Taking amateur radio gear abroad

I’ve just got back after a 2 week business trip to the states and thought the following information may be useful for people considering taking radios with them on planes. I did a lot of Internet searches before I left trying to decide whether I should pack the gear in my checked luggage or if I should carry the radio with me. In the end the majority view was to take the radio in the carry on bag. There were too many stories of expensive items disappearing from hold luggage. Also the TSA website advises that all electronic gear should be hand carried in case there is a battery fire which the cabin crew can deal with.

I have a laptop rucksack rather than a normal laptop bag as it will hold a huge amount of stuff. In the bag I had the laptop+psu, network+usb cables, other cables for work, the VX-170+rubber duck. Plus notebooks, pens, an umbrella, hat, sunscreen, diabetes tablets, diabetes blood sugar tester etc. etc. I took a printout of my licence and the CEPT TR-61/01 document.

At Edinburgh outbound they had the security level set to “PANTOMIME” so that meant shoes, belts etc. removed. I managed to trigger the alarm as I had put my phone back in my pocket when removing shoes. Lots of grief about that from very miserable staff (they are normally very nice at Edinburgh). Anyway, the bag sailed through first time even if I didn’t.

London Heathrow T5. Again security was setting to “PANTOMIME” and I had to repeat the same rigmarole again. First time in many years it’s been shoes off at two successive airports. Anyway no questions asked about the bag with lots of electronics.

Tom Bradley Intl. Airport, Los Angeles. Here security was set to “FARCE+60db”. Shoes, belts, wristwatches, all liquids in a tray of their own, shoes in a tray of their own. Lots of people pulled aside for further inspections etc. To make matters worse I’d been shopping in the morning. Having had my picture of a SOTA activation used in an ad in QST I had a voucher to spend and despite having my card declined during the transaction initially I ended up with an Icom IC-80AD for £259. A bag with two handhelds went through no problem. Also they had a guy with a load of guitar effects pedals and were giving him a hard time so I was left relatively unmolested.

London Heathrow T5. Security level was down to “LONG RUNNING SITCOM” in that trainers were not being X-rayed but boots were. Just for the record, Richard Reid, the “Shoe Bomber” was wearing trainers when he tried to blow up a plane so why trainers were OK is something which only the idiots at T5 can explain! Staff were being snotty as the queues were long, barking orders at people etc. Again no questions.

Finally at Edinburgh I found out that you can now import electronics worth up to £340 from outside the EU before any tax or duty is due. As to whether I would have declared my purchase if this limit was not in place is question that shall remain unanswered! With that in mind and the chance I might have to repeat this trip a few more times this year then I’ll be taking orders for tri-band Alincos and VX-8s that need to be mule’d in at great savings. :wink:

So a bag stuffed with wires and either one or two handhelds didn’t raise an eyebrow. Perhaps with a laptop to go with all the junk meant nothing looked suspicious. I was ready with my licence to explain why I had the radios but was never asked. This confirms what others have written in that an 817 + cables will sail through aswell. Bigger items and extensive looms of wire, PSUs etc. may cause a few moments of questioning, I’d take an inventory of items, name and functional description if I was taking DXpedition type gear. I certainly felt happier with everything with me even if the bag did weigh a lot on my shoulders rather than my bag turn up at the far end minus the expensive stuff.

My advice, carry the gear with you. It didn’t flag up on 4 separate security screenings.


In reply to MM0FMF:

Interesting reading Andy, I have never had a problem carrying a handheld radio abroad, although that was a few years ago before checks got more stringent.

I have always been of the opinion that any radio equipment you carry should be carried as “hand luggage”, or if it is too large for that, it should be shipped separately as freight.

As regards metal detectors & security screening, I have just finished two weeks Jury service, & along with everybody else who entered the court building I had to pass through an airport style metal detector & X-Ray scanner up to two times a day.

On my first day I took my Yaesu VX7-R handheld with me in order to test the VHF/UHF repeater coverage in that particular area of the country. The radio went through the X-Ray machine along with any other metal items I had(phone, coins, keys, lighter etc.) without any problems at first, although it did draw questions as to what it was. On returning from my lunch I had to leave it at reception, which wasn’t a problem, although as mobile phones & mp3 players were allowed in I thought it a little silly.

After two weeks of going through the metal detector, I found that sometimes it bleeped & other times it didn’t, even though I may have been wearing the same clothing. It seems that the alarm threshold can be adjusted to a suitable minimum, which I probably was :wink:

I haven’t travelled abroad for some years & in fact I still haven’t renewed my passport which expired about two years ago. Unfortunately, I don’t think flying will be as pleasant as it was the last time I tried it.

