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I'm a software developer and I need multiple different mobile devices for testing and debugging purposes. I also work on-the-go sometimes, so this is important. Furthermore, not everything can be tested on an emulator, so actual hardware devices are needed in certain cases.

So, is there any limit on how many phones one can carry on an airplane in their cabin baggage? Will I successfully go through security and customs with, say, five phones, a tablet, and a laptop? They're all different and not new. Does that depend on my origin and/or destination airport/country? Will I be required to prove somehow that I actually need these, and if yes, how?

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Will they fit in your carry-on luggage? – Michael Hampton Jan 15 at 5:30
    
@MichaelHampton they definitely will. These are just phones themselves, without retail boxes. – Grishka Jan 15 at 5:56
    
Wouldn't this depend greatly on airline policy and how paranoid security is ? – blackbird57 Jan 15 at 14:18
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@Rx7man provided how airport staff handles checked baggage sometimes, I wouldn't pack electronics in it unless I absolutely need them to be there instead of in carry-on. – Grishka Jan 16 at 4:00
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Not clear from your question, but if you work for a decent-sized company, just ask at work. Legal folks will be way more likely to know about import/export restrictions for your specific case. – Jefromi Jan 16 at 4:44

I am a software engineer and I also test the software on many different smartphones and tablets. I fly frequently within Europe, so my answer will be limited to this area. However, this is also from west to east and east to west, outside of the Schengen region! As a Dutch citizen, I rarely need a visa to travel, which makes this easy.

I do carry a lot of devices with me; most of which either on my person or in my hand luggage. Airport security does give you a strange look when you put more than ten devices in your box to pass security, but I've never had any questions about it. In fact, my entire hand luggage often consists of an extra sweater or hoodie, and the rest is electronics.

Just to be on the safe side of things, I do carry the paperwork to prove I am a software engineer and not a salesman. If customs ever ask about the amount of devices, they will probably do so because they think you're going to sell the devices to avoid taxes; to turn a bigger profit. I would highly doubt they would ever deem it a security issue.

So in short, carry them with you, pretend all is normal (because it is!) and if they ask questions, answer honestly (probably always a good idea). If you travel between countries that have very different rules about taxing, do also carry a proof of employment, just to be on the safe side of things and to avoid a lot of hassle.

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Good answer, even if you do as you say it is illegal in some countries. See my answer below. – If you do not know- just GIS Jan 15 at 20:59
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@JoErNanO when you go though customs (in some parts of the world, like Australia), customs will also put things through various scanners. Not generally metal detectors but things they will pick up not just metals, but various food stuffs, fireworks and other things that are not allowed into the country. The point is if you are entering a country with a dozen mobile phones someone will notice (but probably not care). (Which while that is not the askers question is completely relevant) – Oxinabox Jan 16 at 3:31
    
This is a good response. I also carry quite a few Electronics through various airports in the US and Globally, and I have gotten some funny looks from security personnel. I also carry proof of employment and my work ID (which has my Job Title on it.) I have only received trouble from security once, and that was in Egypt, so I was kind of expecting it before I arrived there. This doesn't really cover just phones, though, as I usually carried general electronic Items. – sysdmin Jan 17 at 2:54
    
+1 for paperwork. – Thorbjørn Ravn Andersen Jan 17 at 9:24

There are three concerns: 1) terrorism; 2) export/import limitations; and 3) the fire hazard from the lithium contained in the cell phone and laptop batteries.

  1. Terrorism: the difficulty of addressing terrorism is that the level of screening and scrutiny is often arbitrary depending on the current political climate and the capriciousness of the security agent screening your baggage.

  2. Export/import limitations: In most cases, you need to prove that you are carrying the devices for your own personal use and not for resale. As long as the devices are unboxed and in 'used' condition, this shouldn't be difficult.

  3. Fire hazard: I'll mainly address the latter concern regarding the FAA rules on fire hazard.

FAA regulations do not limit the quantity of small lithium cells/batteries carried on board by passengers although they do limit the maximum size (capacity) of larger cells/batteries - such as those used in power wheelchairs and high-powered camera equipment (studio flashes).

However, the batteries must be enclosed in the devices and the devices must be for personal use (and not, for example, for resale) and so you might have trouble convincing the pilot/TSA/flight attendants that you have (say) ten phones for truly personal use.

But five cellphones is actually pretty reasonable by international standards as you might need to swap sims between different phones as you travel between different countries.

49 CFR 175.10(a)(18)

(A) The battery must be removed from the wheelchair or other mobility aid according to instructions provided by the wheelchair or other mobility aid owner or its manufacturer;

(B) The battery must be carried in carry-on baggage only;

(C) Battery terminals must be protected from short circuits (by placement in original retail packaging or otherwise insulating the terminal e.g. by taping over exposed terminals or placing each battery in a separate plastic bag or protective pouch);

(D) The battery must not exceed 300 Watt-hour (Wh); and

(E) A maximum of one spare battery not exceeding 300 Wh or two spares not exceeding 160 Wh each may be carried;

(vi) The pilot-in-command is advised either orally or in writing, prior to departure, as to the location of the lithium ion battery or batteries aboard the aircraft.

