Can You Bring an External Hard Drive on a Plane?

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Going on a business trip? Your external hard drive must be the most indispensable asset in that case. Even if it’s the other way around, an external hard drive has so much to offer than just making storage for your business presentations. 

From movies to songs to backups and whatnot, external hard drives are of the essence, especially when you are traveling.

This highlights the question: Can you bring an external hard drive on a plane? Yes, you can. But a ‘yes’ is not where it ends, so here is a post that gives you a detailed insight into whether you can bring external hard drives on a plane and what are the rules you need to follow.

Can You Bring an External Hard Drive on a Plane? 

Below we have given a detailed insight into which kind of baggage and flight you can carry your external hard drive on:

In Checked-in Baggage:

External hard drives are allowed in the checked-in luggage. However, it is important to ensure that your drive is securely packed and does not move around in the luggage, which can cause damage to it. Make sure to cover it properly or wrap it in a soft cloth to protect it against rough handling during the boarding and unboarding of your checked-in luggage from the cargo.

In-Cabin Baggage:

Yes, you can carry your external hard drive in checked baggage. In fact, we recommend keeping small pieces of electronics with sensitive data with you in your carry-on. Not only does that cover you against baggage theft, but you will also not need to worry about how your checked-in luggage is being handled – it is handled pretty rough, just so you know. 

You can carry your external hard drive in your carry-on, where it will be screened with the rest of your carry-on. Then you can proceed to board it in the cabin hold of the flight.

On Domestic Flights:

All airlines operating domestically will allow you to carry your external hard drive with you, either in your carry-on or checked-in luggage or both. If you are traveling within your country, you will generally not face any problem carrying your external hard drive with you.

On International Flights:

You can carry external hard drives on international flights, but things get a little tricky at the destination airport sometimes. Generally, when you are traveling within your country, your external hard drive will only be screened at the X-ray machine at the airport, but when you carry it internationally, you might be asked to hand it over for checking of content.

This usually happens at the destination airport, where the customs checks your hard drive for its content to make sure you are not bringing anything illegal into the country.

Do Customs Check Hard Drives?

It depends – and although there is no set of rules as to when exactly the customs can ask to check your external hard drive, they generally won’t. Although, there is no assurance that they will NOT check your external hard drive for its content, especially when you do not have sufficient documentation to enter the country, or they have somehow analyzed that you pose some legal or safety concern.

According to the Customs and Border Patrol, the U.S. customs officials are in full power to search a hard drive for its content if you are flying into the country. The U.K. has similar laws, and so does Canada and most other countries, with international passengers bringing external hard drives into the country.

In case your drive is checked, it is generally to ensure that you are not bringing any illegal data in the country. It is worth noting that some data that is not considered illegal in your country might be deemed illegal in the country you are traveling to, so make sure to be very careful about what kind of data you store.

What is considered illegal on an external hard drive?

If you are thinking keeping ripped software and pirated movies on your external hard drive counts as illegal, it depends. Generally, TSA officials would not give a thought as to what you are storing in your external hard drive, but in case they do find copyrighted material in your drive, they will most likely let you pass. 

That is because possessing pirated stuff is not illegal, but downloading them is. Besides, as long as you do not intend to sell or distribute the pirated content on your drive, you should be fine with the security.

However, here is the real deal that is considered illegal, even the mere possession of it on your external hard drive: child pornographic content. Possessing child pornography is a crime, and you may have to face a criminal conviction, apart from the penalty for storing child pornographic content on your external hard drive.

How many external hard drives can you bring on a plane?

There is no set limit to how many external hard drives or even USBs you can bring on a plane. Many passengers generally carry multiple external hard drives, and the security has no problem letting the passengers through. 

Although there is no limit, it is always recommended to carry only what’s necessary, and that extends to external hard drives too. If you carry too many external hard drives, the security personnel may get suspicious (even though you are clean) and go to extra lengths to make sure that the drives you are bringing are safe as well as devoid of any illegal data.

Do airport X-rays damage external hard drives?

No, airport X-rays do not damage external hard drives. External hard drives are vulnerable to magnetic charges, and unless you keep it in close vicinity to active magnetic charges, your drive will certainly not be damaged by the X-ray emission through the X-ray machine at the airport, used for screening your baggage items.

How to Pack an External Hard Drive?

The best way to pack your external hard drive, if you choose to carry it in the checked-in baggage, is to start with a bubble wrap or a soft piece of clothing. You can wrap your drive in a bubble wrap and then tap the wrap to ensure the driver does not slip away. 

You can also stuff the drive in a piece of clothing or, even better, socks and place it in your boots or shoes. Other than these, you can also use a towel or a blanket.

