Mailing cremated remains with USPS – Revisions Dec 2013

With effect from December 26th 2013 the United States Postal Service has revised its procedures for the mailing of cremated remains.

USPS is now requiring customers to ONLY mail cremated remains via the Priority Mail Express Service.  Cremated remains will no longer be accepted to be mailed by the Registered Mail Service.  A receipt signature should be required for all human cremated remains shipments.

mailing-cremated-remainsLabel 139 should be adhered to all parcels containing cremated remains before they are shipped through the United States Postal System.  This helps USPS to clearly identify cremated remains through their tracking systems.  Although the label is not a requirement, it can greatly give reassurance to families that Postal workers will be aware of handling the sensitive nature of a package containing someone’s loved one’s ashes.

The label 139 for Cremated Remains can be purchased from the Postal Store at, enabling families or funeral homes to purchase the labels and affix it prior to taking a package to the Post Office.

This revision is effective immediately and will be updated in the Domestic Mail Manual [DMM] on January 26th 2014.

The cost to mail cremated remains is determined by the cost for Priority Mail Express Service and the weight of the consignment.  A package containing cremated remains generally costs between $25.00 and $75.00 to send by USPS.

Mailing cremated remains with USPS

As the direct cremation rate continues to soar and more families opt for a simple, no fuss, low cost direct cremation at the place of death, the shipping of cremated remains is also a growing activity.

shipping-cremated-remainsWe have written a few articles aimed at helping families understand how to safely ship their loved one’s ashes either across the country or overseas.  For some reason, that I am still not really clear about, only the United States Postal Service will transport cremated remains.  None of the courier services will ship cremated remains.

USPS recently introduced label 139 to improve their service in identifying cremated remains in transit.  Cremated remains can ONLY be shipped using Priority Mail Express and Registered Mail.  This means that the receiver has to sign to acknowledge receipt of the shipment and helps to give families peace of mind.  USPS clearly states that a shipment of cremated ashes should be marked on the exterior of the packaging.  Label 139 was introduced to ensure it was easier for families and postal workers to identify these valuable shipments that need sensitive handling.

So how can shipping cremated remains go wrong?

I read stories every so often of cremated remains gone astray in the USPS system.  It is heart-rending for the family, who has already lost a loved one once, and then has to experience a further sense of loss.  In most cases I have read about the loss of a cremated remains parcel, it is most often down to an inadequately packaged parcel.

This story that hit the news today is an example of how a straight-forward trans-continental shipment of cremated remains can go wrong.  Neptune Society in California sent a shipment of cremated remains to family in New York – which has ‘disappeared’.

Neptune Society shipped the remains in a box from Valley Village, California to New York City, on second day Priority Mail on November 13th.

According to the family the USPS website shows it went in and went out the same day and the tracking information goes dead after the package was received by the Postal Service on November 13th.

We all know that things DO go missing in the postal system.  With the volume of parcels being shipped, it is inevitable that some get damaged and/or lost, but it is so much more heart-breaking when this happens to someone’s final remains.

What do you need to do to ship cremated remains safely and securely?

The message is clear – if you intend to ship a cremation urn within the U.S, do make sure that you very carefully package the container.  Put contact details inside with the urn, and mark the outside of the package clearly stating ‘containing cremated human remains’.  Use label 139 – made available from USPS.  Ensure you DO ship the cremated remains using Priority Mail Express or Registered Mail, and DO ensure you make the postal clerk aware that this is what the package contains.

Mailing cremated remains with USPS

The United States Postal Service have introduced a new labeling system with effect from August 26th 2013 to make it easier to identify parcels contained cremated remains. Before the introduction of label 139, customers would generally just mark a package as “containing human cremated remains” to ensure postal workers handled the package with care.

Using Label 139 to identify cremated remains

mailing-cremated-remainsLabel 139 is a non-trackable adhesive label that can be attached to a package if the sender identifies the contents as human cremated remains.  The label is not required, but its introduction will make it easier for USPS to identify cremated remains within their system.  Handling cremated remains is something of a sensitive nature, and the United States Postal Service is the only carrier service by which you can mail cremated remains. As the cremation rate continues to increase and more families use USPS to ship remains, the introduction of improved labeling should help improve the careful handling of these ‘sensitive’ packages.

Mailing services for cremated remains

Cremated remains can be mailed through the United States Postal Service using Priority Mail Express and Registered Mail.  This includes Priority Mail (excluding Critical Mail), First-Class Package Service and First-Class Mail Parcels.  For more detailed information about mailing cremated remains within the continental United States or internationally, read our post about how to mail cremated remains.

