Moving firearms to the United States

Updated 1 December 2010


Importing firearms is probably the most complicated part of moving to the United States. People moving stateside on PCS orders are good to go if they can prove they actually owned and possessed the firearms in the United States. Bills of sale, household goods inventories listing the firearms by serial number and state, municipal or U.S. Customs registrations of the firearms are good forms of proof. Customs will, however, only accept original documents.

Show your proof of prior ownership to customs when you land in the States or to the military customs inspector checking your household goods. Or put the documents inside the package when mailing rifles and shotguns. It is illegal to mail handguns.

If you acquire a firearm that someone else brought from the USA or if you buy one abroad, you will have to obtain an import permit from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (ATF).

Military customs offices have the application forms for ATF import permits or you can click here to download them from the ATF Web site. ATF's Washington office only accepts application forms with original signatures, no faxes or copies. Once approved, an ATF permit is valid for one year and the original import permit must be with the firearm when it arrives in the States.

U.S. overseas personnel may take firearms to the States for hunting or shooting events while on vacation. There are three ways to do this. You can show proof that you legally owned the firearms stateside. Service members who ordered firearms directly from the USA through a Rod and Gun Club may import these by showing the special order receipt. Even firearms acquired overseas may be imported temporarily without federal permits under the following circumstances. You may import firearms without an import permit if you intend to take them back overseas, can prove you are participating in a sporting event and claim the non-resident exemption with customs. The registration for a shooting match will usually suffice as proof. Claiming non-resident status with U.S. Customs also affects other exemptions and must be chosen with care. The firearms and any unfired ammunition you imported must be with you when you leave the United States. Customs may bond the firearms to ensure this.

Service members intending to leave firearms in the USA that were acquired overseas but not specially ordered from the USA need a federal import permit. Personnel taking firearms back to their overseas station must have a valid U.S. forces firearm registration with them and meet the laws of the host nation.

Normal import duty rules apply to firearms too. U.S. military and civilian personnel will pay duty on any foreign-made firearms acquired overseas if they import them for the first time and do not have official orders authorizing movement back to the USA. Your movement orders allow you to take back any personal property to the States duty-free.

U.S. civilian employees have fewer freedoms than military personnel when importing firearms into the United States. Yet they may take back firearms without an import permit by presenting proof of prior possession in the United States. If civilians acquire firearms overseas, they must apply to ATF for an import permit. The only break for government employees overseas lets them ship firearms acquired in Europe in their household goods when they return to the States on official orders. Otherwise, civilians must import firearms acquired abroad through a licensed gun dealer.

Firearms rules are complicated. Call a military customs office for more information.

We have these links to help you ship your firearms to the United States.

Federal firearm regulations

A comprehensive list of ATF laws, rules and regulations. 

This publication was prepared by ATF's Firearms and Explosives Imports Branch (FEIB) to assist Importers and other Firearms Industry Members in identifying firearms, ammunition, and defense articles that may be imported into the United States and to further clarify and facilitate the import process.

Firearm curios or relics list

This is ATF's list of old guns that licensed firearm collectors are allowed to import. 

Download the application forms for ATF firearm import permits. PDF format. They are:

ATF F 5330.3A Application and Permit for Importation of Firearms, Ammunition and Implements of War

ATF F 5330.3B Application and Permit for Importation of Firearms, Ammunition and Implements of War (for use by members of the US Armed Forces)

ATF F 5330.3C Release and Receipt of Imported Firearms, Ammunition and Implements of War

State Laws and Published Ordinances - Firearms 29th Edition This publication is designed to help you comply with both Federal and State firearms laws. Specifically, the publication will assist you in complying with the Gun Control Act of 1968 requirement that you may not sell or deliver a firearm to a nonlicensee whose receipt or possession of the firearm would violate State or local laws applicable at the place of sale or delivery. In addition, it will assist you in making lawful over-the-counter sales of longguns to out-of-State residents - transactions that must meet the legal requirements of your State as well as the purchaser's State of residence.
Firearms index An index of firearms information from ATF including The Firearms and Explosives Imports Branch, assault rifles, Brady Law, regulations and more.
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