You may need to bring an external hard drive on a plane for many reasons, like traveling for business, going on an extended trip where you need a computer, or if you work nomadically. So can you bring an external hard drive on a plane? And what are the rules and laws regarding traveling with a hard drive?
According to the TSA website, external hard drives, as well as disassembled computers, and computer parts, are allowed on planes in carry-on bags and checked baggage.
Check out this response from @AskTSA as well:
While you are allowed to bring hard drives in either type of bag, a carry-on bag is better so you can keep your hard drive safe and make sure it does not get lost during your trip.
If you are bringing an external hard drive on a plane, it is important to pack it properly and know the laws regarding bringing hard drives through customs so you can keep your drive and your data safe.
How to Pack a Hard Drive
Securely packing your hard drive is crucial if you want to keep it safe while you travel. If your hard drive is not packed properly, you risk damaging it and losing all of the information that you have on it.
The best way to pack a hard drive is to wrap it in something soft and thick, like bubble wrap, a towel, clothes, or a blanket, depending on its size and the bag you are packing it in.
If you have the space in your bag, wrapping the hard drive in multiple layers is best. For example, you can wrap it in some bubble wrap and place it between some clothes in your suitcase.
If you have the hard drive in a box or something similar, make sure it does not move around in the box. You do not want the hard drive to move around and hit other objects in your bag every time you move your suitcase.
If you have multiple hard drives that you are bringing on a plane, you should wrap them all separately to not damage each other.
Your luggage is always subject to being searched at the airport. If your hard drive is in your checked bag and the bag is searched, you have no way of knowing that your hard drive is repacked safely.
However, in your carry-on bag, you can alert the officer that you have a fragile hard drive in your bag, so they are careful when they open the bag and start moving things around. You can then repack your bag to ensure that your hard drive is safe and secure before continuing to your plane.
Is it Safe to Transport Hard Drives?
If you are worried about the safety of your hard drive, you are best off packing it in a carry-on bag. You will be able to take care of it better than in a checked bag, and the chance of damage is lower.
You need to carefully pack your hard drives and other fragile items if you put them in your checked bag since many people will handle your bag, and there is no guarantee that they will be gentle with it.
Checked bags get beat up since they are transported all over the airport with other bags and often thrown around. If your hard drive is not packed securely, there is a chance that it will be damaged.
On the other hand, if you pack your hard drive in a carry-on bag, you can take care of it for your whole trip. You still want to make sure that your hard drive is wrapped in something soft to protect it, and be careful not to bump your bag into anything.
Another reason to bring your hard drive in a carry-on bag is that you have a lower chance of losing it. Checked bags can get lost, especially if you have a layover where you change planes or are running late for your flight.
Learn some tips and tricks for checking bags on a long flight so you can get you and your bag to your destination.
You can keep your carry-on bag in your possession for your entire trip, except for the security screening, so you aren’t likely to lose it. You may have your bag checked at the security checkpoint, but there will be no issue having your hard drive in your bag, and it will be safer for the rest of your trip.
Do Customs Check Hard Drives?
According to the Customs and Border Patrol, United States customs agents have every right to search a hard drive if you are bringing it into the country. The search is allowed for any electronic device in your bags or on your person when you enter the country.
It is not a guarantee that customs agents will search your hard drive, and there are no set criteria on how they decide who and what to search. Most of the time, they will not search you unless you do not have sufficient documentation to enter the country or other legal or safety concerns that you pose to the country.
The UK has similar laws where they can search any computer or hard drives that are being brought into the country.
Customs in different countries will search your electronics and hard drives to make sure you are bringing nothing illegal into the country. They can also check your files and messages to ensure that you are not a risk to the country’s security.
While it is unlikely to have your hard drive searched, you should be aware that it is possible.
Be prepared to face delays in your travel if you are selected to have your hard drive searched. It can be a long process depending on how much you have on the drive and what type of data and programs you use.
Does TSA Allow Computer Parts?
Yes, the TSA will allow computer parts on airplanes. You can bring them in carry-on bags and checked bags.
Computers parts are subject to the same customs search laws as hard drives. You are also better off packing computer parts in your carry-on bag instead of a checked bag for similar reasons as packing hard drives in carry-on bags.
If you need to pack a hard drive or computer parts in a checked bag, you want to pack them securely. You may also want to protect your luggage to prevent it from getting damaged with your hard drive in it. Learn how to protect your luggage and fly safely.