Can You Lock Your Luggage on International Flights?

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People who have never flown internationally, usually ask “Can I lock my luggage on international flights?” Personally, I like locking my luggage because I want to secure the things I have with me, especially if they are in my checked luggage.

This article will talk about the travel protocols with regards to locking your luggage for international flights and if it helps with preventing theft. You’ll also learn the difference between a regular lock and a TSA-approved one.

Are You Allowed to Lock Your Luggage on International Flights?

Yes, luggage locks are allowed whether you’re flying internationally or just going for a domestic trip. After all, you want to keep your things secure and minimize the chances of something in your luggage getting stolen. One of the best ways to do that is to make sure your luggage is locked. Thieves hoping for a chance to snatch something from one of the bags will generally decide to go for those that are unlocked as they are easier and quicker to steal things from.

Luggage that is locked, on the other hand, is more secure, although it’s important to note that some zippers aren’t that sturdy and can be easily opened with any other sharp object. Still, using a luggage lock can discourage people from looking through your luggage.

When choosing a lock, though, it’s best to use a lock that is TSA-approved, meaning they can be opened by security agents with a master key. If security agents will need to open your bag for further inspection, a TSA-approved lock will allow them to open it without difficulties and without having to break the lock, or worse, your bag.

In case you don’t have a TSA-approved lock, there’s nothing to worry about as nothing prevents you from using other kinds of locks. In short, you can use any lock that you want. You need to remember though, that TSA reserves the right to break your lock or bag open in case they need to check the contents of your bag. The situation is similar in regards to airport security in other countries as well. If they need to open your bag, and it doesn’t come with a TSA-approved lock, they will likely have to break the lock open to access your bag’s contents.

There’s a chance they won’t reimburse you or replace the broken bag, so it’s always better to make sure your lock is TSA-approved so you don’t run into any trouble.

Tip: If you want to buy a suitcase with a built-in TSA-approved lock, there are a number of them on the market. We recommend Samsonite’s Freeform Hardside Spinner (full review over here) or TravelPro’s Crew Versapack Softside Expandable Spinner (full review over here).

Aren’t TSA-Approved Locks Only Allowed in the USA?

A close-up of the chester minima carry-on TSA-approved combination lock

TSA-approved locks are recognized worldwide. Any TSA-approved lock features the logo of Travel Sentry (the red diamond), a brand that is recognized in several other countries. In case you are flying to another country and their airport security needs to check your luggage further, they can just open it with the master key.

If you are not using a TSA-Approved or Travel Sentry lock, then there’s a chance that they might have to break your lock to open your bag. If that happens, you’ll have to get a new lock or, if your luggage gets broken, a new bag.

Which Countries Use a Travelsentry (TSA-Approved) Lock?

While TSA (Transportation Security Administration) is only in the United States, several countries around the world have adopted the Travel Sentry system as well.

These countries have airport security staff that use a master key in case they need to further inspect luggage. All they have to do is insert the master key into the lock and it will open, so you don’t have to worry about them cutting off your lock or forcing your bag open.

Some of these countries include Canada, Switzerland, Germany, Australia, New Zealand, Japan, China, and more. Check out the full list over here.

What Will Happen if the Country You’re Traveling to Doesn’t Have the Keys to Open a TSA-Approved Lock?

Samsonite TSA-Approved lock close-up
Image source: Wikipedia

Let’s say you’re traveling to a country and you’ve got your bag packed and ready and locked with a TSA-approved lock. But the country you’re traveling to doesn’t have the master keys to open the locks but they think your bag needs extra screening—what will happen next?

They’ll probably cut the lock off from your bag and you will end up with a broken lock. This can be a bit discouraging, especially if you don’t have a spare lock, although you can always buy one from luggage stores.

Another option is to use plastic cables or zip ties if you are traveling to a country that doesn’t recognize TSA-approved locks. Airport security can just snip the wires or the zip ties and they are easier to replace and are a lot cheaper than a lock. You just need to remember to bring along a small pair of scissors in the outside pocket of your suitcase so you can also remove the zip ties and wires when you get to the hotel.

Read Next: 80 Essential Packing Tips for International Travel

How Easy It Is to Open a TSA-Approved Combination Lock?

Every TSA-approved lock with the Travel Sentry logo has a keyhole at the bottom that allows the TSA to use a special key to unlock it. This goes for both the TSA-approved lock that comes with a key or has a number or letter combination. As long as you are using a TSA-approved lock and the airport security has the master key, they should be able to easily open it so they don’t have to cut off your luggage lock.

Tip: In some instances, if your TSA-approved lock is broken by the TSA screener, Travel Sentry will replace your lock at no additional cost.

So Should You Lock Your Luggage When Flying Internationally? Is It Necessary?

While it may seem unimportant, locking your luggage does help with preventing theft. Even if you keep all your valuables with you on hand (such as tucked safely away in your personal bag or carry-on luggage), there might be a few items that are too big for that. Locking your luggage will also keep your other travel essentials from being stolen.

And it’s not just theft while at the airport that you should be concerned about. If you plan to take public transportation (such as a bus or train), you’ll most likely have to store luggage somewhere away from where you are sitting. Locking luggage will protect your bags if you can’t keep an eye on them all the time.

If you’re staying in a shared room (such as a hostel) or are renting a room in somebody else’s home (such as an Airbnb), it’s better to keep your valuables and other things safe. While you take the necessary steps to secure your belongings, it’s hard to carry your big, heavy luggage with you all the time, so using a luggage lock adds an extra layer of security.

Even if you are staying at a luxurious, 5-star hotel, there’s no telling what might happen to your belongings. Also, if you decide to check out early and leave your luggage in the hotel lobby, it’s best to keep your things secure. With all the foot traffic going on in hotels—people check-in, staff rushing to and from—no one will be able to keep an eye on your luggage all the time.

Final Words

Whether you travel domestically or internationally, security is always a key concern. No one likes losing their stuff, even if it is an ancient t-shirt with holes in it or a bottle of shampoo that’s almost all used up. That’s why it’s always best to secure your belongings, even when you fly internationally or, I should say, especially when you fly internationally. Having a luggage lock discourages thieves from poking into your luggage and looking for something they can steal.

Plus, no matter where you stay or even as you’re traveling around the country and exploring different places, you can be sure that your items are more secure if you lock your luggage properly.

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