What products are considered dangerous for travelling in the international mail network?

Articles or substances capable of posing a risk to health, safety, property or the environment are classified as dangerous goods. These include explosives, gases, flammable liquids, toxic and infectious substances, corrosives and other miscellaneous items.

Many everyday items such as lithium batteries, cleaning fluids and perfume are classified as dangerous goods.

Dangerous goods are forbidden in the mail, except for a few specialized items. Customers are encouraged to check with their Post for more details.

Who has determined that these products are dangerous?

The United Nations Economic and Social Council’s Committee of Experts on the Transport of Dangerous Goods develops Recommendations on the Transport of Dangerous Goods. These include criteria for classifying articles and substances as dangerous goods and a list of the most commonly transported dangerous goods.

The International Civil Aviation Organization’s (ICAO) Technical Instructions for the Safe Transport of Dangerous Goods by Air contain the same list of dangerous goods along with detailed instructions for their safe international transport as cargo by air.

The world’s airlines follow these instructions. As such, Posts using passenger and cargo airlines to send mail abroad must also ensure that customers are aware of what constitutes dangerous goods and what is prohibited from travelling by air.

What is the difference between a dangerous good and a prohibited item?

Articles or substances capable of posing a risk to health, safety, property or the environment are classified as dangerous goods. These include explosives, gases, flammable liquids, toxic and infectious substances, corrosives and other miscellaneous items. Many everyday items such as lithium batteries, cleaning fluids and perfume are classified as dangerous goods.

Items prohibited from being sent through international mail include dangerous goods, but also drugs, obscene or immoral articles, counterfeit and pirated goods, and valuable merchandise such as coins, bank notes, gold or silver and precious stones, to name only a few.

These are prohibitions agreed upon by the UPU member countries. As some countries may have other specific prohibitions, it’s best to check with your Post about particular cases.

Can I send perfume by international mail?

No. Perfumes can be flammable and are prohibited from being sent by international mail.

Other cosmetics such as manicure goods or nail polish remover are also considered dangerous.

Why can perfumes travel in a person’s checked luggage? Why is this different from travelling in a parcel?

Perfume normally contains flammable liquid and is therefore classified as dangerous goods. Dangerous goods are forbidden from carriage on aircraft by passengers or crew, either as, or in, carry-on baggage, checked baggage or on the person.

There are, however, exceptions for certain consumer articles used in dressing or grooming (including perfume) and medical necessities.

These articles are generally permitted in very small quantities, provided certain requirements are met, thereby reducing the risks posed.

Why can perfumes travel in the cabin?

Passengers can carry small quantities of perfume in the cabin, in accordance with the International Civil Aviation Organization’s Technical Instructions provisions for dangerous goods carried by passengers or crew.

Certain consumer articles, including perfume, carried aboard an aircraft by the operator for use or sale on the aircraft during the flight are also permitted as “exceptions for dangerous goods of the operator”.

The risk these articles pose is reduced by the small quantities permitted and the ability of the cabin crew to intervene in case of an incident.

Can I send medicines and drugs through the mail?

It depends. If medicines and drugs contain alcohol or are packed in dry ice, they are prohibited from entering the international mail stream.

However, commonly used medicines such as Ibuprofen and antacid tablets are admissible. Check with your Post or Customs before sending any medication through the mail.

Can household goods travel in international parcels or packages?

Many household goods are classified as dangerous goods and are therefore forbidden from travelling in the international mail stream. These include aerosol cans, products containing flammable liquids, adhesive and corrosive material. Check with your Post or Customs before sending.

Can I send a device containing lithium batteries abroad by post?

Posts can accept packages containing devices equipped with lithium batteries under certain conditions.

First, the Post in question must be authorized by the national civil aviation authority to transport packages containing lithium batteries. Click to see the list of Posts that have received such authorization.

Secondly, if a Post can carry packages containing devices with lithium batteries or cells, these must be installed in the devices. Packages must not carry more than four lithium cells or two batteries.

Strong outer packaging is required, and the contents of a parcel must be properly packaged to prevent shifting and/or damage to contents during the transport.

Lithium batteries alone or simply packaged alongside the equipment are not acceptable for international mailing. Defective or damaged batteries are never acceptable.

Why can passengers carry devices containing lithium batteries with them in the cabin of an airplane, but there are all sorts of rules about lithium batteries and cells traveling by international post?

Lithium batteries are considered dangerous goods because they have the potential to overheat and catch fire.

In accordance with the International Civil Aviation Organization’s Technical Instructions provisions for dangerous goods, passengers and crew can carry portable electronic devices containing lithium batteries and spare batteries for these devices in the cabin.

The provisions include size limitations and measures to be taken to prevent short circuit or unintentional activation. The risk these articles pose is reduced by the extra restrictions and the ability of cabin crew to intervene in case of an incident.

Lithium batteries or cells not packed properly in a postal parcel travelling in the belly of an aircraft could become flammable and constitute a major safety concern.

Electronic devices travelling with passengers on aircraft are also screened at airport security points before boarding.

But I can put an electronic device carrying lithium batteries in my checked baggage. What’s the difference between that and an electronic device being sent by international post in a parcel?

The International Civil Aviation Organization’s Technical Instructions recommend that portable electronic devices containing lithium batteries be carried as carry-on baggage.

They also require spare lithium batteries, which do not have the added protection of the device, to be carried in the cabin.

The restrictions applied to portable electronic devices containing lithium batteries carried by passengers and crew reduce the risks they pose should they be carried in checked baggage.

What happens if dangerous goods are detected in an international parcel?

If dangerous goods are detected in an international parcel, it will be removed from the mail stream and handled in accordance with national legislation.

What happens if a postal parcel containing counterfeit merchandise I have ordered online is detected by customs authorities?

Relevant authorities could seize the parcel and its content and handle the package in accordance with national legislation.

Posts and customs authorities work together to detect and remove counterfeit and pirated goods being sent through the postal network.

Trafficking of illicit merchandise is a global, multi-billion dollar concern that must be stopped. Not only is it an economic crime infringing on the intellectual property rights of the companies that manufacture the goods legally, but buying counterfeit goods could be funding organized criminal groups, put consumer health and safety at risk and contribute to other ethical and environmental concerns, according to the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD).