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Traveling through Airport Security with Bitcoin Seed Recovery Phrases


You're moving or traveling to somewhere that you have to take an airplane with your bitcoin seed recovery phrase. 

You're not going put it in a box and trust the movers. Not because they are going to search for it but because they are going to lose it.

You’re not going to put it in checked luggage. Like the movers, the airport staff are not going to be looking for your recovery phrase. But again like the movers, there is a higher chance of them losing your luggage and your seed recovery phrase with it.

So you're going to take it with you. But how do you carry your seed recovery phrase without exposing it to airport security?

The Reality

There are a bit more advanced methods of doing this such as utilizing encryption, using an air gapped device, steganography, multi-signature wallets, shamir secret sharing, etc. but we're not going into them. For a majority of people, these methods are not necessary. And if you are the minority who does need advance methods, we recommend doing some research on those terms. They require a solid understanding to do correctly and a thorough consideration between their tradeoffs (pros and cons).

We're going to keep it realistic.

First and foremost, airport security most likely isn't trying to steal your coins. They're busy and have a job to do. They also probably don't know and don't care what these random words are.

They also won't likely be reading it through an x-ray machine as it detects shapes and periphery of objects. They're also looking for specifically looking for suspicious items such as weapons.

The most likely scenario of your recovery phrase being read is your luggage being physically searched and the security personnel glancing upon it. Even in this case they probably don't have the time to make note of it let alone care.

You want to move through security as quickly as possible. The idea is not be suspicious and have your luggage pulled to search. It's a psychological mindset. There's absolutely no reason for you to be searched because you're carrying some words.

Taking The Extra Step

To be honest, you'd probably be fine with a piece of paper in one of your luggage or backpack pockets. But we know that's not going to satisfy you.

You're reading this post to prevent your recovery phrase to be potentially exposed to satisfy your doubts. And that's okay. There's nothing wrong with doing things to help you sleep at night and feel a bit more confident.

It is up to you how you balance risk and safety. Security is a personal matter too.

Below are a few basic things you can do if you want to take the extra step.

Don't Use Lead Bags, Locks, or Safes

Let's get this out of the way first.

This is almost a sure fire way for your luggage to be checked. If they can't see through something, they're going to check it. If it's suspicious looking, they're going to check it. If you look like your hiding something, they're going to check it.

Consider Making Copies

This is one of those risk vs reward considerations. Making another copy increases the chance of exposure but safeguards against misplacing your recovery phrase in transit.

If you lose one copy, you'll have another one. Make sure to store the copies separately in your luggage.

Use a Book

Place it in a book. Books are probably one of the most common items brought on a plane. No one in security is going to flip through the pages (unless it gets marked by a drug sniffing dog or you decided it was a great idea to cut out a storage pocket in the middle of the pages like you got something to hide). Use a plain, clean book.

Write your recovery phrase on a piece of paper and place it between the pages. Even if the airport x-ray machines could read ink (they can't), your recovery phrase would be distorted by all the text in the book.

If you want to take it a step further (and by that we mean something more complicated because its fun), use a dictionary.

In the dictionary, find each word in your recovery phrase. Next to each word, mark the number order that word appears in your recovery phrase (1-12 or 1-24).

Make a note of the page numbers that you marked in any order (so you can find them later without having to flip through the pages).

Now you have a recovery phrase hidden in the most boring book on the planet that absolutely no one will care about. Yay.

Put your recovery phrase back together and destroy the dictionary when you can safely do so.

Memorize It

This is a given. No one can read your mind. It is the ultimate secure travel. There's nothing to find.

Your recovery phrase is with you and only you at all times. You can go through security (or anywhere) without worry.

We're not going say it's easy. It's not. Memorization can be prone to human error if not enough effort or practice was put into memorizing your recovery phrase.

But if you do decide to memorize it, we've written what we believe is the best method to memorize a recovery phrase:

Memorizing a Bitcoin Wallet Mnemonic Seed Phrase

If you do this, you should probably write it down when you arrive at your destination and do a recovery test to make sure you remembered it correctly.

Split It Up (Temporarily)*

*We'd only recommend doing this if you're using a 24 word recovery phrase, are confident you won’t lose the splits, and can put your recovery phrase back together shortly after going through security.

Write down 12 words on a piece of paper and write the other 12 words on your phone or computer (or another piece of paper that will be in another bag).

By splitting your recovery phrase, having half of your words is practically useless. There is an upward of 300 undecillion (that's an additional 36 zeros) combinations someone would have to try in order to capture the entire phrase (the sun would probably burn out by then).

