U.S. Persons traveling abroad with their firearms

UPDATE: On April 23, 2015, CBP issued a statement saying that they will continue to accept paper-based Form 4457 to facilitate legal temporary export of firearms, for now.:

“U.S. Customs and Border Protection will continue to follow the long standing practice of issuing and certifying a Certificate of Registration (CBP Form 4457) to ensure that no traveler attempting to legally take their firearm out of the country experiences significant delays or incurs additional cost due to the implementation of a new regulation requiring an electronic filing.  CBP’s enforcement focus is on those engaged in illegal exportation of firearms for use by overseas organizations and individuals wishing to cause harm.”

It’s important that you still read and understand the regulations and plan accordingly.  Click here to read the full statement from CBP.

(PREVIOUS UPDATE): On March 24, 2015 the National Shooting Sports Foundation (NSSF) published the following update which is relevant to the content in this post, and should be considered and understood prior to proceeding with your travel plans:

U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) appears to have started enforcing a three-year old regulation that could have a serious impact on the hunting community.  Under a requirement that has not been enforced since it was imposed in 2012, Americans travelling overseas with a firearm must file paperwork using the government’s Automated Export System (AES) to register the “temporary export” of any firearm. The problem, which NSSF was the first to flag back in 2012, is that individual hunters cannot become certified by AES in order to file the necessary paperwork and obtain the required documentation that Customs is now requiring at the port of departure. With no national security purpose underlying this long-dormant requirement, NSSF is working toward a repeal of the regulation and will discuss the major concerns with State Department officials during a meeting this week.

Furthermore, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) has published a helpful FAQ regarding such exports at this link: http://www.ice.gov/cpi/faq

Are you a gun owner in the United States who plans to travel internationally with your firearm(s)?  This post is written just for you.

Whether you’re moving, hunting, or otherwise traveling with your guns outside of the USA, there are U.S. laws you need to be aware of.  Cross-border movement of firearms can be a complex task — and one you want to get right!*  In any cross-border activity, there are at least two governments’ laws involved.  Here, we’ll address things from the United States perspective, with some mention of common foreign laws (though it varies by country).

U.S. law has a provision that allows (1) certain individuals, to take (2) certain firearms, to (3) certain destinations, using a (4) certain procedure, without the normal need for an Export License.  This provision is found in what is referred to as the “ITAR” (International Trafficking in Arms Regulations), at 22 CFR 123.17(C) (text below).

22 CFR 123.17(c)

(c) Port Directors of U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) shall permit U.S. persons to export temporarily from the United States without a license not more than three nonautomatic firearms in Category I(a) of § 121.1 of this subchapter and not more than 1,000 cartridges therefor, provided that:
(1) The person declares the articles to a CBP officer upon each departure from the United States, presents the Internal Transaction Number from submission of the Electronic Export Information in the Automated Export System per § 123.22 of this subchapter, and the articles are presented to the CBP officer for inspection;
(2) The firearms and accompanying ammunition to be exported is with the individual’s baggage or effects, whether accompanied or unaccompanied (but not mailed); and
(3) The firearms and accompanying ammunition must be for that person’s exclusive use and not for reexport or other transfer of ownership. The person must declare that it is his intention to return the article(s) on each return to the United States. The foregoing exemption is not applicable to the personnel referred to in § 123.18 of this subchapter.

In the context of this law, let’s talk about each of the four above-mentioned “certains”:

1. Certain Individuals:

This exemption applies only to “U.S. Persons”, which is defined in another part of the ITAR, at 22 CFR 120.15.  Specifically, at the time of this writing, “U.S. Persons” includes all U.S. Citizens and U.S. lawful permanent residents, as well as very few others classified as “protected individuals”.  This exemption also only applies to those who are not otherwise prohibited from possessing firearms, or from exercising export privileges.

2. Certain Firearms (and ammo!):

The ITAR laws in discussion do not cover sporting shotguns, but rather only rifles and handguns.  Thus, if a shotgun is one of the firearms in question, see the “What about shotguns?” section near the bottom of this post.

Further, this exemption allows you take up to three such firearms, which must be non-automatic (meaning not fully automatic, but semi-automatic is fine).  Note that this same exemption allows you to take up to 1,000 rounds of ammunition for these firearms, under the same restrictions.

3. Certain Destinations:

Though not specifically mentioned here, it should be noted that this exemption does not apply for export of firearms to destinations that are subject to an arms embargo or other export prohibition (such as China, Cuba, Iran and more).  If there is any uncertainty whether your destination is legal for such exports, check this page on the U.S. Department of State’s DDTC website.

4. Certain Procedure:

If you meet the above three qualifications, then you are eligible to use this exemption if you do so with the following procedure:

(1) As you leave the U.S., stop at the U.S. Customs office at your port of exit and declare the firearm(s) you are exporting.  You can use CBP Form 4455 or CBP Form 4457 to declare specifically which gun(s) you are taking out of the country with you.  The CBP Officer should sign and stamp the form after they have verified the information to their satisfaction (which may include inspection of the firearms).  Keep the original copy of this declaration, as it will be essential when you return to the U.S., to be able to re-import your guns without hassle.

