Canada has a zero-tolerance policy when it comes to bringing a gun into the country. Be sure to read our page on transporting firearms across the border for additional information that applies to both countries.
The biggest problem Americans have is forgetting about a handgun they have with them. People from states such as Texas, which allow concealed weapons, get snagged quite often. If you fail to declare your weapon it will be destroyed, you will pay a fine, and jail time is a real possibility. Don’t make a mistake. The official Canadian website says that border officers can exercise discretion, but it appears far more likely that they will take a hard line if you violate their rules.
Generally speaking, you may bring up to three allowed guns across the border if you fill out a form and pay a fee in Canadian dollars. When you arrive at the border, you will declare your firearm, provide the required documents as listed below, and answer all questions truthfully. The border services officer must be satisfied that you have a valid reason for importing the firearm, and may check to ensure that you have stored your firearm properly for transportation. They will review your paperwork and may verify that the firearm you have with you matches the one described in the documents.
This whole process is governed by the Canadian Border Services Agency (CBSA) and the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP). Rules change, so review these websites carefully to make sure you are up to date on all requirements. You can contact the CBSA directly for advice at their telephone information line. Likewise, you can call the RCMP directly for advice. Review our general page on Transporting Firearms Across the Border for general information that applies to both countries.
Personal Requirements to Bring a Firearm into Canada
- You must be 18 or older to bring a firearm into Canada. Minors ages 12-18 can bring firearms, but they have to first obtain a minor’s license. To obtain this, it is necessary to pass a firearms safety course. The minor will need to be accompanied by an adult the entire time they are in possession of the firearm, and the adult will be legally responsible for it. Minors can only use non-restricted firearms.
- If you have a criminal record, it will take longer and be significantly more difficult to bring a firearm into Canada. It does not matter if the crimes were violent or gun-related. Get your application started much earlier if you have any type of criminal record.
Types of Weapons
There are different Canadian government forms for different purposes, so you will need to make sure you get the right form to declare your weapon and ammunition at the Canadian border. If you are moving permanently to Canada, there are different requirements than those listed below.
Antique firearms are not considered firearms for licensing and registration purposes, so you shouldn’t need any paperwork. You should still declare them at the border crossing. Antique firearms include any firearms manufactured before 1898 that are not originally designed or redesigned to discharge rim-fire or center-fire ammunition; long guns manufactured in 1898 or later that are reproductions of flintlock, wheel-lock, or matchlock firearms; and firearms that are classified as antique by regulations.
What you need to do about your weapon depends on which category if falls into. There are three primary weapons categories: non-restricted, restricted, and prohibited.
Non-restricted firearms generally include most ordinary hunting rifles and shotguns, which are expected to be used for sporting, hunting, and competitions. The gun must meet the following requirements:
- semi-automatic rifles and shotguns with barrels that are at least 470 mm (18.5 inches) long
- single-shot or manual repeating rifles and shotguns of any length, as long as they are not designed or adapted to be fired when reduced to a length of less than 660 mm (26 inches) by folding, telescoping or other means.
As a visitor, you will need to fill out a Non-Resident Firearm Declaration Form to bring one of these types of firearms into Canada. This counts as a registration certificate and a license to have your guns. Declarations are valid for 60 days, but may be renewed free of charge before expiration. With this form, firearms can also be transported through Canada to another eventual destination.
The Canadian border officer will not make copies of the form for you at the border, so it is recommended that you complete the form before arriving at the border, and make an additional copy of the completed form. It is also imperative that you do not sign the form until you arrive at the border, since it is necessary for a Canadian Customs officer to witness your signature. This license will allow you to buy ammunition in Canada, and to transport up to 200 rounds into the country with you.
These weapons can only be used for target shooting on approved ranges, and are expected not to be used for hunting or self-defense.
To bring a restricted firearm into Canada, you must obtain an Authorization to Transport permit (ATT) in addition to the Non-resident Firearm Declaration or PAL. This must be obtained in advance from the Chief Firearms Officer of the province where the firearm will be going, or where it will be crossing the border. You do not need to use this form if the firearm is being shipped by a licensed carrier.