If your recovery phrase is split and written on two pieces of paper, ensure they are stored in separate bags. The chances of both bags being searched are minimal (unless you put suspicious items in both bags).

If your recovery phrase is split between a piece of paper and stored digitally (on a password protected device), the chances of both parts being exposed are also extremely slim.

The only possible way security would be able to discover something digitally is if they detain you and force you to unlock your devices for their search. This would only happen if you have a history of serious crimes or suspicious travel behavior. So for the majority of you, don't worry and don’t act like you’re worried. You're a regular person and are not special (except to us).

If you're worried you might lose of the splits, you can also split your recovery phrase into three parts:

1. Words 1-16

2. Words 8-24

3. Words 1-8 and 16-24

By splitting your recovery phrase in this way, you're able to complete your recovery phrase even if you lose one of the splits.

Remember to put the recovery phrase back together as soon as it is safely possible (no onlookers). You do not want to lose track of the pieces.

If you'd like to take this concept to another level (or are afraid of losing one of the pieces in transit), we recommend considering multi-signature wallets or shamir secret sharing. To put it simply, methods such as these require your wallet to have multiple “checks” or "pieces". Then the wallet can only be re-created or used by having some portion of the checks/pieces (i.e. 2 of 3 checks/pieces). Again, these are a bit more advanced and require research to understand what you're doing. They require a solid understanding and a thorough consideration between their security and usability tradeoffs.

Use a Passphrase

What's a passphrase? 

A passphrase is a feature of BIP39 that adds an additional layer of security on your seed. Think of it as an additional word to your seed phrase that can be (almost) anything.

Someone would not be able to access your wallet without that passphrase (including yourself).

Read more here on passphrases.

Keep your passphrase separate from your recovery phrase. Store it elsewhere digitally or physically (such as a password manager or a separately stored piece of paper in a different bag). Again, the chances of both needed pieces being exposed are incredibly slim.

Memorizing your passphrase would be even better as there is no way to search for something that isn't there.

With a recovery phrase, your wallet is still safe if someone knows or sees your recovery phrase (given your passphrase is strong enough; if not, you at least have some time to move your funds before someone could brute force it).

You can go through security with peace of mind knowing that someone would have to go through great lengths to even be able to even get close to accessing your wallet.

Remember, if you activate the recovery phrase setting on your wallet, it will create a brand new wallet. You will have to send your funds to the new wallet with the passphrase.

Again if you're afraid of losing the passphrase or the seed in transit, we recommend considering multi-signature wallets or shamir secret sharing. 

Create A New Wallet At Arrival

You can always create a new wallet at your destination if you're wary. Once you send your coins to your new wallet. Any potential exposure during your transit will be null.

If you have any trust in exchanges, you can also (temporarily) send your funds to an exchange of your choosing while you're traveling. Then at your destination, generate a new wallet and recovery phrase to send your funds back to.

Some of you might be thinking, "What if I destroy my recovery phrase before I leave and then send my coins to a newly generated wallet when I get there?"

That's possible and honestly has a high probability of being just fine.

But understand that you're trusting that the device your wallet is on will continue to work throughout your journey and up until you send your funds to a new wallet.

If that device breaks or fails at anytime while you no longer have your recovery phrase, you're out of luck. There is a risk and reward consideration.

Traveling with Blockplate

When you go through security with a Blockplate, for all intents and purposes, it's a coaster. We've traveled through security with Blockplates numerous times and have not been stopped or searched once. We suspect its spectacularly uninteresting shape has the extraordinary effect of apathetic airport security personnel.

Even if it does get searched, there is nothing to open and reveal. Security can easily see that there is nothing threatening about a coaster.

Even if someone happened to look at it, it is an effort to read. It takes time to determine each letter let alone an entire recovery phrase front and back.

If You're Searched and Your Recovery Phrase is Exposed

If your recovery phrase happens to be found or looked at, most likely airport security doesn't care and won't know what it is. It will be a fleeting memory.

But if you're still nervous, remember you can always generate a new wallet and recovery phrase that you can send your cryptocurrency to. Doing one of the methods above should give you enough time to do that.

In Conclusion

For a majority of you, your recovery phrase will be safe going through security. You're here for peace of mind and a peaked curiosity.

It's psychological mindset. You're the exact same person before and after you had bitcoin. That same person isn't threatening nor is likely to be searched. Airport security doesn't care about you unless you're dangerous or suspicious. You're not. So act that way.

When going through airport security, you are simply ordinary.