How to travel internationally with a drone
By: Mieke Leenders
The way we enjoy our travels has always been subject to great change and with the rise of technology for personal and recreational use, we can now add some new and exciting gadgets to our travel essentials.
The drone is a perfect example of how technology originally designed for military purposes, quickly found its way to the commercial and scientific sectors, but also for recreational use. Whether it is to take stunning aerial photos and videos, receiving a quick overview of the area around you, race against other drone users or just for the pure fun of flying it, recreational drones are becoming more and more popular and as a result, laws, and regulations are now starting to take effect.
Read further for our tips on how to best prepare yourself for a trip with your drone and which regulations to follow onboard a plane as well as in the countries you plan on visiting.
TSA policy for drones
Traveling with sensitive equipment can always be a bit of a challenge especially when most rules and policies almost seem to be designed to give you a hard time. But like with everything, familiarizing yourself with the process in advance will make everything go a whole lot easier.
There are no specific rules prohibiting drones at the airport and they are allowed through the checkpoint. But as for the further procedures, whether you can pack them in your carry-on bags or checked bags, the Transport Security Administration (TSA) advise you to always check with the airlines specifically. Of course, it would be best to keep your drone with you at all times if only to have your own responsibility for it and avoid the possibility of loss or damage along with your checked bags.
Make sure you don’t only research the regulations for the drone itself but also anything else you will bring along with it like spare batteries. Rechargeable lithium batteries, as used for most drones, are generally permitted in your carry-on bags when under 100-watt-hours. For batteries of this size, you can take an unlimited amount with you on the plane.
For the larger ones, you may encounter some restrictions and should consult your airlines. When in doubt, don’t forget to consult the FAA list of hazardous materials for information on which materials are considered safe and which will be prevented from being taken onboard.
When keeping these tips in mind, there is really no reason to expect any difficulties when boarding the plane with your drone.
How to pack a drone for your travels
For air travel as well as for the road, it is essential to invest in high quality, protective traveling gear for your drone. Not only will you protect it against damage, but when handling your equipment professionally you are also far less likely to encounter problems at the airport.
If you want a great example, check out the Powerextra Waterproof Carrying Bag. The lightweight, as well as the small size, makes this bag ideal as a carry-on item and the waterproof material makes it suitable for outdoor use as well.
This is, of course, a fully functional backpack but if you are only looking to pack your drone in a suitcase and don’t want a separate backpack, consider investing in a protective case. The Khanka Hard Case is an example specifically for the Holy Stone F181 RC Quadcopter Drone but the concept is ideal for those who want to keep their drone in their luggage. Look out for similar qualities like the sturdy outer material and soft interior with Sponge and Mesh Pocket.
Lithium-ion batteries do carry some level of danger in terms of short-circuiting and causing subsequent damage. Even though safety mechanics are built in and you can avoid this by taking some care yourself, it is not a bad idea to further assure the airlines of its safety in your choice of luggage.
Next, to the precautions you can take in selecting specialized bags, you can also purchase a small Lipo Battery Fireproof Bag for under 6USD or some bigger ones if you wish it, all at a low price. For some of you, it might seem like an investment not worth making, but anything to make procedures run more smoothly and avoid unlikely but possibly dramatic damages should be welcomed.
Drone friendly countries and/or areas
In your more recent travels it is likely you have come across signs that forbid the use of drones in certain areas. I saw such a sign when I was visiting Teotihuacan in Mexico earlier this month. However, while climbing Piramide del Sol, I saw two drones flying by.
According to the Instituto Nacional de Antropología e Historia (INAH), you won’t break any droning laws as such but since a drone is seen as specialized photography equipment, you will be required to request a permit before you can take photos or videos to be requested through the website at least 10 days in advance.
The current rate for this stands at 10,227 pesos (about US $507) if you want to shoot a video or 5,113 pesos ($253) if you only want to take photographs. Next, to that, you will only be able to use your drone during visiting hours.
