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As I will be travelling to the US in July, I was thinking of buying two graphics cards (R9 390X) over there and bring them back to Switzerland, as computer components are mostly a bit cheaper over there.

I know that the US has some really high security standards regarding international flights. If I take these two GPU's in my carry-on luggage (so they don't break), how would a security officer at LAX react when they see those Graphics cards? I do realise that most people don't actually know what a GPU is or how it looks like. So I am concerned that a security officer might take them from me at an airport when trying to board an international flight.

Believe it or not, I read some really strange stories in forums from people that claim the security officer did not know what a GPU is and thought it might be some sort of a bomb.

Note: By "GPU" I am referring to the whole graphics card (with circuit board, coolers, etc.) and not just the processing unit.

  • 4
    FWIW, I'd pack it between clothes in checked baggage. If there's a chance it could be confiscated, I wouldn't risk it. And I think there's a good chance.. because yes, the TSA officers are going to want to error on the side of safety. – Lynn Crumbling Jun 15 '15 at 13:55
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    @LynnCrumbling True, but those are rightfully confiscated, however a GPU is not. Also two high end GPU's may cost around 1500$, I dont care if a 5$ bottle gets trashed, but 1500$ is a different story – RononDex Jun 15 '15 at 14:01
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    It is quite normal for technicians and technical service staff to carry all sorts of electronic gadgets in their hand luggage. Of course they cannot risk that their $40,000 piece of equipment will go missing in the hold luggage. It is unlikely that you have anything the officer has not seen before. – Calchas Jun 15 '15 at 14:13
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    I have carried GPUs and HDDs on domestic US flights many, many times (mostly NYC to LA and vice versa). Usually there was no comment. Occasionally they wanted to look at them a little bit more, asked a few questions. Never had anything confiscated. International flights may be a different story (but doesn't seem like they should be). – KRyan Jun 15 '15 at 15:36
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    Actually international flights are generally not different in the U.S. You go through exactly the same security lines. U.S. airports often have international and domestic flights departing from adjacent gates in the same concourse. It is quite common that you even clear security at a completely different airport than where your international flight departs from. For instance, when I flew to Asia, I cleared security in Nashville, flew to Detroit, then boarded the international flight there without going through security again. – reirab Jun 15 '15 at 18:21
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There's no mention of electronic boards etc in the TSA prohibited items list. So provided they aren't so heavy as to be a potential "blunt instrument" weapon, you should be ok. If they're in original packaging, that might help. Of course, they don't have to let any items through, restricted list or not.

You may also wish to check the website of your airline, for their prohibited items list. I'd be suprised to see any consumer electronics on there, but better safe than sorry.

You're more likley to get in trouble at the other end. I'm not clear on the exact regulations for Switzerland, but you are likley to be liable to pay duty and VAT/Sales Tax on imported items. This site says that Switzerland would apply an 8% tax to imported graphics cards. You can of course go to the "Goods to Declare" window/corridor at customs, but this may eat into your saving significantly.

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    Yes, the 8% VAT is actually included into the price when you buy something here in switzerland. Good point, may have to check that too. – RononDex Jun 15 '15 at 14:05
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    @RononDex If you're shopping in California you'll pay that much or more in sales tax, and in the US prices are listed exclusive of tax. You probably won't save enough money for it to matter, and if you get popped by Customs you'll lose. – Michael Hampton Jun 15 '15 at 14:52
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    @MichaelHampton Well it was just an idea. I would buy them at ncixus.com as I know that company quite well. And I haven't decided anything yet, that GPU is not even out yet but will be released this week. I will do the calculations once I am in CA :) – RononDex Jun 15 '15 at 14:59
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    @RononDex, nowadays, once you factor in taxes and currency exchange rates, there are rarely large differences in prices between most developed countries. Don't forget that prices in Europe include VAT, while prices in the US are shown without sales tax (which you can't reclaim). If you order online for delivery in another state, you will usually be able to not pay sales tax (depends on quite a few factors), but since you don't live there, you'll often have all sorts of issues with payment (non-US card, billing and delivery addresses not matching, etc.). YMMV. – jcaron Jun 15 '15 at 16:56
  • @jcaron help.cbp.gov/app/answers/detail/a_id/373/~/… implies some states do refund it for visitors. – Flexo Jun 15 '15 at 17:25
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Building on Calchas' comment, my coworkers and I have carried large, odd-looking electronic research equipment onto international flights on numerous occasions, on different airlines, departing from and passing through different airports. We have never had a problem.

Usually, bags containing such equipment are given extra screening; security will pull us aside one by one, ask us to open our bags and remove the equipment, and ask a series of questions about what it does and why we are bringing it. Generally, I find that going into a lot of detail about the specs and purpose of the equipment puts them quickly at ease.

Keeping it in the original packaging certainly can't hurt, but we usually wrap our stuff up in bubble wrap and/or our clothes and stick it in duffel bags and suitcases, and still don't run into trouble.

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    +1 My coworkers do the same frequently and their experiences match up well with yours. – reirab Jun 15 '15 at 19:59
  • So if I take them in an anti-static bag (which they are by default) that should work just fine? – RononDex Jun 16 '15 at 7:16
  • @RononDex- Yes, though they may request that you remove it from the bag for a moment to show them. – user29655 Jun 16 '15 at 14:37
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keeping them sealed in the original packaging might help too, with receipt and original packaging it is easy to explain what it does if the question arises.

  • Might this lead to issues with customs? – Federico Poloni Jun 15 '15 at 21:24
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    @FedericoPoloni of course, but the question is about security, not customs – Agent_L Jun 16 '15 at 12:42
  • @Federico Poloni he can also consider opening them once past airport security, afaik customs would be when he gets off the plane while security would be before he gets on the plane. I am not sure about the Switz custom rules and strictness but I never had problem bringing sealed gifts (iPhones, computers, etc) into China as long as they are not in huge bulk (1 or 2 per trip). – tom Jun 16 '15 at 16:00
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I have taken robots the size and shape of a soda can on a carry on that look far "scarier" than a graphics card (gpu is the chip), and no one batted an eye.

  • Well by "GPU" I actually meant the whole graphics card, including the circuit board, coolers, etc... – RononDex Jun 16 '15 at 7:20
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Also I would look into shipping them to your home in Switzerland... Extra Cost vs Fear of getting them confiscated. Especially if after shipping they are still cheaper than what you would pay in your home country.

  • But then you'll probably have to pay import taxes or potentially get into customs trouble if they catch the shipment. – tricasse Jun 16 '15 at 8:37
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Considering that laptops and smartphones are allowed, both containing GPUs, I really doubt that taking a graphics card as carry-on would be an issue.

  • 3
    Your not thinking like a TSA agent. – Justin Dearing Jun 16 '15 at 16:03
  • @JustinDearing Nonsense. TSA agents understand that people sometimes carry electronic equipment on planes. This will be no problem. – ell Jun 1 '17 at 22:34

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