Death away from home – a direct cremation & shipping cremated remains

As a more mobile population, deaths occurring away from home can present a challenge for bereaved families.  Arranging to transport a loved ones’ body back home, either across state lines by land, or over international borders by air, can seem a mammoth task to coordinate.  Mortuary shipping can be an expensive additional cost to a funeral, and many families are shocked when they find out just how much it is going to cost to transport a body.

A solution to the high costs of transporting a body

A growing solution is to conduct a direct cremation at the place of death, and then arrange to have the cremated remains shipped home.  This can negate the high cost associated with preparing the body for shipping, an approved shipping container/airline tray, mortuary shipping administration & consulate paperwork and expensive airline or gas transportation costs.

A direct cremation can be arranged in most locations for between $500 to $1,500 and shipping of cremated remains can be generally be achieved for around $60.00 domestically or around $200 – $300 internationally.

[Sara Marsden] Google+

What you need to know to transport cremated remains

shipping-cremated-remainsAs cremation becomes more popular, there is a rising need for people to consider transporting cremated remains.  This can be the case either when someone has died in a different state or country, a cremation has been performed at the place of death, but the ashes need to be returned to the family.  Or in some cases people are opting to distribute the cremated remains between surviving family who may be located across the U.S.

Whatever the circumstances, when a family wish to transport cremated remains,  the questions can often arise as to how best and inexpensively can this be done.  We have outlined below the key information you need to know if you wish to ship cremated remains.

If you are shipping cremated remains through a service you will need to ensure that the correct documentation accompanies the shipment.  A copy of the death certificate and cremation certificate will be required, along with other authorization forms.

Shipping Cremated Remains by U.S. Postal Service

You can send cremated remains by the U.S. Postal service.  You should use register mail with a return receipt, ship by express mail, and ensure you mark the outside of the package as containing ‘cremated remains’.

The extract from the USPS Bulletin 52, governing shipment of cremated remains, states:

“452.2 Cremated Remains

Human ashes are permitted to be mailed provided they are packaged as required in 463b. The identity of the contents should be marked on the address side. Mailpieces must be sent registered mail with return receipt service.

453 Packaging and Marking

The following conditions apply:

….b. Powders. Dry materials that could cause damage, discomfort, destruction, or soiling upon escape (i.e., leakage) must be packed in siftproof containers or other containers that are sealed in durable siftproof outer containers.”

Shipping Cremated Remains with a Courier Service.

Unfortunately, DHL, FedEx and UPS do NOT transport cremated remains at all, so you cannot courier cremated remains to another destination in the U.S. or overseas.

international-shipping-cremated-remainsTransporting Cremated Remains by Air

You also have the option to transport ashes by an airline carrier.  Most airlines offer a freight or cargo service, so this is one option to consider.  You do need to check with the specific airline as regulations that govern the shipping of human remains differs between airlines.  Some airlines require 7 days notice, and of course, you will require certain documentation.  The shipment will need to be marked as “cremated remains”.

Many airlines do allow you to take cremated remains as carry-on luggage.  Again you need to carefully check the guidance with the airline you are traveling with.  The TSA guidelines specify that “passengers transport remains in temporary or permanent ‘security friendly’ containers constructed of light-weight materials such as plastic or wood. Temporary containers can also offer a security friendly means to travel by air with a crematory container.”  If a cremated remains container cannot pass through an x-ray machine with the contents visible, it will not pass the TSA security check.  The official TSA statement is:

“To maintain the highest level of security, TSA determined that documentation from a funeral home about the contents of a crematory container was no longer sufficient to allow the container through a security checkpoint and onto a plane. Since February of this year, all crematory containers must pass through an X-ray machine. If a container is made of a material that prevents screeners from clearly seeing what is inside, the container will not be allowed through the checkpoint. Out of respect for the deceased, screeners will not open a container, even if requested by the passenger.”

Shipping Cremated Remains Internationally

If you need to ship cremated remains internationally, you do just need to check with the embassy in the destination country.  Some countries have specific guidelines about receiving cremated remains and additional import documentation may need to be completed.  Also, some countries have different rules about receiving cremated remains, and a funeral director may be required to take receipt of the ashes before handing them over to a family member.

You should ensure that sufficient time is allowed for legal processes and documentation.  You probably need 2 weeks notice to arrange an international transportation of cremated remains.  A list of U.S. embassies around the world is available here.

Hopefully, this information has answered any questions you had about how to transport your loved ones ashes.  If you have any further questions, feel free to ask us the question.

Ship cremated remains from the United States to anywhere in: the UK, Europe, Mexico, Central America, South America, Middle East and Indian sub-continent.

[Sara Marsden] Google+