I came across this article while researching the exact regulations after seeing those drones. A photographer had taken some breathtaking early morning photos of the pyramid at Chichén Itzá where, as it is an archeological site and so subject to federal laws, the same rules apply. Not only did he neglect to get a permit but the fact that he took the photo before opening hours, meant that he was technically trespassing and his actions were therefore considered illegal.
I share this story with you in order to make you aware of how specific droning laws can be in certain areas. You can’t simply google which country allows them or not and then fly them all over the place taking photos as you please. Especially since some countries, even some that are highly visited by tourists, don’t allow them at all.
So how can you best keep up with the latest news in what is permitted and what not? Especially since these laws are always subject to change with the increase of awareness about drones and drone technology.
One way is to install DroneMate, the app designed by Anil Polat, blogger and computer security engineer at foXnoMad. Available for both Android and iOS, this app is regularly updated according to official sources and lists the droning laws and restrictions for every country in the world. Including offline features, you can remain updated at any time and avoid the hassle and also the expense of, perhaps sometimes unintentionally, breaking the droning laws.
Flying drones in Europe
If you are thinking of traveling to Europe with your drone, we would still advise the use of the above-mentioned app. But Europe also has a website specifically aimed at recreational drone users. Dronerules.eu explains that most European countries allow the recreational use of a drone, in the context of races or private photography, but also mentions that this freedom of use does not mean there are no restrictions.
The video on the homepage shares some general rules and regulations focusing on three main points that apply to every country regarding the respect for privacy, flying according to safety rules and always making sure you are insured. These may seem very simple and straightforward but make sure you respect these rules as breaking them might be perceived as a criminal offense. And as always, check the details of the countries and areas you are visiting so that you are never unpleasantly surprised.
Are you curious about all the amazing places you can visit with your drone? Here are some great options specifically for European drone travelers to give you some inspiration;
Iceland and Scandinavia
I have mentioned Iceland and Scandinavia before as places of unparalleled charm. Since they are that even when only on foot, just imagine what otherworldly beauty you can capture from the air. From Northern Lights to glaciers, fjords and piercing blue lakes surrounded by icy peaks, you are guaranteed to capture poetry in motion.
Spain – Barcelona
Barcelona is the city of Gaudi. In his ingenious use of shapes, colors, and patterns, his architecture can offer a unique beauty as seen from below as well as above. In his great attention to detail, even the rooftops are artworks on their own. In this make sure to include places like Casa Mila and of course Sagrada Familia in your little flight across the city.
Greece – Meteora
The moment I saw Greece’s sky monasteries, I was both utterly moved and slightly saddened. When you see such hauntingly stunning landscapes, you almost instantly wish you could fly and fully immerse yourself in it. With your drone, you might not be able to fly yourself, but you can certainly capture the desire to do so.
Belgium – Gent, and Bruges
In my completely unbiased opinion as a Belgian, I add the cities of Bruges and Gent to the list. The open-air museum that is Bruges offers urban as well as religious architecture dating back to the early middle ages. Gent, in turn, must seem stunning when approached from the air and especially when Gravensteen, the great 12th-century castle adorning the very heart of the city, becomes the focal point of your visual journey.
Some final tips
- Just before you start flying your drone, always recalibrate it. It takes very little time to do and could prevent some problems.
- Always carry at least one fully charged battery as a backup when out and about using the drone.
- Make sure you use a cleared SD cards before takeoff.
Apart from making the necessary preparations in terms of traveling gear and the understanding of TSA regulations as well as the FAA list of hazardous materials, the main thing to remember is that you have to be completely aware of the laws in the countries you plan on visiting with your drone.
Make sure to constantly keep updated as these laws are relatively new and still prone to change. Install the DroneMate app and check governmental websites at all times. It would be a real shame if you were to lose your drone or pay a hefty fine over some misunderstanding of the rules.
Some countries will make flying your drone more difficult than others but the idea of droning technology entering the recreational realm hasn’t fully been accepted by every country yet. We remain positive that acceptance will follow in almost all countries and perhaps one day will be so liberal in its laws, that only the safety and privacy rules will apply and other bureaucratic procedures abandoned. But for now, we have to take it as it is.
So take good care of your drone, inform yourself, visit some gorgeous places and enjoy the flight!
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