Restricted firearms include:
- most handguns
- semi-automatic rifles and shotguns that are capable of discharging centre-fire ammunition, have barrels between 105 mm (4.14 inches) and 470 mm (18.5 inches) long, and are not otherwise prohibited
- firearms designed or adapted to be fired when reduced to a length of less than 660 mm (26 inches) by folding, telescoping or other means
- firearms restricted by regulations
These firearms are fully banned for importation into Canada. Regardless of licensing and paperwork, prohibited weapons will be seized at the border and destroyed. These include:
- 1,500 makes of “assault-style” weapons. It is illegal to sell, transport, or import any of these weapons.
- handguns with barrels less than or equal to 105 mm (4.14 inches) long
- handguns designed or adapted to discharge a 25 or 32-calibre cartridge
- firearms adapted from rifles or shotguns by sawing, cutting or any other alteration, that, when adapted in this way, are less than 660 mm (about 26 inches) long or have a barrel that is less than 457 mm (about 18 inches) long
- automatic firearms, whether or not altered to fire in the manner of a semi-automatic firearm
- silencers or devices designed to muffle or stop the sound of a firearm
- certain cartridge magazines above a given capacity. Generally, cartridge magazines are limited to 5 rounds for center-fire, semi-automatic rifles or shotguns and 10 rounds for semiautomatic handguns, with exemptions for certain magazines.
- bullpup stocks
- Replica firearms that are designed or intended to exactly resemble a firearm with near precision. This includes weapons that are not reproductions of antique firearms, and some types of airsoft or blank guns.
In addition, the following weapons are completely prohibited from entering Canada:
- Many types of knives, including gravity knives, automatic knives such as switchblades, or centrifugal knives such as flick knives or butterfly knives. Also Constant Companion (belt-buckle knife), push daggers, finger rings with blades or other sharp objects projecting from the surface, and devices shorter than 30 cm concealing a knife blade (e.g. knife-comb).
- Mace or pepper spray designed for use on humans is prohibited. Bear repellent spray is allowed.
- Marshall arts equipment such as nunchaku sticks, shuriken (throwing stars), manrikigusari or kusari (fighting chains)
- Taser and stun guns shorter than 480 mm
- crossbows designed for one-handed use or crossbows 500 mm or shorter
- Kiyoga or Steel Cobra batons (spring batons) or any spring-loaded rigid batons (triggered by a button or lever)
- Morning stars, spiked wristbands, or brass knuckles
General Tips for Bringing a Firearm into Canada
- In addition to the other licensing methods listed above, you can also file for a 5-year Possession and Acquisition License (PAL). To do this, you must take the Canadian Firearms Safety Course and pass the subsequent safety test (it is also possible to skip the safety course, as long as you pass the test). It does not count if you took a similar test in the US; Canada requires that you pass theirs. If you do pass the test, you get a PAL that lasts for five years. You can now register your weapons online, and simply declare them when you get to the border, as long as you can present your up-to-date PAL.
- If you are intending to borrow a gun while you are in Canada, you need to get a Temporary Firearms Borrowing License in advance. This license needs to be signed in front of a Canadian Customs officer at the border.
- Carrying guns through Canada to get to or from Alaska requires the same forms and follows the same rules concerning restricted, non-restricted, and prohibited firearms. It is recommended that you simply have them crated and shipped to your destination using a commercial carrier, rather than driving them yourself.
- All firearms must be transported unloaded.
- Non-restricted firearms left unattended in a vehicle should be locked in the vehicle’s trunk, or if the vehicle does not have a trunk, locked out of sight in the vehicle’s interior.
- Restricted firearms must be rendered inoperable during transport by a secure locking device or locked within an opaque container that cannot readily or accidentally be broken open during travel. Canadian officials recommend using both of these measures for restricted firearms, as well as removing the bolt or bolt carrier, if applicable.
- Make sure you are transporting your weapon in compliance with Canadian firearm safety regulations.
- Sometimes people think that guns are cheaper to purchase in the US and import into Canada. What you have to keep in mind is that the fees and shipping costs involved in the importation process can frequently wipe out any savings.
U.S. Citizens Bringing Weapons Back into the U.S.
When you return to the U.S., you will have to declare that you are “re-importing” your firearm. U.S. Customs may ask to see your Canadian documentation.
If you want to avoid any chance of problems when re-entering the U.S., you should stop at the U.S. Customs office on your way out of the country. Here you can ask for a Certificate of Registration For Personal Effects Taken Abroad, which will record a description of the firearm including the serial number. You need to keep this and have it available on your return to the U.S. in case there is any question about what weapons you left with.