Whatever you choose to wrap your drive-in, make sure that it is cushioned amidst other items in your luggage and not at the very bottom of your suitcase or at the very top of it.

If you are bringing more than one external hard drive on the plane, it is recommended to pack them all separately to prevent one from damaging the other. 

Since your luggage is always subject to search by the security personnel at the airport, it is suggested to alert them beforehand that you have a fragile drive in the suitcase, and upon completion of the inspection, they must repack it safely before boarding the cargo hold. 

When you are carrying the external hard drive with you as a carry-on, you can place it amongst other things, and alert the personnel about the drive, so that they are careful when rummaging around your baggage’s content.

Why should you encrypt your external hard drive when traveling?

If you are a business user or company, your data is your most important and sensitive asset. In case of baggage theft and any other loss, it is possible that you may lose your external hard drive and all the data on it. 

To avoid this, it is really important that you encrypt your external hard drive. Besides data theft, you could also be susceptible to penalties if your workplace mandates data protection regulations such as GDPR or HIPAA.

To avoid hefty fines and irreparable damage to your business, or data, it is of the essence to encrypt your external hard drive peripherals. 

Encryption not only provides improved data security but also has the ability to maintain data integrity, alignment with data compliance rules, and transfer data securely.

How to encrypt an external hard drive?

You can encrypt your external hard drive using both the system OS or third-party software.

In Windows:

  • Go to Windows Explorer, select the drive that you want to be encrypted.
  • Click on the manage tab > BitLocker > Turn on BitLocker.
  • Once the BitLocker setup is complete, check the “Use a password to unlock the drive” box. Now enter a password for your hard drive.
  • On moving to the next step, a prompt will appear to back up a recovery key which will help you to access the hard disk if you forget the password you entered in the previous step. You can select any option according to your own choice to save the recovery key.
  • Then you will get two options: Encrypt the entire hard disk or only the used space in the hard disk. Choose the option according to your need, and click on the Next button.
  • Click on start encrypting, wait for the encryption process to be completed. Once your hard drive is encrypted successfully, click on the close button.

In macOS:

  • Open the Disk Utility application, select the external hard drive which you want to be encrypted and then click on “Erase.”
  • Then choose “Mac OS Extended (Journaled, Encrypted) or APFS (Encrypted)” from the list of available formats.
  • Enter a strong password, click on choose, and then erase. Eject your hard disk once formatting is completed. Now your hard drive is successfully encrypted.

Using third-party software for encryption:

You can use several third-party software to encrypt your external hard drive. Here are a few options to choose from:


VeraCrypt is a great disk encryption tool that is used worldwide. It is an open-source software program, so it is free, and you just need to download the software, and it’s ready to use, unlike any other paid software. It can provide you with high-level security and can run on different operating systems like Windows, Mac OSx, and Linux.

With the help of VeraCrypt, you can easily create a virtual encrypted disk, encrypt an entire partition, an/ or even encrypt your operating system. Users can also create hidden volumes in a VeraCrypt volume and use a different password to access it.

AES Crypt:

AES Crypt is a simple file encryption software that comes with a strong encryption strength. It has more than a million downloads, and a number of users loved it because it’s easy to use; you don’t need any kind of expertise to use AES Crypt. It is a perfect tool to secure all your sensitive files because it has a 256-bit encryption algorithm that provides high-level security. It is open-source software that is available for several operating systems, including Windows, macOS, and Linux.


DiskCryptor – a simple, handy, and lightweight encryption program. It was mainly designed to replace commercial disk encryption software like DriveCrypt Plus Pack and PGP Whole Disk Encryption. It supports different encryption algorithms like AES, Twofish, and Serpent. It also supports hardware AES acceleration, and after the recent update, major changes can be seen in the efficiency of the tool. It is indeed a great open-source software that you can use to secure important data on your hard drive. 


CipherShed is more like VeraCrypt encryption software; it started as a fork of TrueCrypt, which was later discontinued. It has a clean interface which makes it user-friendly, and you will be able to encrypt your personal and sensitive data with ease. 

Initially, there were some minor bugs, but with the updates, those faults have been patched, and it works more efficiently. You can either encrypt an entire hard drive or can create encrypted containers to store your data. It is also an open-source program that is available on different operating systems.

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Author - Willa Carson
Happywayfarer author Willa Carson
Hi, I'm Willa Carson, a passionate traveler who has been exploring the world for 7 years. Whether it's trekking through the Himalayas, exploring ancient ruins in South America, or simply savoring a cup of coffee at a local cafe, I believe that travel has the power to enrich our lives in countless ways. So join me on my journey and let's discover the world together!
Read more about me here.

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