Understanding International Carry-On Size: Dimensions and Restrictions

That trusty carry-on that has served you so well for domestic U.S. flights could be a big headache if you take it out of the country. It’s maddening and confusing, but restrictions on the dimensions of carry-on luggage are different for international flights than for domestic U.S. flights. To make matters worse, the rules vary according to airline and the flight origin…and at times, with the mood of the airline personnel.

For flights originating outside the U.S. with a destination outside the U.S. the standard carry-on baggage size is smaller than domestic U.S. carry-on size. In general, the 22-inch size for U.S. domestic travel is too large for international trips and the rule of thumb is roughly 21 inches. As with domestic U.S. airlines, specific rules vary by airline, so it’s important to check with the airline carrier(s) you’ll be using. For travelers regularly traveling outside the U.S. you should consider moving to a smaller, internationally-compliant carry-on which can add great flexibility without sacrificing significant space. Be sure to see our reviews of the top-rated international carry-on bags and spinners.

Once you have a carry-on that complies with airline carry-on policy, always resist the temptation to overstuff it. With overhead bin space at a premium, airlines are much stricter about your bag’s dimensions and increasingly require your bag to fit easily in the gate-side bag sizer (pictured above). Those newspapers and souvenirs in the outer pocket might have you red in the face trying to get your bag into the sizer, and you may be forced to check your bag and pay a fee.

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