Thanks for the information :slight_smile:


Mark G0VOF

In reply to MM0FMF:

Hi Andy,

I use mostly economy flight tickets, which means 20 kg package allowance. With my lightweight QRP SOTA radios that is possible, but for the skis I need to pay anyway extra.

73, Jaakko OH7BF/F5VGL

In reply to MM0FMF: Very usefull information here, Andy. XYL and I usually do a wedding aniversary trip to somewhere warm each February and I’ve wondered about taking the FT817, but been put off by the rigmarole of getting reciprocal licences (not a problem if we continue going to the Canaries, but a longer trip is possible for 2011) and taking batteries on planes. Any advice/info here, please.

Regards, Dave, G6DTN/M0DFA

In reply to MM0FMF:

I regularly travel on domestic flights in the UK where there is a common security screening for Domestic and International flights and I always carry my amateur radio equipment as hand luggage The level of checks appear to vary depending on the ground company responsible, such as Servisair / British Airways etc. At Leeds/Bradford airport it is usually jacket, shoes & belts off, whereas in Manchester and Bristol is just jacket and shoes and Newquay and Plymouth just jacket.

I have never had any problems with handheld’s, which appear to sail through the X-Ray machine without question. I suppose they look much like ordinary radio’s or MP3 players. However, I occasionally take an FT-897 in a separate padded case and I always declare this as an amateur radio transceiver. This often passes through the X-Ray without comment but on the two occasions when I have been asked to open the case the sight of my amateur radio licence and a quick swab round the case with a sniffer (explosives / drugs?) is sufficient to allow me through.

The longest delay was when I had an auto-keyer in my hand luggage and was asked what it was; when I explained that it was a Morse key and sent a few CQ’s the entire security staff gathered round to hear “Old Morse code” (I think that had all seen Independence Day).


PS If you REALLY want your case to be emptied, try taking a wide angle or telephoto lens in your bag. These show up as a black blob which x rays cannot penetrate. I found this out to my cost and now pack these in my hold luggage.

In reply to M0DFA:

I think the real issue is whether the stuff in your luggage looks different and thus flags their attention. The latest X-ray machines are tuned so that explosives show up a different colour. This is based on the density of the item. I was able to see the X-ray for my bag and my handhelds showed as dark blue, as did all the wires, laptop psu, mouse etc. So they didn’t stand out.

The issue airlines have with batteries is the fire risk. There are limits on the number and power capacity of Lithium, LiIon or LiPo batteries. I don’t believe there is any limit with NiCd, NiMH or SLABS. But I can guess that SLABS will be a problem as they look “fishy”. The TSA website has more information on electronics and batteries at http://www.tsa.gov/travelers/airtravel/assistant/batteries.shtm and whilst that is specific to the USA, if it becomes policy for travel to and from the USA it will tend to become policy for all air travel.

I base all my comments on recent observations. At four screening desks the staff were more concerned with my belt, wristwatch, shoes and suncreme than any other item. As long as the mess of wires and gizmos doesn’t look different to what you find in a typical business traveler’s laptop bag then I think you’ll have no issue. It would be worth checking with more frequent DXpeditioners for their experiences. I know that I wont worry about having a handheld in the bag ever again.


In reply to MM0FMF:

An excellent account Andy and very much what I have just experienced at Bristol and Kefalonia airports. I took my Standard C710 tri-band handheld with me in my hand luggage which included a minidisc player, a pile of discs, full size headphones, mobile phone, chargers, a dozen AA NIMH’s, camera, GPS, etc and all passed without the blink of an eyelid. I even managed to see the contents of my bag pass through at Bristol on the outward journey - the items stood out very clearly. There was absolutely no confusion over the wires or the equipment which makes me think that a wire HF dipole should get through okay if packed sensibly. I certainly intend to be more adventurous next time and take the 817 and some lightweight antennas, but the holiday will remain a holiday.

73, Gerald

In reply to G4OIG:

I certainly intend to be more adventurous next time

SCNR, that made me smile…

Never had problems with power supply, IC7000 type radios, 50m coax, 80-10m dipole, Outbacker vertical and plenty of other tech equipment. That’s the equipment we usually travel with when being abroad, in normal suitcases within all our clothes.

Even Heathrow did not care a week after 9/11 :wink:

73 Norby

In reply to LX1NO:

Hi Norby,

Taking equipment on flights is entirely new for me as we always drove across Europe until relatively recently, but I’m learning fast ;-}

You obviously don’t have an XYL who tips the wardrobe forwards so all her summer clothes fall out into the suitcases. We never fail to exceed our 20kg allowance and there is certainly no room whatsoever for equipment in our hold luggage :frowning:

73, Gerald

In reply to G4OIG:

You obviously don’t have an XYL who tips the wardrobe forwards so all her summer clothes fall out into the suitcases.

