Taking Your Instrument Abroad?

Throughout the years, we’ve had many students with questions about bringing their instruments abroad. I’ve actually had a bit of experience traveling with my violin, so I put together a FAQ list for our students with instrument travel quetions. Enjoy (=

Can I bring my instrument as a carry-on item, or does it need to be checked?
You may bring your instrument as either a carry-on or checked item; however, you will need to check with your airline to make sure your instrument meets requirements for the aircraft.*

The TSA encourages travelers to stay with their instruments while screened by security officers, to make sure the instrument is repacked properly. For this reason, when checking their instrument, musicians are encouraged to arrive at least 30 minutes prior to the airline’s recommended arrival time.

*According to the TSA website, brass instruments need to be packed in checked luggage, stringed instruments may be taken as carry-on items.

If I am checking my instrument, is there anything special I should know about packing?
If you are checking your instrument, make sure to include clear and concise written instructions for the handling and re-packing of your instrument. This way, someone without a musical background will understand how to handle your instrument if you bag is selected for inspection.

If I bring my instrument as a carry-on item, can I bring a personal item too?
You may carry one musical instrument in addition to 1 carry-on and 1 personal item through the screening checkpoint.*

*Subject to change, check the TSA website for most-current guidelines.

What if I want to carry-on my instrument but it is too large to fit under the seat or in an overhead compartment?
For oversized instruments allowed on flights, you might have the option to purchase an additional seat for the instrument. Please check with your airline regarding it’s specific instrument policy.

What is the safest way to pack an instrument that will be flying with the luggage under the airplane?
Musicians with soft cases frequently purchase special hard cases / travel trunks to safely transport their instrument. From personal experience, I have traveled with cello and bass players who have put their instruments in hard trunks, made specifically for travel and transit.

How does my instrument go through security?
Your instrument will either go through the x-ray or be screened by a security officer. Security officers will handle musical instruments very carefully and will allow you to be as involved as possible in any physical screening. If your instrument cannot be cleared at the security check-point, you will be asked to transport your instrument as checked luggage.

In past travel, my violin has always been put through the x-ray machine with minimal problem. My biggest advice is to make sure to remove anything from your case that might not be allowed onto the plane (fingernail clippers, liquid instrument cleaners, spare instrument parts that might be sharp, etc.)

Is there anything else I should know?
One final bit of advice – Although the TSA guidelines are for general air travel, each respective airline might have guidelines specific to their airline. Therefore, before you travel, make sure you check with your specific airline regarding instrument policies!


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  1. Many thanks for this! I have two incoming international exchange students this coming academic year at the institution I work at and will be forwarding them this link as I think it will provide them with some valuable information!

    • Great! Let me know if you or the students have any additional questions about instruments and travel/studying abroad. (=

  2. It’s also a wise idea to carry a copy of the 2005 TSA letter to the American Federation of Musicians with you to show to airline and security personnel. A copy can be downloaded at http://bit.ly/cRQH0X.

  3. Thanks Ruth – this is very helpful!

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