Bringing Firearms Across the Border into the United States
The United States is very strict about the regulations you must follow to bring a firearm into the country. Read on to learn what you need to do before bringing a gun into the country, and how to transport it. Then be sure to read our page on transporting firearms across the border for tips on how to make sure the process goes as smoothly as possible.
Generally speaking, it is unlawful for non-U.S. residents to possess or obtain firearms or ammunition while in the U.S. The most common exception to this is when entering the country to hunt or for a shooting competition.
The U.S. allows more types of weapons across the border than Canada does, and U.S. border agents typically have more discretion about their response if you break those rules. Certainly you can still be fined, or even jailed, if you fail to declare a weapon. However, if the border officer decides you did not intend to smuggle in the weapon, they may just confiscate it and deny you entry without filing criminal charges.
Required Documentation for Bringing a Firearm into the U.S.
If you want to visit the United States with guns or ammunition, you will need a permit from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF). This applies even if you are a diplomat, foreign law enforcement agent, or hunter.
You will need to fill out ATF Form 6NIA to receive a permit. This is also called ATF Form 5330.3D Application/Permit for Temporary Importation of Firearms and Ammunition by Nonimmigrant Aliens. Processing time to receive approval varies, but can easily be as long as 2 – 3 months. The permit is valid for one year. You may use it to cross the border with your firearms any number of times during that period.
The form must include serial numbers of all firearms and a description of any ammunition you will be bringing into the country. You will undergo an ATF background check. If you have a criminal record it may very well affect your ability to get approval. Your form will be returned to you indicating whether or not it has been approved.
Note: If you’re a U.S. resident leaving the country with a firearm, and then returning with it, you won’t need this form. You should register the firearm on your way out with the CBP, so they know to accept it when you come back.
Crossing the Border by Vehicle
When you arrive at the border, you will declare your firearm, provide the required documents, 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.
You should store your gun in your trunk or another part of your vehicle that is not immediately accessible, and make sure it is not loaded. Keep ammunition separate, preferably in its original box (even if the box is not full). To avoid any issues, it’s advisable to keep the ammunition in a different part of the vehicle entirely.
Flying into the U.S.
Airports and airlines are very strict about transporting weaponry. Always err on the side of caution and take the most steps possible to be safe, careful, and honest when bringing a firearm in via airplane. You can face serious fines and criminal charges if you make a mistake moving through an airport with a gun.
- How to transport firearms
- They can be packed in checked luggage only, never in your carry-on. The same applies to ammunition.
- They must be kept in a securely locked, hard-sided case that is not easy to open.
- Ensure that the gun is not loaded.
- Important note: the U.S. TSA (Transportation Security Administration) considers firearms to be loaded if the gun and ammunition are easily accessible, even if the bullets are not actually in the gun. Don’t keep ammunition in your pocket!
- Check with the specific airline you’ll be flying with to see if they have particular requirements.
- Declare your firearm at the check-in counter. You should not have any weapons with you by the time you reach the security checkpoint!
- You must declare all firearms every single time you transport them.
Tips For Importing A Firearm Into the U.S.
- Who to contact with questions
- U.S. weapons enforcement at the border is run by the U.S. Customs and Border Patrol (CBP) and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF). Rules change, so review these websites carefully to make sure you are up to date on all requirements.
- You can call the ATF at 1-304-616-4550.
- You can contact the U.S. CBP directly by calling their telephone information line.
- You can also call the specific U.S. border crossing you are intending to use. We have the telephone number for every U.S. port on the separate page for that port.
- If you are coming into the country to hunt, you will also need a hunting license for the state you will be hunting in.
- Shooting Competitions
- If you are bringing in your firearm for a shooting competition, you will need to bring confirmation of your entry in the event. If you are not going to get your registration until shortly before the event, you may want to submit a state hunting license to the ATF instead.
- Moving to the U.S. and other reasons for importing a firearm
- If you are immigrating, or entering with a firearm for any purpose other than hunting or for a shooting competition, the rules may be different so you should call the U.S. CBP for more information. You may be required use a licensed importer / dealer / manufacturer known as an Federal Firearms Licensees (FFLs). Even if you fill out the appropriate paperwork, without a licensed dealer, your firearm may not be permitted to enter the country.
- Antique Weapons
- Antique weapons (100+ years) may be exempt from normal regulations if you can provide proof of their age and authenticity.
U.S. State Firearm Laws
U.S. federal laws govern the border crossing between the U.S. and Canada. However, once you pass through U.S. Customs, you will be subject to state, and even local laws, on gun ownership.
Each state has different laws regarding possession, transport, and use of firearms and ammunition. It is your responsibility as the gun owner to research the laws of the area you are visiting or passing through. The city of Chicago, and the states of Massachusetts and California are examples of areas that have very strict gun regulations that could subject you to criminal liability. Do your homework.
However, in most states, firearms may be transported legally if they are unloaded, cased, and locked in the automobile trunk or otherwise inaccessible to the driver or any passenger. You would be wise to leave your weapon in its secured location unless you know for sure that in the area you are visiting you will not be in violation of any local or state laws.
Canadian Citizens Bringing Weapons Back into Canada
When you return to Canada you will have to declare that you are “re-importing” your firearms. Canadian Customs may ask to see your U.S. documentation. They want to be sure you are returning with the same weapons you left with.
If you want to avoid any chance of problems when re-entering Canada you should stop at the Canadian Customs office on your way out of the country. Here you can ask for a certificate which will record a description of the firearm and the serial number.