Not really :wink: She’s got a license too… Guess that explains things a bit :slight_smile:

73 Norby

In reply to MM0FMF:
I’ve taken my IC706 plus Watson PSU ATU wires, fiberglass pole sections etc. on many holiday trips since 9/11 through LHR BHX LUT etc. to EA, EA6, CT, CT3, 5B etc. I only had a problem on one occasion at Birmingham when taking the 706 as hand luggage. Since then I remove the ‘head’ from the 706 which goes in my hand luggage whilst the main radio unit goes in my suitcase (or the XYL’s if she’s not looking!). I have the theory that the 706 minus its front panel doesn’t look worth stealing and the ‘head’ doesn’t attract any interest when going through security. If I were to take the complete radio as hand luggage I wouldn’t carry the mic. with it and if anyone asks the unit is a radio RECEIVER, telling the ‘security’ that it’s a transceiver only causes confusion. My Kenwood handheld didn’t attract any interest when coming through Boston post 9/11 (& the cops there don’t walk round with machine guns like they do here).
Long before 9/11 I purchased an Kenwood HF transceiver whilst on a business trip to the US. I carried it back as hand luggage in a large brief case, this generated a lot of questions on initial check in but on changing 'planes at Chicago no one was interested however a colleague that I was travelling with had his small broadcast portable almost dismantled, it seems that there’s no logic when it comes to security, even the pilots have to go through same security nonsense as the pax. how stupid is that?




In reply to MM0FMF

There is absolutely no logic whatsoever in the matter of so called airport security. Although (in the UK) they are supposed to be working to the same rules, in reality they make some of them up as they go along. Andy’s choice of ‘PANTOMIME’ to describe arrangements is spot on. I think that all the hassle with security is more of a threat to the airlines staying in business than all the hype related to the terrorist threat. Don’t get me wrong;I’m all for security, but let’s have some realism about it.

I have been taking amateur radio kit abroad on aeroplanes for the last 40 years (no, it was’nt a Gypsy Moth’ on the first occasion before you ask) from the UK to the U.S.A, Germany, France, Majorca, Switzerland, Austria etc etc. I have always, repeat always, carried the gear (ranging from handhelds to HF mobiles) in my hand luggage. The handhelds have always had the battery removed fron the rig and the battery connections taped over with insulating tape, but the batteries still carried in the handluggage (so that you can, if asked, connect the battery and prove that the rig functions on receive).

On approx 95% of these visits, the hand luggage has passed through security with no questions asked. On one occasion, I was asked to show what was in the luggage, but when I explained what the stuff was, I was passed through without problem.

Only on one occasion, strangely enough this year, at Liverpool Airport, did I meet with some resistance. The bag was inspected and the IC-E90 handheld was pulled out. I told ‘security’ exactly what it was and that the battery, as they could see, was disconnected and that I had the paperwork (licences etc) to go with it. The ‘security’ bod disappeared to return a few minutes later to say I could not board the aircraft with it. I pointed out that in many years of travelling with such equipment, I had never had a problem before. I also pointed out that if he looked at the list of ‘prohibited items’, it did not feature on that list and I asked to speak to his supervisor. He disappeared again, returned a few minutes later and said that I could ‘carry on’ through to boarding.

Bear in mind, this was a flight with the same company that flies to Friedrichshafen and imagine the amount of radio gear going backwards and forwards on that flight !! In fact at security coming back from FH, it was toroids in someone else’s bag that caused a very very slight stir when Xrayed, but no problem once security had examined them.

Mike G4BLH

In reply to G4BLH:
I agree with most of the comments. I travel to Los Angeles for my yearly holiday with Icom 7000, PSU and handheld in the carry on. Only once has anything registered at Heathrow when I was asked (the front plate off the 7000) why I was taking my car stereo to the US!
Returning from LAX May 2009 - total paranoia - shoes off belt off, separate trays for laptop,mobile phones, cash/keys,camera, shoes. Entire bag unpacked and everything tested for explosives. I was never asked what any of it was ( the handheld in the computer backpack did not show up) so the documentation was not looked at
So if you are passing through LAX it is a good idea to allow plenty of time for security. The staff were perfectly pleasant but still paranoid. Leaving expensive items in your hold baggage may mean that your insurance will not pay up.
John G8XTJ