At least every couple of years I head overseas to take part in an international shooting competition. If you think that flying with firearms within the United States is nerve-racking, the thought of going abroad might be downright terrifying. In all honesty (knock on wood) I have never had an issue with traveling with my guns to other countries. Each time I have been well prepared with copies of necessary paperwork and a traveler’s dictionary in my back pocket, just in case.
First things first. Make sure your passport is up to date and will not expire while you are traveling. If a visa is required for the country you are visiting, make sure you complete all necessary paperwork to obtain one in time. Check out the customs website for your destination, and complete all forms needed to enter the country with a firearm. Each country is different, but many post these forms online. Keep in mind that sometimes this paperwork has a lengthy processing time, so plan accordingly.
One other piece of paperwork you will need is a U.S. Customs form 4457. Called a Certificate of Registration for Personal Effects Taken Abroad, this is a generic form for any item of value you are taking with you and bringing back in. This form is often used for expensive electronics or other high-dollar, serial-numbered items. It’s also proof that you left the U.S. with firearms and will help you reenter the country with them.
U.S. Customs and Border Patrol has this form right on their website, and you can even type in your information and then hit print. In the Description of Articles section, be sure to include the make, model, caliber and serial number of your firearm. It’s best to fill out a single form for each firearm so that if you travel again, you need only carry the forms for the firearms that you are bringing.
Once you have typed or written in all the info, print but do not sign the form. You’ll want to leave this blank and sign in person in front the government agent. Next stop is finding a customs office. Visit CBP.gov for a list of field offices to find the one closest to you.
My nearest office happens to be on the Canadian border, and I recently took a trip to the U.S. border station in Opheim, MT, to complete my paperwork for the upcoming IPSC World Shoot in Rhodes, Greece, this October.
Important: Do not bring your firearms inside the customs office with you! When you arrive, show your 4457 forms, passport and event documentation to the agent. Tell them you need to register firearms and that they are secured in your vehicle. They will tell you how to proceed and where to go to verify the serial numbers. Once these are verified, you’ll sign your forms, and they will receive an official seal. On return from your overseas travel, declare your firearms and have your 4457(s) ready when you reach U.S. Customs.
When it’s time to make your travel arrangements, know that layovers in some countries can cause you trouble. Some nations require paperwork and even a permit for just a layover, even when you have no access to your firearms. There are a few airports that are notorious for confiscating firearms and ammunition, including London and Paris. Some types of ammunition may be illegal in nations you are traveling through. When planning your trip, don’t just think about your final destination, but all the stops in between. Plan plenty of time for dealing with customs, as it’s highly likely that you will be pulled aside for verification and additional questioning.
Chances are, whether it’s a hunt or a competition, your event organizers will have helped you with all your required paperwork. It’s a good idea to make several copies of this paperwork (I usually bring at least three) in the event you need to leave a set with government authorities. Bring point-of-contact information for your event location and administrators, as well as an invitation to the event if you are traveling for a competition. Keep phone numbers for the nearest U.S. Embassy handy as well.