airport
  • Airline
  • Flight number

You’ll also be asked to check the type of issue you had, such as if you were denied boarding or subject to additional screening, etc.

(If you had multiple flights, provide that information in the Incident Details box.)

You can also provide information about your trip through ports of entry, immigration, customs, or border control. You’ll include relevant details like:

  • The date of entry
  • Name of airline or vessel
  • Port of entry into the US
  • Flight or cruise ticket number
  • Date of departure from the US
  • US Airport

Finally, be sure to describe the incident or incidents related to your boxes checked in the Incident Details at the bottom of the page (up to 5,000 characters).

Identity information

Next, you’ll need to provide your identity information. This is very basic information. Just provide your name and other names if you have used other names in the past along with your contact information.

They also ask you to submit information about your travel frequency (questions like: “On average, how often do you travel each month?”).

Government-issued document

Next, you’ll need to provide information for the type of government-issued document that you’re going to send in. Make sure that it is legible and that it is NOT expired.

If you do not have a passport, you’ll need to provide a copy of at least one legible, unexpired copy of a government-issued photograph bearing travel document, such as a:

  • Passport Card
  • Birth certificate
  • Certificate of Citizenship
  • Drivers License
  • Government ID Card
  • Immigrant/Nonimmigrant Visa
  • Military ID Card
  • Naturalization Certificate
  • Global Entry
  • Alien Registration
  • Petition or Claim Receipt
  • I-94 Admission Number
  • FAST
  • Border Crossing Card
  • Additional Supplemental Documents

Also note:

  • For children under the age of 18 who do not possess a photograph-bearing travel document, a copy of a birth certificate may be submitted
  • Do not provide copies of Social Security Cards, Tax Information, or Personal Financial documents

Once you’ve entered in all of your information and submitted your application, you’ll need to print out the next screen and sign that page and send it in along with a copy of the ID you’re sending in as well.

You must send in your documents within 30 days of completing your application. 

Note that on that page you’ll see your Redress Control Number.

Related: REAL ID Act: Explained with Detailed Timeline

Sending in your documents

You can submit documents via mail or e-mail.

For expedited service, e-mail all requested documents to [email protected].

If your attachments exceed 10 MB, they will be rejected due to size limits so they suggest that you send separate e-mails with attachments using the same subject line.

You can mail in your documents to the address below:

DHS Traveler Redress Inquiry Program (TRIP)
601 South 12th Street, TSA-901
Arlington, VA 20598-6901

Submitting documents via mail will result in slower processing. In fact, due to federal government mail screening requirements it could take 10-15 business days for the government to receive your submission. 

How long does it take to get a number?

After your application and documentation have been received and verified for completeness, DHS TRIP will process your request and they state that the minimum length of a review of a request for redress is 30 business days.

The processing time can be much shorter than that though and some get their request approved in a matter of a couple of weeks or even days. However, the DHS has sent out emails telling others to expect processing times of 50 days or longer.

So the processing time can vary and it might depend on the nature of your request.

How to check your redress status

You can check on the status of your redress case application here.

Here are the different statuses your application might be in:

  • “In Progress”- required documentation has been received and the redress process is underway.
  • “Closed”- Any corrections or updates have been made, and a final response letter was mailed to you.
  • “Pending Paperwork” or “No Paperwork,” – DHS TRIP has sent you a letter describing the additional information needed to complete your case review.

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 use a redress number

When you go to make a flight reservation, you should see a field to enter in your redress number. This is often close to the field for your Known Traveler Number. You can also add your redress number to your frequent flyer profile when you log-in as shown below with Southwest and United.

Alaska Airlines

Sign in and click on your profile located at the top right. Then click “Overview and Elite Status”. From the drop down menu under Account select “Profile and Settings”. To the right select “Travel Documents”.

Delta Airlines

Sign in and click on your profile located at the top right. Then click “Profile” and to the right, click on secure flight info.


Sign in and click on your profile located at the top right. Click “Profile & Settings” and scroll down to the bottom.

Southwest Airlines

Sign in and click on My Account and then click “Profile” at the top right and the Redress Number is located under Travel related info.


Sign in and click on “View My United” and then click “Profile” on the left and from that drop down select TSA PreCheck and travel documents. You will see the option to add your Redress Number.

Redress number vs Known Traveler Number

A redress number is different from a Known Traveler Number (KTN).

Known Traveler Number, also called your “KTN,” is a 9-digit number used to link your TSA Pre-Check enrollment to your travel itinerary. This is the same number used for other trusted traveler programs, such as Global Entry, NEXUS, and SENTRI. However, for these latter programs, this number is known as your “PASSID.”

TSA Pre-Check will allow you to make your way through security in a breeze by going through an expedited line and by not taking off your belt, shoes, light jackets, and keeping your liquids and electronics in your bag.

Global Entry will grant you expedited entry through US Customs and Immigration at ports of entry. Also, if you get Global Entry, it comes with TSA Pre-Check as well.

(By the way, there are several ways that you can get TSA Pre-Check /Global Entry for free and if you want to find out more about those options click here.)

The only relationship between a KTN and a redress number is that if you need a redress number and don’t have one, your KTN benefits like TSA Pre-Check and Global Entry might be affected.

Once you are given a redress number, you are still able to use your Global Entry and TSA-Pre Check benefits.

Redress Number FAQ

How do I know if I am on a Government Watchlist?

According to the DHS, the U.S. government does not reveal whether a particular person is on or not on a watchlist and the selection criteria is largely a secretive process.

Am I on a terrorist watchlist if I need a redress number?

Ninety-nine percent of individuals who apply for redress are not on the terrorist watchlist, but are misidentified as people who are.

Also, there are two subsets of the terrorist watchlist which are the “No Fly” list and “Selectee” list:

The “No Fly” list includes individuals who are prohibited from boarding an aircraft. You are NOT on the No Fly list if you receive a boarding pass.
The “Selectee” list includes individuals who must undergo additional security screening before being permitted to board an aircraft.

What if I lost my redress control number?

You can still get it retrieved by sending an email to [email protected]/Redress_Number_Inquiry and providing your full name (including your middle name), current home address, and date of birth.

Do I have to be a US citizen to apply?

No, you do not have to be a US citizen to apply.

Do families send in one application?

No, each person in a family or other traveling group seeking redress must submit a separate application.

Final word

If you’ve been burdened by extra security measures and you have repeatedly struggled to make your way through airport security, through the boarding process for planes and trains, or when getting back into the country, there’s a chance that you might need a redress number. It’s very easy to get if needed, so there’s really no reason why you shouldn’t give it a shot.

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