(2) The guns must be traveling with you, and not shipped or mailed.  You are not required to have the guns in your immediate possession (i.e. in your carry on luggage!), but they must be with your baggage or effects.

(3) Very importantly, the firearms and ammo exported under this exemption “…must be for [your] exclusive use and not for reexport or other transfer of ownership.”  This means that you cannot use this exemption to gift or sell a gun to someone abroad, nor can you decide to leave the gun behind when you return home.  Ownership must remain yours, and even the use of the firearm is restricted to your own personal, exclusive use.

(4) Finally, this exemption only qualifies for a temporary export.  This means that if you are planning to move permanently, with no foreseeable plans to return your firearms to the U.S.A., this isn’t for you (you must instead pursue a permanent export, with which we can assist).  While “temporary” is not specifically defined insofar as we are aware, it certainly carries its normal meaning of “lasting for a limited time”, and is not permanent.

What About Shotguns?

Because shotgun exports are regulated by a different government agency (the U.S. Department of Commerce, Bureau of Industry Security), a similar but slightly different exemption applies.  This is found in the law at 15 CFR 740.14(e), which states:

(e) Special provisions: shotguns and shotgun shells.
(1) A United States citizen or a permanent resident alien leaving the United States may export or reexport shotguns with a barrel length of 18 inches or over and shotgun shells under this License Exception, subject to the following limitations:
(i) Not more than three shotguns may be taken on any one trip.
(ii) The shotguns and shotgun shells must be with the person’s baggage but they may not be mailed.
(iii) The shotguns and shotgun shells must be for the person’s exclusive use for legitimate hunting or lawful sporting purposes, scientific purposes, or personal protection, and not for resale or other transfer of ownership or control. Accordingly, except as provided in (e)(2) of this section, shotguns may not be exported permanently under this License Exception. All shotguns and unused shotgun shells must be returned to the United States. Note that since certain countries may require an Import Certificate or a U.S. export license before allowing the import of a shotgun, you should determine the import requirements of your country of destination in advance.

So, we note the following:

  • qualifying individuals again are all U.S. citizens and permanent resident aliens;
  • qualifying firearms are shotguns with a barrel length of 18 inches or over;
  • there is no stated limit on the number of shotgun shells that can be taken under this exemption;
  • up to three shotguns may be taken at a time under this exemption — and they can be in addition to up to three non-shotgun firearms per above.
  • like the ITAR exemption, the shotguns and shells must be with your baggage and cannot be shipped or mailed (if you’re traveling by air, be sure to check with your airline about their policies!);
  • 740.14(e)(1)(iii) likewise states that the shotgun(s) must be for your personal and exclusive use, and even goes so far as to state that it must be for “…legitimate hunting or lawful sporting purposes, scientific purposes, or personal protection…” (Note: in Canada and elsewhere, “personal protection” is not considered a valid reason to possess a firearm, so be careful what you declare at your inbound Customs!);
  • it clarifies that this is only for temporary export, and thus “all shotguns and unused shotgun shells must be returned to the United States”, and
  • though this exemption does to specifically require an outbound declaration at U.S. Customs, it is strongly advised that you make such a declaration as discussed above, which will facilitate the re-import of your shotguns upon return to the U.S.

 

A note on other countries’ Import Requirements:

We don’t have time here to go into many specifics, but it is imperative that you know and follow the local laws of the country to which you are traveling as they relate to firearms!  Most countries will require some form of Import Permit or declaration, some countries require Firearms Licensing in advance, and other countries don’t allow foreigners to import or possess firearms at all.  If Canada is your destination, check out this page: “Firearm Users Visiting Canada”.

Conclusion

These exemptions to U.S. law exist for a good reason, and if followed properly will allow you to legally export firearms on your own.  However, like many things the government does, it can be complex and inefficient.  So, grab your highlighter and pen, and go through a printout of this guide line-by-line one more time before you travel. And then be sure to do your research on the country you’re traveling to, and you should enjoy a hassle-free trip.  Preparation makes all the difference.

IMPORTANT NOTE: This post is current as of the date it is originally published. If we become aware of new or different information, we make an effort to update the post and note where any changes have been made.

This information is provided as general information only and in no way is intended as legal advice. Before making any decisions based on this information you should confirm the facts yourself and contact a licensed attorney for legal advice as needed. The application and impact of laws can vary widely based on the specific facts involved. Given the changing nature of laws, rules and regulations, and the inherent hazards of electronic communication, there may be delays, omissions or inaccuracies in information contained herein. Accordingly, the information on this site is provided with the understanding that the authors and publishers are not herein engaged in rendering legal or other professional advice. As such, it should not be used as a substitute for consultation with professional legal advisers. Before making any decision or taking any action, you should consult a qualified and duly licensed legal professional.