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Guidance for U.S. Persons Traveling Outside the U.S. with Firearms and/or Ammunition

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Any time a person departs the United States by any means or method of transportation, and is traveling with firearms and/or ammunition in their possession, the person must comply with all applicable laws and regulations governing the lawful exportation of these controlled items. 

All persons who intend to travel from the United States to a foreign country with firearms and/or ammunition are reminded that both the permanent and temporary exportation of these items are subject to federal export licensing regulations.  The export regulations for handguns, rifles, associated parts and components, and related ammunition are found in the International Traffic in Arms Regulations (ITAR) administered by the Department of State’s Directorate of Defense Trade Controls (DDTC).  The export regulations for sporting shotguns (barrel length of 18 inches or more), muzzle loading firearms, associated parts and components, and related ammunition are found in the Export Administration Regulations (EAR) administered by the Department of Commerce’s Bureau of Industry and Security (BIS).

Export regulations require that prior to traveling outside the United States with firearms and/or ammunition all departing persons must obtain a valid and appropriate DDTC or BIS export license or qualify for a valid DDTC license exemption under 22 C.F.R. 123.17 - 123.18 or a valid BIS license exception under 15 C.F.R. 740.14(e).  

Before exporting any firearms and/or ammunition with a valid DDTC or BIS export license or a qualifying license exemption, the traveler, or an agent acting on the traveler’s behalf, must file the Electronic Export Information (EEI) using the Automated Export System (AES) or the Internet-based system AESDirectwhich is publicly availableand free of charge. In addition to filing the EEI in AES or AESDirect prior to export, all firearms, ammunition and additional mandatory documentation (e.g., certifications, foreign import permits, proof of AES filing; such as the Internal Transaction Number) must be presented to U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) authorities for visual inspection at the port of departure from the United States. 

Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) is the primary federal law enforcement agency responsible for investigating international smuggling operations and enforcing U.S. export control laws. Failure to comply with the federal regulations governing the temporary and permanent export of firearms and/or ammunition from the United States (including the proper filing of EEI) may result in the detention, seizure, and forfeiture of improperly declared firearms and ammunition and could further subject the traveler to arrest and criminal prosecution by HSI special agents for violation of federal export and/or arms smuggling laws.

What government agencies regulate the export of firearms and ammunition from the U.S.?

The Department of State’s Directorate of Defense Trade Controls (DDTC) has licensing and regulatory jurisdiction over the export of all defense articles defined on the United States Munitions List (USML). This includes rifles, handguns, parts and components therefor, related ammunition, military grade and explosive weapons, combat shotguns (barrel length of 18 inches or less), and some optical sighting devices with night vision capabilities.

The Department of Commerce's Bureau of Industry and Security (BIS) has licensing and regulatory jurisdiction over the exports of items defined on the Commerce Control List (CCL) including sporting shotguns (barrel length of 18 inches or more) and muzzle loading firearms, parts and components therefor, and related ammunition.  BIS also maintains export licensing jurisdiction over non-lethal items such as air guns, pellet guns, paintball/pepperball guns, replica firearms, electrical immobilization devices (i.e. stun guns and Tasers), teargas/pepper spray, smoke and stun grenades, and most optical sighting devices for firearms.

The U.S. customs authorities, Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) and U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP), have primary responsibility for the enforcement of all U.S. export control laws and regulations including those governing the temporary or permanent export of firearms and ammunition form the United States.  HSI and CBP work together to identify, interdict, investigate and prosecute any criminal violations of these U.S. export laws and regulations as well as violations involving U.S. sanctions and embargoes and/or illicit smuggling activities.

What is required when traveling internationally with firearms and/or ammunition for personal use in recreational activities such as hunting and shooting sports competitions?

Any removal of firearms and/or ammunition from the U.S. for any period of time is considered an “export” and requires compliance with all applicable laws and regulations.  22 C.F.R. § 123.17 allows U.S. persons to export temporarily from the United States without a license not more than three (3) nonautomatic/semi-automatic firearms in Category I(a) of the United States Munitions List (rifles and pistols up to .50 caliber ) 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 (ITN) from submission of the Electronic Export Information (EEI) in the Automated Export System (AES) per 22 C.F.R. § 123.22, 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 (i.e. checked baggage), but not mailed; and
  3. The firearms and accompanying ammunition must be for that person's exclusive use and not for reexport, sale, gift, or other transfer of ownership. The person must declare that it is his/her intention to return the article(s) on each return to the United States.

What is the process for properly reporting the possession of an export license or declaring a temporary export licensing exemption?

The process for properly reporting the possession of an export license or declaring a valid license exemption prior to export requires submitting the Electronic Export Information (EEI) via AES or AESDirect.  Proper submission of the EEI will generate an Internal Transaction Number (ITN) which must be presented to the carrier and to U.S. Customs and Border Protection prior to export.

What is AESDirect?

AES stands for “Automated Export System.” AESDirect is simple, streamlined and easily accessible to the public at no cost. More information on AESDirect can be found at the U.S. Census Bureau's Foreign Trade website.

