Am I allowed to take a graphics card in my carry-on luggage?

  • 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.

    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.

    @LynnCrumbling If the GPUs would get confiscated, would I be able to get the money back somehow?

    That's highly doubtful. Whenever other things (liquids, knives, etc) are confiscated, they're trashed. The end.

    @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

    Good point. Unfortunately, in the eyes of national security, the benefit of the doubt is going to go to the officer. That isn't to say that after spending thousands (tens of thousands?) of dollars on lawyers filing a lawsuit, that you wouldn't be able to get them to pay for a replacement, but even if you do, is all of the hassle really worth it?

    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.

    I'd carry them in carry-on, with boxes, maybe cut down to just show images or with packing removed, if size mattered and maybe with some brochures with images of them. If it can be made to not look apparent that this is done for purposes of convincing them, so much the better. You could even try some traceable queries to suitable agencies in advance that make it clear that it is a harmless commercial electronic product and asking how to ensure there are no mistakes - and then taking the paperwork with you. | I once entered an Olympic city in china during the Olympics with a very large bag ....

    .... packed with all imaginable electronic test gear, components and the like. They let me in with all my gear - but it took an hour or so in a private room with a ?6? man inspection team :-). Arrive early :-).

    @RussellMcMahon If I buy them in the US, I was planning to take them out of the box and take them just with the anti static bag with me, which also is transparent.

    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).

    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.

    @Calchas This was indeed covered here before in a related question: Can I bring a shoebox PC in my carry-on bag?. Do note that in those cases the owners usually have (or need) documentation to describe the unit and its purpose, but this seems to be mostly for cases when the equipment can't be scanned without damaging it.

    @reirab Indeed in the US and EU and a few other countries international and domestic security standards are the same.

    @Lilienthal Exactly. As I also posted on that question. A single piece or electronics usually doesn't raise any eyebrows at all.

    It' the tax when arriving in Switzerland I'd worry about more.

    @LynnCrumbling - I think you may be giving the TSA too much credit in terms of competence and professionalism. However it's not implausible that they would err on the side of "ooh, shiny new graphics card!" and _call_ it erring on the side of "safety". But realistically, if I can put my laptop in my carry-on (which happens routinely), the OP should be able to do the same with a video card. Of the two, the laptop makes the better blunt instrument.

    @aroth I think it's more uf a luck thing. Sometimes you get through without a problem and depending on the TSA's mood or comptence you might get stuck.

    As this question is about air travel, you should know that in the world of aviation, GPU means something different than what you mean by it: Ground Power Unit. So you might say that I was initially pretty surprised that you wanted to take a GPU in your carry-on luggage!

  • CMaster

    CMaster Correct answer

    6 years ago

    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.

    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 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.

    @MichaelHampton Well it was just an idea. I would buy them at 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, 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.

    Louisiana and Texas have some degree of sales tax refunds for goods (not services or hotel fees) bought at participating stores only. No other state refunds sales tax for foreign visitors.

    Having them in their original packaging *might* help but be prepared to have them open the original packaging to get their hands on them directly. I have no frame of reference to say they will want to but I know for sure that no seal is sacred and if you're planning on bringing them home to flip in sealed condition then TSA might mess that plan up.

    @jcaron I will be living with a host family for those 4 weeks which I will be in the US, which means I could order them to their home adress. EDIT: Also I asked a friend that works at the customs of switzerland and he told me I would have to pay the 8% VAT when importing them. So I guess they should be around 10% (including taxes) cheaper in the US to actually be "cheaper".

    And don´t forget warranty and service issues, which may complicate things considerably. In Switzerland, you get 2 years warranty for consumer products, while in the US this will be more likely one year.

    Seems like US sales tax could be refundable, as VAT has been refundable (within certain rules) for US travellers buying stuff in Europe to bring back to the US. Prices can be quite cheap in the US compared to some other countries, and I imagine Switzerland is one of them, though I'm sure it depends on the specific item. On the other hand, good video cards can be delicate, and the US TSA has stolen a lot of stuff from airline passengers, so there's also some risk. It might be safer to mail stuff to yourself from the US, rather than put it in baggage.

    I have carried two 280X GPU-s from Tallinn, Estonia (EU) to Oslo, Norway (non-EU) using hand luggage, and the contents were examined once, but there were absolutely no issues or questions both about contents of the luggage or taxes. I also had a large desktop PC in a hard luggage, which was perhaps not cost effective, but there was also no issues.

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Content dated before 7/24/2021 11:53 AM