(18) Except as provided in §173.21 of this subchapter, portable electronic devices (e.g., watches, calculating machines, cameras, cellular phones, laptop and notebook computers, camcorders, medical devices etc.) containing dry cells or dry batteries (including lithium cells or batteries) and spare dry cells or batteries for these devices, when carried by passengers or crew members for personal use. Portable electronic devices powered by lithium batteries may be carried in either checked or carry-on baggage. Spare lithium batteries must be carried in carry-on baggage only. Each installed or spare lithium battery must be of a type proven to meet the requirements of each test in the UN Manual of Tests and Criteria, Part III, Sub-section 38.3 and each spare lithium battery must be individually protected so as to prevent short circuits (e.g., by placement in original retail packaging, by otherwise insulating terminals by taping over exposed terminals, or placing each battery in a separate plastic bag or protective pouch). In addition, each installed or spare lithium battery must not exceed the following:

(i) For a lithium metal battery, a lithium content of not more than 2 grams per battery; or

(ii) For a lithium ion battery, the Watt-hour rating must not exceed 100 Wh. With the approval of the operator, portable electronic devices may contain lithium ion batteries exceeding 100 Wh, but not exceeding 160 Wh and no more than two individually protected lithium ion batteries each exceeding 100 Wh, but not exceeding 160 Wh, may be carried per person as spare batteries in carry-on baggage.

(iii) For a non-spillable battery, the battery and equipment must conform to §173.159a(d). Each battery must not exceed a voltage greater than 12 volts and a watt-hour rating of not more than 100 Wh. No more than two individually protected spare batteries may be carried. Such equipment and spare batteries must be carried in checked or carry-on baggage.

(iv) Articles containing lithium metal or lithium ion cells or batteries the primary purpose of which is to provide power to another device must be carried as spare batteries in accordance with the provisions of this paragraph.

(19) Except as provided in §173.21 of this subchapter, battery-powered portable electronic smoking devices (e.g., e-cigarettes, e-cigs, e-cigars, e-pipes, e-hookahs, personal vaporizers, electronic nicotine delivery systems) when carried by passengers or crewmembers for personal use must be carried on one's person or in carry-on baggage only. Spare lithium batteries must be individually protected so as to prevent short circuits (by placement in original retail packaging or by otherwise insulating terminals, e.g., by taping over exposed terminals or placing each battery in a separate plastic bag or protective pouch). Each lithium battery must be of a type which meets the requirements of each test in the UN Manual of Tests and Criteria, Part III, Sub-section 38.3. Recharging of the devices and/or the batteries on board the aircraft is not permitted. Each battery must not exceed the following:

(i) For lithium metal batteries, a lithium content of 2 grams; or

(ii) For lithium ion batteries, a Watt-hour rating of 100 Wh.

The IATA has similar regulations with similar restrictions:

2.3.5.9 Portable Electronic Devices (including medical devices) containing Batteries 2.3.5.9.1 Portable electronic devices (including medical devices) (such as watches, calculating machines, cameras, cellular phones, lap-top computers, camcorders, etc.) containing batteries when carried by passengers or crew for personal use, which should be carried in carry-on baggage. (APCS/Cargo 15/12/2014 IATA Lithium Battery Guidance Document - 2014 Page 12)

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Customs limits on both ends for one I would add to these concerns. – If you do not know- just GIS Jan 15 at 20:58
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Besides US Federal regulations, IATA guidelines for lithium batteries also apply. – 200_success Jan 15 at 21:40
    
Thank you, IATA added. – RoboKaren Jan 15 at 22:12

I am going to give you a different take on this question. It is in your question (customs) and seems to be overlooked in most answers.

It is not really about planes, batteries, safety, or how big your bag is, it is mostly about the law of the departure and destination countries (not usually transit countries). Many countries prohibit what you can bring in to a country so yes it differs by country. Not only this but I know in Latin America that virtually no country exists that would allow you to bring this much (not just technically but actually legally).

My expertise is Ecuador.

Ecuadorian limits on bringing electronics into Ecuador are strict and enforced and you could not bring this many items in, and your carry on and regular bags are scanned on arrival.

From Ecuador Customs Sheet.

Travelers or head of household may enter up to two (2) additional units, one (1) new and one (1) used, of the following portable articles:

Photographic camera, video camera, mobile telephone, electronic agenda, portable or non portable video game, electronic calculator, portable computer and its accessories (mouse, headphone, keyboard and other).

Also, all travelers or head of household may enter up to one unit (1) new or used, of the following:

Portable image reproducer, sound or video player, portable television up to 21 inches. Desktop and its accessories (mouse, headphones, camera, keyboard and other). Prismatic equipment, projector, monitor up to 21 inches and telephone, printer or fax.

I think laptops will be considered portable computers and electronic agendas are those digital electronic organizer things business-like people used to use, I think they were called Palms.

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Can't you pay custom duty on excess items in Ecuador? – JoErNanO Jan 15 at 21:42
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You can but the one time someone told me about it they paid far more than their phone was worth new or used. Ecuador has high import duties. ~100% is common on imported electronics. Items such as phones are typically far far higher priced than the USA, their flat screen TVs appear over double (closer to 300 percent higher) to me. I take items such as these to sell when I go --usually one laptop and one cell phone and even those small blenders-- and I can get 2 to even 3 times USA prices and if I take used stuff like my two S5s I can pay for most of the flight. – If you do not know- just GIS Jan 15 at 21:56
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usually one can claim the duty back when leaving the country. – JoErNanO Jan 16 at 10:48

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