What is an Internal Transaction Number?

The Internal Transaction Number (ITN) is a unique number that is generated as confirmation that the Electronic Export Information (EEI) was correctly submitted and accepted in AESDirect.
Travelers should maintain a copy of ITN and present it, along with a verbal declaration that they are traveling with a firearm(s) or ammunition, to U.S. Customs and Border Protection at the port of departure from the United States.

Can I use a CBP Form 4457 - Certificate of Registration for Personal Effects Taken Abroad to declare the temporary export of firearms/ammunition rather than filing the EEI in AESDirect?

No.  A CBP Form 4457 is used to register personal items (not professional or commercial articles) of foreign origin before traveling abroad to facilitate duty-free reentry of same articles upon traveler's return.  This Certificate may not be used to declare the permanent or temporary export of firearms, ammunition or other defense articles (as defined by the United States Munitions List) which requires the electronic reporting of export information in accordance with 22 C.F.R. 123.22.

If I qualify for an export license exemption under 22 C.F.R. § 123.17 is there anything else I need to be aware of before I depart the United States with firearms and/or ammunition?

Yes, if traveling from the U.S. to a foreign destination with firearms and/or ammunition for which no export license is required, travelers must adhere to the following requirements:

  • The firearms and ammunition may only be exported temporarily and must accompany the person  upon their immediate return to the United States;
  • The firearms/ammunition must accompany the traveler or be with the traveler’s checked baggage but may not be sent through the mail or via other contract carrier or common carrier services (i.e. UPS, FedEx, DHL, etc.);
  • The firearms and/or ammunition may not be gifted, sold or otherwise transferred to another person outside of the U.S.;
  • The firearms may not be exported to multiple countries during the same trip or to a country other than the end-destination declared in the Electronic Export Information (EEI);
  • No firearms and/or ammunition may be exported to certain countries that are subject to U.S. arms embargoes.  These prohibited countries are listed in 22 C.F.R. § 126.1;
  • Certain countries may require an Import Certificate or a U.S. export license before allowing the import of firearms and/or ammunition.  Travelers are responsible for determining and complying with any import requirements of any/all countries of intended destination or transit.  Failure to obtain the required foreign import permit(s) or to properly declare the firearms and/or ammunition upon arrival in a foreign country may result in detainment, denial of entry, arrest, criminal prosecution, and/or the seizure of firearms by foreign customs or police officials.

I am going hunting in Africa and plan to take a rifle and rifle ammunition; do I need to obtain an export license?

No, 22 C.F.R. § 123.17 allows U.S. persons to temporarily export up to three (3) firearms (rifles and/or handguns) and up to 1000 rounds of related ammunition without a license providing that they will be returned to the United States. However, the exporter is still required to make a declaration via the Automated Export System (AES), pursuant to 22 C.F.R. § 123.22(a) and submit the AES Internal Transaction Number (ITN) along with the firearms/ammunition to U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) for visual inspection prior to departure from the U.S. NOTE: U.S. persons exporting firearms and ammunition from the United States using a valid license exemption are responsible for knowing and complying with any foreign laws requiring an import permit or advanced authorization prior to transporting or carrying firearms and ammunition into the foreign country. Attempting to bring firearms into a foreign country without prior authorization or permission from the appropriate foreign officials may result in arrest, criminal prosecution, seizure of personally owned firearms and ammunition, and/or denial of entry into the country.

I am a U.S. person taking a shotgun and shotgun shells to Canada for hunting and recreational shooting. Do I need a license?

No, 15 C.F.R. § 740.14(e)  authorizes a U.S. citizen or a permanent resident alien leaving the U.S. to temporarily export shotguns, with a barrel length 18 inches or over, and shotgun shells provided that:

  • No more than three (3) shotguns are taken on any one trip;
  • The shotguns and shotgun shells must be with the person's baggage (may not be mailed);
  • 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;
  • They are not for resale or other transfer of ownership or control;
  • All shotguns and unused shotgun shells must be returned to the United States.

NOTE: U.S. persons exporting firearms and/or ammunition from the U.S. are responsible for knowing and complying with any foreign laws requiring an import permit or advanced authorization prior to transporting or carrying firearms and ammunition into Canada or any other foreign country of destinationAttempting to bring firearms into a foreign country without prior authorization or permission from the appropriate foreign officials may result in arrest, criminal prosecution, seizure of personally owned firearms and ammunition, and/or denial of entry into the country

Do the temporary export regulations only apply to individuals traveling with firearms on commercial airlines?

No, the regulations governing the permanent and temporary export of firearms, ammunition and shotguns, including for personal defense, recreation, hunting and sporting purposes, apply to any removal of these items from the territorial boundaries of the United States regardless of transportation mode or method. This includes but is not limited to: commercial and private air travel; pedestrian and motor vehicle land border crossings; international passenger and commercial rail lines; private, commercial, and merchant watercraft, and international mail and courier parcels.

Where can I find additional information about the importation and exportation of firearms?