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I plan to transport a microscope on a trip from Pittsburgh to Athens Greece. It weighs about 8 pounds. It's a high school level microscope. Is it an allowable carry-on item and an allowable checked bag item?

Which way is better, checked or carry on? I don't want to get stopped going through security and wonder if moisture condensation on lenses could be a problem with a checked bag.


Thank you for the helpful responses. I decided to go with checked bag and protect it with the original styrofoam box.

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    What is the size of the device (including any necessary packaging/protection)? What is the value of the device? Are you intending to take it there, and then back, or leave it there?
    – jcaron
    Commented Nov 12, 2023 at 14:00
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    this isn't the same, so only leaving a comment and not an answer, but it's similar - I often take a telescope as hand luggage without problems. I would never check it in to the hold, as it's a delicate piece of equipment and I don't want it to get damaged.
    – Aaron F
    Commented Nov 13, 2023 at 11:33

2 Answers 2

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When you carry anything on board a flight, whether in cabin luggage or hold luggage, the following questions may arise:

  • Does this fit within weight or size allowances? (rules are different for carry-on and hold luggage)
  • Are there any risks involved? (ditto)
  • Is this allowed, for security reasons? (ditto)
  • Is there an issue exporting the device? (same rules whether carry-on or checked)
  • Is there an issue importing the device? (ditto)
  • Are there taxes and duties to pay? (ditto)

So you'll need:

  • To find the size and weight of the device (including packaging and protection), and see if that fits in your carry-on allowance (including the rest of the stuff you want to carry on board). There's a possibility it won't fit and then your only option is to put it into checked luggage.

  • In checked luggage, there are two major risks: theft (very limited, but it does happen) and breakage. This means good packaging. It will usually be slightly cooler in the hold, no idea how that may affect your equipment.

  • In both cases, you can check if the device is allowed for security reasons by using the TSA What Can I Bring? tool. I couldn't find anything about microscopes, and I don't see a reason why they wouldn't be allowed (as long as there is nothing sharp or which could otherwise be used as a weapon).

  • Some devices are subject to export restrictions. I don't expect that to be the case for an optical microscope.

  • Likewise for import into a destination country. Don't expect an issue there in your case.

  • If the value of the equipment exceeds duty-free allowances, you have the issue of taxes and duties.

    If you intend to leave it at your destination, then you have to pay them on import, which can be cumbersome, and is much easier handled by shipping the device beforehand by a courrier company which will deal with customs.

    If you will take it back out of the country, then an ATA carnet may be a good option, though the conditions can be complex (and it will have a cost).

    If the value of the device is below duty-free limits, then nothing to worry about.

In summary:

  • If it's small enough you can carry it in your cabin luggage (not in addition to)
  • Otherwise you'll have to put into checked luggage
  • Nothing special to worry about for the rest.
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  • Otherwise +1, but ATA carnets are a huge hassle and not worth it for anything less than a motor vehicle. A (used?) high school microscope worth a couple of hundred dollars (?) should fit within duty-frer limits. Commented Nov 12, 2023 at 20:27
  • The duty-free limit in this case would be €430. Commented Nov 13, 2023 at 10:48
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    @lambshaanxy I have to admit just have a hard time reconciling "high-school level microscope" and "8 pounds". Granted, high school was a looooong time ago, but my vague memories of the hardware we had do not quite fit "8 pounds", so I have no idea of the size or value of what OP is talking about (I asked for clarification but did not get any).
    – jcaron
    Commented Nov 13, 2023 at 11:04
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    @jcaron I looked up "student microscopes" and found some that look like ones I used in high school ~5 years ago in the US. They cost around $250-$500 and weigh between 5lb-15lb. It seems that anything in that range would be reasonable to use in a high school.
    – Esther
    Commented Nov 13, 2023 at 15:11
  • @Esther: A cheap digital camera along with primitive optics for microscopic use would probably be much cheaper than a decent optical microscope, because digital cameras can get by with far less light-gathering ability. I have no idea if schools are moving towards using such equipment, but can imagine something that's crude but functional selling for $10 or less on cheap-import sites.
    – supercat
    Commented Nov 13, 2023 at 21:52
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I can’t think of any reason it would cause issues, though it might attract attention because of the shape or materials and require secondary inspection, so maybe allow a bit of extra time.

I would take it in carry-on unless you have a suitably protective hard case. Because of the possibility of mechanical damage or (less likely) theft.

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  • Agreed that it depends on how much the OP would trust the baggage handlers. In my observations, they toss the checked baggage pretty vigorously, so anything potentially breakable should be done as carry-on. It's been long rumored that anything marked "fragile" is fair game for an extra vigorous toss in the realm of the baggage handlers.
    – Milwrdfan
    Commented Nov 13, 2023 at 19:04
  • @Milwrdfan obviously it would be packed with suitable padding. There is a chance that an over-zealous checker would see it as potential "blunt weapon" in hand baggage. Commented Nov 13, 2023 at 19:58

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