Travel with Electronics

Travel with Electronics

Security tips for traveling abroad with mobile devices

PACK IT: Keep devices safe during travel

Can I travel with an electronic device?

These days, it is very common for people to travel abroad with electronic devices such as laptops, tablets, cell phones, USB drives, and other digital storage devices. If you are traveling with an electronic device, you may have to deal with border officials at some point.

Some foreign governments retain the right to seize travelers’ electronic devices and review their contents. At border controls, officers have widespread powers to stop and search people, and examine their baggage and other possessions including devices such as laptops and smartphones.

Before embarking on international travel with an electronic device, review the information below to ensure that your trip goes smoothly.

12,000 laptops are lost every week in US airports

Los Angeles (LAX) and Miami International airports have the highest frequency of lost or stolen laptops. 1

54% of business travelers say their laptops contain confidential information

However, 65% of these travelers admit they do not take steps to protect or secure the information contained on their laptop. 1

1Both statistics from

1I am travelling with an electronic device I use for work, what do I need to know?

While crossing borders inevitably heightens privacy and security risks, you can manage these risks within reasonable limits by complying with the following requirements, which have been issued by the UBC Chief Information Officer (CIO) in consultation with the Office of the University Counsel:

  • UBC has issued an Information Security Guideline that states: “If asked by an official to unlock a device or provide a password, UBC employees should advise the official that the device contains confidential University information. If the official persists, the employee may comply with the demand. In such cases, the employee should make reasonable efforts to keep the device in sight at all times, and should change passwords and report such access to UBC Information Security as soon as possible.” Read more in Section 11 of the Considerations for International Travel with Mobile Devices document [PDF].
  • UBC’s Information Security Standard #05 (Encryption Requirements), and provincial privacy law, requires all mobile devices, including smartphones, to be encrypted if they contain any confidential information. If your device has not been encrypted, please ask your IT support team for assistance. Read more in section 7 on the Encryption Requirements document [PDF].
  • UBC’s Information Security Standard #06 (Working Remotely) discourages storing confidential information on mobile devices; it’s preferable - where feasible - to leave the information on a UBC server and then remotely access it through a secure connection. Should you choose to travel without your laptop or other device, IT staff can provide loaner laptops or devices thus reducing the amount of data carried with you. Read more in Section 4 of the Working Remotely document [PDF].

Before your trip:

  1. If the devices you want to take contain large amounts of UBC confidential/sensitive information, consider leaving them behind
  2. Put the files you won't need on secure UBC storage solutions and remove them from your device
  3. Check the most recent guidelines for the country you are visiting - not all countries allow encryption and some have restrictions on portable electronic devices in your carry-on baggage

Recently, the US and UK have increased security measures on electronic devices for incoming flights. Travelers on flights coming from several countries will face restrictions on large electronic devices, including, but not restricted to, over-sized smartphones, tablets, e-readers, game consoles and laptops.

2Will the laptop ban in the US and the UK affect me?

Certain commercial flights arriving in the United States and the United Kingdom are now subject to restrictions for carry-on electronic devices.

If you are travelling from any of the affected countries below, it is very likely that you will be impacted by the electronic device ban. To ensure that you are following the most up-to-date guidelines, please refer to the Commercial flights to the US Fact Sheet and the Commercial flights to the UK Overview.

Impacted International Flights bound for the US or UK originate from airports in the following countries:

Country Travel to US affected? Travel to UK affected?
Kuwait YES NO
Lebanon YES YES
Morocco YES NO
Qatar YES NO
Saudi Arabia YES YES
Tunisia NO YES
Turkey YES YES
United Arab Emirates YES NO

If you have to travel with your electronic device in a checked bag, put it in a hard-shell case and bury it in the middle of your suitcase. If the device stores personal information, make sure it is encrypted. It is recommended to get a TSA-Approved lock to protect from theft. If possible, take an alternative inexpensive laptop or tablet instead and keep sensitive documents on an encrypted USB and not on the device.

If you choose to only travel with a standard sized smartphone in order to ensure that you can take it in the cabin with you, please be aware that it must be encrypted if it stores any information – including emails – which contain personal information. You are still also at risk for search by border officials and you should be prepared to deal with this if necessary. See ‘Do I have to show my mobile device to a security officer if there is private information on it?’ for more information.

If you are travelling with an encrypted device, special considerations may apply. View the Canadian export and foreign import controls on encryption products on the Security Considerations for International Travel with Mobile Devices [PDF] document.

3Do I have to show my mobile device to a security officer if there is private information on it?

In some cases, border control officers may ask to examine what is stored within a device, such as photos, files, downloaded e-mails and other media. If you refuse to provide your password, your device may be held for further inspection.

If the device contains work-related personal information, UBC employees should first notify the official that the device contains confidential university information..

If the official is persistent, employees may comply with the demand. However, they should make a reasonable effort to keep the device in sight at all times. After the device is returned, change the password and report the incident to UBC Information Security ( as soon as possible.

Go even further...

For a much more in-depth look at encryption at UBC, you can:

Complete the full Fundamentals training to learn how to protect yourself and others
Security Considerations for International Travel with Mobile Devices [PDF]
View the Information Security Standard #6: Working Remotely [PDF]
Protecting Personal Information - On the Move [PDF]
Securing Computing and Mobile Storage Devices [PDF]